Chapter One The Old Man

The old man fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream. But eighty-four days had elapsed and he hadn’t caught a single fish.

The boy had accompanied him during the first forty days, but had left after that. The boy’s parents had concluded that the old man was not very lucky. The boy had been ordered off to another boat that managed to catch as many as three good fish in the first week itself. But the boy was very sad. He saw the old man come in empty-handed every day without catching a single fish.

The boy always helped the old man carry the coiled lines, the gaff, the harpoon and the sail attached to the mast. The sail was worn out and patched with flour sacks and when furled, resembled the flag of eternal loss.

The old man was thin and haggard and deep wrinkles were etched on the back of his neck. His cheeks were brown thanks to constant exposure to the sun over the tropical sea. The brown blotches ran all over his face and his hands were rough and scarred due to the cords he pulled to tackle heavy fish.

But none of the scars were fresh. In fact, these scars were as old as abrasions in a desert where there were no fish available. Everything about the old man was old with the sole exception of his eyes. His eyes resembled the colour of the sea and were joyous and unconquered.

 

“Santiago,” the boy said to the old man as they climbed the bank from where they would pull up the skiff, “I could accompany you again as we’ve made some money!”

 

The boy had learnt how to fish from the old man and loved him dearly.

“No!” the old man insisted. “You are with a lucky boat. You should stay with it.”

“But don’t you recall how you didn’t catch a single fish for eighty-seven days and then how we caught big ones every day for three weeks at a stretch?” the boy asked.

“I do,” the old man replied. “I am also aware that you did not leave me because you were not confident.”

“It was papa who made me leave, I am just a boy and so I must do as he says.”

“I know, it is the right thing to do.”

“He doesn’t have a lot of faith.”

“No, he doesn’t,” the old man replied. “But we do! Don’t we?”

“Yes, we do,” the boy replied. “Can I offer you a beer at the Terrace?” he asked. “We can take this stuff home later.”

“Of course, it is between fishermen.”

They sat at the Terrace together as many fishermen who passed by, made fun of the old man. But the old man was not angry. There were a few old fishermen who looked at him with pity, but they were polite enough not to display their true feelings. Instead, they spoke to the old man cordially about the movements of the current and the depths of the sea. They spoke about the good weather that had been constant for some time now and what they had witnessed at sea.

The fishermen who had been lucky at sea that day had already come ashore. They had slaughtered the marlin they had managed to catch and had carried them out of the boats after laying them across on two planks.

Two fishermen walked unsteadily at each end of the plank, carrying the heavy fish from the boat to the fish house. There, they would wait for the ice truck that would transport the dead fish all the way to Havana, the capital of Cuba.

 

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