I’ll never forget the Christmas I met Andre. I’d just broken up with my girlfriend and was in the mood to spend time in Europe. I’d been in Barcelona since the day before, and after walking through Cathedral Square, I made my way to Four Cat’s, a bar famous for its link to Picasso. There, Picasso had drunk his absinthe and discussed life with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Henri Matisse and Claribel Cone while doodling on napkins before he wound his way to the shore for a session of serious painting. But Four Cats was overcrowded, and determined to follow in the master’s footsteps I walked toward the beach. Soon I smelled salt air wash in from the sea and swallow the outlying portions of town. I shivered with thoughts that must have been discussed in Four Cats and felt overwhelmed by the nearness of the sea. Nor was it just any sea…. It was the Mediterranean!
My dreams became reality as I strode along the beach and looked out to the sea with the most beautiful name a sea could bear–the Mediterranean. After meditating, I wandered into a little junk cafe, sat down and ordered coffee. Even in this little hovel of a place, the walls were beautifully adorned. And just above my table, someone had written two lines of graffiti: “She walked along the shore/with the softness of a first kiss on her virgin body.”
What beautiful lines! On the other side of the wall, more scrawl continued the story: “You kept me in the dark below the lighthouse and sailed off in your boat, full of greed and hurry, with only a small portion of the love I bore for you.”
Pain burned within me, as the lines echoed in my head. I walked to the reception desk and asked: “Who wrote those lines?”
The girl responded, “Our own boatman, Andre.”
“He’s a poet?”
“He’s a fisherman. But the lines he scribbles are amazing! ”
“Where might I find him?”
“Go to the beach near the rocky boulders where boats are repaired and ask for Andre.”
I paid for my coffee and walked to where the boats were being worked on. I asked a man who was a boatman himself where I might find Andre, and he pointed towards a man sitting half wet in the sea, stretching his legs.
“Andre?” I asked.
The old man looked at me–his eyes glimmering over a face full of wrinkles. His skin had been tanned with ages of sun light, but every inch of his body was solid, and he carried himself with a regal posture–strong body, muscular arms and broad, well built shoulders.
“I am Andre. How did you came to know my name?”
“From the cafe.”
“Ah, the beach cafe!”
“Where did you get the inspiration for those beautiful lines?” I asked. “You are a poet!”
The old man keep silent for a while, broke into laughter, then he stopped. “There are many ways to choose between being a poet or a boatman. I choose the later because of the power and excitement in this whore–this sea!”
His articulate speech and amazing passion moved me. He seemed a man of great intellect and character.
“I wish to hear more of your words,” I pleaded.
“I have none in me at the moment,” he answered, hanging his head. “If more come, I would delight in sharing them with you, but you came upon me at the wrong time, senor. Tonight I sail for seas far away.”
“Yet I would know more about you!”
“The beach is too crowded. Nude girls lie on the sand. Others play volleyball. Some are paragliding. Hot air balloons soar to the sky. Christmas is in the air. What would you hear?” Andre asked. “I have only one story to tell. Come back tonight at ten if you would hear it.” And he walked off to the fishing huts.
I spent the afternoon in a bookshop then had a dinner of magnificent Spanish delicacies, but at ten I returned to an empty beach with Andre standing near the water, wind blowing through his hair and the city lights reflected like a halo in the sky.
“Tell me your story Andre.”
In the white light of a half moon, Andre took something from his pocket and held it between forefinger and thumb.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A bullet. I bought it at the market place in Havana–long ago. ”
“It was used by the Germans in the Second World War, but the reason I bought it was that I fell in love with the girl at the flea mart who sold such items. She was the only love in my life other than the sea, and it was Christmas.”
“She loved me as well, and I lingered until spring when I had to go out fishing once again. She stayed in the city. Now the only thing left between us is this bullet.”
“I seems that you still love her, Andre.”
“Deeply, and I’m going to Havana one more time to see if I can find her, though she is old by now.” He laughed. “I will be sailing away and don’t know if or when I’ll be back. But I like you. Here, this is where I’ll stay.” We exchanged addresses, and he looked at me blankly.
“Let me know if you find her,” I added.
I shook his hand. Caught up in the blue waves and the dazzling horizon of Christmas lights I said, “Andre, you are Hemingway, specifically the character in his novel The Old Man and the Sea. That fisherman lives in you.”
“Yes. You are the Hemingway Man!”
Before I went to the hotel, I stopped at the coffee shop and saw fresh lines on the wall which I read in a silence broken only by the sounds of the Mediterranean. “Am I all wrong? Or I am too perfect? I don’t know. All I know is that I have sipped life and loved it, and now I must encounter death.”
I stood transfixed, looking into the dark of the ocean, then eased towards my hotel, recalling the pain in Andre’s face as he set sail to Havana to find his girl.
A year later on December 24th, I opened my mail box to find a post marked letter from Havana. I opened it to read Andre’s stark message: “I am writing you because, though I hardly knew you, you are the only person on this planet who might care about what’s happened. I got here a day too late and found my love dead. I must sail to where I have never been, the only place I might find her. I sail with a heart kept young for her, with lips which still await her kiss and with eyes which need to sleep–a deep and restful sleep….”
Four hours later I boarded a flight to Havana. When I landed the next day, I rushed about in the feverish activity of Christmas on the beach, and I found the fishing community caught up in excitement. Everyone was talking about the shot they heard that morning. At first light, out in the ocean, some stranger had shot himself. Locals found him lying dead in his boat with a bullet in his head. The man who told me this story pulled a bullet from his pocket. “This is all we found on him, this and the .45 in his hand.”
I held it for a moment and looked out into the ocean. “Hemingway man,” I muttered. “Hemingway man!” I shouted.
Author Subhadip Majumdar
Subhadip Majumdar a writer poet from India. He is certified in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. He also edited a reputed Bengali poetry journal. Wrote a short novel as Tumbleweed writer in Shakespeare and Company, Paris. Two poetry books published and one novel in process of publication.
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