The Albatross And The Abyss
"Man does not live on bread alone."- Luke 4: 4
Copyright © by Hideo Asano
“How are you, Cy?” the bird said, he imagined, exposing the whiteness of her huge underwings. Her artificial-looking, pinkish, webbed-feet pushed forward to land on the life raft brightly exposed by the sun.
“Beautiful landing,” he encouraged, even though she had landed awkwardly and unsteadily on the bobbing raft.
“Got any idea bigger than the ocean?”
“I wish I could drink a glass of chilled water from a glacier this afternoon,” he said. A glass of chilled water from a glacier for him referred to a fish. It was not the flesh that mattered most; his greatest need was for moisture to quench his thirst.
Cy, tall and slim, was used to leisurely sailing alone in the South Pacific Ocean. But now, he was fighting for his survival after his small sailboat, Confidence, had sunk abruptly. The mental struggle to live paralleled the counter-balancing of the sharply tipped full sail with every ounce of his strength.
He had seen neither any ships nor birds about him except for a few occasional exhibitions of flounder escaping and chasing over the surface. Sandwiching himself between the sky and the sea, absolute isolation was what he had come to understand as the worst form of punishment. But, in a sense, he was proud of himself because, somehow, he kept a distance from despair. It was the same degree of pride that he had when sailing on the rough sea lightly and skillfully. He wished he could talk to someone, anyone! To maintain his sanity he started to talk to himself. He also let his mind travel to many different places that he knew well in order to obliterate the shallowness of being alone. He also considered his Life Raft, his Hook, his Hope, his Will and his Memories---both good and bad---as friends, but, in fact, these were his only possessions in the whole world. Sarcastically, he had named his life raft, More Confidence for the sake of capitalizing on courage and to support his firm belief that fear of uncertainty>is a human vice. Playfully, --yes, playfully--he considered it as his “gymnasium” since he believed activity is a human virtue.
Then after the first twenty days, a bird had first visited him. Cy talked to it softly, imagining what it might reply to ease his cheerless solitude, as if he played chess with the bird. Not bad idea, he thought, if stones could talk. The bird visited Cy religiously, almost daily. Glue, produced by the fear of loneliness, binds people together. Was the bird also lonely?
Realistically, the wandering albatross did not need him, but he needed her to break his solitude. It was very much a one-sided relationship. “No problem,” he thought. “I have to take good care of her. She might bring me good luck.”
Cy was just taking life a day at a time, for the best, not knowing what the future would bring. His gloomy eyes looked like a losing fighter with hardly enough strength to continue. Yet there was a gleam of confidence in his eyes, indicating his resolution to meet any obstacle, which might present itself. >
Cy was carrying a heavy baggage of anger, frustration and disappointment, which even a camel would run away from. But his spirit was still high. He had not lost hope, which rose and ebbed like the tide, even though he had lost considerable weight. The hope was that somehow an aeroplane would spot him and send a distress signal to a passing ship to set him at unrestraint.
“Tell me, Cy, how is it going? Where have you been today?”
“I watched an old black and white movie-----a bowl of shrimp salad with Thousand Island dressing.”
“Chop-Chop. I’m glad you had a good time today. I don’t want you lying on your bed all day long.”
“Freedom kicks me kindly.”
“A poor old bird showed his love for Mekko. Isn’t it wonderful to see one who has soul? His wings weren’t sufficient for that distance of flight.”
Cy remembered what he had heard from her he had invented.
“In Badao there is a brightly colored baruo [as if someone had colored him with a full set of Crayola crayons.]. His name is----- On fine days he usually perches----- Whenever I see him he hurts me,” she had said. “-----robbed his po-----”
“Oh, I feel sorry for him. Probably the koko-to is spiritualizing his restaurant with him.” >
“He looks as if he would fly away at any moment. It’s not until you get closer to him, his sad secret is revealed. You can’t see the trimmed feathers held close to his body. Mekko’s job is to attract people into the cafe.”
“As a sandwich man.”
“People love Mekko. They stop by and eagerly talk to him and Mekko talks back with his short, thick black tongue involuntarily and mechanically. But none of them feel sorry about his inability to fly.”
“People are heartless.”
“Mekko’s claws and beak have been trimmed [with emery boards] by the koko-to. I can’t believe the koko-to is so cruel.”
“How long has Mekko been serving>the koko-to?”
“About three years. He gets plenty of free sunflower seeds for his work. I feel sorry for Mekko, even though his job isn’t as hard as those kao-too [performing all day long for their tiny portions of free sunflower seeds.]”>
“Where did Mekko come from?”
“Saro. He doesn’t remember how he was brought to Maro. All he remembers is that he was captured in a forest with his friends by a toro [man] with a net. He was kept in a cage with hundreds of fellow baruo [prisoners]. He was then smuggled out along with a few other baruo.”
“It sounds like the slaves who were kept on Goree Island until the slave ships came to take them away. They couldn’t escape because of the dangerous sea with many sharks around.”
“I am working hard to get Mekko his freedom. We are collecting quo from all kinds of karo to have his>case heard in front of the court>[civil court] in Badao. But we can’t begin till we garner enough quo to equal all of the leaves of a big tree.”
“I hope the tree can bear fruit.”>
“Mekko should be freed immediately. He was born to fly, like as a fish to swim. The Koko-to must have the responsibility of taking care of him until his po [damaged wings] fully restored.>The good thing is koko-to didn’t cut any of his flight muscle tendon-----”
“I wish you good luck, Awhi and good luck to your friend Mekko. Let me know what’s going on with him,” he had said.
Inspecting the sky, which was covered with white clouds, Cy hoped to hear the vibration>of an engine.
The celestial songs of fragrance of friendship drifted out of the raft.
Flapping her strong wings, revealing the snow-white underwings while she was catching the ascending current circling as if she hesitated to part from him. The smoothness of her curved white belly was like a fluffy down pillow. Ascending gently she let herself slide sideways like a skater, moving with the wind. She turned sharply toward Cy as she slowly fell and rose up in a small circle, like the movement of a conductor’s hands.
The tediousness of her perching posture was traded for the beauty of her flight. The contour of her outstretched long angelic wings belonged to the lofty, her true home. He also loved talking with her, as he imagined, that her communication skill equally matched the beauty of her flight>despite her clumsy flightless figure. Her stretched out gliding form compensated him for his struggle that helped to develop fortitude.
Circling and descending she was sailing against the sea with her motionless wings. Her wings were outstretched towards the nourishing sea and sovereign sky. It was like the blade of a flying knife advancing toward the wall as it parted the air. Banking against the wind, she showed the grayish black of her top wings. Becoming smaller, and smaller, as she was flying further and further away, close to the surface of the sea. She was angling against the current like a sailboat tacking---tacking---tacking. She is probably looking for fish, he thought. I hope she catches one. The bird drifted far away and he lost sight of her as she was elevating herself as she was circling.
Then, back to the sight, far ahead, as>she was descending through many strips of air current as she was wheeling. She probably saw a school of fish or a fish escaping from a predator. She made a quick swoop and dipped her beak into the water before soaring into an orbit.
She probably got something, he cheered with a perceptible smile. Eat and fly. What a wonderful life one could have!
Nourishment was a matter of choice, he thought. He examined the mass of the two-day-old fish’s organs that hung down from the hook hoping it would attract a tastier and larger fish. He managed a mirthful grin as he tossed into the murky water hoping the scent of it attract a tastier and larger fish. Narrowing your choices of food avoids ruining your intestines, he said to himself. Rotten intestine harms>your spirit.
“What a strange feeling!” Cy muttered, longing to hear the sounds of engines in the sky, which gave him a headache>whenever he heard them while covering the civil war in Afghanistan as a freelance journalist.
The high pine forest was so quiet. They often had to grab the lower branches of pine trees as they were climbing down in order to prevent themselves from slipping. The branches swung back and forth after they were released and the dry snow fell off the needles like powder. Often Cy picked up a handful of clean snow from the needles to quench his thirst. That was after they all climbed every carefully in the snowcapped rugged mountains of the southeastern Province of Konarha, Afghanistan. They helped each other with rifles stretched out to reach the higher places safely. Virtually everyone in the small band of mujahideen, mostly young boys, was walking towards the town of Asmar, wearing grass-rope-soled shoes, so badly worn, that they might as well have been barefoot. Cy was the only one wearing a fine pair of proper boots and he felt sorry for his companions. He marveled at the way they walked skillfully and tirelessly up and down the steep and rugged mountain slopes. They hardly stopped to rest>as if they were competing to make a trip around the world in the shortest possible time. .Beneath the big open sky, they hid themselves behind large boulders as several helicopter gunships flew high above them. They were flying very high, appearing very small. The rebels wore the apple-pie-shaped flat brown hats like ID cards identifying them as insurgents.>
Sometime, in the violent mid-day heat, he fell asleep drifting as he was riding the bulginess of brine with the line around his big toe to wake him until he heard the whoosh of a long set wings soaring above him.
“Have you eaten, Cy?”
“I made an octopus sandwich and I enjoyed it with wine,” he said resourcefully.
“Great,” she said playfully.
“You want some?” he asked teasingly.
“No thanks,” she replied drolly.
“Wasn’t it fun being up there?”
“I don’t much care feather bed.”
“Sometime I have flown too long, haven’t I?”
“When you were awfully tired.”
“Do ignore my wings then.”
“Take your time. Don’t rush. Tell me. Do your wings rattle when you fly through the clouds?”
“Didn’t you notice that? That’s why I am angling as much as I can.”
“I wish an eagle eyed pilot could spot me out easily, like you from up high easily can spot the fish swimming near the surface.”
“You haven’t got any idea, yet,” said she ominously.
“Can we talk?”
“Cy, what are you going to-----”
“Write a book about this.”
“Oh, you told me. A happy ending is what I’m looking for then.”
“You are not Socrates. Without a happy ending, actually, there won’t be any beginning of it.”
“Afraid not. Do you think you can-----”
“That’s why I’ve been shooting a lot of mental pictures and taking a lot of notes in my head. They will help me to make it simpler, sharper and stronger, and be exactly what I have been aiming for.”
“Sounds good. I hope I can read it one day”
“No, I can’t.”
“What makes you think you can’t?”
“I am illiterate.”
“I can’t read the stars.”
“What are you smiling at, Cy?”
“Come on, tell me. What’s so funny?”>
“Well,” said he, “frankly speaking, you look very awkward being with me.”
“Are you out of ark?”
“You neither fit nor look right, unless you have broken wings.”
Here she would smile, he thought, if she truly understood human dialogue. An artless innocent, smile such as only wild flowers could produce. The fragility of beauties were jabbing, kicking, and knocking ones who had smile, which had hidden daggers.
“Then we might look identical.”
“You used to sailing nicely.”
“Let us be the worst of friends then.”
“All you need is luck.”>
“That’s why I’m cruel to myself.”
Cy recalled her first alighting on the More Confidence.
“Hi, you’re gorgeous,” he had said as he cautiously approached her with his chest against the flat top of the pullover canopy.
The bird struggled to hover above him from the lack of sufficient wind. Then, as if by adjusting to the situation, she glided down smoothly until she touched down on the raft again.
“Don’t be afraid. I’m your friend,” he had said, looking right into her mysteriously dark, shiny eyes, forgetting that he had badly wanted to catch and eat her when he had a chance, like a predator. He believed that she had, a few hours ago, flown by high above him.
“Hi,” she had replied shyly, he imagined.
“I like you. I like your long slim legs,” he lied, looking at her duck-like short pink legs above her large webbed-feet.
“Oh,” she smiled, he imagined. “Thank you. That’s a very nice compliment.” She took a few steps away as he moved a bit closer to her.
She appeared relaxed as if she were rather enjoying the company of a man.
“Let’s have a chat,” he had said eagerly. “I want to talk with you. Do you have any idea where we are?”
“Of course, I do. It’s my business to be able to find my way across the ocean. We’re southeastward of Badao.”
“By the way, what is your name? Mine is Cy.”
“Awhi,” he interpreted an the indescribable sound she made.
“Nice name. What kind of name is it?”
“A Maroro,” he moved her chess piece.
“What does it mean?”
“Kind, helpful and friendly.”
Cy sat up with the line he held in his hand and looked far out and remembered all the good fighters and miserable fighters. But they were all wholesome and nourishment. He admired all the strong fighters. Each of them fought well within their own capacities. Little mighty fish, which had good entrails, displayed their spirit; Cy felt they were his brothers. Catching a feeble fish was like drinking a glass of spiritless wine, which could ruin your day. Imagining the great fish determinedly swimming in the treacherously dark cold water gave him thrilling pleasure.
“No patience, no love of food,” he said to himself, hoping to catch a mean fighter, not too big, not too strong, as neither his fishing line nor his physical strength would be a match. But, somehow, so far, he felt he had played well with fish. The crucial fact was that he now had only one hook in the whole world to fish with; all the worthy adversaries had taken his first several hooks.
He remembered how disappointed he had been after losing the first fish he had caught which immediately escaped to its natural freedom. The fly was improvised with short threads taken from his cotton socks. “You take it easy,” he muttered to himself. “This is like the beginning of a match. Losing the first round doesn’t indicate defeat for the rest of the match. With luck, I can still be the winner.”
For a deeper, more penetrating hook bite into the next fish, he said to himself, I would pull up with all my strength as soon as I feel the hook catch.
He remembered the first fish he caught successfully. There began a battle between man and beast---or fish. He did precisely as he had promised himself he would. After he had played on the line, his hands were shaking as he pulled up while the fish struggled. He felt a lovely feeling when the fish gave fight on the line. The fighting increased, as he was working the line slowly and gently tightening the weight of the quivering pull. When it submerged, he could see the out stretched arm’s length of dark blue back of beautiful yellowtail. Displaying its silvery side before swimming away, Cy was frustrated with its strong and deceptive swimming fish. The battle was evenly matched.
Cy knew, every bit as much as the fish did, that his life hung in the balance. The only issue absolutely in Cy’s favor was that the hook was buried in the struggling fish’s mouth.
The fish dove deeply in an effort to put as much distance as possible between itself and Cy. Then, after exhausting itself, holding back from the line that was retrieved by Cy, the fish would somehow regain enough strength to begin the battle anew. But Cy, as he was gaining on the line, forcefully reminded the swimmer that he was no longer free.>
Cy eventually swung it over into the raft.
The bullet-shaped fish was beautiful with its sharp yellow tail.
When you were propelling forward, playing or hunting you was something. Anyhow, you will soon give me a bundle of energy, he said to himself, trying to remove the hook from its mouth. The hook was deep inside its throat near the heart. It must have been very hungry, Cy thought.
He probably was a sole swimmer. If so, he was a dare-lover. He probably knew the differences between bonefish and minnow. Certainly he knew that magic songs emerge from the deep dark sea, not from an aquarium, like graceful flowers out of dark soil.
Unfortunately this is not a place for you, but for me. I hope you forgive me. I have no choice. I truly do not want to bail myself out on you. But I will remember you. I won’t forget you. I want to drink. I want to eat. I truly want to drink to tell the world about you. Even though your death on a life raft is a comical, it is still far better than those who had their lives ended on the tables. In that sense, you are a fortunate fellow, aren’t you? Cy wished the fish had felt the same.
After quickly scooping its gills out of it with the thumb, forefinger and second finger of his right hand, he carefully unhooked the fish and slit it open, with an urgent passion, from the gills up to the tail with his sharp pocketknife. Two small sardines spilled out of its stomach; one was complete and the other was broken in two. Then he gutted the fish clean washed and then washed>his knife.
He drove the blade of his knife into the greenish dark-gray back of the fish, running it down to the edge of the belly, across the hill of the silvery side, making strips. He, as a particular eater, chewed it well and then spat the tough skin out of his mouth. It was not dissatisfaction. His throat became smooth and natural with the oily juices of flash. I wish I had a lemon to lift up its spirit, he thought.>Never mind, he said to himself.>Aren’t fish already marinated themselves deep in the sea?
Cy tossed the hook baited with one of the sardines. He felt the wet coiled line running out through the ring of his thumb and forefinger across his palm and now the line was drifting with the current.>
He was not eating only for metabolism but relishing it. He quickly devoured half of it and carefully stored the intestines and organs, head and tail to use as baits. He felt good with his stomach filled with the fine flounder. He then sliced the rest of it evenly, and then spread the strips flat out to dry on the canopy in the midday sun.>
The young man heard the fascinating stories of the fish that drifted out from its bones as he chewed like a sugar cane. Extracting the sweet juice out of the bone you could tell what sort of fish was as if you could tell the exact spirit of a bottle of wine.
After the sun had sucked half of the moisture out of the strips, he examined them. Peeling the skin from one of them, he pulled it downward closely and slowly against the sharp edges of his front teeth with his hand and then as the meat curled in his mouth he began to chew. “It ‘s very sweet,” he said to himself. Studying the smooth, tough skin of the fish, he said, “The fish was wearing a wet suit.” Then he collected them all and hung them side by side along the interior hand-line to dry them slowly and thoroughly in the shade of the canopy.>
I was very lucky catching and landing a large, handsome yellowtail today, he said to himself. It was more luck than skill, although my perseverance also played a major role. But, what about tomorrow? Will I be as lucky? Will I be as skillful? But the baited hook is news for them. Do not think about tomorrow. Think about today. Think about now.
“Now you are a fisherman,” Awhi had said cheerfully.
“Fishermen we all were born to be, whether at sea or on the land or in the air,” he replied.
“Three days in a row without a boto is what I often endure.”
“That makes us equals then.”