Seas Like Sleeping Women
Copyright © by Hideo Asano
The late part of that winter they spent on Awaji Island. The island was the shape of a clenched hand with its forefinger extended. They stayed in a large summerhouse built on the edge of a cliff from which they could look out at the Inland Sea. There were many suspended fishing tackles, set up by fishermen.
They ate well, read well, worked well (he writing), fished well (he mostly) and slept well. She was always hungry in the morning. Against the chilliness, they clung to each other in bed to warm themselves between the sheets and a softly heavy futon. They rubbed against each other. She felt a cat-good feeling as his hand gently rubbed her back. She felt, as always, mysteriously good, the feeling of his warm hand. His arm across her chest felt her breathing like the breathing of the sea rising and falling.
Often from the yard of the house, they looked up at kites and sea gulls sailing in the high sky. He loved to see kites suddenly dropping with their wings nearly shut as a pair in a tight They seemed to tangle with each other before quickly breaking off for different parts of the sky to sail in. They played in that manner over and over as they were sailing until they became tired.
They were walking down toward the shore. They passed several handsome houses that faced out to the sea along the edge of a stiff cliff. Across the dark blue sea , they looked out the faint skyline of the mountains along the Honshu Island. A large congregation of fish was gathered where two major currents crashed forming a confluence of whirlpools between Shikoku and Honshu.
The white line of surf ran along their left-hand side. The high cliff stood to their right. Walking along, they could feel pebbles under their feet, listening to the surf roar. They felt warm winter sun on their backs. Nimo liked to look at the islands of dark patches of ocher seaweed floating on the gentle emerald-green waves as he walked. The colorful pebbles beneath the clean seawater were clearly visible. The pebbles were rubbing each other as the waves pushed them constantly toward the shore.
Looking out at the sea reminded him a fishing trip with Kuki to Batam from Singapore. It was during the monsoon. Two young friendly Indonesian fishermen used only fishing lines with illuminated tiny hooks. At each pull, a group of small horse mackerel quivered on the fine line. Nimo loved to put their mouths into his ear to hear wook, wook, wook, the peculiar deep and sad sound that the fish made. When the sea was too rough, they had to change the positions of their boat several times into the smooth spots of the sea. At each of their changing position, one of them weighed anchor quickly and vigorously as the boat swung wildly. The tall and thin captain mysteriously knew all the spots of less wild sea by the wind and by the current. They used a handmade anchor. A large smooth surfaced granite rock was tightly attached to the end of a four-and-half-foot long hard wooden bar with fine plastic rope. Big nails driven halfway of its length into the wood delicately arched over the ropes opposing each other with their heads crushed into the wood. From the middle portion of the wooden bar, a steel rebar ran down along to the opposite end of the rod where it was forced into the curve of a hook. Along the overlap of the wood and steel, three different sections were securely fastened with the same plastic rope. The end of the curved rod was diagonally cut.
Huge dark brown kites were shooting themselves out of the dry grass on the clifftop against the deep blue sky. Their wingtips were spread apart like fingers. They changed their courses with their wide tails like the rudder of a boat. A kite was gliding against the tall dry grass of the clifftop. A pair of kites was sailing closely together. They are sailing, but what are they really looking for? Nimo knew that in cold winter there were no insects in the air they could look for. They sailed and sailed without interruption, floating above in circles as if they hadn’t any stomachs. Finally, one of them sharply closed her long broad wings to dive for a moment before she caught a current to regain the joy of being aloft. He missed the sight of it as Kuki pointed at, but after a few beats, the acrobatics were replayed.
“They have a marvelous system,” observed Nimo.
“They all have brownish orange bellies. Their heads are brownish orange too. Hello!” Kuki called up to them. She held a book in her hand.
“I wonder how they could break their huge wings. I want to see an injured bird.”
“It’s not that easy to see that as long as there are cats or eagles around.”
“I really want to see an injured bird. Why don’t you let vet Yamazaki call us when he has an injured bird?” said Nimo.
“We will race there to see it.”
“What about an injured cat?”
“That’s too common, but it is a pity for Dora as he is.”
“I knew his character very well. He was strong. He was always fighting. Many times he came home injured, mostly on his face. I knew they were winner’s wounds, not loser’s, because they were not big wounds but minor wounds.”
“Wasn’t the castration cruel for Dora?’
“Well, it was better for him otherwise he might got killed in a fight. I don’t want him to have a fatal wound. A catfight is dangerous. They fight seriously and furiously. I can’t look at their fights.”
“I like fighting cats. That’s their world. Isn’t Dora sad cat without having his own world now?”
“No matter, I wanted to keep him safe. During mating season he became wild.”
“The wild cats are lucky. They fight for their stomachs; they fight for their mates; they fight for their territories,” he said.
“I hate to see wounded cats. Especially since I saw a cat who lost half of his face.”
“I still want to see injured birds even though their wounds are simply to do with wings, legs, or gun wounds.”
“The pain of unseen scars is immeasurable. Deeper than the sea.”
“I couldn’t stand to see an old beautiful blind bird in a cage.”
“I wasn’t quite sure.”
“Where did you see it?”
“In a temple in Chang Mai.”
“Why didn’t they let it go?”
“Too beautiful. Or his wings were useless. Or possibly because he couldn’t hunt anymore.”
“Probably not. Unless insects voluntarily come to him.”
“Blind people have hands, dogs, sticks, law, money and people. People even have freedom to kill themselves, if they choose.”
“Blind birds lose everything, don’t you think?”
“Probably everything. Eyes are as equally important as wings, I guess. Thank God, we are born lucky.”
“But there are plenty of sad people but few sad birds.”
“Plenty of sad birds too. Millions of them are in cages. Millions of political prisoners are in cages.”
“Blind cats are less sad than blind birds. Can blind birds hunt?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
A pair of kites was playfully sailing in higher air, nearly touching bills, quickly breaking up and then again with bills tangling and breaking all the way out to sea until you couldn’t see them.
“Markus would love this place,” he said.
“Surely he would.”
“He should be here one day with his telescope and binoculars.”
“That will be wonderful, won’t it?”
He picked up a golf-ball and a baseball, washed-clean, among the heap of rubbish pushed up onto the dry pebbles against the clay cliff by the waves. He threw the baseball against the blue sky and it hit the water. Then he threw the golf-ball out against the sky and the water as he walked. He picked up a soccer ball from another heap of rubbish and then he kicked it out against the sky to let it ride a wave.
He came to fish at the edge of a rock formation where the surf was breaking, while she read in the sun. You couldn’t go any further up from there because the stiff cliff wall momentarily dropped away, forming an eyehole over the path for the ocean to fill. Two distant anglers were on the sea wall. They looked very small. Even the huge sea wall looked like a thin line. A few kites made tight circles with their motionless wings above the cliff. Far out many ships interrupted the horizon like a column of tanks advancing somewhere. She, mostly, lay reading on the smoothly cut rock with her head supported by her elbow in the sun. He threw the line into the emerald-green water avoiding the dark spots, where hook-eaters of seaweed and ocean grass bobbed. The weeping horse mackerel he looked to catch.
The morning and early day passed in fun, fishing and reading, until he decided the ocean had been completely fished, and they started home to eat another day’s catch. On the way, they again spotted the soccer ball resting on the pebbles. All those variety of balls seemed as if they didn’t want to stay at sea, not their home. Probably, they wanted themselves to be kicked around, or hit by someone. Returning home, the angler and the reader had sardines, steamed rice, salmon eggs and green salad for lunch.
They walked along the main road, away from the cliff, with cars passing by. They walked through a village filled with country smell. A grocery was selling large chrysanthemums of colors, which were purple, white and yellow. Others were tiny with colors of dark and red and yellow. There were also many white and red carnations. All those flowers were being sold for religious purpose, like certain flowers in Thailand. They now turned for the harbor and followed along the curve of the bank where many small fishing boats were nestled, anchored closely to each other. The water of the small Tushi harbor was calm and dark green, unlike the off shore where the fishing boats ventured into uncertain currents. Close to the surface, a large mullet could be seen swimming leisurely, and now another large mullet came by him. They swam side by side lazily. Nimo threw his line baited with a ragworm far out for luck.
He watched the sunset far out across the sea wall. As he pulled up his line, a tiny reddish brown fish came up with it, not panicked, but rather playing dead near the surface. He released the line a little to see how the fish would react. The fish suddenly became alive, sounding for depth, as Nimo gave the line away. He let the fish swim out as much as it could before he retrieved the line.
A mullet jumped, forming an art of ripples. Nimo knew that in warm weather everybody could be a good fisherman, but not in cold winter. It was not a fishing season. Strong current and cold water made the fish lazy to stay calm way deep down on the seabed. But he wanted to hook a hard fish, not an easy fish.
They packed up and walked up to the sea wall, where they couldn’t reach from where they had fished early in the afternoon. There were several anglers, flat fish floundering. The brine bombarded the sea wall. Through the dark blue water, he saw a big school of tiny reddish brown fish swimming. They swam slowly giving you an impression of the color of a kind of seaweed. It was exactly the same kind of fish he had hooked in the harbor. It had small projected, frog-like eyes set closely on its flat head. He fished there until the sunset painted the sky in reddish pink, promising fine weather for the next day.
But he knew that a few days later, there would be a pale gray sunset and pale gray sea, signals of a hurricane-like gale, all day and all night, such a strong wind that you might never seen in your life. On such a day, you wouldn’t see any fishing boats out there, with the tall white clouds slowly moving east. You listen to the whistles of the wind, icy cold, all day and all night, the windows shaking. On the cliff, you could see the white curl of mountainous waves and listen to the surf pounding a pebble shore white in ocean soap. All the bare treetops would be swinging wildly against the gray sky. The icy chill wind would allow you neither to open your mouth nor to wear a baseball cap unless you wanted to see it tossed away. You would lock yourself in your room for the sake of your safety from the flight of objects, listening to the wind all day long.
A few sea gulls were sailing high with motionless wings. The kites were gliding ineffectively in the higher and colder air. A flock of small birds were hastily flying forward at low altitude, where a large flock of sea gulls had flown through. The yellow sun was lowering towards the water. It dyed the sea gold as the air turned to chill.