Something beautiful came to be before my last breath was seized by the sea. Afore the sea cascaded down my throat, the three men pitched me from the boat.
Hali hadn’t seen the crashing of the sea in a while, it was a memory he purposefully avoided. Both of his parents were fishers and he was conceived amidst the tackle strewn lazily on the deck of the Amelia; a modest vessel that was berthed early each morning in the hope of a catch. He can, if he thinks about it, still feel the wetness of the rope against his palms, the soft beads of moisture cooling the burn of the thick weave as he hauled in the net. Hali hated fishing and barely saw logic in the way commission was coerced from the ocean. Some weeks his family caught so few fish they almost starved. They were behind in rent and Hali longed for what he believed was a normal life. He resolved to abandon tradition, to abjure the simplicity of ambition adrift and secure a livelihood divorced from the trawl.
The sun blushed as it crested the horizon on the day Hali became a man, and on that day he quietly fare-welled his leathery skinned lineage in search of a better life. He hitched a long ride to a small and dusty city. He had never visited a city before, and the way it functioned was as unfamiliar to him as his great great grandfather. With his intuition uneasy and his heart full of uncertainty he wandered about in the shadows of the unfamiliar place. Hali forced a quick arctic sever of his briny past and revelled in its absence from his life. Armed with few funds and a naive optimism he explored the alien district and pinched what food and money he could. After a week of squatting in an empty wooden barn the elation he felt debated with agitation and the desperate people of the shadows became his kin.
As forlorn weeks passed Hali willingly became an unaided pirate of the land, a thief and a fraud. He learned to lurk undiscovered and strike in the busy clamour of the market and soon his humble riches flourished. His backbone enlarged and his pockets grew full. His stomach grew too, albeit he never ate fish. The contempt he felt for the fishmongers at the market was manifest in passive mockery, and he professed his disdain to attentive ears in the muffled sanctuary of a minx’s den. He began to frequent functions in an attempt to steal food and money and one day, after a few months, he met Awi. A strong man, tanned and wearing a crisp white shirt, he pushed Hali rigid against a wall as he discreetly descended the steps from a party. Awi’s black pupils bared Hali’s soul and the measured cadence of his heart was reflected in his tone. He whispered something unforgettable, something he would never let Hali forget to heed, he whispered: “You work for us now”.
The benevolence of Hali’s heart diluted swiftly as the harsh reality of his new trade caused him to cloak his inner decency in filth. Awi was a persuasive man and was not shy in his administration of noxious mandates. After equipping Hali’s faculties with wine and a meal of bread and cheese, he made him feel important. Hali had nobody and would not consider returning to a life on the water, in Awi he had somebody. He was desperate. Hali had turned his back on his family but remained adamant that it was the logical decision, there was no rational vocation on the sea for him. He resolved he would find his way in this city or the next; somewhere he would cultivate sophistication and wealth.
The first time his knife opened up a man his head became dizzy, he swayed like a captain in the midst of a savage storm. Hali shot forth a gush from his insides and contemplated the vacant eyes of the old man as he fell and his head cracked against the reddened brick path. But that was just the first one of many, and as illicit debts mounted Awi employed Hali to settle them. It became easier and he soon craved the dynamic balefulness he projected. Awi paid well when he took a life but what Hali gained in monetary wealth he lost in spirit. In the daytime he could govern his mind but during the hot nights he would plead with an audience of wraith-like souls that he had no choice, he was employed with a clause of death on refusal.
Months passed and Hali slowly became endowed with more than mere luxuries, however the luxuries of rich fare, a fitting wardrobe and the warm embrace of desirable women were abounding; he soon had a palpable notoriety and his presence was often enough to administer anxiety in the clandestine circles he moved in. But for him it was purely vocational and he despised the vessel he daily embodied.
Hali sensed her before he saw her. He felt the intangible caress of borderless beauty bloom and energize his soul. He turned and standing upon the balcony he beheld the woman who transcended his infinitesimal grasp of wonder. His heart throbbed void of lust and full of an indescribable sense of wholeness. He felt he could die on the spot and his life would be perfectly complete, his entire being fully ameliorated in the simple knowing that such love existed. The world stopped as her gaze fixed upon his and the corners of her glorious mouth upturned. Her eyes became bright and beamed towards him as the universe came into full alignment. And then she was gone. Gone. Hali’s body heaved as he involuntary breathed, his spirit escalated to the heavens and he cried. He bawled. The curtain that blocked all his torment tore and he convulsed as he haemorrhaged emotion. Hali emptied his entire being. He realized he could no longer be the man he was becoming, no, there was no life in it. He had glimpsed true life and to have it fully he aspired. A week passed and they traded numerous glances fuelled with longing. Hali would catch her eye as he walked into town and she would beam as if he had brightened her world. His heart soared every time he saw her and she consumed his thoughts constantly.
Again he saw her, and again he felt the same; and as she washed her dish under the cold brass tap he addressed her. Her celestial tone drifted in response and drove itself inside him. Hali’s blundering murmur seemed not to dissuade her and he knew she loved him. Deeply. But as they conversed it became apparent she knew who he was, she knew his trade and his position. She was far from approving and coaxed him to absolve who he had become. He wanted nothing more than to flee his post, to gain everything in gaining her and to leave his short blackened past behind. Hali resolved to renounce his life because he knew in her he would find it. Awi’s words rung in his ear and he knew the cost of abandoning his orders, but he did not care. Hali would do what he knew was right, and he would do it again and again despite the cost. Little did they know as they embraced and conversed that one of Awi’s loquacious lackeys was loitering about the washroom and watching the whole thing.
A thirst quenched and a thirst ignited, now it was I who was frightened. A caterwaul of agony would not bail me out, I will sink and I will sink until the lights go out.
How was Hali to know she was Awi’s sister and that he loved her with a jealous rage? And to know that Awi truthfully considered him a bootless imp? Like a surplus sinker for a catch that never gets its glory, he was nothing to the man whom he had devoted himself to. And the next morning, as the rays of light broke through and illuminated the darkness, Hali was seized. A hand pushed forcefully against his mouth and he was tied by a sun worn and tattered rope. His wrists tightly bound, his heart beating faster than ever he was shoved out into the street. Awi’s fist bore down from the heavens and drove his skull into unconsciousness. Hali had been stripped of his fine clothing and his rings had been removed. Blood left a trail as it cascaded down his chest and he was hauled onto the back of a beaten wagon, but not before the three men’s boots collided with the tender parts of his body. They travelled for hours. Hali slept restlessly in the back of the wagon alone as the sun sunk behind the hills in the growing distance. He was awakened by a nightmare and the thud of a wheel slamming into a dusty hole in the road. It was dark now and Hali could smell the sea. He could see the sea. He could see it through his swollen face as he propped up against the edge of the moving wagon.
A small row boat, blue with peeled paint flaking off like a scab, waited on the shoreline. It gently rocked against the sandy edge and Hali was thrown in. The three men, Awi in control, rowed for an hour. Awi signaled the men to cease rowing and the oars were placed upon the wooden hull. Hali knew what was coming and would not go without a fight. His aching and stiff limbs, tied at the wrists, cried out as he shook and the screams he cast out were drowned by the silence of the ocean. As hard as he writhed, Awi still managed hoist him up. Hali was pushed overboard.
Awash with anger and compelled by love, berthed on the sea was the hull of a dove. A barmy sibling a thorn in my side, I’ll end him I tell you, in you I confide.
Out of sight on a northern shore, as Awi rowed back toward the beach, his sister hauled a stolen maroon craft toward the water’s edge. She threw herself in with abandon and hefted the white oars through the thick ocean. The bottom of her gown was drenched but her rhythmic pulling soon took her far from the shore. She knew where he was because she had seen the lantern light of the blue row boat on the horizon. She had watched it as it made it’s was back to the sandy shore, one man fewer. She lost track of time and her arms burned deeply, but she continued to row with resolve. She hated her brother for this and determined to make his life hell if she ever saw him again, or kill him.
She heard him before she saw him. Her ears pricked with the hollow wailing of a helpless man adrift, her heart fluttered and she hauled the oars all the more. There he was, floating alone in the merciless ocean. He had been left to drown. His hands were bound and he struggled to keep his head above the threatening surface. She rowed toward the noise, a voice muffled against the sea as the brine filled his cheeks. She glimpsed him as the glory of the sun breached the atmosphere and reflected in his eyes. Awi’s sister, now a long way from land and shaking despite the warmth, pulled the boat up next to the helpless man. She steadied herself, reached over into the sea and hauled him into the small wooden boat. He heaved in a breath of relief as she tore the rope from his wrists. He was pale and cold, his eyes a blaze of panic as he tried to orientate himself. She lay him in the bottom of the boat and threw herself on top of him. Waves of euphoric relief and desire washed over her and she kissed him for the first time. He breathed deeply as the fear of death departed and wrapped his arms around the woman he loved with a fierce passion.
The sun slowly rose overhead and warmed the fog that clung to the water’s surface. The calm sea lapped against the wooden hull of the boat as it drifted aimlessly; two warm bodies lay in the boat content in each other’s embrace, content to float on the sea forever.