The South wind whipped at his hair as he stared out over a million glittering points of light. Fine salt spray prickled his face as he lifted it up to the sun; a benediction of briny laughter. In his dazzled eyes he thought the horizon stretched like time itself.
The little boat skipped wildly in the heaving swell. White foam, emerald peaks. A lively bit of wind-chop from the open ocean, and nothing to worry about. Not like the long-range, even, deep troughs and crests of the West swell, coming as it did from thousands of kilometres away, driven by the immense and powerful low-pressure fronts that spawned like devils’ children in the cold, vast blue deserts of the South Atlantic. These were the swells carried in the hands of angry gods. From them, retreat back to harbour was never a cowardly escape. It was survival.
Dazzling sunlight made the salt-encrusted timbers sparkle under the bright enamel-painted wheelhouse. Smells of diesel mingled with the spicy tang of freshly hand-lined fish.
And the air: oh, the sweetness of the clean South air!
Gulls cried and wheeled in the wind behind the chugging inboard engines, as he brought the tiny, wooden vessel around. At once, it was as though a hand had stilled the bucking tub, as she settled into the movement of the waves and rode the turquoise troughs like a jockey borne upon a lean and sprightly mare.
Yellowtail today. He had lined the fighting fish with his hands: fat and sleek. They lay in the open crates at his feet. A good catch. Their wide, staring eyes glistened still, mouths agape. Sometimes it was Snoek, the smooth-skinned hunters, so popular, and so fickle a prey. If he went far out, in the right season, he may find the predatory Leervis, or even Steenbras, or Stompneus, wary and fast. Now and again Angelfish, their fat, discoid bodies giving less of a struggle than one would expect from their size. His hands would play them, and draw them in, and his hands would finally grasp them, all shiny wet muscle and raw cold power. His hands would wrestle the hook out, and fling them gracefully into the crates. And his hands would steer them all home.
The rhythmic throb of the faithful motors, the warmth of the summer sun and the swirl and wash as the swell split into the bow-wave lulled senses awake since 3am. Tired eyes scanned the old concrete jetty above water-worn dollosse and rotting, roped tire bollards amongst the lolling, playful seals. Eyes that scanned for a little, familiar hand.
The man in the yellow oilskins, his salty, creased and powerful hands working the worn wood of the wheel avidly searched along the jetty, as it drew increasingly closer with his approach to the little harbour.
Kelp fronds glistened, swaying languidly in the ebb and surge of the swell. Two fishermen, long rods poised high and unmoving; a woman cleaning fish, deftly wielding her bright blade; a boy and his father jigging for calamari near the port-light entrance; three giggling, pretty tourist girls in bikini tops, laughing and pointing their cameras at each other; some old skipper, gnarled hand curled over his eyes to shield them from the sun as he inspected his nets; a bearded, ancient Kaptein clutching his brown-paper wrapped bottle of hanepoot wine.
And then he would see her: the little, frantic, waving hand. Pigtails flew in the breeze as she skipped along the harbour wall. Bright, young eyes seeing him clearly now, as she ran even faster, jumping up to skip along the top of the slippery, barnacle-encrusted dollosse (he always got nervous when she did that).
The little girl was there to meet him when he came in. Too young for school, and too old to be restrained by her mother, she loved to watch him bring the catch in. She would clutch the knotted hawser: old, hard rope in lithe, white hands, and wrap it around the bollard when he brought the boat alongside the jetty. “Papa. Papa!” She would scream in delight.
And he would laugh, put his hand to his broad mouth and blow her kisses, which would swirl around the salty breeze, so long ago.
Time moves with a thousand tides. Old and tired hands now lay folded feebly in his lap as he sat upon the cold stone of the jetty. The South wind whipped at his grey hair as he stared out over a million glittering points of light. Fine salt spray prickled his face as he lifted it up to the sun. In his dazzled eyes he thought he could just see a little, waving hand calling to him.