Thursday, April 4, 2013


     The good road went on ahead but Jesse brought her Volkswagen Beetle to a clattering stop on John’s request at a poor dock cowering in a sad place a short distance from the extreme southern edge of La Palma. Forty miles across white-dotted deep blue, a high elevation portion of the last island of El Hierro remained visible; beyond, the ocean curved to infinity. John pushed the passenger door open with a soft shoulder and wandered towards the dock where a solitary man faced east as he finished his morning prayer.
     The man rose to stand on his bare soles as John approached but continued to stare out at the rough expanse as if hopeful. Jesse recognized the man from his actions and postures and, understanding Islamic customs, remained in the car to be polite.
     “Do you speak English?” John asked.
     “Yes and French.”
     The man was short and trim. He wore patched brown wool tweed pants with no belt and a matching jacket but no shirt. The barefoot man had thick brown hair, olive skin and, as he turned to face the American, exquisite, reflective brown eyes.
     “My name is John. I’m an American.”
     The short man smiled to be polite and then sat down on the edge of the bad dock. His thin legs dangled over a twenty foot rowboat that shipped a good amount of water.
     John said, “Have you seen any sailboats? I am looking for a sailboat.” John was now standing at the man’s left shoulder and staring out along the man’s line of sight.
     The man ignored the question.
     “How many days have you been here?” John asked.
     “Seven days,” said the man.
     “That is a long time. I have water and some bread in the car.”
     The short man rotated until he could see the Beetle and Jesse then glanced up at John with those eyes before patting the dock with a flat palm at his left hip. John sat down, and the silent men stared out at the ocean.
     “If you need a boat, I can sell you my boat,” said the man and he nodded at the rowboat below their feet.
     Bolt glanced down at the boat and smiled. “It looks like a fine boat and if I needed one I would consider yours.” A drift of wind puffed John’s hair.
     “It is a piece of shit.”
     John laughed his first good laugh in a long while. “I’m looking for a sailboat.”
     “There is a man coming to La Palma, and I made a promise to find him.”
     “A man who keeps his promise is more of a man,” said the short trim man. “A boat came up from between La Gomera and Tenerife yesterday. I did not see the name but it was five letters, no more.”     Using his chin, he motioned as if picking up the boat when it first appeared, tracking it across the water then setting it down when it reached its destination.
     “Did it land?”
     “Yes, the sail disappeared near Santa Cruz but I cannot say if it remains.”
     “Thank you,” John said. The men stared out at the ocean to the north and west then rested their eyes on the islands of La Gomera and Tenerife. John asked, “Why do you wait?”
     The short man eased down into the rowboat, wetting his tweeds to mid-calf. “Mine is the ancient blood of the Tuareg. One month ago, I had two brothers. I am the oldest. We lived in Algeria where our people have always lived but after the war, the oil companies came and took all that was good.” Taking up a can that proclaimed Nescafe, the man began to empty his rowboat. “Once we were nomads then we farmed olives and cotton but now we live as refugees in our own country. Our youngest brother went to Niger to work for the oil but I brought this boat here and called my last brother who was to follow with my family and his family seven days ago. I fear the Spanish have them.”
     John took a hard, long look at the rough sea.
     “I have tried that but it does not work,” said the man as he toiled. He looked up and his eyes sparkled. “Do you dream?”
     “I try not to sleep.”
     “Do you dream during the day?”
     John said, “Yes, I have dreams during the day.”
     “What is life but to dream, yes?”
     “Yes, I have had day dreams that were good.”
     The man looked again and went back to his task, pouring seawater from his small boat back into the ocean.
     “I have nightmares,” John said.
     The trim man with the wet legs said, “I have a dream…that is why I am here.”
     The air above the dock and the men filled solidly with imagination.
     John Bolt said, “My mother had a dream, a dream for America but her dream died before she did.”
     “I miss my family,” said the short trim man.
     Bolt slid down from the edge and into the rowboat. His feet splashed but he did not falter. Offering a hand, he accepted the Nescafe can from the short man and began his turn at emptying the craft. “Tell me about them.”
     The short man sat down and lifted his feet to the seat, water pooled around his heels. “My grandfather was the last of the true nomads. He met your Patton at the battle of Kasserine Pass and this meeting has become an important part of my family’s history. The great moments in our lives do not return so we must remember them with detail and pass them to our sons.” He waited for John’s approval and after the nod and smile continued. “They say the battle of Kasserine Pass was when the earth nearly died because the great battle hammer of fiery hell struck the land.
     “My grandfather was hired to dispose of the dead and when Patton arrived, the American general brought food and drink and then joined the men while they rested. Patton told them about The Ides of March. The word ides was for the fifteenth day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the thirteenth day of the other months. The great general told that The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to an infidel and a military parade was usually held but The Ides of March is a most important lesson as the date that Julius Caesar was killed.
     “On his way to the place where he would be assassinated, Caesar visited a prophet who foretold harm would come but no later than the Ides of March. Caesar said, ‘The Ides of March have come.’ The prophet replied, ‘They have come, but they are not gone.’ Three Roman Senators and sixty co-conspirators stabbed Julius Caesar twenty-three times. My father made me repeat this many times until I remembered exact. It took me three years. I already teach it to my sons. A man can never be arrogant and must listen to the prophets. This mistake ruined the Americans at Kasserine Pass and the great Julius Caesar of Rome.”
     John drained the last of the water from the boat to the sea as the short man finished. “That is a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing,” John said.
     “I will now have with you your water and bread. I share cheese.” He glanced from John’s hand to the rust and blue Beetle.   “Is that your woman?”
     The small boat bobbed in rhythm with the ancient ocean.
     “No, my woman is dead.”
     “Inshallah,” said the nomad. It is god’s will.

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