Sian Wilson, a Grade 12 student at Global Leadership Academy in Jeffreys Bay, submitted a short story to the Grahamstown Foundation Eastern Cape Eisteddfod, for which she was awarded a double gold.
This is the highest accolade one can receive in this category.
Sian’ story is entitled “The One that got away”.
It is a love story with a difference and is well worth a read for everyone.
Enjoy the story:
He was there on my first day. I failed to notice him at first, because his skin was as weather-beaten and grey as they deck of the old trawler. He did not seem to notice us either as we scuttled past while being assigned our quarters and duties. His focus seemed fixed on something distant and unreachable.
We dared incredibly rough seas for years. I began to admire the old mariner’s steady nature, seemingly unaware of the treacherous seas around him. He remained fixed to his perch at the bow, always looking ahead, searching. What he was searching for, I could not tell. This mystery plagued my dreams.
Each of the other men on the boat had their own theories regarding him. The more gabby seafarers would invent run-infused versions about his life. Then he was anything from a fugitive to a phantom to a philanderer running from his wife. The latter drew wild fits of laughter from most, as it was agreed that no-one could love a leathery old rag like him.
And then one night, my life changed forever. I had the last night shift at the helm. The weather was worsening. The ageing Miranda grew weary against the antagonism of the sea.
As the storm raged on, I failed to notice that the jib had come undone. Down the bridge and across the deck, I slipped and slid to try and stow it, unaware of the wave surging in from port.
I was underwater immediately.
The cold, salty foam boiled me upwards, then sucked me down. I knew I would die, thinking the entire ship had shattered. But my hand found a rope, and my eyes followed it upwards to the old sailor. He moved like never before – purposefully. He hauled me to safety.
Once back on-board I expected the ridicule of one so experienced, but instead he turned to me and spoke like a sage.
“To fear the sea is acceptable, but it also holds rich reward beneath its testy waves,” he dispensed. “Those who encounter it would do well to hold onto it.”
By that time I was consumed by questions about him. I wondered about his past, his quest, those words…
One day, as if hearing my thoughts, he answered them in a single sentence: “I almost drowned once.” I swung around to the shadow of a smile. I had been on deck; the rest of the crew had taken to their bunks. The moon cast a silver sheen everywhere. He peered into the water. I looked at him, willing him to continue.
He told me about his youth. He was from money, and was a reckless, boastful lad. Drinking and mucking about had filled his days.
He told me that the dock outside the tavern was always slippery, and he was drunk. He fell into the water and was dragged out to sea. He remembered feeling his chest close up and his kicks growing futile against the current.
“I was gone,” he said. “And that would have been good riddance, too,” he added, solemnly.
“But I felt hands on my shoulders, pulling me upwards. I awoke the next morning on the shore. As I opened my eyes, I saw the most indescribable beauty.” He was now talking to himself, no longer aware of my presence. But I stayed. I had waited years for this.
“Voices began to approach. She dove back into the water, frightened. She took my heart with her, you know. My heart and everything. Her shimmering tail licked the water before she was gone.”
He turned back to me. “I took to the sea the very next day. There was nothing left for me on land. My family abandoned me, and I them. I needed to find her, to find myself. I am old now, older than you could guess, and tired. But I will not go without her…” He looked at me, his smile as tired as he said he was, though warm.
Her shimmering tail licked the water… Her shimmering tail… The more I replayed the words, the angrier I became. For years I had refused to believe the other sailor’s stories, but now? He was a crazy old fisherman who had been out at sea for too long. Disappointed, more in myself than in him, I walked away.
The most ferocious storm ever marked my seventh year at sea. The sky darkened before dusk; ominous clouds brooded above us. The rain came in a flash, and pandemonium erupted as huge swells towered over us. The Miranda was steered head-on into the first, and she creaked towards the peak. The steep drop into the trough churned out stomachs. We barely breathed before the next one hit.
I clung to the mast, praying aloud, when I heard the frantic yell of my name. I turned to see the crew motioning towards something in the waves – the old man. I dashed towards them, wrestling for a rope. We cast it into the water, yelling for him to grab hold. For minutes at a time he would vanish and my heart would stop. Eventually I felt a tug, and I knew he had managed to secure himself.
As we started reeling him in, my gaze was drawn to a mass of silvery-white seaweed nearing him. I looked to him, who had also taken note of this body. I was numbed by my disbelief.
The silvery head turned towards the Miranda, smiling almost apologetically. She was faultlessly beautiful: moon-stained skin and emerald eyes. Her hair trailed over her tail that graciously stroked the ocean.
She was altogether calm. As her pale hand reached for his cheek, I reached for my knife’s sheath.
I looked to the crew behind me, still fighting, oblivious. I bent down to sever the rope that bound him to us. I looked up in time to see him fill his lungs once more. Our eyes met and he smiled.
And then he was gone.