Ramses emerged from the sea unfazed by the steady glare of the Carribbean sun. As his feet touched dry land the depleted tank of oxygen slipped from his grasp and landed in the sand with a soft thud. The placid cornflower sky seemed dull to him in the open air, but the fresh sea-breeze—salt-scented and conducting a symphony among the palms—lent him serenity.
There was a clear directive in his mind as to what to do next. He would arrive at the hostel and speak easily with the landlady there. In his bedroom, he would remove the neatly-folded note from his desk, glance at the harried words and phrases written inside, and tear the paper gently in half. He would sit on his naked bed and calculate his future.
Instead his gaze turned to the sad young man sitting close to the Mercado. Not a boy, but a sad young man. Ramses noticed this irregular pattern of thought and furrowed his brow. He felt raw. The sea had transformed him. He approached.
“Where’s mom and dad?” He said, and settled in the sand beside him. His heart slammed inside of his chest as he looked out over the horizon, and his lungs were strained from that long moment beneath the waves. That long moment beneath the waves—
“Who the hell are you?” the boy replied, absent. The look in his eyes reminded Ramses of a fish he’d spoken to. Who am I? he had asked the fish, and wondered if he could cry while drowning.
The memory pained him like the sound of his ragged whispers. “Ramses,” he said. “Who’re you?”
The young man did not respond.
“I was just wondering what you’re doing out here all alone. Where’d mom and dad go?”
“I don’t know. Suckin’ down a fuckin’ slushie someplace. Vodka Collins.”
“Well. That does sound good right about now, huh?”
The boy maintained his fixed glare across the sea. Ramses followed the stare, heaving a sigh, summoning from deep within him the sense of tranquility he had found hours earlier in the hostel as he devoured greasy pork for breakfast and set his paltry sum of affairs in order. Affairs—
“Sam,” the young man said finally.
“Only my father calls me Samuel,” he muttered, and his fixation was broken. Turning his face to Ramses, he could see now that he was speaking to a giant, a barrel-chested behemoth with a visage cut from stone and the sharp shadow of a ferocious beard. Ramses saw that the young man wore his boyishness with a hardened brow and unflinching eyes, blush spreading across his face despite the clenched jaw and tension in his forearms, his dark hair blowing softly in the wind.
They took each other in, and turned back to the sea.
“Where’s mom and dad…” Samuel began, and bit his lip. The large man shifted in the sand, troubled, attentive.
“It’s alright. Go on and tell it,” he said.
Sam went ahead and told it as the sun waned and threatened to bathe in the clear blue water. Ramses listened, his face grave, his thoughts gone from his mind. The sea had transformed him, so he listened. He was a different man. He had let it all go down there. He felt very certain. He had changed.
Once the night fell they left the beach behind to devour roasted something or other at the Mercado. Picking between his teeth, Ramses consoled the poor young man with what sympathy he could offer. Ay pobrecito. Yes, but there was worse to come. I never understood my grandfather. Muy triste, muy triste. Dad’s been drinking Vodka Collins—
“If there’s any advice I can give you, Samuel,” he began, looking firmly at the troubled youth. He hesitated, searching for his words. He felt his uselessness in that moment. Samuel’s pale face reflected the young man’s subtle crisis, the unchangeable path laid before him against his will, the years he would have to endure with great sadness and regret. His hesitation became mercy.
The boy realized there would be no answers forthcoming from Ramses. There would be no answers from anyone. He shifted his eyes to the worn bar they were seated at. The large man’s hands traced the rough grooves there in silence.
Later, as Ramses lay on his uncovered mattress at the hostel, he reread the words he’d left behind that morning on a neat square of unlined paper. Since the affair—I’ll leave my possessions to sink—and a happy New Year.
He crumbled the page softly, looking out among the festive houses lit with Christmas lights and nativity sets, their glow rebelling against the night. All of Puerto Rico was asleep, waiting for presents in the morning, for family dinner, coquito y pasteles. All except Samuel.
He closed his eyes. He searched inside of himself desperately for the peace he had returned to throughout the day, and came up empty.
The sea had changed him. He felt very certain. But Ramses couldn’t change a damn thing. He drifted off to sleep.
Originally published in Feast Productions’ Green Zebra.