I used to walk along the cliff edge between Porto Colom and Cala Marcel. In all weather I considered it beautiful. From some points you could get the impression that you were standing on top of the world and nothing but ocean stretched out below. I was always struck with the illusion that I could make out the curvature of the earth along that invisible boundary between the sea and the sky.
Equally fascinating however, were the cliffs themselves. The rocks had been forged by the sea and the wind and the sun over a great time and the fossilised shells reminded me that wherever I stood was once beneath the blue.
Time had carved great voids into the rock, some of which contained water; this seemed strange since the rain recently had been brief and the pools rested around thirty feet above the sea. I never saw another person there which no doubt contributed to my attachment to the place – There was never a voice, only the sea.
I spent hours down there after my friend left. Sometimes I would run as close to the edge as I dared, jumping between the peaks and becoming braver with experience. Other times I would just climb into an alcove and pass the time drinking and smoking, watching and listening…
The first couple of times I brought my headphones along, however I soon came to regard that as a poor choice. Years of excessive volume have left my ears damaged, doomed to endure a cruel ringing that often drowns the peace in a tranquil setting. The result of these many piercing tones, throbbing constantly between my ears is some kind of dissonant chord that can never resolve. The tide however, would plunge me into a state of acoustic peace and its slack approach to rhythm could make you feel comfortable, even if you were only loosely aware of it.
Excessively loud music had become a deliberate attempt to mask that dissonance of the mind and in the heat of those moments with my headphones where I found a perpetually destructive fix for my affliction, I can’t say I recall any true sense of serenity. It was a solely hedonistic crutch and the source of pleasure was in escapism rather than creation. The temporary loss of frustration was my principle gain (and the craziest thing about it was that I knew the action only served to perpetuate my problem, as so many forms of escapism invariably do). There appears to be no reason behind the act of adding to ones troubles, but the fact is that the motives to do so are never matters of reason anyway.
And so on this particular day, indulging only in this rich and empty space, I was contemplating such qualities of life when I came across a fish. No larger than my thumb, it swam in circles around a tiny rock pool. A kind of natural and unlikely fish bowl. This was the best thing I had seen all week. I recall thinking that the presence of this fish excited me more than it should have, but the surprise of finding myself with company elevated my mood and contorted my face into a dumb expression of both confusion and excitement.
This particular rock pool was isolated from the others of which there were few anyway. It was fairly close to the cliff edge, which led me to speculate that the only possible way the fish could have ended up there was as the result of some freak wave that had hurled it up from the depths below in a perfect example of serendipity. A little inspection revealed a wound along the side of the fish’s body which for me was enough evidence to confirm my theory.
I did briefly consider the possibility that the fish had been somehow evaporated up into the sky by some kind of intense heatwave and then hurled down in the monsoon-like rains of the preceding days. Or perhaps my little friend had been caught by a malicious fisherman and placed there in an act of cruelty. I quickly realised the absurdity of these theories but it didn’t matter anyway, the fact was that we both found ourselves on this cliff and however that came to be was history.
I found it brilliantly weird that I could sit and smoke in the company of a fish and so I did, watching it swim the same route over and over again. I didn’t bore me, but rather caused me to become quite still. It was like the feeling I got from watching the waves break against the rocks…
In the days before, I had noticed sparse schools of these small black fish in the water and they always seemed to be near jellyfish. If I were a fish, I would have though that logically follow to stay as far from the stingers as possible, but these creatures are apparently not rational.
I became oddly concerned with questions surrounding the fish’s situation. Was it Happy? Did it have any memory of what it had endured? And then I wondered whether or not it would survive it’s natural lifespan up on the cliff. I was grateful for my curiosity, as it provided relief from the permanent state of confusion about my own world. The answers were all right there in front of me, gently creating ripples on the surface of the pool.
At the first twinge of boredom I decided that my companion was not happy. Action must be taken. Plunging a quivering hand into my rucksack in search of something to serve as a net I grew smug at the prospect that I had the power to alter the course of ‘fate’ by saving the fish. The best I could find was a small plastic bag full of cigarette filters- It was only a little bigger than the fish itself but the fleeting image from my childhood of a fairground goldfish brought me confidence.
I emptied the filters into a small compartment in the front of my rucksack and then spent the next twenty minutes chasing the terrified fish around its tiny home. At one point, in a desperate attempt to flee the bag the surprisingly nimble little creature propelled itself out of the water and on to the surrounding rock shelf in a spastic fit of instinct. Unnerved, I beat the fish back into it’s pool where it persisted to dart around in frenzy. I gave up trying to be a hero and set off home, deflated. The sun was about to set anyway and the fish obviously had no interest in salvation.
Walking home I paid attention only to the sound of the birds and the sensation of a light breeze on my skin. I had no patience for thought. The roads were empty as usual and so I walked in the middle, my face to the sky; pink and blue behind the thinning trees that lined the streets. On most other occasions I would have generated some sort of mental narrative to explain to myself why I felt the way I did but aware of the futility of that game I redirected my focus from the birds to my footsteps just as soon as the word ‘apathy’ sprang to mind.
It was not a long walk and since I didn’t feel like spending the last of my money at Rick’s I knew there was no place else to go but the apartment- I slowed my pace. Being outside was no immeasurably more pleasant than wasting away in that cell, the problem however was always that I didn’t particularly want to be anywhere. ‘Home’ seemed as good a place as any to endure that sensation.
I turned the key in the lock, threw open the door and waded through the two hundred or so empty beer cans on the floor before crushing several with my bag and collapsing on the sofa. For the next hour I listened passively to the ringing in my ears and fell into a pit of self loathing and sorrow. One thought after another gnawed viciously away at any serenity the fish had granted me and I lay there prostrate and disillusioned with life, frustrated not only at the familiarity of this mind-set, but also at the fact that it seemed to be with me to stay.
Out of habit I dragged myself from the sofa, wiped the spit from my cheek and headed for the bar. A short walk in the opposite direction of the cliffs, Rick’s bar was the only place around with any kind of life, at least at this time of year. They got used to my face there over the past few months and so Rick didn’t mind setting me up with a tab when I explained my money troubles. I was relieved to feast on pepitos and drink away my time, distracted from myself, if only temporarily.
At least I would work tomorrow I thought, chewing on a piece of serrano ham. Maybe I’d even get paid (although for reasons too long to go into here this seemed unlikely). I worked surprisingly few hours for someone with a full time job and had gone from being passionate about my work, to suffocated by it in a very short space of time. I had to keep reminding myself that the sooner I got the job done, the sooner I would get the hell off that rock.
That evening at Rick’s was inconsequential just like all the others and I spoke to nobody. Sometime after midnight I staggered back to the apartment and went through the usual involuntary routine of indulging in loneliness and self-pity, blaming loved ones for my problems and creating painful hypothetical scenarios in my mind until my chest became unbearably tight and I had to step out on to the balcony to count my breaths. Staring over the harbour I thought to the fish. I do not remember what I thought, only that I did.
The next morning I kicked beer cans violently about the place on my way to the bathroom, cursing myself for the hangover and grinding my teeth at the prospect of work. That beaten up red Citroen Picaso was due to pull up beneath my balcony in ten minutes and it was all I could do not to vomit. There was no bottled water left and all that came from the tap was full of salt. The only thing that pulled me back from the brink of mental collapse was the thought that I might be paid. It was less essential now that I was running up a tab but I needed something good to think about.
Half an hour later and the boss didn’t show. Where I should have been relieved I became enraged, hurling cans about the place. I fell back on the sofa and stared at the wall, aware now only of the will to change. There were three beers in the fridge. I knew it. This was enough to entice me to stand up. I snatched a can up and examined it. Aurum. 25 cents a go. I didn’t feel like it. Something within me had seemed to observe that it was the same shit over and over again. I think the bog of empties on the floor all around me may have had something to do with it. I sat back down.
My thoughts were getting the better of me again. I needed out of this rut. What could I do though? The cliffs were good for me but they were nothing new…. The I jumped up. “Save the fucking fish!”
Suddenly alive with a newfound sense of purpose I stumbled over to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest pot that would fit in my bag, chucked the three beers in with it and left without locking the door. The day was bright and the streets were peaceful. I felt happy for the fish and didn’t even feel stupid for it. My smile was genuine and my pace fast. Any recollection of a hangover was long gone and by the time I reached the cliffs I was whistling some tune I had never heard before.
‘ I’ll have a beer with the little guy before he goes’ I thought, revelling in the idea that the fish had no idea what was to come in the very near future. Today the sea was calm and so the lapping of the water against the rocks was especially peaceful. A single white bird flew high overhead as I hopped from rock to rock, dangerously close to the edge. I had no trouble finding the pool and I craned my neck in anticipation as I approached. ‘It must be swimming deeper today’ I thought. It dawned on me as I got closer that there was no sign of the fish. I stood there for a second wearing a nameless expression. This was the place there was no doubt about it. I stooped down and disturbed the water with a finger, hoping to see the little black body dart out from some hidden space, but no.
I stood up and looked to the bird circling above. “Was it you?” – Unlikely. Running my fingers through my hair I looked confusedly into the water. Then it caught my eye. The fish lay wedged in a crack in the rock shelf surrounding it’s pool, drowning in the open air. I dragged it by the tail back into the water and was relieved to find it putting up a fight, that is until resigned itself to floating on the surface; a quaking fin and two wide, sad eyes being the only sign of life.
My heart sank. I lost my composure and hastily unzipped the rucksack, grabbing the pot. Needless to say, catching the fish was a far easier process this time around. It was a sorry sight in the pot and all I could do was watch as the life drained from it’s eyes. I made my way quickly over to the lowest point of the cliff and threw the contents of the pot into the sea. I still have a clear recollection of the way in which the light caught the water in mid-air for a moment before it returned with a mild splash to where it began.
At first there was no sign of the fish and I allowed myself to believe for a second that it had been revived on impact and swum off to be reunited with others and flirt with Jellyfish. Alas, I looked too long. The fish floated upside down, moved only by the tide like a piece of debris. I can’t recall for how long I watched, but it was a peaceful experience and there was no thought. The greatness of the blue did not overshadow that little black body – they moved together.
Suddenly I turned and walked slowly across the rocks and back to the pool where we had met. There was no longer much to hold my attention and so I starred out to sea for a while. The sound of the sea was calming and the breeze was pleasant. I had time to kill. The sun would not set for a while.