My grandfather’s house stood by the sea—ancient, made of wood, big rooms. As most houses were by the sea, his was a two-storey structure which had the whole ground floor open and the living quarters above it. This open space often held one or two of his fishing boats (called banca) whenever it wasn’t parked by the shore. The house was indeed huge with wide rooms that held very little furniture. I would be given one room for my own when I would come visiting with my parents. I was only six years old then but I felt like a queen staying in my own room -- got a big thrill sliding open the huge elegant capiz windows every morning and again sliding them shut in the evening. Grandma would always let me do that. I was pampered with delicious homemade biscuits pan-fried by my aunt Consuelo. She would do that downstairs setting up a makeshift stove fed with pieces of wood for fuel. Then she would set down the flat cooking pan and put in a thin layer of cooking oil. When it was hot enough, she’d pour the flour mix on it in small irregular shapes. Viola! -- my biscuits. While I sat on the wooden bench waiting for her to finish, she would tell me stories about grandfather. Stories about his talisman… of his friends from the fairy kingdom... of a huge ugly creature halfman-halfhorse who would visit him in the night… and of playful dwarfs flitting here and there by the fishermen’s boats on the seashore. Of course I didn’t know if these were all true. But those stories always tickled my childish fantasies of magic and fairy tales. My grandfather Pedro was a fisherman. A hardworking one. He woke up with clockwork precision every early morn to catch fish along with the other fishermen of this small barrio. I would like to tell you this little story………….
Grandfather and 'It'
One early hour before dawn, grandfather was getting ready to set out to sea. Lifting up the fishnets to his broad and strong shoulders, he then took a lamp with the other hand and walked to the boat he sat by the shore. As he drew closer, he noticed a figure that seemed to be sitting but not quite at the edge of the boat nearest the waters. Peering closely he saw that it was a small man with pointed ears and nose, piercing slant eyes, and though heavy seemed to float in the air. It’s one of them, he thought. This was common in the barrios. Barrio folks knew about them. Many times he had encounters with these eerie little creatures others called elves or gnomes-- but he never paid any of them attention----- simply regarded them as irritations to his early morning fishing chores. He drew closer, dropped his fishnets on the coarse sand and said ....
“What do you want?”
“What do YOU want..whatever thing in there kicking and swirling and turning in that head of yours?” ,countered the elf with eyes gleaming and lips curled up in what looked like an evil grin.
‘Get out of my boat. I’m late.’ gruffly replied Pedro under his breath.
‘--Ahhh but you could fish treasure from the sea. I can make that happen…far beyond your wildest dreams’. Uttered the elf in a voice so low yet sounding like gurgling treacherous waves in a deep nasty storm lashing out at impenetrable rocks.
This sent a chill up Pedro’s spine.
‘You can rebuild your old house….send your children to America, study there….own a fleet of fishing boats….get so very… very… very RICH.’
Pedro turned away from the elf and looked out to sea. Gad! he hits hard-- thinking that it was only last night that Pining (his wife) riled him for the leaks on the roof, unpaid debts, food running short, tuition due next week, and on and on about this and that. Ugh!
‘--Well-l-l-l..?’ came the chilling voice of the elf which seemed to have drawn closer now.
Pedro wrested his eyes from the sea, faced the elf and looked him in the eye. ‘And if I agree...?’
‘Then it shall come to be all that I have said……’ replied the elf gliding back to the edge of the boat. ‘But for one tiny thing…’ the elf stood up and his face transformed to an ugly wrinkled gnome ‘your first born son-- will come with me back to my kingdom.’
Pedro felt shivers run up his spine, head throbbing; heart pounding it seemed to drown out the angry lapping of waves on the shore. Why are the waters so angry now? wondered Pedro. But between the man and the ugly gnome stood dead silence for what seemed an eternity.
Pedro said no more, willfully he turned his head back towards the sea but now so still and calm -- as if sensing what was to come next. He looked out farthest to the horizon now showing a thin line of light and seeing the other fishermen hauling in their nets oblivious to the drama onshore.…'still have time for a catch', he thought, 'not big but enough for Pining to sell in the market-- but got to hurry because it’ll be light soon.' Determinedly Pedro shoved his boat out to the waters…pushing with all of his strength. Feeling it more strongly now than ever before. He pushed harder finding new strength—until he felt the cold but what felt like welcoming waters under his feet—jumped into the boat, got the motor up, and pushed out to sea. Never looking back.
Nothing was ever heard of the gnome since.
While Pedro -- he was back to worrying over bills, school fees and Pining still nagging him about everything. But how I love this wonderful man – Grandfather Pedro ---- He didn’t trade my dad for the deep treasures of the sea!!
posted on Saturday, September 10, 2005 1:24 PM