Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism/Excerpt from Jose Sarney's MASTER OF THE SEA

Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

b y   j o s é   s a r n e y   ~   m a r a n h ã o,   b r a z i l

translated by Dr. Gregory Rabassa

[Antão] Cristório—Fisherman from Mojó. Captain Cristório, a title on the sea, with which he had a pact that made him master of the arts of fishing and sailing.
Jerumenho—Oldest son and fishing companion of [Antão] Cristório who was killed by Carideno.
Querente—Companion of [Antão] Cristório, incarnation of Diogo de Seixas, a soldier thrown into the sea from the ship São Tomé off the coast of the Land of Smoke in 1589.
Quertide—[Maria] Quertide, bride for whom [Antão] Cristório spent more than three years searching after a pioco snatched her up and carried her off to the depths of the sea.

biana—A small sailboat often used for fishing.
Chita Verde—Literally, "Green Calico."
pioco—A fantastic being that lives in the depths of the sea and has only one eye in the middle of its forehead.


Chapter 15
"It's getting dark all over," Jerumenho said.

"Rain's on the way," Cristório replied.

"And the sea's all riled up. There's a lot of blowing that's come up and is spreading out."

"It's the sea."

"What do you mean, the sea?" his son asked.

"It's water from the land. Water from the sky is rain," Cristório replied.

Chita Verde was sailing swiftly along, the wind filling her sail. They were heading out to sea, the open sea, to anchor off Banco Feliz. Jerumenho was holding the mast line with all his strength. The rope was taut. It was work. A white boat appeared in the distance, completely white, hull and sail, running as though it were sliding over the waves, tide and wind all at the same time. It was a strange craft, quite trim, straight, swift as a gale, different, appearing then disappearing in the midst of the moutainous seas.

"Cristório. I saw a boat just like that once in the cove at Goa. It's something amazing. Let's tack and catch up with it," Querente said.

"What kind of boat is it? It looks like a dugout."

"Steer after it!" Querente replied.

And they let out the sail so Chita Verde could get close to the white boat. It was the first time it had appeared in those waters off Red Bluff, heading toward Santana. Cristório continued in pursuit. The white boat kept disappearing and rising up out of the waves.

As they watched from a distance it began to swell up, the sail grew larger and suddenly it was transformed into a boat and then into a ship as the sails multiplied, and it sailed farther off and Chita Verde couldn't keep up. Clouds were forming in the sky. They were dark and they were white. The white boat became whiter. The winds were blowing harder and the sea started to become choppy. Cristório opened his eyes wide to look it all over. It was beautiful, gleaming like a star and no one knew where it was sailing. A flock of flamingoes flew low, passed over it, and headed southeast. Chita Verde went even faster, trying to get close and drawing quite near. The other craft was a mysterious vessel, with nobody at the controls. It was sailing with the winds. Cristório then began to ponder what was both a mystery and a specter. He headed straight for it and tried to get a good look. Its frame and boards were as white as the light of the sun, but they were hard to see clearly.

"What is it?" he shouted.

"It's white magic. I've seen it many times. It's the boat of purity," Querente answered.

"God be praised."

Suddenly everything was turning blue and a clear blue wind invaded the boat as Chita Verde, firm, brave and tough, galloped over the waves trying to come alongside the other boat. Master Cristório felt his biana wasn't doing what he wanted it to do.

"What's this, Chita Verde? Stop having a mind of your own!"

It was no use, his boat was all force and decision. It was bouncing from one side to the other, pitching along, and it had but one sure aim: pursuit of the white craft.

When it got quite close a hole opened up in the sea and a flock of black gulls appeared, flying in a circle and coming down from the sky to plunge in with a dance of wings, while the white boat disappeared, sinking into the eternal depths.

"Cristório… Ahoy!"

It was the sound of the wind. Quite close to the surface of the water a jewfish was swimming with its fins showing, along with a school of sardines.

Cristório lost the feeling in his arms. Jerumenho was trembling. The wind was shaking things strongly and the boat was swaying every which way. Querente, with fire in his green eyes, said, "Only the Ship of the Red Seal of August that plies the seas of China and Japan is more beautiful than this one."

"Let's head straight for our fishing grounds," Cristório answered in astonishment. "Point the prow to Guarapiranga, there by the Tabaiana ravine, near the Santana lighthouse. It's a deserted place and nobody's going to ask what's been going on at sea."

Chita Verde was smooth to sail and Cristório had a deep love for the biana. She inspired confidence in him and he knew what he was doing. She was the boat he had dreamed of owning and he knew how that beyond being a boat she had a soul. She would roll, pitch, go in and out of the waves, lurch frontward and sideways, firm and confident.

With the white boat, the memory of Quertide and the monsters came back into his head. Her eyes, her body, her memory, her flight. But the thought passed. It was only a gust of wind so he wouldn't forget the magic of the grief that wouldn't leave him.

"Jerumenho, we'll reach the fishing grounds at high tide. Get the net ready and start the work," Cristório said.

"This big wind puts us on notice that the weather isn't good for fishing," Querente answered, adding, "I see a lot of wind."

"But we already know that's what fishing's like. A good day, a bad day. The main thing is the sea. Day and night, sun and stars. The smell of the tide means luck," Cristório said.

Nightfall was coming on slowly, descending softly, then softer, then darker, still coming. Chita Verde went ahead. The Guarapiranga shoal had its whole head out now at low tide. The biana was heading toward the fishing grounds and in just a while, with low tide, the sand would appear as the waves retreated, looking like snakes left behind at the end of the tide. The boat would be beached for the night and the nets set out and the enclosure raised on stakes. Fish were always more easily taken with a nighttime tide.

"God made the sea so people would have something to eat," Jerumenho said.

"People were made for life, boy," Cristório answered.

On the distant waves the boom of a cannon was heard. It was nature's signal for surprises. That night what had never happened would happen. Flesh would turn cold and heads would get the feeling that the earth was being born. Querente was glowing. All he said was, "Ships don't die, they sink!"

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Rev'd 2005/11/09