Hassan sat on the bench and looked out over the water. He wondered what it would be like to be lost at sea. The view of the water was obscured by all of the boats, but he focused on the one clear patch that stretched out to the horizon and imagined being adrift. A single human soul in an ocean entire lifetimes have been spent upon without seeing all there is to see. He was filled with the low grade, buzzing sensation of nascent awe. With something so immense, words don’t sound big enough, so he made due with emphasis. The ocean was just so big and constantly moving.
All of the boats bobbed in the endless ebb and flow of the waves. Some sat low in the water, barely registering the lift and release of the tide. Others seemed to rest on the top of the water like a leaf, obeying every twist and pull, every rise and fall, every whim of the water that had existed billions of years before the boat and will be here billions of years after. And always moving! Always in motion! Always in–
Hassan looked up, his reverie broken. He hadn’t even noticed the man had approached him until he was towering over him, hands firmly in the pockets of his well-worn peacoat. The man wasn’t really looking at him, his eyes were constantly scanning his surroundings, the bright blue so sharp, Hassan felt like this man could chart the invisible map of the wind.
“You’re not a writer, are you?” The question, and the man’s aptitude shocked Hassan.
“How did you…”
“Shit. You just read Moby Dick or Old Man on the Sea, didn’t you.” It wasn’t even a question. The man, still scanning, pivoted back and forth on his feet, as if testing the solid ground beneath him, not quite trusting its permanence.
“‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ How did you know?”
“Thought so. Listen, man. Stick to your short stories about love and the human experience, or whatever. I’m not telling you what to write, just trust me. Stop thinking about the water, alright?” The man didn’t even wait for a response, or even an acknowledgement that Hassan had heard him. He just walked away, leaving Hassan on the bench.
The warning permeated his thoughts for several days, like a the sound of a foghorn wafting through the misty pre-dawn, but, much like the waves gently erasing footprints in the sand, eventually faded and Hassan again felt the siren call of the sea tugging and commanding his feet to return to the bench that faced the boatyard and the endless waters beyond.
Hassan’s eyes drank in the salty scene and he thirsted for more. The variety of boats he saw reminded him of the busy marketplaces he had seen depicted in movies, so full of movement and variety and life, each person visible aboard the vessels entirely focused on their tasks and the admirable seriousness of making their living from the waters that would not even notice should a single soul or a thousand slip beneath its waves forevermore.
This was no port of luxury, designed with the leisure nor whims of soft hands and perfumed necks in mind. No, this was a place of life hard won and hand wrung, earned through rough calluses and steeled will. Hassan imagined them much like the man in the peacoat; men and women who would never be caught by the net of complacency. They would never trust the consistency of solid earth beneath their feet. Their hearts would only feel at home aboard barques and brigs. Their nerves would only unknot upon the retourschips and four masted schooners. Theirs were a lives of adventure and stakes of the highest order against primal–
“Hey!” Hassan’s attention snapped tight like a mooring line at a sudden ebb in the tide. The sharp shift to reality reminded him how quickly calm waters could turn tumult by a sudden squall on the– “I said to stop coming around here, man.”
The man’s face was creased into a frown, the lines well worn by years of sea-faring. Hassan imagined the ocean spray streaming down his face, eroding these lines over thousands of years, like a cliff face succumbing to the indomitable sea. The man’s broad shoulders filled out his peacoat, the collar turned up to just below his jutting jawline. He had the physique of a pumpman, muscles carved in urgency, fighting against rising bilge water.
“I don’t see the harm in my presence,” came Hassan’s reply.
“I’m sure you don’t. Listen, I’ve seen this before, okay? You writer-types get it into your heads that working on the ocean is some kind of romantic life, but it’s not. You read some books, you google the names of ships and think you can imagine what it’s like, but you can’t, alright? You types get obsessed. Just stay away, for your own good,” he spoke with his finger stabbing towards the ground as if it were only bellyfire that kept the ground from floating away. “No one gives a good god damn what you think about the goddamned ocean, you get me? I saw one writer type who got obsessed and snuck aboard and got their leg caught in a line, damn thing almost got torn off, femur shattered. For chrissake, stay the fuck away.”
Hassan sat shocked for several minutes after the sailor walked away, not just by the salty language, but by the pearl of wisdom in what he said. There really was no way he could possibly imagine what life upon the sea really entailed. Not by sitting on this bench, at least. He would have to earn his sea legs, just like every other sea dog worth their salt.
Over the next several weeks, Hassan logged hundreds of hours on Youtube, scouring the digital sea of information for tips and tricks on how to walk across a deck, how to navigate the stars and how they determined his day to day life, and memorized dozens of sea shanties. He had, with the help of his wife, as sturdy a woman as ever was, devised a way to earn his sea legs by ingeniously mimicking the rolling waves of the ocean using only his wife’s yoga foam roller and a plank of wood atop, soaked through in the bath tub for added authenticity. At the end of his training, he packed his lunch in the predawn darkness, kissed his wife, who had been infinitely patient with him during his sabbatical from the university, and made his way to the port.
Hassan’s naval career made quite the figurative splash for multiple reasons. One, for its brevity; lasting only eight minutes, and two, for breaking multiple maritime laws and setting precedent for a future law that would amend the definition of “passenger” to include the baseline term “severe and harmful incompetence.” His brief stint met a bitter end with a literal splash as well since he had neglected to learn any actual terminology, thus misunderstanding a warning to stay clear of the bight line and promptly tripped over a cleat and into the water, hitting his head on the dock in the process.
It had only taken seconds for Hassan to be confronted about his unwelcome presence on deck and several minutes of manic justifications before he fully panicked and found himself overboard and nearly unconscious. It had only taken 90 seconds of debate before the man in the peacoat decided to shed his defining characteristic and dive in after Hassan and an additional three minutes, due to Hassan’s flailing attempts at swimming unaided, for him to drag Hassan ashore like so much flotsam. As he vomited roughly a gallon of seawater onto the beach, Hassan felt a kinship to all of those brave seamen-and-women who had come before him and had known the sea to be a harsh mistress, indeed.
Keith Buzzard is a writer, teacher, and musician currently living in Minnesota, United States of America. His writing has been recently featured in The Under Review, Grim & Gilded, Neurological Magazine, Bullshit Lit, and the Bear Creek Gazette. He’ll make a website eventually, but for now he can be found on Twitter at @KeithJDrazzub. Feel free to follow if you’re not a cop.