The Gods of Toil
He hands me a half smoked cigarette with calloused, brown hands. Some glowing embers fall out of the shabby roll and onto the weathered wood as his eyes wander off the edge of the once blue-painted pier, drifting over the white-capped expanse before us.
Like the hull of a skiff over hidden rocks, he begins to speak.
“Tonight the fishermen out at sea are blessed by the Gods.”
I look out over the choppy ocean to the South. Dark, heavy clouds. A slash of lightning.
His craggy face crinkles at the edges as he notices the perplexed expression on my face.
“Our lives are spent out on the ocean. What we catch is of our own labour, but who we are…well that is another story.”
I take a drag of the heady tobacco and my eyes begin to stream. Holding back a cough I offer the near finished roll.
He holds up his hand and refuses it with a chuckle; a noise so many fathoms deep it is felt more than heard.
“Do you believe in the Gods?” He asks as I place the stub underfoot with a hiss. I shrug, but he isn’t looking at me. He is staring out at the angry, approaching storm. Almost like a lover.
“The Gods love us, even you, traveler.
A languid god would send us fish. Put it on our plate. Make us fat and lazy.
We would be full, but we would be less.
Our Gods, they only send us hardship, for it is through hardship that we become more resilient. More ourselves.”
I stare at his worn, leathery face and steel eyes. Eyes that have seen much.
“Some men curse an approaching storm; but these men are fools. Every storm is a blessing, every broken rope, a lesson.”
I sit quietly, contemplating his words as the first of the chilly rain hits my face, pushed along by a fierce gust of wind.
“As children we better understand this truth. When the lightning crackles and the waves crash, we whoop in awe, fear, and delight, and dash wildly into the God’s outstretched arms. Our little planks of wood our alters as we ride the waves.”
He nods appreciatively, but I know not at what. Some seconds later lightning scours the sky.
"When after three days out at sea, with the wind and rain beating down on us – waves bigger than the boat! When we finally pull in our mended net and it is full to bursting with fish, that is not a blessing.
Who we are; who we have become. That is the real gift."
I hear a cry of joy behind us as a group of young fisher-children run past. Planks of beaten and scraped wood on their heads.
I head the rumble of thunder, but it is only my new friend, laughing as he rolls another cigarette.
- 38 toasts