Chapter Seven

Another day, another early morning nudge from his father. The day began just as any other with Joma setting up his small skiff with spear fishing gear. Upon reaching his quota, he would make his way to one of the large storage boats, drop off his catchment, before again going about his business.

As he began to push his boat into the surf the chief called out, “Joma, you’re with me today”.

Joma stood at the shore stunned; it was not often he was called to work one of the storage boats with his father. On the rare occasion he would fill-in when the seasoned fishermen were unwell. It didn’t take him long to realise the events of the last few days had precipitated his call-up, in particular conversations with his mother and Mariusz had circulated their way back to his father.

Work on the larger boats differed. The crew were on the look out for smaller boats of the fleet bringing in fish or news about conditions, which could be relayed to others. In addition, the larger boats were fitted with nets to capture baitfish. During quieter periods, the men would cast a line for deeper dwelling fish that the spear fisherman were not capable of catching.

It was mid-morning when Joma grabbed a rod and found a quiet spot on the boat. Not long after, the chief made himself comfortable alongside of him.

“The sea is calm today, she can turn quickly though. Have I told you about the time Manny and I were nearly lost at sea?” his father asked while casting his line. Joma rolled his eyes, “Yes father, many times. The seas were quiet when you set sail but soon a storm rolled in. Your boat was overturned and you were forced to swim for more than an hour back to shore,” Joma replied obediently. “Ahh, so you do listen to me!” his father chuckled.

“Joma, what you overheard the other day…” the boy cut in before the chief could finish, “It’s OK father, forget it,” Joma said swifty.

“It’s not safe to leave son. Not alone,” the chief spoke seriously.

“I must find my own path,” the boy said as something tugged on his line.

“What makes you think your path is out there?” replied the chief looking out at the vastness of the seas.

By now Joma was grappling with his rod, using his hips to draw in the fish. “What makes you think it is here?” Joma managed to say between efforts. “Ahh, darn it!” Joma grunted as the tension went out of his line.

“Where a man lives does not make for a fulfilling life, Joma, it is what is inside. Remember, wherever you go, you always take yourself,” his father said sagely while calmly hauling in a large fish.

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Chapter Six

Tonight they would be having raw fish. While not a staple, the dish was a delicacy shared with guests, which tonight would be Joma’s grandparents.

Over the years Joma had learnt that the best served raw fish came down to two things – good fish and masterful preparation. There was no question about fish quality. The seas around the island were teeming with fish thanks to a healthy ecosystem fostered by an aware community. His mother’s prowess with a knife took care of the other part of the equation.

Originally, Joma couldn’t fathom that the angle of a cut could dictate flavour, though recognised a distinct difference between the fish he prepared versus the experienced hand of his mother. He continued to chip away at the art, enjoying the challenge, but was still years away from reaching the calibre of his mother.

“I saw Mariusz at the markets today,” his mother said as she placed a small fillet onto a dish. “Oh yeah,” Joma replied nonchalantly. “He mentioned you had asked him about crafting a boat for long journeys,” she said with a grin. Joma let out a sigh, “The old man doesn’t keep much to himself does he?” he asked rhetorically. “Maybe it’s time for me to grow up and leave the village,” Joma postulated while tentatively sizing up a fish.

“Don’t be silly Joma, you’ve barely been out of the harbour. Besides where would you go and what would you do?” she questioned as one would talk to a child who had ambitions to travel to the moon. “Hopefully I learn along the way,” Joma responded in a sombre tone.

His mother fumbled and dropped a piece of fish upon realising her son was serious about this journey.

Chapter Five

The weekend provides the fisherman a chance to rest from their early morning travels out to sea. Most catch up with family and friends and the close-knit nature of the community, every weekend has a festival-like atmosphere.

Joma could often be found at the boat yard with Mariusz, the old boat builder. Mariusz is one of the village elders though remains in excellent health. His entire life, just like his forefathers, has been spent building boats and his hard, sinewy body reflects this. His skin is burnt orange and deep wrinkles form creases around his ever-smiling face.Mariusz had told Joma about his own upbringing too many times to count. This morning he felt it necessary to tell the young man once again, in case he had forgotten.

When Mariusz was about the age of Joma, he didn’t want to become a boat builder, in fact he hated the idea of spending his life at the boat yard. But he persisted. With time he grew fond of the work as his skills improved. Nowadays, rarely does a day pass where he doesn’t work on a boat.

Eventually the old man finished his life story, throwing in a few details that err on fiction rather than fact, like the time he built a boat a day for one hundred days. Joma, finally sensing an opening, quickly asked the old man, “Out of curiosity, what kind of adjustments would need to be made to the average boat to make it capable of longer journey’s on bigger seas?”

“Ahh, good question my lad! A number of changes would need to take place. For one, the sail fabric would need to be thicker and at least triple-stitched. I would add additional storage for food and supplies and place a greater emphasis on creating a finely balanced boat to make it as efficient as possible. There are of course many other things to consider, but do you know the most important detail?” the old man asked glancing up from his work. Joma shook his head. “You must know what you’re searching for,” said the old man with a knowing wink.

Chapter Four

She found him at the cliff top overlooking the rocky outcrops. The area was always devoid of people as the waters were treacherous and the land unusable for farming. She would often find him here.

She sat down quietly beside him. Looking out at the ocean she said, “Your mother told me what happened,” Joma huffed as if to say ‘Of course’. “The chief is well-meaning, you know that Joma. What he said shouldn’t be taken literally. He is proud of you and only wants you to be the best person you can be,” she said seriously.

Joma was fiddling with a smooth rock, rotating it around in his palm. “I know,” he said finally, “It’s just that, I don’t know if I even want to be chief. I don’t know what I want to be at all in fact,” he said while further examining the stone.

The girl laughed lightly, “You think you’re the only one who is lost Joma? Join the club,” she said as she took the stone from Joma and began turning it over in her hand just as he had. “The thing is, when you get stuck in your mind and shut everyone out and push everyone away, you’re wasting precious time and resources. If you don’t know what you want, you have to look. The people around you want to help. Use your time wisely to explore your mind and surroundings rather than brooding,” she said with a passionate tremor in her voice.

The girl, Maria, and Joma had been friends since as long as the two could remember. Their families were close too. Very rarely did they spend a day without seeing each other. Maria shuffled closer, allowing her head to rest on his shoulder. Joma sat there awkwardly. “You’re a funny one,” she teased as she took his arm and put it around herself. Joma laughed nervously.

The two sat there as the sun went down and a reddish hue filled the cloudless sky.

Chapter Three

Joma made his way to his room. He would sleep this bad mood away. The room was small, consisting of a low bed made of a soft and pliable wood covered in rushes. He did not have many possessions. A small wooden desk and stool stood in one corner while an array of fishing gear, rods and spears, were neatly arranged in another.

Despite every effort to keep flies out of the home, their presence was inevitable. Joma lay down and shut his eyes. Sleep was not forthcoming thanks to a courageous fly. Joma made attempts to capture and destroy the pesky insect, swatting around aggressively, but it was to no avail. Recognising sleep wasn’t an option, he began to turn thoughts over in his head.

In many ways, he realised, he was in the wrong. It was frustrating his father didn’t back his abilities, though he overreacted and allowed these negative emotions to snowball and ruin the entire day. Furthermore, there was no need to push his mother away like he did. She had only offered love and comfort.

Despite the recognition, Joma didn’t know how to remedy the situation. He sulked and brooded regularly despite these self-talks. He sat up and pledged he would be in a good mood for the rest of the day.

He made his way to the kitchen but slowed his pace. He could overhear the conversation between his mother and father. “I know you’re well intentioned Fernando but you need to be more lenient with Joma. You know he tries his best. If you keep this up you’ll push him away,” his mother said while pouring tea for the two. A cold brew was their daily afternoon ritual. The tea was a unique blend of fruity and earthy flavours and was very popular among villagers. “I only push him because he has great potential. He has everything he needs to become great. We have provided him with the finest education and equipment. He must do better if he is to be chief one day,” he replied then guzzled the tea. It was typical to drink slowly but the chief was the exception, quickly drinking the golden liquid.

“What do you mean ‘if’? He is your natural successor,” she said with a look of concern on her face. Joma’s head dropped and he backed away from the doorway. His mother noticing the movement in the corner of her eye gasped. “Joma…” her voice trailed off as Joma ran out the door.