Lost For 400 Days

In a swooning tone, just before he fell asleep, Santos now smiling sheepishly from the effect of the medication administered to him said dreamily to his rescuers. “Felix—Felix tastes just like fish… He really does…”

                           Lost For 400 Days

Location Costa Azul: sandy shores, windy ambiance, icy ocean; two men worked a speedboat across the deep waters of the Pacific. All seemed aligned; all seemed perfect, except for fish.

They hadn't caught any.

This was their third day on the waters. Fishermen from Mexico loved to camp close to the waters. They each had their season, and once your season was up, you withdrew for other fishermen to take turns.

Santos and Felix had been stuck here for three days finding fish. Today was their last day to fish. If they failed to catch any, they would have to contend with the local authorities. in form of fishing taxes. Because whether or not you caught fish, the local fishing tax had to be paid. This was the dilemma these two hardworking fishermen faced.

Santos was the older of the two fishermen. At 42, he had gone fishing in these waters for close to 20 years. In fact, fishing here was all he knew. Fishing was his late father's occupation, as well as his great grandfather. Still, none of these men had ever gone fishless.

This situation was a rare mishap.

His apprentice, Felix, was only a young adult, a 20-year-old man who already had more kids than he could feed. Felix was indifferent to the whole no-fish thing. If the young man failed to catch any fish today, there were numerous other opportunities available to him like night-time robbery or cocaine distribution.

Santos did not have the luxury. He needed more than fishing money. Fishing was his family’s only sustenance. His wife was already stretched thin by her measly-paying teaching job. Santos was the breadwinner; he had to provide or his two adolescent daughters would starve.

He stood at the edge of the boat and peered into the endless water beyond his line of vision.

"A little further?"

Felix shook his head. "It’s getting late sir. We are already five miles offshore..." And then as if receiving divine wisdom from above, Felix changed his mind. “Well,” he said, “it wouldn’t hurt to paddle a little further.”

Just like that, they ventured a little further into the ocean, with the view of the shoreline shrinking with each sputtering of the engine. It was only 3pm, so there was plenty of sunshine to fish and more than enough time to return to shore. Here, they began to cast their nets yet again. Usually, they waited an hour or two before drawing their nets but out of impatience, they did so in thirty minutes; no fish.

“A little further,” Santos suggested. And a little further they went until the view of the shoreline was lost to them.

Still, they could find no great quantity of fish, only five salmons, about ten dozen worms, and an immeasurable number of seaweeds. It was finally time to call it a day. So they headed back to shore.

But the ocean gods had different ideas because almost immediately, the ocean waves wobbled and a storm ensued.

Navigating a storm wasn’t their problem; they were veterans after all; they could navigate this one like many other storms they had encountered in the past. The problem was their motor. Their little speedboat managed to make it a few miles to the shoreline, and then the engine stopped. Now, this was a really big predicament. They could see the mountain peaks in the distance; the detail of beach houses and the bustle of distant human figures.

Yet they could not move. They were trapped in the middle of the ocean with no means to reach the shores. They couldn’t paddle either; the ocean currents were just too strong.

The storm was ravaging now. It was about to rain heavily; suddenly 5 pm was looking like 8 pm. With no other speedboat in sight, one thing became clear to Santos and Felix; they were screwed.

Felix offered to call the ports authority with the speedboat’s radio transmitter, and he did. After the call, he received some assurance: “They’re on their way,” he asserted.

What they didn’t know or were aware of was that, with each passing moment on those waters, the ocean pulled them farther away from shore. So much that in half an hour, they could no longer see the shorelines. Santos noticed this and called the port authorities yet again, who then confirmed that they had made a sweep and saw no speedboat.

Shit…

Santos begged them to do one more sweep to which they agreed. Luck wasn’t on their side because the waves crashed hard against their boat and almost swept them overboard. Although the boat stayed intact, its radio system went with the waves.

Truly, now, they were… screwed

“Jesus! We’re fucked!” Felix grunted; his hands pulling at his silky ebony hair in unimaginable ways. He was a chubby lad whose jowls now quivered with fear.

Santos tried to calm the situation. “Control will find us,” he cooed, even though be believed otherwise.

This was the start of a 400-day journey that none of them saw coming.

They realized their fate after the storm ended, sometime around 4 am the next day. Santos had never felt so alone amidst the wobbling ocean waters. Sounds here came out muffled as the steady swooshing of water reverberated around the observable ocean landscape. The ocean current pushed their boat further and farther away from land and towards the very heart of the ocean at the western end of the world.

It became clear as day that Santos and Felix were lost in a labyrinth—one with no corners.

“What do we do now?” Felix asked, frustrated, after pulling at the generator for the millionth time.

“We wait…”

And so they did for two weeks, surviving on nothing but fish blood. They even ate the fish raw—the irony, now they saw plenty of fish after so many days at sea. But even the net had its breaking point. After being exposed to intermittent sunshine and rain for a week, the net crumbled into a heap of sand. Now life was truly unliveable.

After a month and half of floating around the Pacific, Santos and Felix knew they were going to die; it was only a matter of time. In that period, Santos and Felix aged twice their age—their bodies shrinking into scarecrows. Fish was harder to catch without a net—not that they saw any. What’s worse: they were now drinking urine but even that was becoming incredibly hard to come by without proper hydration.

Life felt fragile and neither of them knew how long left they had to live. But they were very fine dying in each other’s company—because, really, did they have a choice?

Until Felix couldn’t take it anymore…

“I can’t eat this filth. I can’t drink urine no more—I can’t, I just can’t!”

They seldom had these ranting episodes where they complained about their predicament. But that was expected; two months on the ocean could drive a person mad. What could the other person do but stay quiet? And this is what Santos did, keeping mute when Felix lamented, until one night, the young man slipped overboard and drowned in his sleep.

Santos was now alone. But as things often happen in the world, an unfortunate happening can lead to bountiful blessings. This was the case for Santos. Because the next day after Felix’s death, and the day after that; and after that for weeks and months, the ocean bubbled with fish; and Santos ate to his fill.

There was suddenly hope. All he had to do now was wait patiently for an intercontinental trade-ship to come his way.  One day, after drifting for 13 months, Santos’ luck shone through; rescuers came to his aid. But he was too delusional to recognize it.

All he could think about was how good the fish tasted.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Oi Amigo!”

“Do you speak Anglais?”

No answer. The two sailors looked incredulously at themselves, as they watched a grizzly man sit still on a septic speedboat chomping hard on stale fish. Was that even fish at all?

When they tried to touch him, the grizzly man stared at them like ghosts for a second, before returning to his meal. There was dried blood everywhere on parts of the boat and bits of hair here and there. There were also semblances of what was a rib cage. Were they from a shark?

The first man shook his head kindly. “I’ve never seen a person so demented. How long do you think he’s been stranded?”

His second shrugged. “I don’t know; a month?”

Then they stared at the grizzly man in silence a bit.

“We should get him overboard,” opined the first.

“Yes, let’s…”

They hauled the man between themselves and walked the plank up to their ship. The whole time, the grizzly man muttered words they couldn’t really put together. But when they got him hydrated, fed (with real food), and sedated, the words became clear.

The grizzly man, whose name was Santos Emilio, kept repeating the same words. “He tastes just like fish.”

Who, they asked.

In a swooning tone, just before he fell asleep, Santos now smiling sheepishly from the effect of the medication administered to him said dreamily to his rescuers. “Felix—Felix tastes just like fish… He really does…”

 

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