sea legs

Short Stories / Sunday, January 21st, 2018

He has the rambling, unsteady gait of someone who has been to sea for too long and can’t really remember how to walk normally, on steady ground, feet planted firmly onto the earth. He is used to the low and reassuring sway of waves underneath his boat, and he prefers it. But no matter, that has always been his trick: hiding inabilities in plain sight. In showcasing them to the world he takes away their acid, the spitefulness failure normally produces in others. If you wear your weakness on your sleeve, you leave them nothing to bite at. That’s what life has instilled in him early on. So, he hobbles plainly along the wooden planks of the harbour, showing no sign of being ashamed of the way his one leg is shorter than the other and the way that makes him walk. If someone would only pay him one quick passing look, they would probably have just enough time to register the silver earring pierced into his right ear lobe, the stubble of several day’s worth of not shaving and a wild scar going out from the corner of his mouth and drawing a straight line down his cheek. These are the things one notices first about him; all of them signs of wildness.

He doesn’t like people staring, he never has. It makes him feel uncomfortable and shift around in his skin as if he’s not sure how to fit properly into the frame of cells and blood vessels that he has been given. Life has not always been fair to him, but then again, if he thinks about it long enough, he hasn’t always been fair to life, either. There have been times when he took what was not his to take and when he desired what was not his to desire and when he uttered words that should not have been uttered. He knows that he is faulty, as faulty as the next person and probably more than her, but he also knows that none of these things matter, really. He has long ago stopped believing in hell.

It means he also stopped believing in heaven. So, there is really not much left for him to aim at, not much to do and share before he will depart this world, except to satisfy his own cravings as best as possible as long as he can enjoy their outcome. That is his philosophy and he is not one to easily let go of views long since established and proven worthy by time and experience. But then again, sometimes life doesn’t really care for established and proven views so much.

“Hello.” He stops hobbling along the harbour. There’s a young man, he might be 25 years old, sitting on a bench, clearly out of sorts somehow, his gaze fixed on a point behind somewhere out at sea.

“Hello,” the young man repeats and signals for the wild man to seat himself beside him.

“Got business in town,” the wild man grumbles and makes to continue down the direction he’s been heading to.

“Come on man, can’t you see I’m broken-hearted? Sit down with me for a minute and tell me a story or two. You look like you have a thousand to offer. Please.” He looks at the broken-hearted man more attentively this time, scrutinizes his long haggard face and sallow eyes and notices a book clenched into his left fist.

“Scoot over then.” And with that, the broken-hearted man sidles over and the wild man sits himself down next to him with a small cry of pain.

“What is it?”

“Got all these crevices in my bones – osteoporosis. Hurts like hell when I’m moving too fast.”

“I’m sorry about that,” the broken-hearted man says. The wild man waves his pity away with a flicker of his hand.

“I have dealt with worse.” Then both say nothing and stare out onto the waves dancing in and out of the harbour, swelling with the tide.

“So. You’re nursing a broken heart, I take it?”

“I do. Love of my life just up and left, basically. Not really sure how to cope with it. Today I got home and called “I’m home” and no one gave an answer because, news flash, no one lives in the apartment with me anymore and I just kind of broke down and sobbed in the wood panelled hallway of my flat. Can you believe it? I was so caught up in missing her, I’d forgotten she was not here anymore.”

The wild man leans back, the stone bench scratching his woollen sailor’s coat.

“That sucks. I’m sorry about that.”


“Do you like to be pitied?”

“Sometimes. Do you?”

“Nah. It means I’ve given them something to bite at. Pity is never a positive thing. It always gives the other person a right to look down on you because in some way, you have it worse than her. Makes me mad.” The broken-hearted man looks at the wild man sideways.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I sail.”

“You sail?”

“I sail.”

“How does that earn you money?”

“You might be surprised to hear that it doesn’t. Do I look like a person with money?”

“You don’t, actually.” The wild man nods.

“There you go.”

“Where do you sail to?”

“Oh, wherever my boat takes me. Sometimes south and sometimes east but always far enough from the shoreline so that I can’t see them.”


“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me now.”

“I don’t think you want to hear an old man’s yarn.”

“I really, really do. I’d want to hear what you had for breakfast today if it meant I’m not sitting alone on a hard stone bench like the sad man that I am.” The wild man almost smiles.

“My ghosts. The ones that haunt me as soon as I touch upon hard soil. It doesn’t matter where, whether a sharp wind from the West Indies is blowing against my face or whether I’m anchoring on bright European shores. The minute I get on land, they’re stood there, waiting for me.”

“You have your own personal ghosts? What kind of ghosts are they?”

“Now you think I lost it. I’m bonkers.”

“Maybe I do. You don’t care for my opinion anyway, so what’s the difference to you.”

“They’re souls that I’ve touched with dirty hands over the course of a lifetime, and souls that I’ve left my finger prints all over. There were times when I was a greedy, selfish man. I live with the knowledge of there having been casualties to my way of living. And they are here whenever they can, to remind me of that. That’s another reason why I don’t wish to spend much longer in this town. I’m anxious to get back on my boat.”

“I see.” A tentative sun is gleaming onto the water now, making it sparkle in the lazy September sun. “I think I’d prefer her haunting me like a ghost than her not being here at all. At least I could come home and call “I’m home” without it being weird. Even if she was just a ghost. Maybe that would be even weirder?”

“And you think I’m the one who’s bonkers?” The broken-hearted man almost smiles.


“I think it’s time for me to go now. Need to restock on water and dried meat and I want to be out of this harbour by dusk.”

“Fair enough. Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it. I hope your ghosts won’t bother you too much today.”

“I hope so, too. And I hope that you’ll stop missing her so much you forget she’s not here anymore.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” And with that, the wild man gets up from the bench with visible pain and hobbles along the way he’s been wanting to go all along, into town.

When he returns half an hour later, two paper bags tucked under his arms, the bench is empty and there’s no trace of the broken-hearted man.

Indeed, the wild man has a strange feeling of certainty that, somehow, the broken-hearted man has vanished into thin air entirely.

‘Maybe sometimes it’s better to lend a hand to your ghosts, instead of running from them far and wide,’ the wild man thinks to himself and smiles.

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