The fishing village on the island of Nana had grown in a disorderly, piggybacked manner alongside the canal, as though standing on tiptoe to take a peek at the sea. At a certain point, the canal proceeds by itself with its two mighty piers like a pair of stone arms extending into the sea, keeping the sometimes ill-tempered waters at bay, ensuring the safety of the homes left behind like petrified cravings. Of the families that lived there, the men were mostly fishermen, with some traders and blacksmiths. There was a physician-pharmacist-dentist who had inherited the wisdom of his late parents, illustrious people from a region of old Pan who, after the birth of their first and only son, and not agreeing with the political guidelines of their country, had decided to travel South, finding on this island, and in its small village, what they called ‘room to be reborn’.
Besides his enormously valuable scientific knowledge, Mentesúfis, now grey-haired, had developed from a very early age a special love for the old books, transforming his house into a unique library with works from all over the world, many of which had been kindly brought by fishermen on their long journeys as a form of payment, or simply out of gratitude for the services he had provided, a practice turned tradition.
Women were treated with care as children; when they reached marriageable age, they were courted respectfully, and it was up to them to approve their suitors. Everything was reason for a feast, but the greatest celebration was always for a birth, since many of those men found their graves at sea.
Little boys had auspicious childhoods, which mostly ended at the end of adolescence, hardened with the battering of the waves. These people had long since become aware of ‘the importance of the time one has in life, without knowing how much time one has’, an old village saying, which had become rule. Since this was the case, they lived fearlessly the best they knew how, receiving the visit of death with dignity and simplicity. But never suffering, that they fought, and it was often in this scenario that the wisdom of Mentesúfis became their greatest ally. He had brought many of them into the world, helped some die without agony, and for others he had simply held their hand, the helpless witness to excruciating suffering. These had been some of the battering of waves, in the sea that was his life.
On the beach, quite a distance from the village, lived Guilherme, the carpenter, lovingly known as ‘Gui’, a fully grown young man of twenty-something years. He had a personality characterised by his name since, like a planer, when he detected faults in people, he did not rest until he had smoothed them, a singularity he had inherited from his father. Good-hearted, he was somewhat Manichaean, a bit too much so for his neighbour friend in the little house next door. Vésper understood him, and why he was that way, but, moved by his adolescence and his own inquisitive, learner’s spirit, gave him no respite. Gui was in the habit of turning his back on him irritated, squawking and saying to him: ‘You’re impossible, nothing is enough for you. You ask questions, I answer with what I know and as I’m able, you argue, I agree or not but you still want more, and I don’t know what else to tell you. You’re a nuisance, and I’m going to sleep, and you should do likewise!’ And he finished by loudly slamming the door to his house, while continuing to grumble. The two semi-detached dwellings were modest, with thin walls, so Vésper could still hear him, and smiled, thinking how precious that friendship was to him.
A year had passed since he arrived at that island alone, dragging a huge wooden suitcase bigger than he was across the ground. He brought with him a letter, the envelope read: ‘from Dérop and Aira to Guilherme’. When he inquired in the village, everyone knew who he meant, and they gave him directions to the beach house. They were very polite, and four of them offered to carry the huge suitcase; without uttering a word, they picked up the monstrous weight, all smiles, and started off, gesturing for him to follow them. Vésper was grateful, since the sand was so thin it would have been impossible for him to take a step. They finally arrived, and the men moved away laughing, in a good mood, waving a ‘see you later’, Vésper returned the gesture and, with his back to the house, his glance deviated from the individuals to the sea that had brought him there, attracted by its smooth undulance. He had already begun to lose himself when he felt himself being observed, turned around… no one. He sat on the huge suitcase, and waited…
‘Why are you here?’
Vésper lost his balance, and almost fell; right behind him this old man was enormous, hair like cotton, cheeks darkened by the sun, his eyes reflecting the colour of the water, first green then blue, then nothing. Vésper stood, and, in an effort to recover from the fright, began hesitantly:
‘I know who you are. Why are you here?’, insisted the other.
Vésper used the pachydermic perspicacity typical of the very young:
‘With all due respect, if you know who I am, you certainly know why I am here!’
‘I know who you are, because you have the traces of your parents filed on your face, yet, nevertheless, I even know why you are here: so that I can file the splinters of your persona. Otherwise, as you grow older the splinters will become true sharpened stakes that will only harm yourself… and the love those two have for you does not allow it.’ And he prayed in a lower voice: ‘… Nor does what the future has in store for you.’
Vésper was unable to hear the whisper. The old man, without taking his eyes off of him, presented himself, making a small gesture with his head:
The young man excused himself and respectfully held out the letter, which the other man opened.
From its interior he removed two rose petals, one white, the other one red, and, written on the yellowed sheet of paper, the words: ‘Eternally grateful, dear friend.’ Once again, he stared at the youth and said:
‘The first splinter has been filed! Although, in the beginning they are all as innocent as the tantrums of suckling infants!’
His eyes lit up like waves breaking on the sea, reflecting its tones. And, in a good mood, he grabbed Vésper’s arm and vented:
‘I feel like I did the day my son was born, it is an honour to receive you into our family.’
The youth was about to thank him humbly, when he was interrupted by the old man, who said to him in a lower tone:
‘Not needed, I know what you feel. You are a good boy, it will be easy to grow with you. Easy and enriching. The heritage you bring in your blood already gives you a great advantage! Go on, come, you must be hungry.’
And the two embarked on a unique relationship, at the same time enjoying the jovial and entertaining company of the son of the old man, his namesake, just like his grandfathers, all carpenters and empirical philosophers who at the end of so many generations already had their own philosophy. They built the best vessels seen on the island of Nana in several generations too, and they were respected and prized by all.
Vésper feels somewhat ostracised. Opens up to Mentesúfis. Reminisces about his childhood.