The lighthouse at Land’s End had always fascinated him. Standing tall, a sentinel against the sky, its bright red and white color was visible from miles away. The way it stood stoically against the elements, with its coruscating light, a beacon for any passing vessel sailing towards the craggy shoreline, had aroused his interest since boyhood. Out on the fishing vessel with his grandfather, he had been eager to catch its glimpse from the sea, his boyish imagination fired by the many legends that abounded in the region. Stories of shipwrecks and pirates would flit through his mind, as he sat watching his grandfather haul the nets and check the catch. At night, he would sit on the window seat, staring out to sea, watching the beam of light dance on the waves, like a live serpent, and wait for the foghorn to blow. Its booming sound would echo through miles, warning any ship which passed too close to the crags.
He turned to give a last look to the tower of the lighthouse, and the gray, heaving sea, then traced his steps back to the fishing village of Maiden’s Cove. His disinterested gaze took in the familiar landscape. The shingle beach with its shiny, round pebbles, the white gulls bickering over dead fish, farther away, the gently rolling hills and the village itself, a congregation of some hundred or so cottages marked with narrow cobbled lanes and an overwhelming scent of the sea. It was his world, for he had lived there all his life, and maybe he had become somewhat immune to its beauty.
His steps took him automatically towards the cottage standing at one end of the village, quite near to the sea. Built of red bricks and thatched with tiles, its color had faded with time, most of it being hidden under creepers and moss. It was not so different from the other cottages in the village, nondescript, just like everything else about him, including his name. John Brown, yes, that was he, tall, with a slim frame, almost wiry, and pale, mousy hair. There was no color about him. Even his eyes lacked color, being a pale shade of gray, like the sea on an overcast day.
He opened the latch and stepped inside. The cottage was sparingly furnished, almost spartan, for John did not have a surfeit of possessions of the material kind. He had sold most of the old furniture after his parent's death, and once his brothers had moved out. It was now decorated more to his liking, simple, yet comfortable. A couch stood to one side of the living room, with a wooden table and a straight-back chair, and an old rug on the polished boards. The only indulgence seemed to be the rocking chair with a faded velvet cushion, and curled whereon, at the moment, was a big tabby. The mantle-shelf held family memorabilia, from childhood photographs to the medals his brothers had won in various sports.
Holding the chair, he shook the cat away from it, with a smile. Toby, the gray cat who had adopted him one fine day, mewed in protest, before climbing on the couch and going back to sleep. He had let Toby stay since he demanded nothing more than a saucer of milk or scraps from his plate, which John did not begrudge him. He had picked up the bottle of milk left in front of his door, so now, he headed for the kitchen. Starting the Aga, he placed the kettle on it, waiting for the water to boil, all the while plucking the yellowed leaves from the herbs he grew on the windowsill.
Once tea was ready, he went with the cup to sit in the living room, picked up the newspaper, and glanced through it. It was mostly full of local news, with nothing remarkable apart from the smart farmer’s market that had recently opened in the nearest town and an upcoming village fair that would be inaugurated by the mayor. As for the political stories carried by the newspaper, John did not much care for them. The nitty-gritty of politics was beyond him. He knew very well that however much the sheepdog made a show of running and working hard, it was ultimately the sheep that were shorn of their wool. The sheep, of course, are resigned to their fate. It came from being born as one. The same as with people. Being the youngest of five siblings had taught him early on to be wise. The incessant bullying by his four elder brothers had meant that he should keep his wits about himself all the time. They had been big, burly boys, athletic and pugnacious, while he had been gangly and none too good in sports. ‘Average’ had defined him all his life. His appearance, his achievements, and even his aspirations were all average, as much lacking in color as in any chutzpah. So, when his brothers, fired by their ambition, had chosen to leave the village and settle in the city, he had remained behind, content in a world with which he was familiar.
The cat shanghaied him off his chair, and with a knowing wink, he rose to get him his breakfast of milk. Anyway, he had promised to meet his friend Nico at the waterfront, and it was time he thought of getting ready. With some satisfaction, he watched the cat lap at the milk, its tiny pink tongue darting in and out.
An hour later, he walked on the road at the waterfront, his expectant gaze searching for a fishing boat. A trawler really. The waterfront was teeming with boats, big and small, a hub of activity. It was, after all, a fishing village. For centuries, the men of Maiden’s Cove had lived off the sea. The sea was, in a way, an indispensable part of their lives. Since boyhood, when his brothers had been busy with football, John had preferred to accompany his grandfather, and later, his father, on their fishing trips. It was said that the sea had a lure of its own. Like a siren’s call. He heard it in his soul and was drawn to it, however treacherous it might prove to be. Even though it took its toll, and took sacrifices like the Minotaur, it was still benevolent and so, irresistible.
He spotted the Santa Maria nestled between two schooners. It gently bobbed at anchor, having jettisoned most of its cargo that it had picked up the previous day. It hadn’t been of much use, anyway, the pickings being lean this fishing season. They would have to wait for the conditions to be favorable before they could haul a good catch.
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