In this corner of the world, the legends that kept children awake during humid nights were true; and people who saw spirits were not crazy. We had a villa just by the beach, where the mosquitoes met once dawn came and the sun greeted us through our windows to let us know that God had graced us with another day of life – another day of breathing in the salty aroma of the sea in front of us and taking in the vanilla scent of the sand beneath our toes. Trot, Trot. I awoke to these peculiar noises, which felt like they were coming from the pier just outside my home. I shuffled through my sheets and slipped on my sand-soaked sandals as swiftly as I could, peeking out my front door timing myself just before our household fell into chaos.
There she stood, as beautiful as ever, like a butterfly who didn’t know they were being watched and that grew vulnerable in their own solitude. She was a voluptuous woman no older than her mid-twenties, and she sat defenseless in the middle of the wooden path that led straight to the shore with an ousted look on her face. Her skin was darker than mine and my whole family’s, a rich and deep caramel that I imagined smelled like the sand after a night’s storm. She wore a white gown that was almost sheer and overgrown, a lot like the forest of curls that laid on her scalp and fell just under her behind. Her eyes were brown, like mine, which gave me comfort in knowing that there was just one similarity between us.
I knew how anomalous it seemed to watch a woman in her darkest moment, but I couldn’t help it; her eyes were welled up with tears and her expression was punctured into a look of fury. She held up her hands in a fist and bit her lip as she appeared to have so many things to yell out, but then let out a deep sigh and closed her eyes. She wasn’t spoiled like any of us who lived here, the gringas who had enough money to buy pastries and candies by the town square and who came to this quiet beach town every summer with their rich parents.
Like me, for example. My parents may have been born wealthy but were not in love, and I knew it by the way they looked at each other. Something told me that they regretted having me just because if they didn’t they wouldn’t be stuck with each other. Mom was a sad woman who drifted in and out of daydreams all day, dreaming of a life beyond the humidity of the island and of a life without the gaze of her son and husband. Papa couldn’t even look at me sometimes, as if it hurt him to do so.
Despite all the wrongdoings of my parents and my inability to fit in with everyone else and their clichés, I did not pity myself. I strayed away from my parents and walked the docks everyday, speaking in the tongue of the natives who sold and bought at the market each day despite my peers antagonizing me for it. Everyone knew I was defiant, so when it came to a different-looking woman crying right at my feet I couldn’t understand why I felt this way about something that wasn’t any of my concern. I didn’t mind being alone, as long as I was satisfied with what I saw.
Suddenly I too felt tears fall down my cheeks and my mouth open in shock. Her face flew up once she heard the sniffles of my low voice and she gasped at my curiosity. My trance was broken at that moment, and I covered my mouth as she glared at me with her stern, mystical eyes. I wondered if anyone had ever felt this way before. If my mother saw the world the way I did maybe she wouldn’t mind me after all. If Papa saw the world the way Mom did then perhaps he’d look at me. At that moment, her pain was my pain, and my sorrow was hers.
I wouldn’t speak, for it felt wrong to do so; and I couldn’t cry anymore, because suddenly she stopped crying too. All I could do was rush back inside and shut the door in front of me as quietly as I could, hoping to make my way back into my creaky bed and pretend that none of this had happened. But, happen it did, and for the next month, I couldn’t stop thinking about her eyes, and the way her palms tugged at her wrinkled dress as she gasped for air on the brink of her devastation.
The first two weeks there was no sign of her like she vanished into thin air. Panic, Panic. I looked for her in the day, walking by the exotic markets where fruits smelled of tart and spices smelled like the flames of a bonfire. There I’d ask every vendor in the fumble of my broken Spanish, describing what this mystery woman looked like to no relief. No one knew of the woman I spoke of, and rumors began to spread around the community that I had gone mad. I didn’t care, as mad as I may have been, as crazy as the time I threw myself in the ocean for no reason at all as a child just because of my peculiar obsession with it.
At night I could hear the sea calling me as it caressed my tanned face, my ears hearing faint whispers of stories of spirits who danced with the wind. I stopped eating and I began to lose weight drastically. No longer did I investigate in the day but in the night instead, limping my way through the beaches tiredly to no end.
One night I stopped searching, and suddenly I felt drowsy. My bed, just placed by my window, shone in the moonlight when I began to hear the tides and the whispers come to read me to sleep. I looked out my window and found rest in the corners of my mind. Getting out of my bed, I sprinted out of my house — no shoes on my cold feet, running towards the woman that hadn’t left my mind since the moment I saw her. She could feel my presence the moment I caught up to her, but stood silent, staring at the sea with a melancholic gaze.
“You know, this place is cursed.”
“How do you mean?”
No answer. Heavy sigh.
“I’m only fourteen.”
Silence again. A glance, a slight smile, and then a breath.
“Fourteen? You have the soul of an old man.”
I wanted to rant and rave about the feeling of betrayal I felt the moment she disappeared, as if I’d lost a part of myself but no words could come out of my dry mouth. Now she was looking at me and I felt I was being judged, but I knew that she was only noticing my features. The silence melted through my skin, and my legs felt as if they were turning to water.
“Can you hear the ocean calling you too?”
Her eyes widened and tears began to well on her face in response to my question. I wanted to yell the way she wished she could that day on the pier, for her and for my parents and for everyone who ever misunderstood me, for the times I wished someone would be proud of me, and the times I wished my parents could leave me behind on this immortal island so I could forever be entranced by its beauty. Instead of doing anything, I closed my eyes, and all of a sudden I became her the day at the pier. The silence killed me; she knew that I knew what she was.
She watched me fall onto the ground as my hands dug into the sand, watching silently as I handed my vulnerability to a stranger. I sat silently, collecting my thoughts since I was too afraid that she’d lash out at me and cause a scene.
I felt a soft hand touch my shoulder and I glanced up, the woman looking at me in an understanding way. She caressed my cheek and nodded her head finally answering my question, that perhaps she wasn’t human at all, like me, a boy who isn’t seen by his family or the townspeople just because of the way he is. She then turned, walking towards the sea as her dress became the wind. In almost a second, the woman I thought I could see through my window and by the sea had vanished, with the sea becoming her. The days I spent watching her walk through the streets and the beaches were untrue. No one saw her but I and I never saw the world the same way again.