our first nine hours at sea. In all that time, we had kept ourselves afloat with
great effort. Besides, we had been traveling at a desperately slow pace. By then, the exhaustion was unbearable and I was almost convinced that we would never
complete the trip. I recognized that things were becoming more and more difficult. Although the fury of the waves was- slightly reduced, we did not discount the great
danger they still represented. As
well, all the water filtering into the yola made us constantly aware of the weakening of resin between the slats of wood that
composed our fragile vessel.
They had been nine long hours of a great battle. I did not feel very hungry nor was I very thirsty but I was tired of the anguish of finding myself so defenseless
and so unsafe as never before. Nothing nor anyone could comfort me. The only consolation I found was in the task of emptying water from the yola. I felt a chronic weakness and cramps forced me to interrupt my task to take care of my demolished body.
The dense drops falling upon the sea looked like a fog blown
by the wind. Our hope of arriving at least at a small island to rest, had disappeared. We had before us only the sea, angry and rough, as I had never seen it. People spoke very little. We could hear laments, prayers,
sobs, the reiteration of a promise to a saint... but none of this was encouraging. Some
attempted to animate us with the often repeated words:
---Extract water, señores! Extract water.
All of that was depressing.
I felt all my tortures as a set of cruel emotions. At the same time, I
was amazed at my great resilience in the task of extracting water. I said to
-"I never imagined that I would be able to do such hard work
as I have done scooping out water continually from this yola. I've been doing
this for more than eight hours. I'm sure no one has done as much as I have...
I still have in my hand the same container with which I began. I can't understand
why some people loose the containers... Not even cramps make me loose my grip on this piece of plastic"-.
My cramps were due to the rain, the water inside the yola and
the uncomfortable way in which I was traveling. I felt the hard boards underneath
my numbed muscles and I found it hard to stay in the same position for any length of time.
Papín had also been scooping water
out for a long while; but he stopped and was resting, leaning his back on the left side of the boat. Then he stood
up and made his way to the bow among the crowded passengers. The waves continued
to rock the yola with great violence. The rain blown by the winds looked like
a fog emerging from the sea. And Papín, with his calm demeanor which never abandoned
him, began to scorch for the horizon.
Leo was resting in the next to the last seat. Frank was at the bow, near the rudder. Pedro had gotten under
some of the plank boards and was resting after having stirred the yola during four uninterrupted hours. I was close to the left side, at about the middle of the yola. I
was scooping water out and feeling disgusted at myself for taking part in this voyage.
Some waves insisted on showering us; and this meant more work, so we could not rest.
La Fiera was spread out on the bottom of the boat. At the beginning, in
some very difficult occasions, he had helped to scoop water out; but hours had passed without his helping again. He was covering his head with a straw hat and when the water knocked it down he would find it by groping around with his hand. He seemed not to
be part of the group any more. His actions did not correspond to the situation
in which we were. Each time we were splashed by a wave, La Fiera uttered a loudly
laugh, like that of a sedate crazy man. Traveling next to him, was a young man,
no less strange than he. This one had his eyes wide open, fixed and distant;
he looked like a dissected animal with a frighten look on his face. He moved only when La Fiera whispered:
---Brother, give me another -"rochi"-!
Then, the young man, with trembling hands, would take out a
small bottle from his shirt pocket and, taking advantage of the time that passed between one wave and the next, he extracted
two pills of a white color. He would give one to his companion and consumed the
other one. La Fiera, again, leaned his head against his bag of wet clothes and
continued to laugh at the waves and the creaking and rocking of the boards and nails as the waves shook them.
At four o'clock, after thirteen hours at sea, the drizzling
rain stopped. Papín stood up again on the bow. One more time, he began to scorch
the horizon and the cloudy sky. I turned to look at Papín because he had asked
an interesting question. In a hesitant tone he asked the organizers:
---Are you sure that we're traveling in the right direction?
Given these words, Leo stood up and worriedly to examined the
horizon in all directions. I also scanned all sides of us, but the sky did not indicate anything to me; it was just cloudy
and indifferent. Leo did not hesitate in giving his opinion, which was fortified
by his assistants:
---We're all right, over there is Puerto Rico!
---It seems to me that we have been heading to the North ---Papín
From that point forward, I frequently asked Leo the same question
Papín had asked. I received the same answer, which was impossible for me to believe
because of the long amount of time that we had been moving without seeing land or anything encouraging.
At six in the afternoon we traveled through quick and high
waves. La Fiera and the other young man next to him continued drugging. Others were extracting water. One passenger
that was extracting water, who, during the crossing, had leveled several complains against those who were not helping, looked
very angry. His face was trembling, he seemed to breath very quickly. In a burst of rage he threw the container with which he was extracting water against the bottom of
the boat and in an strong tone of voice yelled:
---Every one here is supposed to help! How is it possible that
the weakest of us and even some women have been extracting water while the strongest men do nothing?
Many of us supported what the man had said. Another passenger, with no less anger than the first, challenged:
---That's right! Fuck! Look at that one over there! ---pointing
at La Fiera, who had opened his eyes with the uproar. Quite surprised, La Fiera
stared at the angry man, who was saying referring to him:
---This asshole has not even touched one of these containers
to extract a drop of water. But, just like a few others, he's surviving with
the effort of those who do extract water.
This direct accusation annoyed La Fiera. He stood up. I thought that he was going to defend himself
by saying that he, at times, cooperated. But La Fiera, whose face was showing
the anger which gave meaning to his name, interrupted the speaker. He yelled vigorously in a threatening tone of voice:
---Listen, don't fuck with me!
I won't scoop any fucking water. If you don't like it, come and force
me to do it, mother fucker.
Facing these words, the other man went head on prepared to
hit La Fiera. All the women started crying and the men began commenting among themselves.
Some intervened, grabbing the challenger. For his part, La Fiera took
out a sharp knife. He was waving it wildly ready for the other man to attack,
---Leave me at him, let me at him! I'll show him that I've got bigger balls than he does!
The men continued to hold the first man who, looking at the
knife, did not make much effort to be freed. At the same time Pedro and other
men were asking La Fiera to give up the knife to avoid a tragedy. They argued
that for sure a fight would cause the yola to turn onto one side. When everything
got quiet, Leo, with a very annoyed look on his face, scolded Pedro:
---I told you to choose really well the people you were getting
for the trip. I never bring everyone who wants to come...-
At the beginning Pedro did not protest against these reproaches,
but he looked very angry. And, since Leo continued to complain about what had
happened, some time later Pedro blurted out in anger:
---That's enough, Augusto! Let's just shut up! You know damn well how difficult working with people is! I
told all of them that a fight caused the shipwreck of the yola in my last trip where all those poor people drowned. Even knowing
this has not persuaded them to avoid tragedies.
The situation in the boat was returning to normal. But although the fight was avoided, the possibility of it still remained.
La Fiera now showed a different attitude than that of his initial one. Before,
he had been quiet and silent; now he was saying anything that happened to come to his mind.
When he had calmed down and decided to sit down, he stressed:
---I could care less if we all get fucked out here. I didn't make any one board this piece of shit; whoever gets into a yola knows that they may die; so you'd
better not mess with me. When this piece of shit breathes its last breath, I'll
take this tank to save myself and whoever tries to get close to me will first have to get past the tip of my knife. Now you're all warned!
At that moment, a desperate woman who in the course of the
trip had fainted about ten times, with a weak and sore voice, said to Leo:
----Augusto, please, tell this man to be quite. If he doesn't want to empty out water, don't make him, but tell him to shut up.
La Fiera, who heard the woman asking this, got angrier. He yelled at her:
---Why don't you shut up yourself..! Didn't all of you want
to buy cheap food and clothes, well, this is what you got.
Leo, then, intervened and gave La Fiera good reasons why he
should shut up. La Fiera calmed down and was silent for about half an hour. After this, in a happy tone of voice he talked to Herman, who was looking quite hopeless,
overcome by fever and headaches. La Fiera, with an air of impertinence and with
a mischievous laugh said to the ex-mayor:
---Damn, mayor! Who would have guessed it? Who could have imagined that you would find yourself in the middle of this shit. Who would believe it? A man like you, here, after the
good life you enjoyed when you were a mayor!
Some of us had no other choice but to laugh; while others also
made jokes about the poor ex-mayor. But he had a severe look on his face, like
a rock. He did not pay any attention to those who made comments. He remained as if the matter did not concern him.