The wind filled the sails and propelled the ship gracefully through the water. With the land always visible to the starboard and the ocean to the port, the ship made its way up the coast. The Chief Mate assigned Justin, Jake, and Elan, each, to a member of the crew who taught them as much and as quickly as they could. Justin worked with the ships carpenter who taught him how to maintain the ship at sea and tend to injured crew. Jake worked with the men who set and repaired the sails. Jake had no fear of heights and enjoyed climbing the rope ladders to the top of the masts where he could peer out into the vast sea. He could watch the porpoises chase the ship, as they emerged into the air in arcing leaps. Elan worked with the cook preparing meals for the crew. Some days he would go with the cook to shore to look for berries, fruit, and other edibles, or trade with locals for supplies. The ship was broad and stable as it sat low in the water filled with goods from far away lands. The boys were returning to the valley of the Black dog, the ship’s homeport and their home. They had signed onto the ship and were working to pay for passage home. Each evening the three boys met at the bow.
“Do you think my parents will recognize me when we finally get home?” Elan asked his cousins, Jake and Justin.
“You don’t look any different to me, “ Jake answered. “ I think they will know who you are. We’ve been away from home for only a year. Seems longer than it was.”
“Time is relative,” Justin added. “With the anticipation of arriving home, I’m certain that the trip will seem longer, just as our trek over the mountain seemed so long.”
Each was learning a lot, and developing a deep respect and appreciation for their teachers, the ship, and their captain.
“Just so you know,” Elan said. “When we put off in the row boat yesterday we found berries and greens to add to our hard tack bread and jerky meat. When we set out our nets we caught some nice fish and shrimp.”
“That’s great,” said Jake who loved to try new things. The berries sounded like a welcome change.
“Did the skiff take on any water?” Justin asked. “I helped fix it the other day.” He added proudly.
“No water in the boat. You did a good job.” Élan responded.
“You know,” Jake began, “I can see for miles from the top of the mast. I like helping to set the sails.”
They would lie back on the deck and look at the stars. On a dark moonless night they could see the Milky Way stretched out across the sky as a hazy cloud, the stars too numerous to count. On a moonlit night everything about them had a radiant glow.
During the days they did their jobs. In the evening they met at the bow, unless they were assigned night watch. Then, they would spend the night working in shifts with other crewmembers standing by the captain or his mate with an eye on the horizon. The seas were mostly calm at this time of the year, the wind steady, and the days governed by routine. An occasional squall would appear on the horizon. The captain would judge its distance and speed and either out run it or seek shelter by the coast that was never too far. On the chance they’d be caught in rough seas they’d lash themselves to a sturdy spar or stay below to prevent being washed over the side. No one ever was.
There was a member of the crew who was from a far off land. He had tattoos on his face, arms, and across his chest and back. He was powerfully built and wore a vest for a shirt and leather pants. His expression was proud; he appeared fearless, not easily approachable. He carried himself with a swagger of assuredness, never acted rashly, but was rather calm, and deliberate in his actions and movements. He was a very skilled seaman and could do anything the captain required. Rumor had it that he had once sailed on whaling ships. The boys had gotten to know all their shipmates, most were from the Black Dog valley, that is, everyone except the exotic man with the tattoos, named Tangi.
Tangi was quiet and generally kept to himself. He worked well with others but said little as he worked. He was liked, but everyone seemed to respect his solitude, and left him alone. In that, he seemed content. Justin, Jake, and Elan would rarely have an opportunity to work with Tangi, but they, never the less, remained curious about him. At night they might speculate on Tangi’s origins. Some of the other crew rumored that Tangi came from a land where one ate his fallen enemies. This put a certain amount of fear into the three, not wishing to find themselves on Tangi’s bad list. One evening, when the three met at the bow, they found Tangi there. He sat in the middle of the deck, his legs crossed, arms resting on his thighs palms up, his fingers slightly flexed, his back straight, eyes closed, as he faced the wind. His breathing was steady and even. Justin, Jake, and Elan approached quietly, cautiously, not wishing to disturb him.
“Is he asleep?” Elan whispered.
“I don’t know,” Jake said. “He’s sitting up, his eyes are closed, but he looks like he is in a trance.”
“Maybe, he’s just resting,” Justin said and held a finger to his lips to silence his cousin and his brother. Not wishing to disturb and anger the fearsome man.
They observed Tangi who appeared to be moving only his breathing muscles. Jake sat down beside Tangi, crossed his legs, rested his arms on his thighs, positioned his hands like Tangi, and shut his eyes. Elan and Justin did the same.
Justin listened to his own breathing. He wondered what he was supposed to experience. His mind continued to race, and he thought about the ship, his duties, and his experiences of the day. As he sat, he began to realize that the silence that surrounded him wasn’t really silent. He became aware of the rippling of the sails as gusts of wind filled them; he heard the lapping of the waves against the bow, and the squeak of the wood as the ship bent with the shifting forces from the sea as the ship rose gently up and down with the waves. These sounds silenced Justin’s inner voice. These sounds evoked a mental picture of what was around him, bright, beautiful, and clear. He was alone at one with himself and nature, yet he felt connected to Elan and Jacob, and Tangi. They sat together each of their senses subjected to the same experience.
“Ok,” Jake said. “I’m not sure I get it. What are we doing here?”
Tangi opened his eyes and looked at Jake. Tangi was not angry; if anything, he was sad for what Jake didn’t feel. He hadn’t really acknowledged the boys during the trip except to be polite and always say hello. He didn’t object to their curiosity in his behavior now and was willing to take the opportunity to share.
“I was visiting silence, my old friend,” Tangi said. “I came here to walk with him again.”
“How can you visit silence?” Jake asked.
“By listening,” Tangi responded. “Silence is golden, speech is silver, I’m sure you have heard that before. When you speak, you may not hear, so you should only speak when you have something meaningful to say; and, otherwise, you should listen. That is a good way to learn.”
Tangi asked Justin, Jake, and Elan to sit as he sat, close their eyes, and concentrate on not speaking aloud or to themselves. He suggested they experience all that was going on around them without interacting or commenting internally.
“Listen carefully in silence,” Tangi said softly. “You have to be quiet to hear the spirits. You see, the spirits around you speak very softly, and you may not hear them, if you make any noise.”
After that night, the boys took time out of each day to sit quietly and listen.
Peter Barbour is a retired physician, former neurologist, who loves to tell stories. He lives in Allentown, PA. He is active and likes to fish, bike, canoe, and play golf. He carves wood and likes to draw. He is married. He has had four stories appear in Short-story.me, “How the Night Became Bright”, “Messyman”, “Simplicity”, and “Enthusiasm”. He recently published an illustrated children’s book, “Gus at Work” available through Amazon. His latest submission to Short-story.me, “Silence”, is based on a mindfulness principle, silence.
Thanks for considering my work.