-Source: Original ||
Skipping from rock to rock, avoiding the waves; the boy was well practiced at this. He made his way down to the soaked base of the cliff, his body dripping with salt and bits of algae, and crouched hurriedly to collect the oysters that clung to the wall.
These oysters were a famed delicacy, in fancy restaurants that the boy had only heard of in villagers’ tales. But they would fetch a pretty penny at the local market.
His seasoned ears caught the sound of a wave, and he jumped away to safety. This was the lowest point of the tide, and he must seize it to gather all that he could.
As another wave threatened to reach him, he rose and darted out of the way. But this time his foot slipped. The sea caught him, and threw him toward the cliff wall. As he struggled in the swirl of salt and bubbles, the world was plunged into sudden darkness. He clawed blindly under the water, and miraculously found an algae-covered surface he could cling to. The sea pulled back with all its fury, but he clung hard to the rock, clenching his teeth. For a moment, the water receded, and a soft light caught him with a realization:
I’m in a cave!
The sea returned, blocking the entrance, and again the world was dark. He pulled himself up by feel, and barely escaped the onslaught.
The tide is rising, he thought. If I don’t get out, this cave could fill with water and I will drown.
Moving in darkness, he tried to guess where the entrance might be. But no light was coming now, and the water surged again. He clung to the cave wall, until it subsided.
Now what? Climb up? Or swim down?
The water terrified him now. The thought of fighting those waves to leave the cave, and all those jagged rocks… was almost as crazy as drowning. And just then, another wave came. He climbed to escape it.
And then he climbed on. It was slow and difficult. The cave walls were covered in algae and very slippery. But he worked his way up. And then the water rose, and helped him. The waves, now outside the cave and higher than the entrance, were gentler. There was only one question: What went higher? The cave, or the waves?
He climbed on, until he was relieved and confident that the water would not reach him anymore. There was no algae up here, and even the highest tide was not more than twice his own height, and he had certainly climbed that far by now.
He sat on a cold, wet ledge, and breathed heavily, gathering his thoughts.
Now I have to wait for a low tide, he thought. That won’t come again until after sunset. And then it will be too dark to find the entrance, especially with the waves crashing in. He decided he must wait until tomorrow, before making his way out of the cave.
And so he sat, and waited.
Hours went by, in darkness. His thoughts began to trouble him: What will my parents say? What if the water gets me, after all? Or what if I run out of air?
He leaned back on the wall. By now, he had grown accustomed to the algae and the rough stone. Presently, he began to feel comfortable.
Then he heard a splash.
At first he thought it was the sea, moving as it does. But the splash came again, and it was not following the steady rhythm of the sea’s lungs. It had its own mind. And it was close to him.
“Who are you?” the boy was so startled to hear a voice that he nearly fell from the ledge.
Who could be in here?!
“What is your name?” the voice asked.
“Uh…. Mateo,” said the boy.
“What are you doing here?” the voice asked.
“I fell in. I’m waiting for the tide to change, so I can leave.”
There was a silence. The voice seemed to be considering this answer.
“Well,” it said. “While you’re down here, you may as well have a look around.”
Mateo opened his mouth to speak, but another splash interrupted him.
He was alone. The cave was empty.
He leaned back on the wall.
But as the hours passed, he thought about this strange advice. And as he sat, his fingers began to run across the stones on either side of him. And then he thought, Why not? It’s true. I may as well have a look around.
He turned, carefully, to face the wall. He worked slowly, going only by the touch of his fingers. He felt the rough stone surfaces, and lower down, the patches of algae that lined his prison. As he grew accustomed to their touch, he pressed his hands against them and swept across the cave wall, following its curves. He skipped over a crevice and continued, until finally he came back to where he had begun.
Rocks. Slime. Great.
He tried again. More slowly, more intimately, he felt for every crack and curvature in the rocks. He came to the same crevice again, and gingerly crept over the edge of it with his fingers. But he was afraid to enter, so he continued with the wall.
After returning to his spot for the third time, he slumped down and let his body sag into a nook. What’s the point of this? What was that stupid… What was it, even? A fish? A talking fish? I looked around. There’s nothing here.
But a voice inside his own mind told him the truth of that: You haven’t looked inside the crevice.
He waited for something to change, for something to happen, for something to save him from this place. Anything. But finally, reluctantly, he rose again to face the wall, and he moved out to find the crevice.
It was below the high tide line, where the stone was still wet and slimy. It was wider than his hand… and he could not know how deep it was.
Lowering himself so that he was up to his knees in sea water, he reached inside the crevice - carefully, timidly, one small movement at a time, until his arm was in up to his shoulder and he felt slime and muck covering it from all sides. But then his fingers felt something different - something that was not a rock, something familiar. Freeing it from the wall, his hand emerged from the deep, dark crevice holding - an oyster.
It was covered in moss, and it was enormous - a grandfather of the seas. He held it in both hands, feeling the familiar ridged surface, finding its mouth. Taking out his knife, he carefully pried open the shells, respecting the life inside. Still in darkness, he felt inside the oyster, and found a smooth, perfectly round ball.
With his heart pounding, he removed it, closed the oyster, and returned it to its home inside the rock. Then he sat on his ledge, rolling the huge pearl between his hands, marveling at its size, and at the fortune that brought him to find it - here, in this dark and dismal cave, at the bottom of a cliff.
As he held it in his hands, the first rays of a new day peeked in through the entrance. Another wave passed, and then a beam of blessed sun came into the cave, and pointed at his chest. As he rose to confront the waves, he thought he heard a voice say, Now that you’ve found it... don’t lose it!
And smiling, he rose to leave.
Photo by Engin Akyurt, Pexels