Celia always waited for him, sitting on an uncomfortable chair that barely fit on the wrought iron balcony, one eye affixed to the spyglass that scanned the glassy surface of the sea. A real life Madame Butterfly, she knew nothing of the armies of wives, fiancées, lovers, and mothers that had preceded her and would follow in her steps through the centuries, all with the same yearning for the return of some long gone man, all blind to the likely futility of their vigils. She would regard without seeing, the collapse of each evening as it sunk in violet spasms below the horizon and ushered in another dispirited night, another day of fruitless waiting gone. Her free hand, which she was barely able to see in the deepening dark, caressed the pendant which was the only jewel she allowed herself; the pendant that she had made to house the dusky blue pearl he had given her as a farewell token. “Wear it always,” he had admonished, “because it will bear witness that I am always thinking of you.”
Celia had smiled when Marcos uttered those words, which sounded like an endearment, not a real promise. But he hastened to add: “No, really. It is part of a set that I bought in a fishing village in one of the Greek islands, during the campaign against the Moors.” He took out a small pouch he kept over his chest and, opening it, dropped in his hand another blue pearl, identical to the one he was giving her. “They say the blue ones are the rarest of all pearls, and those of a dusky color have mystical powers. If you get two of them as a set, they will forever search each other out and will find a way to reunite no matter the time or distance.”
She had smiled again, indulgently, and asked with just a touch of sarcasm: “And where did you get that fine story?” If he detected incredulity in her question, he chose to ignore it, and replied in earnest: “There was an elder at the village, a soothsayer consulted by people from all corners of Greece, who told me the story of how Penelope and Ulysses had matching blue pearls just like these, and they were reunited after a decade of separation because of the pull of the pearls.” “And you believed him?” “Why not? I had already paid for the pearls to a local fisherman. The seer had no incentive to tell me a lie. Anyway, whether true prediction or fairy tale, I mean it when I say that I will return to you, unless Death takes me first. I swear it by my faith as a Catholic and my honor as the last member of the Bazan family.”
For a while after his ship took sail Celia had kept the pearl in the casket where she stored the trinkets she owned. But one year went by, and then another, and one day she took the blue pearl out of the casket and had it mounted on a simple silver pendant. Thus she transferred her hopes to the pearl in the pendant, and silently leveled heathen prayers at the pearl seeking its help in bringing in its sister, and with her the long departed Marcos.
Celia’s prayers remained stubbornly unanswered, and a decade went by without news of her lover. Family and friends pestered her for years trying to persuade her to forget her probably dead (or if not, deserting) fiancé and seek a new life. She had rejected all pleas and, one by one, the voices that counseled forgetfulness became themselves silent and abandoned her to the fate.
So it was that, in a late summer afternoon in the fourteenth year of her wait, Celia’s spyglass scanned the emptiness of the waters as she sighed discontentedly. A heretic thought was forming in her mind, dulled by inactivity and longing. Should she give up her wait? After all, she was no longer in the budding bloom of her youth, but was more like a withering rose shedding, one by one, every petal of beauty and joie de vivre, leaving only a charmless husk, an old maid fit only to be pitied. She was starting to course through those dangerous inner waters when she noticed with a start that the waters outside were no longer empty. A ship of a type she remembered well was making a lumbering approach towards the harbor. It was a frigate, a square-rigged warship like the one that had carried Marcos away.
It was too soon to identify the vessel, but just the same Celia hurriedly changed into her best clothes and rushed out towards the harbor, where a crowd had already gathered. As the ship maneuvered towards the pier, Celia’s heart began an irregular pounding; it was the Medusa, the frigate in which Marcos had departed towards the North Sea, to make war for the glory of the Crown. The ship had suffered much from war and adverse weather: most of its rigging had been blown away, and only the lower foremast, lower mizzenmast, and bowsprit remained operational. The crew had experienced similar ravages, with many sailors appearing wounded and those that remained intact ambling about lifelessly.
Celia was able to corner a disheveled officer as he set foot on the pier: “Officer, is Don Marcos Bazan part of your crew?” “Err… si, señora,” was the polite but evasive sounding answer. “Where is he?” “He is below deck. He was seriously injured in our last engagement with the Brits and has not recovered. But…”
Celia did not wait for him to finish, and ran up the plank before he could stop her. She went the length of the main deck, skirting all the obstacles on her path, and went down the narrow stairs to the area under the prow that housed the sick bay. The sight she encountered was appalling: the sick or wounded were slung up to the beams in hammocks, subjected to the ship’s deafening noise, in constant collision with other swinging beds, and exposed to the heat and odors of cooking from the nearby galley. Instead of quietude, ventilation, and natural light, the area beneath the water-line that served as sick bay was close, dark, and dismal. The stench, the noise and the heat were indeed unbearable.
Standing at the edge of the confusion, Celia asked as loudly as she could over the surrounding din: “Does anyone here know where Marcos Bazan is?” There was an abrupt silence, and then out of the middle of the room came a feeble voice: “He is here, next to me.”
Celia followed the voice, which kept repeating “Here,” until she found herself close to the back wall, near a point where several hammocks coalesced into an uninterrupted mesh of rope. The voice, she now saw, belonged to a dirty looking sailor with a leg on a cast. With great effort, the man half rose on his hammock and pointed to his left: “There is Marcos.”
The hammock to the left of the sailor was occupied by a dark hulk of humanity that appeared oblivious to the world. Celia approached the body and cried out: “Marcos, my love! It is I, Celia, come to rescue you!”
This declaration elicited no response. Celia repeated her cry again, now with a tinge of desperation in her voice. Again, no response. Turning to the sailor in the next hammock, she questioned: “What’s wrong with him? Why doesn’t he answer?”