The sun rose slowly on the horizon as the waves lightly lapped at the expanding shoreline. Like insects the small long-legged shore birds swarmed around the foam and surf searching for a morning meal. Each one skittering along the beach in a dueling dance with the waves. The early morning breeze – gone by midday in the steamy tropical environments – lightly lifted the palm fronds with each rhythmic pulse. Each lap of the waves upon the shore was another sultry, psychiatric summons to the senses. As I was inhaling this idyllic scene a movement up the beach caught my eye.
I watched as he made his way from the tree line to the waves, the morning sun – full promise of the heat to come – glistened off his richly pigmented skin. Years of exposure to the tropical sun had given his native brown the deepened tone of gold as it glistens in a setting sun. The deep furrows in his skin were not mere wrinkles, they were the mental storage tracks – not unlike those of a phonograph – recording the years of living and tales lived.
His eyes, though dark with age and tempered with wisdom, sparkled with the strength of youth. Though his hair bore the salt and pepper of age, it still flowed with the charm of a young man in his prime. I could tell he was different- he had been a leader. Even at this distance, he projected the quiet but powerful aura that moves the elements of life… for him and others.
As I moved among the villagers in the open-air markets I enquired of the man whom I’d seen earlier. Yes, they knew him. It only took the mention of where I’d seen him and a short description before I was told glowing stories and legendary tales of the man, Philippe del Pescador. The pronouncement of his name not only produced the smiles of admiration from the announcer, but from those within earshot as well. Then a chorus of commentaries, tales and praise would follow from every direction.
Around the village he was known as “nuestro padre de la pesca”. That is, in his native tongue, “our fishing father”. In the height of his day, Philippe was the most prolific fisherman on the Yucatan coastline. He was fearless and formidable. His passion for his work, life and the ocean were unmatched by any. Yet, for all his competitive spirit, Philippe was also a man of genuine compassion and heart. There was not a fishing boat launched from the Isle de Corazon that was not, in some way, made possible by Philippe. His days as the fisherman to match were now history, but his legacy lived on.
In his early days he made friends with both the locals and the foreigners who came to pursue the great game fish of the Gulf: marlin, tarpon, blues and shark. Philippe was the man to have at your helm to find the trophies – he was the man to bet on for success. He was also the man who would keep you from trouble with the sea and who make sure you come home to shore – alive and brimming with tales of adventure that you sought.
He had grown up as young boy fishing with his father and enjoying the life on the gulf. He wanted nothing more, nor asked for it. He was strong in character and deep in his convictions. He pursued fish for a living, but would do all in his power to educate his fellow fisherman and the foreign pescadores in how not to harm them or their habitat: fish were his life in every possible way. He had, on a number of times, lost business because he refused to compromise his principles or ‘his fish’ on the foolishness of monetary gain.
I had to talk with this man … to find out what made him who he was … and to meet such a wonderful example of humanity. So I made my way back down to the shoreline where I’d seen him earlier. But another stood there … a woman. She was dressed in the colorful dress of the locals and despite her age she was a beauty.
I slowly approached and addressed her, “Señora de la buena tarde.” She turned and graciously bowed and replied, “Señor de la buena tarde.” “Pero no soy una mujer casada, yo sigo siendo soltero.” A bit embarrassed I acknowledged with apology, “Perdondeme, la senorita!” She chuckled, quite pleased with the coupe and the fact that a woman of her age was obviously still in possession of what makes young girls … well, young girls! We talked until the sun began to sink below the horizon.
She knew well Philippe … possibly better than anyone in the village. For Philippe was the reason she was still a senorita: he captured her heart but would neither let it go or subdue it. She asked if I would like to join her for dinner. I then asked her, “ Senorita, we have talked for hours and I do not know your name, nor do you know mine.” She again giggled with the gentleness of an eight year old, and told me her name was Juanita Sanchez. I acknowledged her – told her my name and I graciously accepted … knowing there was much more to this story and that I would acquire the details only if I talked more with this lovely lady of mystery.
In her humble little home we partook of tasty corn tortillas, frijoles and fresh vegetables. She even produced cold bottles of the local beer: oh, how wonderful a cold drink is when you’ve been without it for a week! The meal was modest, but had been prepared and presented with the greatest of care and grace. After dinner we sat on the veranda, sipping strong coffee, as I listened to the story of Philippe del Pescador.
Philippe, as the stories told to me by the villages, was a great man in the community. He had learned well from his father. The senior del Pescador was a man of great strength and muy carismático … un hombre de la grandes fuerza y carácter. He was also a good and honest man. He had helped many of the fishermen of the area get their start and then worked to show them how to be successful … and how to maintain the fishery. Philippe was by his side daily, learning all this from his father.
One day during a fierce storm Philippe’s father was swept overboard, lost in the raging sea and his body never recovered. It was a terrible time for Philippe, his family and the entire village: they all had lost their leader.
Philippe and Juanita had grown up together and shared much in common: including their love for one another. They had planned to marry, but those plans were dashed with the death of Philippe’s father. Philippe knew he had to step-in an attempt to carry-on in his father’s place. He also knew he could never fill this father’s sandals … but he must carry on the legacy: that was his purpose in life. This level of commitment did not have room for a family. So, Philippe made the sea his family and the life within her were his children. Juanita was devastated at the loss of her love … but in time she grew accustomed to her role as “mistress to the Sea” … and she and Philippe again were inseparable.
Through the years of fishing and working Philippe had built a good business. But more importantly he’d built the honor and respect of his fellow citizens of Isle de Corazon. The years had been good for fishing and the villages’ livelihood, but Philippe had paid a high price for his success. Juanita and he were never able to broach the barrier between them and his duty to his father’s legacy. Though he and Juanita were never married he took care of her as if she were his wife. He built her the house in which she lived, supplied her with food and money. He did more for her than most men do for their ‘actual’ wives … and Juanita could not help but love him all the more for it. I was amazed … and in awe of the power of the love I was being introduced to. I knew this example would forever change my life … and how I would perceive love.
Their love for each other was immense. In many ways it was far more complete than most who had married and live together in that union all their lives. I began to see that they shared what many have lost sight of … true love of the person, not for the person. They were complete in knowing the other was satisfied in their role and that the greater good was being served: not by just one, but by both.
A great pair of companions: the ultimate mates.
The night grew on and it became quite late. I bid my farewells to Juanita, thanked her heartily for the wonderful evening and for sharing such intimacy with me a stranger. She graciously thanked me for the company and the opportunity to share the wonderful story of the love of her life. She then asked if I would meet her the next day at the boats where we had met that day. She said that tomorrow was a special day for she and Philippe and that she wanted me to be present. I thanked her for honoring me with such a request: I would most definitely be there. I said goodnight and walked into the balmy air of the Yucatan night.
The next morning dawned a bright red all along the horizon. ‘Redat morning… sailors’ warning!”
The old salt rang in my ears as I arose to wash and prepare for the day. It will rain today — it will be day to be watched closely — on the sea: rough weather is ahead. I was very excited; looking forward to meeting again with Juanita and being introduced to Philippe.
My mind raced with questions to ask of Philiippe; of the days of fishing; the famous and infamous people whom he chartered; talking with him about his ethic of the sea – I was so much looking forward to meeting this remarkable man. So much so that I barely noticed the change in the weather.
I was just putting on my sandals when the wind began to pick up. It was light at first, but it was constantly building in force. By the time I reached the beach the palm fronds were no longer merely wafting in the breeze, it was more like they were be ripped from their petioles! I didn’t see how anyone would be able to have any type of ceremony on the beach in this weather … and then I saw him: Philippe. Dressed in his finest, looking to the beach and walking in a straight line, from the last line of palm trees, in that direction.
IT was when he was in full stride, midway from the trees-on his way to the beach- that I saw the group. How could I have not seen them before? There had to be the entire village – all dressed in their best clothes and all around the boat … the red boat … the one I’d seen Philippe standing by the day before. The boat with the name I did not understand … words I did not understand: Ma Pek.
I’d assumed yesterday that it was an oriental name; possibly named by someone who had spent some time in Southeast Asia. I was going to inquire about that name yesterday, but in all the events of the day I’d forgotten. Now that name began to haunt me: along with all these people. What was happening here? In the midst of this storm? I had the feeling that the answer to that question would be intriguing; how, I didn’t know, but I just felt it would. Then I noticed it; or better yet the lack of it.
The wind had stopped. Just as suddenly as it began it was over. The clouds opened and the sun came rushing through. I was just beginning to register all of these strange sensations, when I saw Juanita.
Not only was she gorgeous — but, if I didn’t know better I’d say she was dressed in her wedding gown. And just as suddenly as I’d began thinking this … I knew I was right! I was at a wedding! But not just any wedding — it was Juanita and Philippe’s wedding! But why during a storm? I could understand the beach … but in a storm? Was there something special about the storm? Their lives – lived apart, without the fulfillment of a marriage they both desired – was nothing shy of a torrent of emotions. Was this why the storm? Or was there something else? Torrents of questions-searching for answers-flooded my senses. Then before any fulfillment to this could occur, the crowd began to collectively gather in a ceremonial sway.
The crowd that had gathered now formed a circle around Juanita and Philippe. From the land side of the circle came a mariachi troupe playing traditional Mexican wedding music and with each rise in the music more of the people began to sing. Soon the entire village was singing, the clouds were gone, the sun softly shown upon the beach and all was right with the world. A priest appeared and the ceremony began.
Suddenly there was an air of calm covering the entire beach. The people are calm and all are drawing in toward Juanita and Philippe. The air fills with the words of ceremony and the soft sounds of a coastal Caribbean sea shore: lapping waves in rhythm and the gentle breeze known so well to all. The priest finishes the ceremony and Juanita and Philippe look long into each other’s eyes. The look speaks volumes. Years of conversation are being relayed on the most sensual of paths possible: eye-to-eye – heart to heart.
Then they move to kiss. And quietly … in nearly the tone of a prayer Philippe looked deeply into the sparkling eyes of his new bride and says, “Mi amante mas querido, el amante de mi corazon. Mi corazor compitiendo con a usted.. pero digo a mi corazon — ma pek … ma pek.”
There! There were those words: ma pek. The name of the boat. What did it mean? It had to be powerful because tears were forming in Juanita’s eyes. Then they kissed. A short but electrifying kiss. As soon as they parted the crowd began to sing; they cheered, and for minutes they applauded the event all had awaited for years to occur.
The crowd formed a line and the mariachis played as they swayed up the beach and headed out to the village streets. I stood there watching when Juanita … just a few feet away turned and looked in my direction. She smiled and then mouthed those words … ma pek … ma pek. She must have seen my confused look. She smiled then pointed to a spot on the beach where a shore bird was facing a rather large meal in a lively crab. Obviously the bird was tackling a meal that was bit larger than normal. But this did not deter the bird. Juanita quietly said, “Mire allí… the bird is patient. It will not be impatient. It will wait quietly. It will be ma pek …it will be still. And when it is time …it will eat …and eat well. Learn from the bird … ma pek …be still and all will come your way.” She beamed and continued on with the procession.
I stood there; tears forming in my eyes and realizing I had just received a unearthly value in those words. I turned to watch the bird … it was eating: eating well. Have you ever seen a bird smile? I have.
A flood of emotions rushed in familiar torrents of questions through my mind, as I stood there at the gravesite. My mind was laboriously filtering through the emotions experienced in the short time of passing events of the past few days. As I looked upon the faces of the two caskets in front of me I was embroiled in a sea of mixed emotions. Only days earlier I witnessed these two wonderful human beings as they were united in a life-long desire … a life they both had desired for years: the union of marriage. But today, I stood before their now lifeless physical containers incased in emotionless wooded containers: their last physical abodes. I’ll not attempt to question or debate what lies beyond the physical life we so dearly strive to maintain and enjoy. But, I will affirm that these two lived a more complete life in the last days they had together than most live in a lifetime.
I was saddened to have lost access to their physical presence: so much was not explored by me. And yet I sense a value that will only deepen with time; the wonderfully blessed event I have been privileged to have been involved in; having a part in their wondrous lives at all.
I came away with a deeply learned and valued lesson from both … ma pek. In all things … ma pek.
by Juaqin Cay