It was about ten days past now that the man had seen nothing but the ocean before him. The bottom of his raft had already begun filling with a small puddle of water, which he could’ve sworn had been smaller the night prior. The cheap wood that had constructed the tiny boat had grown damp with seawater, and the man’s compulsive picking at its sides revealed it to be getting softer with the days passing. It would not hold together for much longer. The measly supplies kept in it had begun to run low now, something he tried his best to not think of as he meticulously rationed out his food every few hours to keep himself busy.
He was probably going to die out here, he was quite sure of it. The thought had begun like a creeping suspicion to him, a muffled whisper within his ear, on the third day he spent alone, drifting aimlessly on the raft. On the fourth day, he had done nothing but stare at the sea, the waves rising and falling in front of him, white frothing upon their sharp peaks, reaching towards the sky, their pale hands gripping and clawing towards the clouds above, before collapsing under the water. Their wiry fingers groped the sides of his raft as it rocked over the waves, pulling and dragging the vessel along with its whims. He remembered raising his hand then and imitating the actions of the sea. He opened and closed his hand over the sun, blotting out its light, clasping it within his palm again and again, timing it with the repetitive rocking of the boat. Open and close, light and dark, back and forth, over and over, again and again. It was that fourth day that the whispers grew louder, and his suspicions of his coming death became as sure as the rise of the sun in the east with the coming of every morning. On the sixth day, as his mind wandered and his vision began to betray him, (was that a landmass off across the horizon, or was the sea playing with his head?) clouds gathered above him and blotted out his last instrument of orientation – the light of the sun in the day and the position of the stars when night fell – and brought down with it a torrential storm. The raft rocked back and forth; like a rhythmic violence lacking measure or control. The man desperately tried to throw out the pooling water accumulating in the raft, but with every toss or turn of the boat, more and more water filled in. It seemed to him that with every handful of seawater he tossed out, it filled right back up with another sway of the boat. He lost track of how long he did that over and over again, losing himself in the sound of thunder cracking above his head, splitting the sky open; the painful groaning of the wooden raft that just barely held itself together. And worst of all, the terrible cacophony of the waves, roaring with such an unbridled rage, unfettered and chaotic, crashing into one another, locked in battle, rising in raging crests that towered above him, cowering down in deep troughs that sent the boat almost plummeting down into the deep.
He woke up that next morning to see the sun blazing down upon him. The sky was clear again, shimmering a pale blue but for a few wisps of gray and white that streaked across it like deep scars – a remnant of the storm the night prior. The reminder filled him with dread. About him, the ocean carried on as it did, a boundless and infinite blue, glimmering and shining under the daylight. And the boat rocked on, back and forth, over and over, again and again. It had held through the storm, with little damage to his surprise, and his supplies remained safely tucked away. And for just a moment, hope took hold of him. He had lived! His supplies remained, his boat held together, if maybe he wandered more, let the sea carry him further, He would reach land, reach his home. The boat could hold, the supplies could last. He could live.
But, like how the tides on the beach stretch and retreat towards the sea at daybreak, the man’s hope too began to wane as the days tarried on by. On the ninth day, the man felt the suspicion of his demise crawling back to him, and on the tenth, he did nothing but stare at the rise and fall of the sea, moving his hand up to imitate the grasping of the waves, clasping the sun within his hand with the rocking of the boat. Closed and open, dark and light, back and forth, over and over, again and again. On the eleventh day, he watched as low, gray clouds began to slowly congregate above him, and the sound of the waves rolling back and forth became something he no longer even noticed. On the twelfth, as his mind began to wander, as his vision began to betray him, and as the sun hid its face behind a shroud of clouds, he felt cold drops of rain begin to fall upon his face, and he knew his death was near. And a storm came that night, and the wrathful ocean tried to tear and wrest his raft asunder yet again. But the next day, the man awoke again to a clear sky, a boat that held together, and a calm sea that stretched far beyond the reach of sight or comprehension.
The days slipped on and on, and as they did, the man began to forget. He lost track of how long it had been, and like the sun that slowly sank beneath the waves and doused its red glow beneath the ocean, his memory too began to slip into the sea. He forgot his name, his history. He forgot the order of unfortunate circumstance that had put him into this situation in the first place. The ocean swallowed more and more of him, lost under a sea of a confusion so thick he forgot forgetting. He would watch the small puddle that pooled on the floor of his raft, the seawater filling in but the puddle never growing. He could not recall whether he would live or die here, whether death had already taken him or not, the very feeling of it. Did it feel like this? Or was its pain shorter, quick, like the snap of a finger? Or was this truly death – unceasing, moving forward ever so slowly, plodding with leaden steps? The sounds in his head grew louder and louder, the whispers in his ear talked over one another and the lucidity faded away – he couldn’t think, he couldn’t remember. Just the waves. Just the ocean.
Of all the memory he lost to the lonely sea, he could recall only one thing: the gentle swaying of the boat – back and forth, over and over, again and again.
Abbas Rangwala is a college student from Georgia who would best describe himself as a corporate sellout. He hopes to retire one day and open a small bar by the sea with his cat. He enjoys putting himself into an early grave, unhealthily idolizing Jack Kerouac, and acting like he knows how to play guitar.
© 2021, Abbas Rangwala