Stanley E. Smith’s two years of sailing with his wife and four children aboard the 38-foot ketch Babauko in the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Ionian seas provided the background for his first short story in 1964. Smith taught journalism at Michigan State University after a Fulbright grant had taken him to Denmark and France to lecture. “Blow Us Something Good, Sirocco” follows an elderly couple in Communist Albania as they hatch a plan to escape across the Adriatic to Italy. Albania’s stint of communism after World War II was led by head of state Enver Hoxha, who implemented a strict atheist state along with a system of agricultural cooperatives that fell with the rest of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s.
The old man picked his way along the shore, hunching his head into his narrow shoulders against the spray. The wind whisked bits of straw from the gaping toes of his boots as they searched for footholds on the salt glazed rocks. He grunted as he stepped up on a high one, then turned his bent form full to the weather. The spray knew the lines in his face, and gathered in them and ran in fresh rivulets until they were lost in the thick gray thatch below. He squinted his eyes to the south, where the white sea turned dark and met a darker sky.
He raised his voice to the wind, cupping a three fingered hand to his pale, flaking lips. “Sirocco,” came a whining cry, sounding like an overtone of the wind itself, “blow us something good today.”
His eyes came alive, darting like mullet on a sunny shoal, as they scanned the churning waters for bits of debris. Sometimes the sirocco carried in pieces of timber to burn in his stove, and often there were chunks of black, sticky material that had been discharged from the tankers across the Adriatic in Italy. Some of it he stuffed into the cracks of his crumbling home to shut out the winter buran that swept down from the Albanian uplands. And some of it he saved in an old iron pot, in case the day should ever come that he would have his own boat again, and he would need it to coat the bottom.
Once in a great while a piece of manila rope, tied to a weathered spar, or even a battered life preserver, would wash up, and he might find someone who would take them in exchange for some mutton for him and his wife. And one time, on the day of San Nicola, the sirocco had sent him a whole crate of oranges. The crate had been bashed to pieces on the shore, but he had waded into the water and patiently pursued the oranges, grabbing at them as they rushed past him and up through the rocky crevices, then stopped, and gathering momentum, shot down toward the sea again just as fast.
A few oranges grew in the village, but none as big and juicy as these had been seen for many years. The old man’s neighbors stared as he brought them to the house, and children came to the door to peer in, their eyes as wide as the hollows in their cheeks. The police had been curious, too, and asked where they had come from. When old Marku explained how the sirocco had brought them, they took most of them back to the police bureau to examine at their leisure. But a few were left for the old man and his wife, and as they ate them, puncturing the soft inner skin with their jagged front teeth and feeling the cool, sweet liquid run down along their tongues and gums, they, too, wondered where they had come from.
Perhaps the crate had fallen from a ship that was unloading in Bari, the Italian port across the sea. Or perhaps the crew of a passing ship had thrown it overboard, knowing how it is with the people in Albania. Or maybe the coastal current had swept the crate from Corfu, where the Greek king has a palace and there must be many oranges. But Marku and his shriveled wife, Dani, preferred to think that the oranges had come as a divine gift from San Nicola, the patron saint of the sea.
Now, however, old Marku saw nothing — nothing but water and sky and rocks, the rocks rising steeply to the barren mountains behind, where occasionally a rough stone wall indicated a lonely patch of earth where perhaps a cabbage root might find sparse nourishment. He turned and plodded on, pulling his goatskin more closely about his body. It was January, and even the sirocco, which swept across the Mediterranean from the south, felt cold.
Time passed slowly as he padded stiffly from rock to rock. His eyes had begun to tear from the wind and salt, but still they had sighted nothing to take back to his barren hovel. Once he looked back toward the mouth of the cove where his village lay and saw the police patrol boat nosing out toward the sea, its sharp bow rising and plunging with the great swells the sirocco brought. He stopped to watch as the patrol boat swung broadside to the sea, rolling dangerously until its engine drove its stern to the weather and it headed back into the safety of the cove.
As he watched, the sharpness left his eyes and the tenseness left his face. He could feel the deck under his feet, feel the surge of the sea beneath the boat. It was his own fishing boat again, and his sons, Bero and Milo, were with him.
“Bero,” he called aloud, “take the tiller a while.” It was a long, graceful tiller, one that Marku had hewn from an ash timber, curving it with sure, skillful strokes of his adz.
When Bero had settled in the stern and hugged the tiller under his arm, the father walked forward on the deck, smiling as Milo snatched squirming fish from the net. He trimmed the big lateen sail, then stepped carefully over the nets and stood in the bow, his body adjusting unconsciously to the boat’s pitching. The wind was strong, and he breathed some of the strength of it deep down into his lungs. Far ahead, he could see the high rocks that marked the entrance to the cove.
Suddenly his eyes fastened themselves on something in the water. He watched silently as the boat drew nearer to it. First it looked like pieces of timber, but then he saw it was more than that. His heart began to pound harder as he recognized the battered remains of a boat. “Bero! Milo!” he called, turning to his sons. “It’s a boat! A sunken boat!”
But his sons were not there behind him, nor his little fishing boat, nor even the sea. There were only rocks: sharp, dark, cold rocks, rising to the mountains behind. At once he realized he had been daydreaming, as he had been doing more and more lately. He felt foolish, and lowered his head and turned his face to the sea again.
He looked, then rubbed his eyes roughly. The hulk was still there, its sunken form rising and falling in the rolling sea. He rubbed his eyes again and cursed them, cursed his age, cursed his hunger, cursed those who had taken away his fishing boat and had caused his misery. But no matter how much he cursed, how much he rubbed his burning eyes, the vision would not disappear.
He sat down on a rock and buried his eyes in his hands. “Relax, old man,” he said aloud. “After a few minutes look again. If it is still there, then it is real. Then you must pray to San Nicola to help you get it to shelter before it is pounded to bits.”
When he felt the pounding in his chest grow slower and less violent, he stood up and raised his eyes slowly and calmly toward the sea. In the first instant he saw nothing. Then the troughs of the sea lifted and there, only a hundred meters away, rose the oaken stem of a boat. He threw his gnarled fingers to the sky, his high-pitched voice singing out above the sound of the sea and the wind: “San Nicola, give me strength. Give me time.”
As the boat drifted shoreward, his eyes measured the distance along the shore to where the sea met a high wall of rock with a thunderous roar, driving great sheets of water high into the air. Along that violent wall, he knew, was a small, sea-carved cavern. He had known it since he was a boy, and he knew that if the tide and the crashing waves would permit it, the cavern would protect his prize, not only from the onslaught of the sea, but from the eyes of the police as well.
Then he rushed, sometimes stumbling and crawling over the rocks, to where the boat would wash ashore. His bony legs banged against the rocks, but he felt nothing. His body was shaking, but it was no longer from the cold.
He grew exultant as the boat washed nearer. “Ha, Sirocco,” he shouted, “so this time you have brought me a boat. But this will not be a fishing boat. It will be for this.” He made a chopping motion with his open right hand on his left arm and shot his left hand in the direction of the sea. “To Italy!” he cried. “To Italy, like Bero and Milo!” He began to laugh. He laughed wildly, uncontrollably, and tears flowed from his eyes.
Still laughing, he stumbled into the spray and foam, grasping for rocks as he thrashed his way through the angry water. Once he slipped, and his entire body sank beneath a wave. Only a flap of his goatskin was visible on the foam. But he was up again almost at once, shaking the cold water from his head.
As he reached for the boat a wave carried it on its crest and swept it down toward him. He braced his feet against the slippery rocks and threw his shoulder against the floating hulk. Its weight bore down on him with crushing force, and his feet slid out from under him. He felt himself pushed beneath the surface, the boat’s heavy hull moving over him.
“Strength,” he thought desperately, as he doubled his legs and fought for another foothold, “strength.” There was a sharp sensation in the middle of his back as a jagged spike from the boat’s bared frames gouged through his goatskin cape. But his groping feet at last found something solid, and he straightened his legs.
The bow moved then, moved in the direction he wanted it to. His head emerged from the water and he gasped for breath. “Keep it moving,” he muttered. “Keep it moving, or it will crush you.”
For more than an hour he battled, straining to keep the bow headed along the shore, struggling to keep the wreck moving. Twice it got away and bashed against the rocks to open new gaps in its ragged planking. His fingers were numb with cold, and bleeding from being crushed between wood and rock. This did not bother him, because there was no real boatman in the village with ten fingers left, and he had already lost two. But there was no longer any feeling in his legs, and he was afraid that the cold water had sapped too much of the life from them.
At last he reached the wall of rock. A crest carried him high in the air and he could see the opening of the cavern. It was like the mouth of a giant animal, alternately gulping and vomiting tons of water. The old man’s feet would no longer reach the bottom, but he hung on to the stern of the boat, holding it back to let the bow swing toward the opening. It was only a small opening now, for the sirocco had raised the level of the water half a meter, and the crests of the swells crashed above the top of it.
Slowly the boat and Marku edged forward, the old man’s head bobbing up and down with the swells. When the bow settled in a trough and the stern mounted the following crest, he gathered what remained of his fleeting strength and gave a great push. The bow carried under the top of the opening, but as it rose again there was a sound of grinding and tearing of wood as the stem struck the rock above it.
“Fast, now,” the old man thought, “or all will be lost.” Each time the bow dipped he pushed again, and each time it was followed by a wrenching crash. But slowly the boat was entering the cavern. One last heave and it was through the opening, and the old man, finding footing again, hurried after it, as a crest suddenly bore him upward and crashed his head against the rock. For an instant he was dazed. When his senses returned he was inside the cavern, his body draped across the sunken boat.
He worked on sheer will, his strength completely gone, his hands and feet numb, and blood oozing from a dozen places on his body. But it was easier now, and soon he had dragged the boat back into the dark recesses of the cavern, where it finally settled on the gravel bottom, rocking gently in the diminished swells.
The old man collapsed on a rock, his breath coming in spasms. “Home, now,” he gasped. “Must get strength again to work on the boat.” He forced himself to his feet and groped his way to the narrow opening at the back of the cavern. It was dark outside, and he shivered as the wind struck his water-soaked clothes.
Bleeding, half numb, shaking with cold, and his mind blurred by exhaustion, he forced his battered body across the rocks toward his home. Each rock seemed higher, every step more painful. It seemed that hours had passed before he reached the rough path leading to his home, but at last he stood before the door, weaving and mumbling unintelligibly to himself. With his last ounce of energy, he pushed against the door and pitched headlong across the stone threshold. Only then did he let his consciousness drift away completely.
When he awakened, he was lying in his old iron bed. He knew he had been there for a long time because the wind had died down and the rains had come. He moved to get up, but pains shot through his back, his legs, his hands, his head. “Mother of Jesus,” he said aloud, “what has happened to me?”
Dani heard him and came over to the bed, her rag-wrapped feet scuffing hurriedly across the bare stone floor. Colorless eyes peered out between the wrinkles as she bent her short, lean body over the old man. “Marku?” she said quietly.
“How long have I been here like this?”
“For two nights and a day,” she said.
She looked at his face. “Are you really awake, Marku?”
“I am awake, yes, Dani. My head is awake, but I think my body is dead and already in hell. When I try to move, fire shoots through every part of it.”
“You were bleeding all over,” she said. “And you were shaking so much I could not keep the cloths on your wounds.”
The wrinkles in the old man’s face deepened as he struggled to remember. “But what was it, Dani, that caused me to be struck by the angry hand of God?”
“If you do not know, Marku, then it is all the worse. All I know is what you said while you slept. Twice I heard you say something about the rocks and the boat.”
“The boat,” said the old man sharply, and as he remembered, his muscles tensed, sending new pains through his body. He couldn’t speak for a few minutes, but when his muscles had relaxed again he said quietly, almost in a whisper, “We have a boat now, Dani. The sirocco has brought us a boat.”
The old woman’s eyes showed nothing. The deep lines in the leathery skin of her face didn’t move. She simply stood, looking into the old man’s gray eyes.
“Did you hear me, woman?” he said, a little impatiently. “We have a boat.”
“Yes,” she answered softly, nodding her head. “We have a boat.” She stood up slowly and shuffled back to the broken iron stove.
Hours had never seemed as long to the old man as they did during the next days. The only thing that occupied his mind was the boat, the boat. If only he could move his pain-wracked body to see it; to see if it really could be salvaged; to see if one day it might float again, to carry him and Dani away.
The rain stopped, and the wind switched to the ponent, blowing out of the west. Still the old man could not leave his bed, and still he thought of the boat. He remembered where he had hidden some of his tools, guarding them jealously lest Dani take them to trade for food. There was a saw, and an adz, and a dulled auger. It wasn’t much, but it was enough, he thought. Enough if only his body would become strong enough to make use of them.
Dani did her best to help him get his strength back. At first she brought him only rosemary tea and potions brewed from other herbs she had gathered on the mountain. Then she gave him cabbage and a little coarse bread, and a piece of goat meat she had salted herself only a few months before. At first, when Dani served him, Marku would talk about the boat. But she only nodded at him and said, “Yes, Marku, our boat,” and turned away again. So he stopped talking to her about it and just thought about it to himself.
Twenty-three days passed before the old man felt well enough to leave the house. He stuffed some fresh straw into what remained of his boots and slung the goatskin around his shoulders, his fisherman’s hat on his head. Outside, it was warm in the sun, and the levanter, the east wind, barely moved the small patches of white in the sky. He went to the stone shelter behind his house, came out with a bundle wrapped in an old cloth, and set out along the rocky path toward the shore.
He walked stiffly at first, but as he neared the cavern, the stiffness left, and he was leaping from rock to rock like a boy. When he arrived at the narrow crevice which led below, he stopped, looked carefully all around him, and slid quickly down between the rocks.
It was still there, resting on the gravel bottom, with shafts of light from cracks in the rocks above throwing golden beams on it. The old man stopped before it, surveying it with wide eyes. “Mother of Jesus,” he muttered. “She is a beautiful boat.”
When he had finished staring at the boat, he moved it higher on the gravel and examined the frames and planking. There was much to do, he thought, and it would be difficult finding wood to repair it. But it could be done. And if the weather were kind one day, the boat would be strong enough to carry them to Italy.
He was unfolding the cloth bundle when he first had the strange feeling. It was the same feeling he used to have just before they took his boat away, when he was unloading his fish at the dock. Someone was always watching, always counting, always scheming. Now he knew someone was watching again. He turned and raised his head slowly. He saw the boy, standing in a corner of the cavern looking at him.
“What are you doing here?” the old man shouted angrily.
“Nothing,” the boy answered. “I saw you bring the boat here when the sirocco was blowing.”
The old man suddenly felt jealous, cheated of his secret knowledge, his secret prize. “Who are you? Where do you come from?” he asked the boy sharply
“I am Marash, son of Gjiregji Krujan,” the boy said softly
The old man felt something thick and hard forming in his stomach. He turned from the boy and looked at the boat, and he thought he would be sick. “Krujan, Krujan,” he repeated to himself. Krujan, who had been responsible for taking away the old man’s fishing boat. Krujan, the former keeper of the bread shop who was now sitting behind a desk in a government office in Shengjin. Krujan, who had betrayed his own friends and even now was telling lies about them to the Chinese, who had come to mete out the proper punishments.
Slowly he began to fold the cloth back over the saw, the adz and the auger What would be the use? Fix up the boat with his own sweat and toil so that Krujan could take it to use for himself? “No,” he thought, “he can take it like it is. Or he can leave it. It makes no difference.”
He picked up the bundle and turned to the boy again. He looked into his face for a long time without saying anything. It was a strong face, and the eyes in it were wide and calm. “How old are you?” the old man asked.
“I am nineteen,” the boy replied. He still had not moved from his corner.
The old man studied him silently for another few minutes. Then he turned, set the bundle down again and unfolded the cloth. Maybe he won’t tell his father, he thought. And what if he does? Twenty-four days ago I had no boat. And if it is taken away when I finish it, I will still have no boat. It is all the same. And I will enjoy the work.
He started by turning the boat over with the help of the broken boom as a lever, propping the bow and stern on piles of rocks. Then he took his saw and began cutting away the splintered planking, sawing them square where they crossed a solid frame. He forgot about the boy, and the boy said nothing, and once when the old man looked up from his work, the boy was gone. He shrugged and went back to his sawing.
Days went by, then weeks, as the old man worked slowly but steadily on the boat. Sometimes he would run out of wood, and have to spend his time along the shore, searching for more. Once he had to wait a whole week before he had wood to work with. It would come in all shapes and sizes, but he was skilled with his adz, and he had time.
In the evening, near the stove, he would carve wooden plugs. Sometimes Dani would look at him with soft eyes and shake her head. He was too occupied with his carving to notice.
The boy came quite often to stand in his corner and watch, but it didn’t bother the old man. He knew that one day he would lose the boat, but working on it made him happy. His eyes shone when he stepped back to see how it was taking shape under his own hands.
Sometimes the boy would talk to him, or ask him questions. “You are making the boat very strong.” he said one time. “How will it go on the big sea?”
“It will go very well,” answered the old man, “if it is sailed well.”
“Have you ever been to Italy?” the boy asked another time.
“Yes,” said the old man. “A long time ago. I sailed a boat there.”
“My father says there are capitalists in Italy.”
“I didn’t’ notice any,” said the old man. He stroked for a while with the adz and then looked up at the boy. “Tell me, what is a capitalist?”
“My father says they are people who make too much money so that the poor people cannot live.”
“And here,” said the old man, “there are no capitalists, and the poor people are not really poor at all.” He went back to his stroking. “Has your father ever been to Italy?” he asked.
“No,” the boy answered. “But he read about the capitalists there. One of our Communist leaders has written it.”
“Do you believe it?” asked the old man.
The boy hesitated for a moment and looked away. “Sometimes it is very difficult to know what to believe,” he said.
One day the boy brought a few dozen nails with him and the old man smiled at him. Nails were impossible for him to buy, and the wooden plugs were difficult to manage in some places on the boat.
“When will the boat be finished?” the boy asked one day.
“In May, or June, perhaps.”
“Is it difficult to sail a boat like this one?”
“No,” said the old man, “it is quite easy. Especially when you get a steady wind like the mistral.”
Gradually the old man told him more about boats and about fishing, and told him how happy he had been when his two sons had gone fishing with him. Then he would remember who the boy’s father was, and remain quiet for a long time before speaking again.
Sometimes the boy would talk strangely, of things not related to the boat. “I have a girl,” he said to the old man once.
“So?” he replied. “It is good to have a girl.”
“But I would like to marry this girl. My father says I am too young to think about getting married. Do you think nineteen is too young?”
The old man looked closely at the boy. “It is very young to get married,” he said at last. “But it depends on who it is. If he is a man when he is nineteen, then he is not too young.”
The boy smiled at this, and gradually began to relax with the old man. Sometimes he helped him turn the boat over, or held a plank while the old man drilled it with his auger and set it in place with a wooden plug or one of the nails the boy had brought. Or he would dampen the plank with an old piece of wet burlap as the old man bent and twisted it over the small fire he had built. But he never became completely at ease, and the old man never let himself completely forget who the boy’s father was.
The closest he came to forgetting was the time he was working and suddenly the end of a tree trunk appeared in the crevice leading into the cavern. Slowly it slid down, and finally the boy appeared, puffing and grinning, his face red with exertion. “Will this be good for a mast?” he asked.
The old man walked closer to examine it. After a while he said, “I think I could not have picked a better one myself. Where did you find it?”
“Over there, in the forest,” the boy said, pointing eastward.
“But that is a long way.”
The boy shook his head. “I have been two days getting it,” he said. “When I go home my father will be more angry than he has ever been before.”
Weeks and months passed by, and by June the old man was caulking the boat with the shreds of bits of rope he had saved.
Then one day he carried the iron pot with the black, tarlike material in it to the cavern and put it over the fire
“Is this the last thing?” the boy asked.
“The last thing.” The old man nodded. “I have made a sail at home out of some scraps of cloth. It is not pretty, but I think it will be strong enough. Tomorrow I will lash it to the boom. Then all will be ready, except for stepping the mast. That cannot be done until the boat is floated out of the cavern. But it will be easy. The mast is not very heavy.”
Old Marku was pleased with the boat, and with his work. He could not remember being as happy in many years. He sang as he dipped the stick into the hot, black liquid and smeared it over the hull. When it was finished he said good-bye to the boy and hurried home, jumping across rocks and humming as he went. He burst into the door of his house and shouted for Dani.
“Hurry, old woman,” he sang out. “I have something important to tell you.”
She scurried into the house through the back door, carrying a few leaves of cabbage in one hand. Her eyes looked frightened.
“Put down your cabbage leaves, old woman,” he said, taking them from her hand and setting them on the table. Then he steered her to a stool. “Sit down, now, and just for this once hear me through.”
She obeyed him, drawing her body close to her knees as she hunched on the stool. The old man looked at her and thought how pitiful she looked, how like an animal. Praise to God that it had not always been like this. There was a time when they had lived like people.
“Dani,” he said quietly, “I know what you think, that I am sick in my mind, that I see things that are not really there, that I do strange things without any sense or reason. Perhaps it is better that you have thought so, and that some of the village people think the same thing.”
He breathed deeply and took her by the hand. “But listen, Dani, it is not so. I am old, but my mind is still as it was twenty years ago. This which I have said about the boat is true, Dani. The sirocco washed it up last January, when I came back to the house beaten and bleeding. I have worked hard, and the boat is ready to sail now. It is a very small boat, but it is very strong.” He paused for an instant before he said, “I think it can take us safely to Italy, Dani. Perhaps we could find Bero and Milo.”
A spark flickered in her lifeless eyes for a second, and he remembered how they had been many years before. Then the look of fright returned. “Is it really possible, Marku, that a small boat can go across the sea?”
“I swear it,” said the old man solemnly. “When the mistral blows, but not too strongly, then it is a good time.”
He did not know how to tell her about the boy, and about what might happen to the boat. She was already frightened, and this would only make it worse. But he had to tell her.
“Dani,” he began, “there is a boy who knows about the boat. He has seen me working on it.”
“Who is he?” she asked quickly.
“He is Marash, son of Gjiregji Krujan,” the old man said, looking straight into her eyes.
“Krujan,” she repeated, spitting the name out like the rotten part of an apple. She stood up, clenching her fists, and started to move stiffly away. “Old man,” she muttered bitterly, “you are even more crazy than I thought.”
He reached quickly and caught her by the arm. “Wait, Dani,” he said, turning her around. “Perhaps the boy will not tell.”
“Perhaps he will not tell,” she said fiercely. “Perhaps they will not take the boat. Perhaps they will not throw you in prison until you die. Perhaps,” she flung at him, twisting herself away and spitting on the floor
“But I do not think he will tell,” the old man said weakly. He knew that it sounded insane, but he believed it. “Tomorrow I will put the sail on the boat. Then it will be completely finished. We will give the boy three days to tell, and for them to come and take the boat away. If it is still there after three days, then we will know that the boat is ours, and we will go, the first night that the mistral blows, but not too hard.”
She didn’t answer him.
The next day he strapped the sail on his back and carried it to the boat. Carefully he lashed it to the long boom, and made the sheets fast. Then he stood back and looked at the boat, first from one angle, and then from another. “Thank you, San Nicola,” he said aloud, “for giving me the strength to finish it. Perhaps I will not see it again, but it has been good for me.” He turned then and climbed up through the hole in the rocks.
The next three days were very long for the old man, even longer than the days he had spent in the iron bed in January. He wanted to go to the boat, but he knew it was better to stay away. He tried to keep himself busy with small tasks in order not to think about it, but digging rocks out of the soil reminded him about the battle he had fought with the rocks to save the boat, and patching the holes in his old house was too much like caulking the hull of the boat. He tried wandering down to the waterfront in the cove, where his forsaken cronies gathered to gossip and stare at the water, but he discovered that he could talk about nothing if he could not talk about the boat.
By the time the third day came, Marku paced around his little house until Dani scolded him out. He walked back and forth to the village. He walked up and down the path that led to the shore. But he did not go down to the shore, nor would he look in the direction of the boat. He only noticed that the mistral was blowing, and that it was not blowing too hard.
At last the sun went down, red and round, until the sea swallowed it, and for the first time in many, many months Marku saw the green flash as the last thin slice disappeared. He waited impatiently for the darkness to follow, and when at last it came, he walked for the hundredth time that day down the path to the shore, trying to control the urge to run. The moon lighted the tops of the rocks as he strode across them. It was full, but it would set soon, leaving the night black except for the stars.
He reached the cavern entrance quickly and scrambled nimbly below. His heart was pounding wildly as he turned his head to where the boat should be. A beam of moonlight shone down through the rocks, silhouetting the back boat.
“Mother of Jesus,” he muttered. He rushed over to the boat and felt it with his hands to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. Then he turned and ran to the entrance, scrambling up the rocks like a fleeing animal.
Dani was sitting at the table when he came through the door. “It is still there,” he gasped between breaths. His eyes were glowing and his cheeks were very red. “Dani, the boat. It is still there. It is ours. We must get ready to leave.”
Dani stood up, her eyes dazed with confusion. She looked about her and raised her open palms. “Get ready?” she said. “Get what ready? There is nothing to get ready.”
“All the better,” the old man said. “Then let us go now.”
They collected a few things around the room and put them in an old string bag. The woman put a loaf of hard bread and a piece of salted goat meat on top. Then they left the house and closed the door tight. Dani stood before the door, saying nothing.
“Come, Dani,” the old man whispered impatiently. “We must hurry now.” He took her by the arm and pulled her along the path with him. He guided her down to the shore and helped her walk from rock to rock. The wind was still blowing gently, sending small waves lapping into the shore. When they reached the beginning of the rock wall where the cavern was, Marku said, “Wait here, Dani, and I will bring the boat.”
It was black in the cavern, but the old man knew it as well as his own house. The excitement seemed to give him added strength, and he easily moved the boat from the gravel into the water. Climbing in, he guided it through the cavern. When he reached the mouth, he pushed heavily against a rock and quickly ducked his head below the coaming. The boat shot through the opening, out into the fresh sea air.
Dani was still standing there, and Marku took the boat to her and made it fast to the rocks. Then he climbed out and stood beside her.
“Look at her, Dani,” he said proudly. “She is a beautiful boat.”
“It is very small for such a great journey,” Dani replied.
“Small, yes,” he said, “but strong. Now, I must step the mast and we will be away.” He started into the boat again, but stopped suddenly as a strange noise reached his ears. Dani heard it, too, and looked up along the shore where it seemed to come from. Then it sounded again, the sound of one rock crashing into others.
“Someone is coming,” the old man whispered. “Well,” he said, “one cannot always have good luck.”
Dani clutched the old man’s arm, closed her eyes tightly, and whispered prayers. Her body was trembling.
“Madonna, it is the boy,” the old man said as a figure emerged from the blackness. “But he has brought someone with him. Perhaps it is the devil himself, Krujan.”
The figures came closer, and old Marku saw that the second one was a girl. “Boy,” he called out, “have you come to take the boat away?” But why did you wait so long? Why did you let us have so much hope?”
They boy came close so that he could see the old man’s face. “We have come here for three nights, old man, but you did not come. This is the girl I told you about. But I didn’t tell you all.” He was breathing heavily, and his voice was pitched high and uneven. He looked back up toward the mountains before he went on. “My girl — she and her family will be arrested any day for what they say is treason against the government. I have seen this I my father’s papers. I — I think he is even responsible for it. You see, he doesn’t want us…”
“He stopped and swallowed hard, then with an effort controlled his voice. “We want to go away together,” he said, drawing closer and looking in to the old man’s eyes. “Will you take us with you?”
“You want to go to Italy with us?” the old man asked, his voice rising uncertainly.
“Will you take us?” the boy asked again. The girl moved closer to him and put her head against his shoulder.
The old man looked at the boy for a full minute without speaking. Then a smile slowly traced its way across his lips. “But what about those, how did you call them, those capitalists, in Italy?”
“Perhaps they are not so bad,” the boy answered. “Anyway, we will see.” He was smiling, too.
With the boy’s help the old man stepped the mast, feeling it slip snugly into place. “It is your mast,” he said to the boy. “It is my boat, but it is your mast. Now,” he said finally, “we must go.”
The girl climbed into the boat and huddled down next to the boy. Only Dani stood on the shore now.
“Hurry, Dani,” the old man called as he fastened the rough oars in place to row out beyond the rocks.
“Marku,” she said after a few minutes, “I cannot go.”
The old man climbed up on shore and stood in front of her. “But we have hoped for this as long as we can remember, Dani. Now our chance has come.”
“If we had gone at first, then it would have been different,” she said. “But now we are very old.” She started to cry. Marku had not seen her cry in many years.
“Marku,” she repeated, “I cannot go. If you feel that you must go, then go. But I was born here, Marku, and I will die here, now that the time has come close.”
The boy looked up from the boat and called, “We are ready. Hadn’t we better start?”
The old man looked down at him and the girl. He looked at Dani. He looked up at the sky and felt the wind on his face. Then he spoke. “The mistral will take you out of danger tonight. Then it will die out, and the sirocco will come. But that, too, will be a gentle wind. By tomorrow night you will be there.”
“But why do you not come,” the boy said, “after all of your work?”
The old man paused for a moment. “You and the girl are going to Italy so you can begin your life together,” he said slowly. “I will stay here so that my woman and I can finish ours together.”
He bent over and pushed the boat out into the water. The boy took the oars and rowed it past the rocks. “Thank you, old man,” he called.
Dani and Marku watched as the boat moved farther away. They heard the oars stop and saw the outline of the sail rising against the sky.
“It is a beautiful boat the sirocco brought us,” the old man said.
“Yes,” she replied, “it is a beautiful boat.” Then she took his arm and they walked across the rocks toward their home.