The flames of the taverna burned in the distance as I ran down the narrowing shore with jungle encroaching closer and closer on my side.
I found the Guitarrista at the edge of the sea, his sombrero hanging from his neck and his guitar in his arms.
He looked out at the sea and asked, “Do you understand this story?”
I thought about it for some time, standing beside him and catching my breath. “No,” I said. “I don’t understand anything.”
The Guitarrista nodded. “Every story tells the history of the entire world. There is only one story, really. Each tale we tell is the same pattern, but with a different order of stitches.”
In my mind flashed an image of Lemanja’s eyes peering out through fire, ecstatic in the flames. “There’s only one freedom,” I said.
“Only one,” the Guitarrista said, and handed the guitar to me.
The instrument fit perfectly in my arms, as though shaped specifically for them. “I don’t know how to play,” I said.
“You will learn. The guitar will teach you.”
“What about you?”
The Guitarrista arched his back and stretched out his arms, as though testing the absence of the guitar’s weight. “I’m a very old man. I will do what very old men do,” he said with a smile.
“My story has been told. It ends with Lemanja and fire, with Mauricio and the Salterio and the shadows of the Eleven Weeping Ladies.”
He narrowed his eyes in thought and studied the horizon, where the first hints of dawn lit the edge of the world. He nodded to himself and smiled.
“It’s a good ending.”
My fingers moved along the strings like creatures with their own will. Lightly, I strummed the strings, and the first note I ever played was swallowed at once by the crashing of the waves.
“You are a Guitarrista and you were always a Guitarrista,” the old man told me. “Your life will be full of laughter and sadness, more of each than most people know. You will want to turn away. You will want to run away. You’ve wanted those things already.”
He looked at me from under arched eyebrows. “The most important part of your station is that you never turn away. Not from a single tragedy. Not from a single smile. See it all and breathe it all and know it. Make it part of your heart samba. There’s no room for comforts in a Guitarrista’s life. A comfortable man has no blood in his music.”
The old man nodded again and turned back to the sea.
I waited to see if he would say something more, but he did not. What needed to be said had been said.
Standing there beside him with the guitar in my arms felt familiar, as though I’d been there a thousand times before. My fears disappeared as I realized I’d never really had a choice. The guitar had always been waiting and I had always been searching for it, and now we would be bound together until the end.
I walked away from the old man playing at the strings. It didn’t feel like something new. Instead, it felt like something I was trying to remember from long, long ago.
As I strolled along, the sea pressed against one side of me and the jungle on the other. I had no idea what waited ahead or what I would do when I got there. Such concerns had evaporated from my mind.
My thoughts were on Lemanja and her story. I still didn’t understand what it meant, and even as I bent my mind to figure it out, I knew I would spend the rest of my life trying to understand.
© 2016, Jeff Suwak. All Rights Reserved