Sign: Peeled, Delivered

It was their third night at sea and they had started to hate the others in the boat as fiercely as they clung together in one sodden mass of fear and exhaustion.

They had moved too far south, the currents stronger than the two-by-fours and broken plywood the men rowed with, but had no real idea where they were. The movements of the sky showed them only which way was east–the direction they’d fled–and which was west, where they’d once hoped life would be better for them. Now they only hoped they wouldn’t die of drowning or thirst. The children had stopped crying, perhaps knowing they couldn’t spare the water.

The first night they had rejoiced. It was a miracle they’d avoided the spies on the roads and the patrols around the peninsula at Cuba’s western tip. They’d taken their departure from La Fe as a sign, but by now their faith was eroded by the endless rocking of their flimsy and ungainly boat, the constant bailing necessary when there are only inches of freeboard on the high sea, the squirm of six adults and five children in such cramped quarters, the lack of food, the empty beer bottles that had once held their idiotically small supply of drinking water, the unrelenting sun all day, the damp chill all night. The fear.

By now the fact that they seemed to be eluding the patrols of the Mexican Navy didn’t seem so miraculous or wonderful. Capture would mean a few weeks of water and food in the Federales’ holding cells at the Cancun airport. They would eat better than they had in years. Then a flight back to Havana. Then the trouble would start. But they would not be killed or tortured. Others had come back after failed attempts, and their stories ran around the oral grapevines, and the underground computer networks or memory sticks passed hand to hand to avoid the internet censors. A few of them prayed that they would be captured by the despised Mexicans. Rather than…

Even Mama Corabán, the most devout among them, a staunch Catholic despite the decades of Communist intolerance, even she was losing her hope. Perhaps this was the ultimate destiny and lesson, she thought, sitting in the unwelcome moonlight and trying not to lick her lips: perhaps we are doomed to this baptism into death because we despaired, abandoned our place in life to do illegal things.

She was as superstitious and ignorant as any given Black/Indian mixed Catholic in Latin America, but she had a reserve in spiritual matters. Too much pride to beg, she thought, even from the Virgin, whose mercy is boundless, whose son has the right ear of God himself. Her very reluctance to cry out for divine help was in itself a sin, she realized.

She stood up, standing shakily in ankle-deep water fouled by eleven people. She felt hands on her, supporting her supplication as she threw her head back, lifted her arms to the sacred face that lies beyond the moon, beyond all our hopes and dreams and deaths, and called out in a parched voice. “Ay, Madre de Dios!” The cry was snatched by the steady Caribbean wind, left her voice raw and sore. But she called out once again, “Please give your children some sign that you have not forgotten us.”

That was really all she could manage. She sank back down, leaning against the thin, flexing sides of their pitiful excuse for a boat. She saw nothing but a half moon in a dark sky, heard nothing but the maddening slap of the waves. Her head bowed forward onto her withered old chest.

It was Tomas’ boat. He was the man of the sea among them. He had the eyes, no doubt about it. So he saw it first. But didn’t immediately give voice to his vision, because he was sure he was seeing things. Not unusual after days on the sea without water. But it looked so real, even though it was impossible.

She moved right across the blinking bar of moonlight on the water, backlit clearly by the summer moon. A beautiful, naked young woman standing on the water, her hands spread out at her sides like wings, golden hair flying out behind her from the wind of her velocity as she skimmed across the surface as if on invisible water skis. Without meaning to he yelled some incoherent syllable and she turned towards him. And waved.

His guttural ejaculation caused the entire boatload to stare towards this moonlit vision of miraculous beauty. They sat motionless and silent as the ephemeral vision disappeared into the dark and distance. They had unmistakably been in a supernatural presence, and the sheer innocent beauty of it, the resonant concept of walking on water made it clear what force beyond nature was responsible. And she was heading West, towards Mexico.

Mama started croaking out a prayer, droning on her gracias to the Madrecita for this vision, this renewal of their shaken faith. Thank you, Mother, for this sign. Little Dario started bailing energetically: they mustn’t sink now. The men, already pushed far beyond even the limits they had learned from lives of physical hardship, now put a renewed energy into their rowing. Somewhere ahead was the dry land of the Yucatan and now they knew they were meant to touch that land.

With only a gesture to our tired eyes, Mama Corabán was thinking, the Virgin has saved our lives, drawn our souls back from the sins of fear and despair.

And she had lived, by the grace of God, to see a true vision, a miracle.

Slightly less than an hour later, two hours before the damn boatload of Cuban idiots showed up and he had to save their stupid lives, Venucio Mengano had been cursing the wayward stupidity of fish and taking some deep nips off his bottle of Vengadores. He had just lowered the bottle and squinted out at his empty nets when he saw her. His reception was much more Mexican, much less spiritual.

She flashed by within fifty meters of where he sat staring. Moving along surfing a swell in the water. He drank in the fine breasts pointing forward into the wind, marveled at the tossing gold mane trailing behind her, felt his pants tighten as he watched her luscious white buttocks disappear into the night. Raised a hand towards her as she zoomed away, and was rewarded by her turning and smiling, then blowing him a kiss.

He sat for a long time, staring at the night, imagining a glowing hole in the darkness where she had disappeared. Then he cast a long look at the bottle of tequila, shuddered, and tossed it overboard.