BY AARON CHAPMAN
My grandfather-in-law is The Old Man and the Sea. A step inside his home is a step into a story. Picture frames on every inch of wall, a nostalgic fade to the film behind the glass. He had more hair then but his eyes remain young. Firm. Compassionate. They stare back at you in each photograph. They share the loving fear of being at sea, the times heeling through storms and the tales of catching record-sized Kingfish.
My grandfather-in-law is a conservative man who wears an anchor tattoo across his heart. He’s never let geographical lines in the sand separate him from the ocean. As soon as the Civil War ended in Mozambique he crossed the border from South Africa into the deep country as an unwelcome white man. Bullet holes meant empty houses, and birds hadn’t returned since the first gunshot. He drove past landmines, ambushed and abandoned vehicles charring in the sun until he reached the sand, the safest course. Seventy kilometres north at low tide. He set up camp in an elephant reserve and paid the neighboring village chief a handsome sum of food each time he returned over the next ten years. When the camp burned, he swapped the blue sea for the green greens of a golf course in Natal.
My grandfather-in-law is taking his tribe of posterity on a holiday by the sea. From several thousand feet above, the former French Colony of Mauritius is a postcard paradise saturated by colour like the stand of some souvenir shop. Roughly the size of Tokyo, the one and only island of Mauritius is at sea following the currents between Africa and Australia in search of whichever archipelago or atoll it lost.
The plane descends into its verdancy. We feel important and insignificant, lucky enough to not be dreaming. We are on the tip of an underwater mountain in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
We’re stuck in peak hour traffic and travelling no more than one roadside home a minute. Only metres from the highway’s curb are thriving front yard vegetable gardens where a green lawn would normally lay. The houses amalgamate with cultural heritage and post-colonial architecture. Neighbourly walls hedged with smashed mirror pieces and broken bottles to prevent intruders, or perhaps to chandelier the light that burns here hotter than almost anywhere.
Our bus driver takes us further through the island as the sun begins to set, the silhouette of the island’s tallest mountain becoming part of the night. Tall sugar cane take the shape of wrought-iron spires in the fields where square pyramids of collected volcanic rock are just monuments of labour. The cooler air makes itself known as we near the ocean. Everything is quiet and dark with evening. A different beauty waits for day.
An idyllic screen saver wakes outside my window. Different hues of blue reflect the waters’ depth. A faint teal twenty metres from the doorstep. A cobalt starting where the white of waves crash against the edge of the lagoon. They marry into open relationships before the horizon.
My grandfather-in-law assigns his room number to a Hobie at the shoreline activities hut. Dropped rudder and broad reach in the early morning wind. Clouds collect above the island, afraid to make the long journey to the next continent. A storm looms. I take a Laser and join him in making wake and angles in the Indian. Beneath the beam, beneath his bucket hat, I see the child in his eyes.
We see the northern and southernmost points of the sixty-five kilometre island as we head further out to sea, further away as we evade rain squalls and chase bait balls marked by frenzying sea birds. My grandfather-in-law stands at the stern watching the island disappear beneath the swell lines in the distance. Hand over his brow like a spinnaker before main sail. No cat’s paws marring this still moment, only blue rippling in his eyes. Five fishing lines pearling in the boat’s wake as they’re dragged over the surface of where the sea birds had flocked. He doesn’t take a reel when one spins toward the horizon. He just stands there behind his grandchildren.