Standing on the short cliffs of Cojima, Cuba – the village made famous by Hemingway, I remembered a story told to me by Gregorio Fuentes, Hemingway’s captain and friend…..he was one hundred two years old at the time.
It came in with the stream one November day, passing beneath Manolo’s skiff….seven meters in length with the girth of two oxen. It ate the broadbill from his line, swallowing it whole.
From that day the shark took what it wanted, the small snappers and the largest marlin. Our livelihood ceased.
The Santeria said it was sent by Chango, to test our manhood. Our priest held a special mass on the beach at dawn where we tried to pray the fish away. Still the shark stayed, cruising the waters at the edge of the drop, a long black shadow….a demon sent from hell.
When it took Tito, the turtle diver – a man to brave for his own good – we decided to kill the beast. Our very existence required it.
Juan forged a massive steel hook, then honed the point. We attached it to a chain used to anchor large ships, shackled to a hawser line, bigger around than a man’s leg. Four steel fuel drums were attached; the rig was ready.
Two kilos of squid, ray and barracuda meat covered the hook. We drew lots to see would deliver the bait. I and another drew short and before noon we rowed out beyond the drop.
Ashore, a dozen men held the hawser, waiting. The shark took the bait easily, suspended two fathoms below the skiff. It turned as if searching for more – the dorsal fin a submerged sail, the cold lifeless eye, big as a car’s headlight, looking up through the clear water.
We shouted to the men on shore and they heaved against the great weight, driving the point of the hook into flesh. The barrels flew off the beach and disappeared beneath the sea.
Then, the fish surfaced, thrashing wildly, fighting against the hook that could be seen clearly buried in the massive jaw. Through the remainder of the day we watched the fish, each time it surfaced the circle tightened.
“Why does it not swim off.” one man finally asked. No one ventured an answer.
By nightfall the sea was quite. I was back at the beach before dawn, staring at an empty ocean.
Mid-morning, we rowed to the spot where the shark was last seen. Using a bucket glass, we spotted the great fish lying dead on the sand bottom, five fathoms down. The drums were wedged beneath a brain corral head holding the shark like an anchor. The shark’s circles had tightened, until unable to swim, it drowned.
A diver cleared the rope and we ferried it to shore. A team of four stout oxen dragged the carcass up on the beach. By then the entire village had gathered, even the school emptied, students and teachers alike.
A man from the university came to take a picture. He measured it and claimed its’ weight at 3 tons…no one disputed his word.