Estaban deTullis may not have been the most beloved man on the small island of Azure De Ponce De Leon, 57 miles south of Caracas, but that was only because of the sometimes venomous feelings harbored toward him by his often-times put upon wife and busy-body mother-in-law.
For everbody else however, Estaban was the noble elder of the island, the wise old Fisher King-philospher and everybody’s favorite uncle wrapped up into one. Tulli’s fishcart was the central hub of village life that brought the community together with laughter and gossip and delicious fish and of course Tulli’s home-made wine.
Tulli was not a great businessman for sure but he made sure the people of his village never went hungry for fish or drink or friendship and for this he was much loved whenever he made his rounds oft-times joined by his eight year old Roberto or his 15 year old Pepito. The boys raced along and helped their father pass out fish. They also marveled at the scars all over his muscled and sunburned arms and legs and his fish tales.
“Yes, Pepito–that little love bite was from my good friend the great white shark–he was very hungry that day for fish– but not finding any fish to eat–he decided to nibble on his good friend Tulli….no, it didn’t hurt too much –my little fisherman.”
The work was hard. The sun brutal and for almost sixty three years Estaban deTullis, native son of Azure De Ponce De Leon, son of a fisherman himself, had whispered to himself a little morning prayer; “work hard–trust the lord and the fish will come…one by one.”
Tulli, as he was known on the island, always wore a smile that even his occasionally mean-spirited wife Esperanza could not wipe off his face.
“Espy dearest…the lord will provide…he always does…he gives us fish for stew and he gave me for you.”
“Lucky me” snarled Esperanza, “try not to give away all your fish today, ok Tulli–you may think you are the king of this island but we still live like paupers.”
“Oh Espy darling– with you , Roberto and Pepito and Marisol, I am the richest man in the world– not just on this island.”
“You keep talking nonsense and I will hit you with this fish pot –you better not be drinking your wine before you make your rounds.”
“I’m going out fishing for Grouper now dearest…don’t you worry about your Tulli!”
“Take your rain jacket”
And off Tulli went on his little fisherman’s skiff with its thick net made of corded rope that had been drying in the broiling sun, stinking like rotting dead fish, or island perfume as Tulli liked to call it.
Tulli turned on his small, rust covered, red transistor radio to listen for the Spanish language news report on the weather and then he turned the dial to see if there was a local baseball game.
Tulli paddled out with his oar.
His strong arms had the skiff gliding along smoothly across the clear blue water. He could see the coral reefs and a small school of minnows glimmering like small silver coins in the sun. He was heading to the dark deep blue Grouper fishing grounds at least a mile away.
The sky was starting to darken. He turned off the radio and listened to the seagulls. A fisherman learns to go over his checklist. the gear, the lure, the location, the sun, the weather. These things are important, yes. But, the Lord is the reason a fish will bite on the line. Wicked men do not catch fish Tulli told himself.
Wicked men fall overboard and sink into the dark black abyss.
Tulli knew that his end would come one day too.
He asked the Lord on this day if he too was but a wicked man like his wife had repeatedly told him. Was he wicked and too selfish for not making more of a living and not bringing his wife more.
Tulli wiped the sweat from his flushed face. Maybe he did drink too much wine this morning. He felt a drop of rain then another. While the Lord did not answer Tulli directly, Tulli did catch a large Grouper and some other smaller fish over the course of the next few hours before he started to head home.
Then suddenly with great surprise, Tulli spotted the fin of a large Great White shark, breaking the surface of the water and slowly circling his skiff from a distance of 20 or so feet. It was strange to see a shark in these grounds. By the size of the fin it was probably a Poppa shark.
Tulli had had his run-ins with Great Whites before and he knew from past experience that the best thing to do was to steady the boat and just wait for it to swim away. Worse come to worse the oar could be used to poke the Great White on the snout.
But before Tulli could do a thing the Great White leaped onto Tulli’s little skiff and opened its huge gaping mouth with sharp, wet teeth.
The monstrous shark’s dead black eyes locked right onto Tulli. In that terrifying split second he thought of one person and one person alone.
Tulli instinctively tossed the Grouper and the other fish in the shark’s mouth and then reached for his oar. But before a shaking Tulli could even grab his oar – the huge shark had slid off the skiff with its mouth full of fish and had crashed right back into the water.
The rain was pelting down in sheets now and Tulli collapsed in his little boat.
Slowly, he regained he senses and he began to laugh and scream out loud, “Yes my Lord… thank you my Lord.. I see now that I have been a wicked man… but that even a wicked man …and a foolish and poor and stupid and weak man… like myself still has a place in your kingdom my Lord….thank you Lord…yes my Lord…it’s true I have been selfish and foolish to my princess–my beautiful mermaid– and I need to make things right with her my Lord– I need to make things right somehow if she will find it in her heart….Oh, Espy –please dear Espy…I’ve been such a fool…such a selfish, stupid, stupid, blind fool.”
And Tulli paddled back to Azure De Ponce De Leon with tears running down his face as the rain washed him clean.