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A Round, Black Eye
A thump and kersplash awoke Tomás Torres. He blinked his eyes and listened. Thump, kersplash. It was five A.M. His pelican alarm clock was going off. The brown pelicans were up. They were diving into the sea in the blue darkness, plunging headfirst to scoop up fish in their enormous beaks with nets of skin. On the fourth kersplash Tomás rolled to his feet. Yawning, be stepped naked from the palapa, an architectural wonder of palo blanco tree posts gracefully roofed and walled with palm leaves. He heard the deep, soft breathing of his grandfather and uncle, still asleep on the sandy floor of their airy palapa house.
Tomás strode out of the palm porch and looked from the island of Coronados, where be stood, across the Sea of Cortez to the peninsula of Baia California, Mexico, a mountain range in the sea that is the toe of the Rockies. The mountains stretched north and south from horizon to horizon, and in the low light they looked like a gargantuan cutout of a jaw of shark's teeth. Above them stars shone as bright as fire. The sun would not be up for an hour. Tomás ran down the white coral beach to the water.
"Good morning," he called to the pelicans. Wading up to his waist, he took a breath and dived into water as clear as air. With the grace of a sea lion Tomás sped through a crowd of awakening fish that were beginning to school up for the day. Near the bottom he rolled onto his back and looked up. Above him darted a flock of little diving birds. They swam in spurtsand dashes as they chased fish. Tomás shot to the surface.
"Excuse me!" he said to the tidy eared grebes as he exploded into their midst. Unabashed, the small loonlike birds swam closer to him. "Go home to your pools in the United States," he said. "This is my cove."
Tomás laughed from his belly to his eyes, a laugh so joyful it often turned people's heads to see who could be so happy. He lunged to catch a grebe. When it dived, he began counting. The bird did not pop up to breathe for two whole minutes.
"I wish I could stay down as long as you can," he said as the grebe paddled toward him, head underwater, looking for fish. When it dived again, Tomás swam with it into the night-filled depths of the cove waters.
One, two, three, he began. At fifty-five he burst to the surface. The bird was still underwater. "If I could hold my breath as long as you," he went on, "I could catch the whale shark my uncle saw, the one that tore my grandfather's net."
The net lay on the beach not far from the palapa, like a cobweb torn by an eagle. Tomás flipped onto his back and kicked toward shore.
I would jab him in the heart, he thought, and bring him up on my spear. I can do it. I will carry the shark above my head through the streets of Loreto. The mission bells will ring. The padre will say, "Good has won over evil." The fishermen of Loreto will sing, "Toma's is brave. Tomás is strong. He killed the net ripper." The fishermen will dance and sing and feast for ten days and ten nights.
Sucking in a mouthful of water, he squirted it high in the air, then rolled to his stomach and stabbed an imaginary shark.
I can get him, his thoughts went on, because the monster isn't a killer shark. He's a whale shark. Uncle Miguel saw him come up out of the deep water where whale sharks live. He saw him swim toward Coronados Island. Whale sharks are slow and dumb. They can't even catch a sea slug. I'll, spear him easily.
A round eye as black as the center of the earth peered through the clear water at him. It bung near the indigo edge of the rock reef and was separated from the other eye by three feet of cartilage, muscle and skin. Tomás's scent traveled to the smelling lobe of the brain through nostrils located under the eyes. The scent of hundreds of terrified fish also traveled to that brain. The sound of Tomás's kicking was received through the skin and the nerves on either side of the long dark body. The round, black eye enlarged and quivered with excitement.
Tomás did not know be was targeted. He was lying on his back, kicking with his feet, sculling with his hands and daydreaming In his dream he was carrying the shark into the plaza in front of the old mission in his hometown of Loreto, once the capital of Baia California. Tomás's small, compact body moved gracefully in his dream suit of spun gold. He wore a helmet decorated with the long gold feathers of the quetzal bird. It was a helmet like Quetzalcoatl's, Tomás's hero and a god-hero of the ancient Aztec and Toltec Indians of Mexico.
Quetzalcoatl, he called in his dream. Help me lift the shark.
Although Tomás Torres went to the Catholic church, the gods of his Indian past were still very real to him and his family. He was, like most Mexicans, a mestizo, part Spanish and part Indian. And although Spanish was his native language and Spain his motherland, Tomás's memory like that of his fellow mestizos did not begin with the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico. It went back to the glorious Mexican past, when gods of good and evil reigned and warriors were eagles, jaguars and feathered serpents to a time when Mexico was young and ambitious.
Tomás's kicked toward the white beach, racing away from the dark water where the eye watched him.