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11 Jul 2016

Sie wollte den Meer zu sehen

She wanted to see the sea

Illustration by Marta Santos
Once upon a time there was an elderly woman who had never seen the sea. Since she was a child she had always lived in a small village 100 km away from the seashore. It was not a big distance but during their youth, the children of her generation had been forced to work from dusk to dawn, either at fields or at home, to maintain their families.

Times had changed gradually and some of her neighbours prospered. Their children had moved to the city for a better future, had saved enough money to improve the standard of living of their parents.

Many of them had taken their parents to the city, to the seaside and to meet the world wide opened beyond the village.

However this old woman had never been able to leave the town. Her husband had died very young and she had to provide for her two children. She had worked as a needlewoman, she had also cleaned houses and made some money washing clothes in the river for other people in those times when there were no washing machines. However she could hardly make a living for the three of them with those earning for as everybody knows, women labour was not well paid. After working all days long, she still had to do the housework. Her children had never been too demanding and they started to help their mother at an early age, as soon as they got use of reason. But even so, the burden was too heavy.

The situation became critical when their mother stumbled over in a stairway and became paraplegic. Her children, Ana and Manuel, were 14 and 13 years old respectively. They had to take on their mother’s place in her jobs and at home, so they could not study. The money they could make vanished in food, and basic daily needs. They were never able to save money to leave and go to the city at that time of economic prosperity. When anybody reaching the place, could work in anything there and come back with their pockets full.

Those children became 50 years old adults who were still looking after their mother. While this woman, already very old, had only had one single longing in her whole life: she wanted to see the sea. Her neighbours told her wonderful things about it, and she loved listening to them, sat in her wheelchair. Her children took her wheelchair out to the street on summer afternoons. Her neighbours, sheltered from heat under the shadows of the houses, comfortably sat on the stone benches of the facades, told her about the color of transparent waters and seaweeds reflected from beneath. They also explained her how people could build castles with the wet sand left behind by waves. They told her that the sea had a particular scent and released a continuous murmur when waves swayed, a murmur which calmed hearts.

One day, the old woman knew she was about to die very son. She remembered all those stories she fancied the most and decided to ask her children what she had never dared to ask for.
`Children, I want to see the sea’

Her children didn’t have the money, not even to go and see it themselves; and transportation to take her mother there in her wheelchair, was clearly beyond their economic capability. So they decided to perform a small theatre show. They told their mother they would take her to the flat of a neighbour of theirs, which she had bought near the sea. They took her mother for hours inside a van with blinded windows. They had borrowed the van from the mechanic of the village and the seaside flat of their neighbour was in fact her own house, the same house where she lived everyday. They had sticked posters of idyllic beaches on the windows. The owner of the canteen had lended them a radiocassette and a 60 minutes tape that played sea sounds continually. That was the sound track the old woman listened to when they took her to their neighbours house.

 ‘Look, mum, look how White the sand is, and look at the immensity. You can not even see the land at the other side, the sea is so vast.
Her children signalled her everything disclosed on the windows, explaining her mother every detail to be seen on the pictures.
`Those White sticks you can see at the back are the boats tied to the pier. Most of them are fishing boats or small  leisure yatchs but from time to time some big ocean liners come. Let’s see if any will arrive today, they are huge.

 ‘And what about that Green stain spotted in the horizon?’ Their mother wanted to know.
 ‘It’s an island’ Her daughter exclaimed, raising her arms with passion. It’s a piece of land in the middle of the sea and it is very close to the seashore, that’s why you can see it so clearly.
The old woman was silent, she nodded with her head and smiled with pleasure. She was satisfied.

And so went the 60 minutes, while the tape borrowed from the canteen owner was playing. When they took her back into the van, for another two hours of a pretended return trip, happiness tears were dropping from the eyes of the old woman.

When the day of her death approached, her children and the rest of her family and some close neighbours where waiting by the ladie’s bed, accompanying her in her last breaths. During her last minutes she was not very lucid. She started to speak about her dead parents who had come to take her with them and from time to time she let her eyes blank. It was then that Manuel whispered to Ana ‘To be honest, I feel guilty of having tricked her. We should have told her the truth, that we didn’t have money to take her to see the sea.’

Then the old woman came back to herself and stared at him. Very very quietly and smiling more with her eyes than with her mouth, se whispered ‘I already knew it was a lie’. Covered by a halo of peace, she firmly grabbed the rosary between her hands and let herself go.


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