“Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?”
The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Dear C, I read The Old Man and The Sea yesterday. I was in the middle of something else all day, but thoughts of you, were as arresting as your buoyant personality and they overrode any remaining desire I had to continue. When it was suggested to me that I while my time away at Kinokuniya instead, I couldn’t think of a more fitting ‘C’ thing to do. I was dressed in all black, not dissimilar to the black shorts and t-shirt combination you so often wore on the weekend. Except mine didn’t say’ London Paris New York Coonabarabran’. I picked this book because it was short and I didn’t have a lot of time but just enough, I figured, to sit on a step ladder and speed read with the same voracious appetite that you had for whatever your latest book conquest was from the library. You would have hated this book on principle I think. It’s stuffy and dated for sure (1851 to be exact), but I think if you gave it a chance, you’d find it has a lot of similarities to your favourite trilogy, Lord of the Rings.
The old man’s name is Santiago and the bulk of the novel fixates around his battle against a giant marlin. He holds onto his fishing line for two days and two nights and eventually succeeds in killing it and bringing it onboard. But the days ahead toil on and he fends off sharks in swarms, driven mad by the blood of the marlin that trails behind them. The sharks attack until nothing but the bones of the marlin are left. The exertion by the old man is palpable, even in such a short book, but isn’t it similar to Frodo’s journey? I can already imagine your indignant expression, horrified that I should compare anything to LOTR. Santiago’s tenacity reminds me of you, of how hard you studied, not for a goal but for a principle, that knowledge should be gained, school should be taken seriously and that nothing easy is ever worth doing. I always admired your passion for biology, that competitive streak as you, Elaine and myself raced to memorise the function of ribosomes and short passages on tetrochromacy in birds.
At the end of the book, I cried. Because while you embodied so much of the spirit of Santiago, you will never grow old like he has. His hands are withered but yours will forever be pristine. Thank you for the memories in Sydney and in London. For always being excited to see me even if we never kept in touch as much as we said we would. For being even more excited over chocolate, your favourite food. Whenever I take a bite now, I will think of you.