Running along the beach as is my morning habit I often pass by an old man standing at the edge of the water with the gentle waves licking at his bare toes. From his tracks in the sand leading back to the state run nursing home up the beach I suspected that he was one of their residents. I see him looking longingly into the surf and doff his mushroomed shaped hat to nothing in particular that I could see. Does he remove his hat to let the cool sea breeze blow over his bald head or is he waving at some imaginary ships?
After reaching my quota of words for the day I usually head down to the local tavern to celebrate this modest accomplishment.
I had no sooner gone through the door than Sal the bartender had my pint waiting for me on the bar.
“Sal,” I said motioning him over to me, “what do you know about the old man who stands on the beach at the water’s edge every morning?”
Sal looked down the bar and says in a louder voice, “Pete here is asking about old Giorgio. We all know about Giorgio, right boys?”
The grizzled faces at the end of the bar all nod in the affirmative while raising their mugs in a silent toast.
“So why do you want to know. Are you writing a book?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact but this has nothing to do with my writing, I’m just curious.”
Sal told me that Giorgio was a legendary fisherman in the area who had had fished these waters for as long as anyone could remember. “Giorgio loved the sea and he loved fishing,” Sal said. “Every morning his boat could be seen chugging its way into the harbor bringing his catch to market. Along the way he would wave at all the ships navigating the harbor. Giorgio seemed to know every ship, every captain and all their crew. Everyone hereabouts knew that Giorgio was coming in by the short toots on the ship’s horns.”
“So what happened?”
“Several things happened,” said Sal. “This area was over fished, then the government limited the fishing area and eventually the fishing just died out. Then the ships became too big for our small harbor so they moved to a larger harbor further up the coast. Now we are left with tourism as our major business and expats like you. No offense.”
Continuing his story Sal said that “Giorgio was just too old to start over and with his wife gone and no family he just gave up. Now he is living out his days in that god forsaken government home.”
Several days later I saw Giorgio walking down the beach toward the water. But instead of stopping at the surf’s edge he just kept on walking. Realizing that he might be in trouble I dove in and swam toward him. When I reached the spot where I thought he would be I fished around in the murky water frantically searching for him but without success.
Swimming against the current of the strong outgoing tide I fought my way back to shore where I was met by a couple of orderlies from the home standing on the beach in their white uniforms and trying to keep their white shoes from getting wet.
Looking toward the mouth of the bay all that could be seen was Giorgio’s hat being flushed on the waves out to sea.
Giorgio was home.
This story was submitted to Writers Digest contest #87 in response to the photo prompt. It did not win. Any constructive criticism is welcome.
A version of this story was published in our writer’s group anthology Musings in 2019