Sailors always seek their salvation or revenge at sea. The blue abyss is an inexorable confidant. Confessors tell the sea their sorrows and joys with childish optimism or with relentless viciousness. That’s why Salvador Almaraz challenged Rufino Cuevas beneath the water’s surface.
Both were divers. Of the good kind. Their rivalry was traditional in the diving trade. They had been very good friends years ago. Don Fernando Moreno’s army never went to sea without them. Both lived in the Esterito neighborhood, where all the fishermen had their businesses. Their contracts allowed them to own their boats that they sometimes rented and sometimes operated themselves. However, they were stricken by a fiery rivalry.
Rufino Cuevas passionately loved Beatriz Acosta, Salvador’s girlfriend. She was one of the prettiest girls who lived in the jacal huts under the palm trees on the beach. Beatriz took the burning love of Cuevas to heart and ostentatiously renouncing the affection of Salvador, who through hard work had managed to build a small house and a complete line of fishing boats with the goal of marrying Beatriz. Thereafter, Salvador harbored a blind hatred for Rufino who was enlisted in the army of the Gilbert brothers.
One day, Rufino ran off with Beatriz and made his way to the Marias Islands, in whose waters the army had arrived. The news of Beatriz’s disappearance stunned Salvador for many days. But life often mocks the injustice of men and favors them with unexpected gems of good fortune. Rufino earned several thousand pesos in his Pacific adventure. Six months later, he returned to La Paz with Beatriz, leaving her with his widowed mother. Their attention to each other continued for several months without interruption. However, after a year their love began to cool, perhaps due to the continued absence of the diver. In the end, there was almost total indifference.
The two men met again when they enlisted in their respective navies and went to sea. They shared the same fate: the treasures of Mulegé, where months earlier, vast reefs of pearls and mother-of-pearl shells had been discovered.
On board the Cromwell, Salvador adjusted his boots with the thick lead soles, tightened the cuffs around his wrists and donned his helmet with the metal collar. He checked the guide rope and the air tube. After some pumping, Almaraz tested the exhaust valve. Everything was in order. A belt with a knife went around his waist and he slowly let himself slip over the side and into the sea. After a quick inspection, Salvador pulled the rope three times asking to be let down.
The boat of Rufino Cuevas, the San Antonio, approached the Cromwell. The diver had undoubtedly explored the same area and had discovered the same treasure. Rufino dove, as well. At noon the divers stripped off their helmets to eat. Shells were piled high on the stern of both boats promising a fortune. After the meal, Almaraz and Cuevas drank some rum.
Suddenly, Almaraz shouted the sighting of a stingray near the boat. It was the most fearsome beast, both for its size and for its fierce behavior. The huge thick plate of muscle attacked like a battering ram. Salvador stood in the bow and, in a loud voice, directed the men of San Antonio:
But that was no obstacle for Rufino Cuevas. He was used to dealing with sharks and manta rays, and with the octopus and the donkey clam that grabbed the feet between its huge shells.
Down there, the two men got together. They advanced slowly, carefully lifting the tremendous metal shoes and being forced every so often to vent the air that swelled the diving suits and lifted them from the bottom, no matter their weight.
They stared at each other through the round crystal lenses of the helmets. Behind the crystals the eyes looked bigger and the flames of resentment glowed like wildfires. Salvador took some skillful turns around Cuevas as if to avoid a meeting. Rufino bent down to cut shells from the reef. Salvador advanced quickly and threw himself on Rufino from behind. With a tremendous pull, he yanked the tube of air from the helmet of Rufino. A barrage of bubbles surrounded Salvador creating a curtain. Salvador quickly made his way toward the boat.
Meanwhile Cuevas, surprised by the terrible implosion of water that invaded his diving suit, had to hold his breath while groping for the rope that was tied at his waist and hung down by his legs. It was an anguishing attempt, blinded by saltwater. Noticing the explosions of bubbles coming to the surface and suspecting an accident, the crew began to pull the end of the rope with all their might. The drag of the diver was severe. The diving suit had filled with water and doubled in weight. Two men, experts in deep sea diving, jumped into the sea. They went down a few fathoms, but Rufino was deep down where human desire alone could not reach.
Desperate minutes later, Rufino Cuevas was lifted onto the deck of his boat. He had died of suffocation. A deep silence surrounded both boats for a long time. The chugging of the air machines ceased while the San Antonio men struggled in vain to bring the dead diver back to life, raising and lowering his arms and pumping his chest. The sea had claimed the life of the handsome boy; one more to perish in the daring adventure.
Yes, earthly things are washed clean by the sea… but against heartbreak, there is no possible revenge. More fearsome than the monsters of the brackish abyss are the claws of jealousy and the pride of souls.
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