He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had
gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been
with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy's parents had told him that the
old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and
the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first
week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty
and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and
harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour
sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat. (Note: The skill of the introduction
of the old man should be noted. He is both in time and timeless. The numbers mentioned are significant.)
The old man was thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles in the back of his neck. The
brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on
the tropic sea were on his cheeks. The blotches ran well down the sides of his face
and his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords.
But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless
Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as
the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
"Santiago,” the boy said to him as they climbed the bank from where the skiff
was hauled up. "I could go with you again. We've made some money. "
The old man had taught the boy to fish and the boy loved him.
"No,” the old man said. "You're with a lucky boat. Stay with them. "
"But remember how you went eighty-seven days without fish and then we
caught big ones every day for three weeks. "
"I remember, "the old man said,"I know you did not leave me because you
"It was papa made me leave. I am a boy and I must obey him. "
"I know," the old man said. "It is quite normal. "
"He hasn't much faith. "
"No," the old man said. "But we have. Haven't we?"
"Yes," the boy said. "Can I offer you a beer on the Terrace and then we'll take
the stuff home. "
"Why not?" the old man said. "Between fishermen. "
They sat on the Terrace and many of the fishermen made fun of the old man
and he was not angry. Others, of the older fishermen, looked at him and were sad.
But they did not show it and they spoke politely about the current and the depths
they had drifted their lines at and the steady good weather and of what they had
seen. The successful fishermen of that day were already in and had butchered their
marlin out and carried them laid full across two planks, with two men staggering
at the end of each plank, to the fish house where they waited for the ice truck to
carry them to the market in Havana. Those who had caught sharks had taken them
to the shark factory on the other side of the cove where they were hoisted on a
block and tackle, their livers removed, their fins cut off and their hides skinned out
and their flesh cut into strips for salting.
When the wind was in the east a smell came across the harbor from the shark
factory; but today there was only the faint edge of the odor because the wind had
backed into the north and then dropped off and it was pleasant and sunny on the