El alma

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His life fits in a barge that floats on the banks of the Nile. At nightfall the nets are flung overboard and unfold hitting the surface with a thud, making waves on the water. The children play silently to one side, knowing that at this hour the perch mustn’t be frightened because on this depends that the fish enter the trap and tomorrow the wicker basket full of fish can be exchanged for a few pounds. The woman will be in charge of finding the best spot in the market or on the street, between two cars, very early in the morning, and will offer the goods at a reasonable price that can compete with the other fishmongers. When the day ends, she will return to her boat, remove the mooring and unfurl the sails.

On a kerosene stove, she will heat water to prepare a tea or will place a pot to reheat a fuul or fry some taameya. He doesn’t need lights to guide him as he heads the boat to deep waters and begins to extend the nets. In the weak light projected by nearby buildings over the water, it seems as though she has green eyes, green skin and that her extremities are covered in crustaceans. In the mirror of the Nile, her children are tritons with yellow teeth whose bodies are covered with algae. And her husband has turned into a mound of bait that tempts the fish with mermaid songs and appetising morsels.

Like them, the entire family lives in the water and from the water and only out of need do they leave it, transforming their tails into legs. The net they throw into the water is moored to their fins and traps them like the fish she will sell tomorrow. Water soaks into the bones 365 days a year. Gills pulse behind the ears of the youngest. With the lullaby of the navigation, the young ones sleep under the deck and their mother covers them with the dampness of the night and a blan- ket of scales. The fisherman has never slept in a bed, nor has he ever had a balcony to look out of. Stars have always shone over his head and under his body, he, his wife and their children have only found wood and mud. 

Now that his eyes have become accustomed to the darkness he seems to see canisters of smoke fly and spurts of high-pressure water blast into men whose legs are not accustomed to the liquid, on the bridge of Kasr el-Nil, and he thinks that he, who can almost breath underwater, could resist without falling, and that if he did so, perhaps he could gather up his mermaid and his tritons and place them to dry on a mat in a home of brick and stone. He gathers up the net and heads for land.

by Nuria tesón