How I met the fisherman

by amy – December 11, 2015 in Words

Sunset in Island Bay

I was slightly reluctant to stop at No. 8 Recyclers on my way home from dropping Florian off at work that morning, but as I saw it approaching on my right, I resigned myself to forge ahead with the plan, and pulled over across the street. It was an overcast day, which gave me pause. I’m always conscious of the weather when I’m contemplating a bold move. If the weather is favorable, it gives me a feeling of good luck. Good weather makes people more agreeable, too. Maybe the weather wasn’t quite right today. Or maybe I was just trying to use it as an excuse.

I went inside. I didn’t see the old man at the desk when I entered, so in order to justify my arrival to no one in particular, I turned to browse a rack of terracotta pots on my right. Well, if the old man wasn’t there, I might as well poke around and see if I could find something to make my visit worthwhile. Some might call this secondhand warehouse a junkyard; others might call it a treasure trove. It made me feel like I was inside the hull of a big wooden ship that had washed ashore in Lyall Bay. It was bigger than a barn, and full of undiscovered gems. Sure, everything was covered in a thick layer of grime and grease and dust, but that didn’t deter the true treasure hunter.

The more I went there, the more intrigued I became. I lost myself in those tall aisles, rummaging through containers of assorted nails, screws, bolts, buckets of hinges, doorknobs, rusty handsaws missing teeth, shelves of candelabras and rotary phones, a bin of dusty burlap bags next to a stack of old picture frames. Opposite this mess, the other side of the building was carefully lined with beautiful old French doors and windows of every style. There were big back doors that opened onto a timber yard, allowing a breeze to waft through the dusty high-ceilinged cave.

A life-sized doll of a man wearing blue coveralls and a harness hung suspended in front of one rather dark aisle in the corner, his arms flung back and his mouth open. He was an amusing, if odd obstacle, placed in just such a way that you had to maneuver around him in order to get into the aisle. In your awkward dance to get around the contorted figure, you found yourself face to face with it in close quarters, producing the slightest sensation of uneasiness which made you push past it a little more quickly while avoiding its eyes. Later you wondered if the person who had purposefully orchestrated the encounter was now smiling gleefully from some undisclosed vantage point.

After a few minutes spent wanderimg aimlessly, a man I had seen there once before came up out of the dusty depths to see if I was looking for anything. I pointed at some flooring boards that I had been eyeing to make a coffee table, and asked the price. The boards were old and rough from use, some with tacks or cracked paint still on them. “$20 a meter,” the man said. He was pleasant, so I probed him as to why they were so expensive. He said they were made of matai, a native hardwood that was no longer harvested, which drove prices up for what scraps remained.

When the conversation was over, I turned to go, then remembered and asked him, “When does the old man come in?”

“You must mean Tom. He’s usually here on Sundays, or in the mornings. He has some chickens in the back he sometimes comes in to take care of,” he said, smiling.

I walked out of No. 8 Recyclers, put my hands in my coat pockets and headed for my car. I decided I’d have to come back on Sunday. Then I looked up, and there he was. The old man was standing next to his van, having just arrived. He wore glasses and a soft-looking brown camouflage shirt that I had seen him wear before. He was carrying a plastic bag full of lettuce. He recognized me when he saw me and waved. I walked over to him.

“I actually came by to see if you were here,” I said, a little embarrassed but striving to be brave and matter-of-fact.

“Oh?” he said. “What for?”

“Well, last time I was here, you told me that story about teaching someone how to fish. I was on my way home and I thought to myself, I’d like to learn how to fish too.”

It sounded silly as I said it, and I reproached myself for not having thought of a more casual way to bring it up. It seemed to take him by surprise.

He scoffed and waved his hand dismissively. “It’s not that easy,” he said gruffly. He had a loud, booming voice.

“You need a rubber boat, a motor and the nets.” He pointed at the trunk of his car just behind him, where apparently he had all of his gear. He listed another item or two that I didn’t catch.

“Oh,” I said, accepting the improbability that his tone suggested.

“First of all, when I teach people, I never take them out in my boat with me. That way there’s only me to worry about. Why do you want to learn?”

I shrugged. “Just…to learn.”

“Have you fished with nets before?”


“Let’s see your hands,” he said suddenly.

I immediately pulled both hands out of my coat and displayed them palm up. As I did so, I cringed inwardly at the thought of the sight of my tiny, delicate hands. I hoped that by sheer will, my hands would emerge looking like strong, capable hands. Capable of what, exactly, I didn’t know. We both looked down at my hands. They were the smallest, most petite hands I had ever seen.  The diffused light from the clouded sky made them look even whiter than usual, like a porcelain doll. I flipped them over, spreading out my fingers and tensing them in the hopes that some muscularity would show, that maybe the backs of them conveyed some greater hint of the hard landscaping work I had done those past three summers. No such luck. They were not hands that appeared to have touched a tool in their life. A smile involuntarily spread across my face at the ridiculous sight of my hands. He laughed a booming laugh. But it was a good-natured laugh. The ice was broken.

“Those hands would get seasoned for sure,” he said, chuckling.

“Look at mine.” He pulled out his hands. They were big and calloused. The fingers were disfigured near the joints, maybe from arthritis, maybe from fishing.

I nodded in defeat. “Is it hard work?” I asked.

“No! It’s not hard work.” He waved his hand and scoffed again, more gently this time. His tone was softening.

“What I do is, I go out in the rubber boat near the rocks. I know the spots where the fish are. I set up the nets and I leave ’em there and come back to shore. After about three hours I go back and pick them up.”

We proceeded to talk for a minute about where he fished in the nearby bay, and which kinds of fish he caught. A note of pride crept into his voice when I asked him what was the biggest fish he ever caught, and he told a story about a 300-pound monster that once got caught in his net.

“See this shirt I’m wearing? It’s designed for fishing. I made it and designed it myself. It’s got no buttons, see? No shiny things to attract the eye.”

Now that I took a better look at the shirt, I noticed the stitching on the front that was unmistakably done by hand, and the buttons were indeed hidden. It was impressively well made and fit him well.

“Where do you live?” he asked.

“Island Bay, on the coast.”

We went inside to the desk, and he grabbed a piece of paper and drew me a map of the bay where I lived, including the island in the middle of it. He pointed to a couple of buildings just offshore. “Here’s the scuba launch, and here’s the boat launch with the building that they painted an ugly khaki color.”

I nodded and smiled. The building was indeed an ugly color, now that he pointed it out.

“I used to fish all ’round the island,” he said, “until you couldn’t do that anymore. Real good fish out there. That whole bay is off limits now. But you can fish here in Lyall Bay.”

“Tell you what,” he said, “if you give me your number, I’ll give you a call next time I’m down there, and you can come down to the beach and see how it’s done.”

I nodded enthusiastically. We exchanged names and numbers on pieces of paper and I left, smiling. I had got what I came for, after all.

And that’s how I came to know the fisherman in Lyall Bay.