On the Other Side of the Sea

On the Other Side of the Sea

By Jorgelina Cerritos

Translated by Margaret Stanton and Anna Donko

Volume 6, Issue 2 (Fall 2016)


Jorgelina Cerritos turned from acting to playwriting in 2000 and only ten years later she won the prestigious Casa de las Américas Literary Award for drama with her one-act play Al otro lado del mar. Cerritos is among five Salvadoran writers to have been honored with the award, but she is the country’s only recipient in the field of theatre.[1] Her success continued with the George Woodyard Theatre Prize in 2012 for Vértigo 824 (again, the first Salvadoran to earn the award). A student at Sweet Briar College, Anna Donko (2014), discovered the latter play in The Latin American Theatre Review (Vol. 45, No. 2: Spring 2012) and was captivated by the originality of the work. After researching the author and finding scant critical analysis of her plays, Donko decided to include the playwright in her senior honors thesis on the theme of identity in four contemporary plays from Latin America. As her thesis advisor, I became familiar with Cerritos’ work and have come to appreciate the acclaim she has earned in Latin American theatre circles.

Ms. Donko and I decided to translate Al otro lado del mar to English (On the Other Side of the Sea) as a tribute to the author and to attract Anglophone readers and audiences to this young writer’s contributions to the field of drama. The lyrical beauty of this piece together with its deceptively simple structure makes it deserving of translation and dissemination. Two characters, one setting, six days: the man desperately needs a form of documentation that will allow him finally to participate in society on land after having spent his life as a fisherman and not knowing when or where he was born or who his parents were; the woman is a civil servant whose office has been banished to the beach as a sign that she is too old to work in a more desirable location. She (eventually revealed as Dorotea) has the power to give the man an identity, but being a conscientious employee, she refuses to do so because he has no proof of his existence. After arguing and reflecting for six days, the two form an unlikely friendship and see a way forward out of the static condition of their lives. The man realizes that he cannot live alone on the sea and ignore human connections, while Dorotea comes to see that her obsession with her job has not brought her complete happiness. The play is a meditation on life and its absurdities: nothing happens and very little changes except the attitude of the two characters, but this has the potential to change everything. Cerritos underscores the power of hope and dreams and empathy as an antidote to the often lonely, fragmented nature of the human condition.

Cerritos’ concern with the theme of identity, not as an ethnic construct, but rather as an existential angst, is expressed through techniques of the Theatre of the Absurd such as the lonely desk on an isolated beach, Dorotea’s insistence that her lone client gets in line and the obsession with documents as proof of existence, documents that cannot be obtained without, ironically, other documents. The man’s tendency to prefer descriptive names, like the one he gives himself (Fisherman of the Sea) and Dog and Mermaid, contrasts with the complicated bureaucratic system represented by Dorotea.

The translation of the play was straight-forward, the major challenge being the frequent interior monologues that appear without context as the characters recall moments from their past. Dorotea slips into monologues, and actually reverts back to her childhood at times, as she reminisces about missed opportunities that might have resulted in a happy marriage and the children she so desires, and Fisherman relates his story while frequently calling out to those he left on the other side of the sea — his dog, his love, his friend. But since the references to the past are vague, distinguishing dreams and flashbacks from reality proved difficult. Donko’s careful analysis of the play helped us sort out the smallest details and made her an excellent collaborator on the translation even though it was her first attempt at the translation of an entire literary work. For example, the subject of the verb does not have to be stated in Spanish and this ambiguity often enhances the literary quality of the play in the original. However, the English version demands more clarity in order to be meaningful, and we believe we have achieved that without losing the rhythm of the original.

With the translation completed, we organized a public reading of the play in November 2015 at Sweet Briar College (VA) with the participation of four students: Tristin Burke and Emelie Wurster of the Theatre Department read the roles of Fisherman and Dorotea respectively, and two students of Spanish, Genisis and Isis Balico, read brief segments of the play in the original Spanish. This format made the event accessible to the English-speaking audience (students and faculty from various disciplines), while also giving language students a taste of the work in Spanish. It was especially gratifying to see how well this work “played” as a reading. Due to the nature of the dialogue, the simplicity of the setting and stage directions and the minimal action, the play loses very little as a reading as opposed to a full production. Although the division of the play into six days is noted in the stage directions, there is little more than a pause in the dialogue to indicate each change, so we inserted an announcement of each time change by the actors to clarify the chronology (“The morning of the Second Day,” etc.). And while the students did read their parts, they also stood at times and moved around using hand gestures and facial expressions as they would in a regular production — the observer barely noticed that it was not the full production. It is the strength of the dialogue and the monologues that facilitates this adaptability. The universal themes of identity, friendship and existence in On the Other Side of the Sea make it ideal for college actors and audiences. Especially when resources and time are limited, a play reading that involves students of theatre, Spanish and English can be an outstanding interdisciplinary endeavor.

The student-professor collaboration on this project has been mutually gratifying and completely balanced. Perhaps more undergraduate students would be inspired to explore foreign-language drama if similar collaborative opportunities were available. The translation and presentation processes provide many levels of cross-cultural insight and enjoyment for all involved. We have been invited to take the reading to a neighboring institution (Ferrum College) where the students in Spanish classes will have read and discussed the play in the original language before attending the presentation. The organic character of theatre makes it a natural facilitator of the global language/culture communication project that should motivate educational institutions. We hope that this translation will contribute to that effort and will enable others to become familiar with this exciting new dramatist from Latin America.


Jorgelina Cerritos, born in El Salvador in 1973, graduated from the University of El Salvador with a major in psychology only because a theatre degree was not offered. Her plays tend to explore social and existential themes, often reflecting on the absurdities of life and the triumph of the human spirit over stifling bureaucratic forces. Vertigo 824, for example, describes the last moments of the passengers in a plane that is falling out of the sky, an even more absurdist work. Another, Respuestas para un menú (2009), depicts the lack of communication between a troubled couple. A more recent work, La Audiencia de los Confines: Primer ensayo sobre la memoria (2012), half-farce and half-truth, is based on El Salvador’s colonial history and is the first part of a planned trilogy about memory. The second part of the trilogy deals with the disappeared victims of El Salvador’s civil wars of the 1980s. Cerritos travels frequently, giving workshops and directing her plays with her theatre troupe, “Los del Quinto Piso,” which is based in San Salvador. She also writes poetry and children’s literature.

Margaret Stanton (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison), professor emerita at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, taught Spanish and Latin American studies there from 1987 to 2013. Her translations include three pieces in the short story anthology edited by Marjorie Agosín, What Is Secret (Buffalo, NY: White Pine Press, 1995) and The Reef and Exotic Birds: Five Stories with Rare Women by Reina Roffé (New Orleans: University Press of the South, 2011).

Anna Donko participated in the Sweet Briar College Junior Year in Spain Program in 2012-2013. Her senior honors thesis (“Confrontando la identidad: un análisis de Al otro lado del mar y Vértigo 824 de Jorgelina Cerritos e Eternity Class y Mugres de la María y de El Negro de Cristina Escofet”) analyzed the theme of identity in two plays by Cerritos and two by the Argentine writer Cristina Escofet. Following graduation in 2014 (Spanish), she spent five months as a volunteer teaching assistant in the English Opens Doors Program in Río Bueno, Chile. She is currently a graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Kansas.



On the Other Side of the Sea




The action takes place on a deserted beach that appears to be far from any town.

On the sand near the water, a desk and a chair are arranged for office work. To the right and in front of the desk is a dock that appears to be abandoned.

The sea extends out from the front of the stage into the audience.

When the action begins, she is standing facing the sea and looking toward the horizon. She seems uneasy. He is standing near the desk waiting for her.

After a moment she turns toward the desk and finds the man standing there. She hurries back to her work.

It is the morning of the Second Day.


The woman:  You again.

Fisherman:     Good morning. (She doesn’t answer.) How are you? Did you sleep well? (She doesn’t answer.) I slept fine, thank you . . .

The woman:  Sir, please don’t start.

Fisherman:     That outfit looks nice on you . . . Better than yesterday’s. A few little pearls would make the dress even prettier, but that’s a good color on you.

The woman:  You should find something to do.

Fisherman:     Were you able to get some sleep? (She doesn’t answer.) The mosquitoes on the coast are really annoying, especially if you aren’t used to them. It’s better if you don’t pay any attention to them, then they’ll get tired and go to sleep too. A friend told me that one time . . .

The woman:  I’m not interested. Leave me alone.


Fisherman:     (He takes something to eat out of a bag.) Do you want some? Did you eat already?

The woman:  That’s all I need.

Fisherman:     Here, go ahead . . . (Pause.) Coconut is good, but coconut bread is even better. Too bad they don’t make it here. If I had known, I would’ve brought you some. I really like it, and besides it reminds me of a friend of mine. Have some.

She ignores him. He puts the bag on the desk and stays there, watching the woman closely.

The woman:  Why are you looking at me like that?

Fisherman:     Like . . . what?

The woman:  Like that . . . You’ve been looking at me like that since yesterday.

Fisherman:     How?

The woman:  Like that.

Fisherman:     No, I’m not . . .

The woman:  I don’t like it when you look at me that way.

Fisherman:     But I’m not looking at you in any particular way.

The woman:  Of course you are and I don’t like it.

Fisherman:     I’m sorry . . .

He steps away and starts to undress.

The woman:  What are you doing?

Fisherman:     I’m going for a quick dip.

The woman:  If you’re going for a . . . “quick dip” . . . you should do it over there, on the other side.

Fisherman:     But my boat is here.

The woman:  I don’t think anyone will steal it.

Fisherman:     You never know.

The woman:  Then take your boat over there too.

Fisherman:     I like it here.

The woman:  But today do it over there.

Fisherman:     But I like it here. The water is clean and my boat is nearby.

The woman:  There are plenty of other beaches.

Fisherman:     I like this beach.

The woman:  This is not a beach, sir. This is my office.

Fisherman:     From there to over there is your office, but from here to here is my beach.

The woman:  That was before.

Fisherman:     It’s not my fault the authorities decided to put . . . “your office” . . . excuse me, in such a . . .

The woman:  Such a what?

Fisherman:     . . . in such an absurd place.

The woman:  Well, you’re right about that.

Fisherman:     Now we’re getting somewhere.

The woman:  God help me.

Fisherman:     It’s totally absurd.

The woman:  Who are you to talk about absurdedness?

Fisherman:     About what?

The woman:  Absurdedness! You said it was absurd.

Fisherman:     There’s nothing absurd about me.

The woman:  You still don’t think so?

Fisherman:     If you’re saying that because . . .

The woman:  You still doubt it?

Fisherman:     Ma’am, please. I’m not asking much.

The woman:  I told you to stop insisting. Find something to do like a decent person. Like a normal person.

Fisherman:     I am a decent person and I am a normal person. Decent and normal, ma’am. I don’t hurt anyone. I came here and said good morning to you. I smiled at you. I said you looked nice in that outfit, not just to please you but because I noticed that you aren’t wearing pants like you were yesterday, that you’re wearing a dress and that it looks nice on you. I told you so because I noticed and because that’s what I think and because I don’t think it’s offensive to tell someone, just because they’re older, that something looks nice on them. I bought a coconut and I only drank the water so I could give the rest to you, even though I knew you wouldn’t eat it and even though I wouldn’t find much else to eat today because there’s no one here to sell fish, if there are even any fish on this beach. And then, when I told you I was going for a quick dip, I kept myself from saying how stupid it was that your office is on a beach and, on top of that, on a beach without any people! Instead, to keep you from feeling bad, I said it was absurd. I think all of this shows that I am a decent person. I haven’t done anything bad since I got here and said hello to you. And normal, because everything I’ve said and done, I’ve analyzed before saying and doing it, and a person who isn’t normal wouldn’t be able to do all that analysis, ma’am. And besides, the word absurdedness doesn’t exist.

The woman:  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I think it would be better for you to leave so I can do my work.

Fisherman:     No one is going to come to this place.

The woman:  But if someone does come, I need to have everything in order.

Fisherman:     Nothing is going to happen here.

The woman:  But if something does happen, I have to be ready.

Fisherman:     Who cares about a census in these parts?

The woman:  People . . . young people, old people.

Fisherman:     The old, the young. There’s nobody here. I roamed around last night and nothing, not a soul, and definitely not anyone interested in identity cards and things like that. You’re in the wrong place. You serve no purpose here.

The woman:  Go away.

Fisherman:     Ma’am . . .

The woman:  Leave. You’re bothering me.

Fisherman:     Ma’am . . .

The woman:  I told you to go. Now go.

Fisherman:     You should help me.

The woman:  I can’t.

Fisherman:     But that’s why you’re here.

The woman:  Yes, however, in your case I can’t do anything.

Fisherman:     It’s just a birth certificate.

The woman:  Here we go again!

Fisherman:     You are here to help people, but no one comes. Then I show up and you can’t help me. So what good are you?

The woman:  Sir?

Fisherman:     I’m sorry.

The woman:  Get out, sir.

Fisherman:     It’s the truth . . . A birth certificate, that’s all.

The woman:  Leave.

Fisherman:     Please.

The woman:  I believe I’ve made it quite clear already.

Fisherman:     I just don’t understand what your problem is. All I need is a birth certificate, you said so yourself. It’s nothing. A birth certificate and I’m off to the other side of the sea.

The woman:  If it were up to me, you would’ve been off to the other side of the sea yesterday. You are the one who doesn’t understand. Only someone like you would think you could get a birth certificate just like that. No one comes here for a birth certificate.

Fisherman:     If no one comes, it’s because it wouldn’t occur to anyone to look for a . . . government office . . . on a beach.

The woman:  You know what I mean. Or you would if you were as normal as you claim to be.

Fisherman:     That’s a lie. The woman who came by yesterday with the blue-eyed boy, the only person besides me who has come or ever will come, she said she was here to get a birth certificate and you gave her one.

The woman:  Yes, to get a birth certificate, one that already existed. That has a date, a book and a page number. Because someone came and registered a date of birth and from that moment on, that person, that child existed. I made her a copy, a duplicate of that certificate. I don’t hand out certificates that I just invent on the spot. Now go away because someone else might come along just as she did.

Fisherman:     You wouldn’t have to invent mine.

The woman:  No, I wouldn’t, but you were inventing one for yourself yesterday.

Fisherman:     I wasn’t inventing it. I was giving you my personal information.

The woman:  What information?

Fisherman:     My first name, my last name.

The woman:  What information?

Fisherman:     What you asked for. First and last name.

The woman:  Leave, Mr.

Fisherman:     Look it up, check your notes. That’s what I was giving you.

The woman:  You know that isn’t true.

Fisherman:     You know it is true.

The woman:  Sir . . .

Fisherman:     You know it’s true.

The woman:  No one in the world is named Fisherman of the Sea. Don’t waste my time.

Fisherman:     Well, no one was named Fisherman of the Sea before, but now there is someone named Fisherman of the Sea and that someone is me.

The woman:  Fisherman of the Sea!

Fisherman:     At your service, with pleasure.

The woman:  And who gave you such a . . .

Fisherman:     Such a what?

The woman:  Such an absurd name. (He doesn’t answer.) Who? Your father, who was a sea fisherman too? Your mother, in memory of your father? Your grandmother? Your grandfather? Who, Mr. of the Sea? Where does a name of such distinguished lineage come from? From no one!

Fisherman:     From me.

The woman:  Next . . .

Fisherman:     From the sea.

The woman:  Next, please.

Fisherman:     From life.

The woman:  Next!

Fisherman:     From me.

The scene changes to the morning of the First Day.

She is standing trying to identify something she sees in the water. She hurries to her desk and gets ready to work. He suddenly appears before her as if he came directly from the beach and approaches the desk. They look at each other as if trying to make sense of the other’s presence there.

The woman:  Good morning.

The man:       Good morning.

The woman:  How can I help you?

The man:       I need something that says who I am.

The woman:  That says who you are?

The man:       Yes.

The woman:  Like what?

The man:       I don’t know . . . something.

The woman:  And what do you need it for?

The man:       To fill out a form.

The woman:  Ah, you need a document.

The man:       Even if it’s just a piece of paper.

The woman: Certainly, I’d be happy to help.

The man:       You can help me?

The woman:  Of course I can. That’s why I’m here.

The man:       Really?

The woman:  I work for the government.

The man:       I’m lucky you’re here.

The woman:  Yes, you are.

She takes out some paperwork. He watches her closely.

The woman:  Is something wrong?

The man:       What?

The woman:  Do I have something on my face?

The man:       No, why?

The woman:  The way you’re looking at me.

The man:       No.

He remains silent.

The woman:  What kind of document do you need?

The man:       I don’t know . . .

The woman:  What do you need it for?

The man:       I don’t need it.

The woman:  Did someone ask you for it?

The man:       The man at the animal shelter. He wants my first name, my last name, my address, and my age.

The woman(She examines a sheet of paper.) An identification card. What he needs is your identification card. Don’t you have it?

The man:       No.

The woman:  A replacement then. Where did you lose it?

The man:       I didn’t lose it.

The woman:  It was stolen. Where did it happen?

The man:       No, it wasn’t stolen either.

The woman:  What, then? Tell me.

The man:       What?

The woman:  Your ID, why don’t you have it? What happened to it?

The man:       I’ve never had one.

The woman:  No, that isn’t correct. You had to get one when you became an adult. If we weren’t so busy with the census, I would have to give you a fine.

The man:       Nothing can be done?

The woman:  Let’s make one now, shall we?

He looks toward the horizon.

The man:       Will it take long?

The woman:  About an hour. As you can see, there isn’t even a line.

The man:       All right.

The woman:  Are you going far?

The man:       To the other side.

The woman:  By road?

The man:       No. (He looks toward the horizon and points.) That way. (She looks puzzled.) Yes, that way. Pretty far, isn’t it?

The woman(After a pause.) I need your certificate.

The man:       My certificate?

The woman:  Your certificate, preferably the original.

The man:       The original? What are you talking about?

The woman:  Your certificate. Don’t you have it?

The man:       No.

The woman: Well, first you’re going to need a certificate.

The man:       A certificate? And that’s going to take more time . . .

The woman:  No more than half an hour, but it’s worth the wait. For important things, whenever they need your information, they always ask you for a certificate.

The man:       Really? And where do they give them out?

The woman: Here.

The man:       The stars, dog, look at the stars. Then give me one.

The woman:  I’d be glad to. A certificate then. Birth or death?

The man:       Birth. I haven’t decided to die yet.

The woman(After a pause.) Book number?

The man:       What?

The woman:  Your book number. (He doesn’t answer.) Don’t you have it?

The man:       No.

The woman: Page number?

The man:       What are you talking about?

The woman: Don’t you have a book or page number?

The man:       No. Is that a problem?

The woman: For some people it would be, but not for me. Don’t you worry.

The man:       It’s a good thing I met you.

The woman: Thank you.

The man:       It’s really great that I ran into you.

The woman: And I shouldn’t even be on a beach.

The man:       But it’s wonderful that you are.

The woman:  I don’t like being here.

The man:       Me neither.

The woman(After an awkward pause.) Your name?

The man:       Did I say something wrong?

The woman:  Your name!

The man:       Did I say something wrong?

The woman:  No, just hurry up because neither one of us wants to be here. Your name.

The man:       I don’t have one.

The woman:  Your name.

The man:       I don’t have one.

The woman:  Your name, sir, yours, your name. The certificate is for you, is it not? Or is it for someone else?

The man:       No . . . yes, it’s for me.

The woman: Then tell me your name.

The man:       That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I don’t have one.

The woman: What did you say?

The man:       I don’t have a name either!

The woman:  Don’t shout at me. I may be old, but I am not deaf.

The man:       I’m sorry . . . I thought that . . . nothing.

The woman: It’s all right, it’s not a problem. Let’s start over. Give me your name.

The man:       I just don’t have one.

The woman:  What are you saying!

The man:       I don’t . . . have one! I’m sorry again, but I didn’t think about that before.

The woman: I don’t understand you.

The man:       The fact is, I don’t have a name.

The woman:  What?

The man:       I don’t . . . They never gave me one.

The woman: Well, give yourself one. You are driving me crazy. I can’t give you a birth certificate if you don’t have a name. Next.

The man:       Well . . . I don’t know . . .

The woman: Next!

The man:       Wait, it’s just that . . . I don’t know.

The woman: Pedro, Carlos, Arturo, Stanley . . . What do I know? There are a lot of pretty names out there these days. Next!

The man:       Well . . . I don’t know . . .

The woman: Next!

The man:       Wait! There’s no one else in line.

The woman: That’s right, and that could only happen to me! Last name, while you’re thinking about it.

The man:       I don’t know.

The woman: What?

The man:       I don’t know. I never knew what it was.

The woman:  Then give me your father’s.

The man:       I don’t have one.

The woman:  Your mother’s.

The man:       I don’t have a mother either.

The woman:  You don’t have a father or a mother. No first name or last name.

The man:       That’s right, not that I know of.

The woman: Then I’m sorry. I can’t help you. I can’t issue you a birth certificate.

The man:       But why? You told me that for all the important things . . .

The woman: Because.

The man:       That’s not a reason.

The woman: Because . . . because I can’t. Don’t waste my time.

The man:       But why not?

The woman: Because, sir, allow me to say it  . . . you have not been born yet.

The action is interrupted as he seems to get lost in his thoughts.

The man:       I am a decent person and I am a normal person. Decent and normal. I don’t hurt anyone. I sail and I sing to the sea. I go places and I talk to people. I smile. I act and I speak not to please others but because I say what I think. First name, last name, address, age. Fisherman, my name is Fisherman. First name, last name, address, age. Fisherman of the Sea. First name, last name, address, age. He stayed on the dock, waiving goodbye to me. Goodbye, Fisherman of the Sea. Mermaid, my Mermaid, goodbye. The stars, the winds, the tides. This is the hour of the afternoon . . . Can I take him with me? I will love him, I will take care of him . . . Easy now, Mommy’s here . . . This is the hour of the afternoon . . . Will you come back? What’s your name? You haven’t introduced yourself yet. First name, last name, address, age. Will you return? . . . Dorotea . . . Dorotea? . . . Are you going to come back? This is the hour of the afternoon when life truly seems to end . . . And don’t look at me like a lost puppy because we aren’t friends and we don’t even know each other. I am a decent person and I am a normal person. Decent and normal, and the word absurdedness does not exist. Next. Pedro, Carlos, Arturo, Stanley. Next, please. Vladimir, Giovanni, Alfredo, Daniel. How can I help you?

The scene returns to the previous moment.

The man:       Fisherman.

The woman:  Excuse me?

The man:       Fisherman.

The woman:  I’m sorry, but I’m not asking what you do.

The man:       My name. My name is Fisherman.

The woman:  Oh, I’m sorry! There are all kinds of names these days. Surname?

The man:       Of the Sea.

The woman:  Your last name?

The man:       Of the Sea.

The woman: Of the Sea. Fisherman of the Sea. Your first and last name.

The man:       Yes.

The woman: Are you kidding me?

The man:       No.

The woman: No one in the world has ever been named Fisherman of the Sea.

The man:       That was before, now there is. From now on there is someone in the world named Fisherman of the Sea. And that someone is me.

The woman: Oh, really? And who baptized you with that name?

The man:       Life . . . and me.

They remain there looking at each other in silence.

A long pause.

The action continues on the afternoon of the Third Day. She is at her desk again.

The woman: You’re here again?   

Fisherman:     And I’ll be here until you help me.

The woman: Really?

Fisherman:     Really.

The woman: Uh-huh.

Fisherman:     Really.

The woman: Is that a threat?

Fisherman:     No.

The woman: It sounds like one to me.

Fisherman:     Well, if that’s how you see it. Take it however you want.

The woman: And rude too.

Fisherman:     Whatever!

The woman: Okay, Mr. Fisherman. Have a seat and wait over there.

Fisherman:     But hurry up because I don’t have much time.

The woman: As you wish, Mr. of the Sea.

Fisherman sits down on the dock and hums a song. At first it is scarcely audible, but little by little he gets carried away with the tune. She tries to ignore him and attend to her work, but she becomes increasingly annoyed. She coughs and clears her throat to make her irritation more obvious, but he doesn’t notice because he has become completely engrossed in his song. She can’t stand it any longer and explodes.

The woman: Shut up! (Startled, he stops singing.) What is wrong with you? Don’t you realize that you’re bothering me? I have to work, to concentrate. I have to do my job well.

Fisherman:     No.

The woman: Of course I do!

Fisherman:     No . . . I mean I didn’t realize.

The woman: I didn’t realize!

Fisherman:     I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. You could have come over here and calmly told me to be quiet, that I was bothering you, and then I would have shut up because the last thing I want to do is bother you.

The woman: Well, I’m telling you now. You are bothering me.

Fisherman:     Do I really sing bad?

The woman: I’m trying to concentrate.

Fisherman:     And my singing is bad.

The woman: Trying to work.

Fisherman:     Be honest—really, really bad?

The woman: Trying to do my job well.

Fisherman:     Tell me!

The woman:  Trying to help. (Seeing that she won’t respond, he starts to sing.) Yes, terribly! But it’s not just that, it’s my job!

Fisherman:     I knew it. I never tried to sing for a living. Thank goodness I don’t do it for that reason. Actually, I don’t sing because I’m good or bad at it; I sing because I like to. On the high seas singing is a virtue. You sing to the sun, to the water, to the whales . . .

The woman: Mainly to the whales, I assume.

Fisherman:     And to the mermaids. Too bad I never saw one . . . I like it, I like singing to the sea. Do you want to try it?

The woman: No.

Fisherman:     It doesn’t matter if you don’t do it well. You should try.

The woman: No.

Fisherman:     Just try, don’t be afraid.

The woman: I don’t like the sea, I don’t know why I should sing to it.

Fisherman:     Don’t say that, you’ll make it angry.

The woman: I’m not here on vacation. I’m trying to work.

Fisherman:     Oh, that’s right! Is it almost ready?

The woman: Excuse me, Mr.?

Fisherman:     Of the Sea.

The woman: I know that already.

Fisherman:     Then speak clearly.

The woman: What do you mean by “Is it almost ready?”

Fisherman:     My certificate, what else?

The woman: Let’s not start that again.

He starts to sing again and she looks at him.

Fisherman:     Sorry. (He whistles and she turns to look at him.) Not even that? . . . All right, I get it: Silence, complete silence. It’s better that way. Now we can hear the sea. The sea. I’ve been listening to it for years. It never gets boring. You end up understanding it, but it never bores you. Never. Pssss . . . ahhhh . . . pssss . . . ahhhh . . . The sea . . . do you hear it? Ah . . . the sea is a wonderful thing, don’t you agree? Listen to it closely. At least it speaks to me. And it calls me. Fisssherman . . . of the Seeea . . . of the Seeea . . . Hear it? It’s calling me . . . It doesn’t speak to you, does it? What is your name? Really, you haven’t introduced yourself yet. What’s your name? . . . (She doesn’t answer.) Well, it doesn’t matter. Maybe you don’t hear it because you don’t like it and that’s why it doesn’t call you. It doesn’t call you, does it?

The woman: Listen, don’t you have anything to do?

Fisherman:     Just one thing, well two. Something here and something else over there. (He points to the horizon.)

The woman: Then why don’t you go and do it?

Fisherman:     Because in order to do that I have to wait here for my birth certificate.

The woman: Go away, mister, and leave me in peace! What right do you think you have to come here and bother me, here where I didn’t ask to be sent, the worst place in the world, where I least want to be, where there’s hardly anything to do. Go away and let me work. Please, God, let somebody show up so I can do my job!

Fisherman:     Who could possibly understand you!

The woman: No one.

Fisherman:     That must be because you don’t let yourself be understood.

The woman: No one comes to this wretched place. Why am I here, Mr. of the Sea? For no reason, no reason at all. The census, cards, certificates, nothing. I serve no purpose here.

Fisherman:     You could give me . . .

The woman: Leave me alone.

Fisherman:     My certificate . . .

The woman: You are nobody. You don’t exist. Leave me alone!

Silence. He is on the dock, lost in the horizon.

Fisherman:     I like the afternoon. The breeze that warms my face, and the salt. I like the salt, the taste of the salt. The sun that’s setting here is just coming up over there, on the other side. Far away. And the sound, the pounding. It pounds in my ears. This is the hour of the afternoon when everything stops for a moment and life seems to end forever. My dog is probably sad. Will he keep waiting for me or has he already jumped into the sea? I told him I wouldn’t be away long and it’s already been three days. This is the hour of the afternoon when life truly seems to end. (Shouting toward the horizon.) I’m coming, I’m coming! . . . I’ll be back . . . I’m coming back. (To the woman.) Look, look at the sun. It’s going, it’s going. It’s going to the other side where hopefully someone is still waiting for us. Look, look at the sun. I hope someone is looking at it for you and me on the other side! It’s going . . . This is the hour when life seems to come to an end. A certificate, give me a birth certificate, please. I have to exist and go back for my dog. (Looking again toward the horizon.) I’m coming! . . . (To her.) For my mermaid and my friend. (Shouting again.) I’m coming . . . I’m coming! . . . (Silence. To her.) It’s gone. I like the afternoon . . . and the salt . . . This is the hour of the afternoon when life truly seems to end . . .

She has stood up and is now in front of her desk.


The woman: We should go to sleep.

Fisherman:     Yes . . . we should go to sleep.

The woman: It seems like it’s going to be cold tonight.

Fisherman:     It’s always cold on the sea at night.

The woman: Are you staying here?

Fisherman:     On my boat, over there.

The woman: Good night.

Fisherman:     Bye.

She is about to leave but stops.

The woman: And . . . if I could get you a birth certificate . . . what would the date be?

Fisherman:     The date?

The woman: Yes, the date.

Fisherman:     (He states the current day and date.)

The woman: That’s today’s date.

Fisherman:     That’s why I said it.

The woman: I’m referring to your date of birth.

Fisherman:     (He repeats the current day and date.) Today. If you get me a birth certificate I will have been born today . . . and you will be my mother.  

She sings with a voice that seems to come from another time.

The woman:  Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush . . .


Fisherman:     This would have been a beautiful afternoon to be born.

The woman:  This would have been a beautiful afternoon to be born.

Fisherman:     Good night.

The woman: Bye.

Fisherman:     Sleep well.

She starts to leave again but stops.

The woman: Dorotea . . . Dorotea is my name.

She is about to leave.

Fisherman:     Listen, maybe it’s calling you.

The woman:  I don’t think so . . . No one ever calls me . . . least of all the sea.

Fisherman:     Pssss . . . ahhhh . . . pssss . . . ahhhh . . .

She exits.

Fisherman:     Doroteaaa . . . pssss . . . aaaa . . . Doroteaaa . . . pssss . . . aaaa.

The light fades little by little over Fisherman’s voice.

The action continues at noon on the Fourth Day. She appears again at her desk.

Dorotea:         If I could. That’s what I said.

Fisherman:     Come on.

Dorotea:         It’s not the same.

Fisherman:     You gave me your word. We had an agreement.

Dorotea:         An agreement!

Fisherman:     That’s right.

Dorotea:         I never said I would do it.

Fisherman:     Then why did you ask me about the date?

Dorotea:         In case I could do it.

Fisherman:     Come on, that’s an agreement.

Dorotea:         It’s obvious you didn’t study grammar. If I could, if I could, that’s what I said. If I could get you a certificate, that’s literally what I said.

Fisherman:     What am I saying then?

Dorotea:         That I made you a promise.

Fisherman:     That’s right.

Dorotea:         Could, conditional mood of the verb to be able, conjugated in the first person singular and indicating a probable or possible condition. It indicates a hypothetical situation in the future, an action that may or may not happen with respect to another action. And if we add the conjunction “if,” which is conditional–listen carefully–conditional, we form the phrase, “if I could,” which means nothing more than a possibility. If I could, if I wanted, if I had. Possibility. Nothing in these expressions indicates that an action is going to happen with certainty. That is, nothing at all is guaranteed, much less promised. If I could get you a birth certificate. A possibility. Do you understand now?

Fisherman:     Half of it.

Dorotea:         Which half?

Fisherman:     The part about possibility.

Dorotea:         That’s good enough. That’s the part I wanted you to understand.

Fisherman:     Then tell me if there is any possibility . . .

Dorotea:         There isn’t any.

Fisherman:     None?

Dorotea:         None.

Fisherman:     If you wanted there to be one, would there be?

Dorotea:         There could be.

Fisherman:     Come on!

Dorotea:         But that’s different.

Fisherman:     It’s clear you don’t know anything about everyday grammar where it is very wisely said that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Dorotea:         Then I’m not willing.

Fisherman:     That’s the problem. You aren’t willing to do anything.

Dorotea:         What are you saying?

Fisherman:     Exactly what you heard. It’s about time someone told you. You aren’t willing to take a risk.

Dorotea:         Listen, mister, I will not allow you to . . .

Fisherman:     But it’s the truth. You look ridiculous sitting at your desk, here where you have no one to help and where nothing ever happens, complaining about your fate . . .

Dorotea:         Complaining to you?

Fisherman:     Complaining about your bad luck and not daring to do anything about it. There’s the sea. At least get undressed and go for a dip. I bet you’ll go home to the capital where no one’s waiting for you, not even a mouse and certainly not a dog wagging its tail. And you won’t even have gone for a dip in the ocean when it was right in front of you and you hadn’t seen it in years. Forget those papers. Nobody cares about that around here.

Dorotea:         I do.

Fisherman:     You do what?

Dorotea:         I do care. I care about it even though I look ridiculous sitting at my desk where there’s no one to help and nothing ever happens, complaining about my fate instead of doing something about it. And no, I’m not going to get undressed and go for a dip in that filthy water to be rolling around in the sand like an idiot when someone comes along who needs my help. A certificate, a card, a record. Do you think I’m here just to have fun? This is the worst place they could have sent me. I don’t even like the sea, but I have to be here, waiting for that person who might need me, need my service and my attention. I care, even though I’ll return to an empty house in the city where the neighbor’s dog won’t even be wagging its tail for me. They think we’re stupid, that we don’t get it. I don’t feel old, but I realize that they’re getting rid of us old ones. They’re keeping the perky young girls in the city. They’re sending us mature women to the slums, to the outskirts, so we’ll get used to doing nothing. The others might be happy about it, but not me, not me. I like working, being active. I still have lots of energy myself. Go far away where you won’t have any clients and it won’t matter if the service is slow. Oh no, sir, I am not old. I may not be a spring chicken, but I am not old. It might be too late for things I should have done long ago, but I would still love to see a long line of people I could send home happy with their pretty cards or their original birth certificates in hand. Well done, Dorotea, well done, they would say . . . But now with the census, it’s off to the mountains, to the boondocks, to the coast. And Dorotea gets sent to the coast. There are mountains and valleys and quaint little towns, but no, I had to end up on the beach. And that’s why you bother me. Your mere presence bothers me because I’m in the worst possible place, trying to deal with it and not run away. And meanwhile, you’re so insistent that I can’t concentrate enough to be ready if someone does show up. And besides, you’re asking me for something I can’t help you with. No matter how many times you ask, I won’t be able to help you. I can’t help you with a certificate that doesn’t exist anywhere. Where do you want me to get it? I can’t do anything for you when your own mother didn’t do what she was supposed to do when you were born. Who knows where you came from? Maybe you weren’t even born here! Maybe you were kidnapped, or maybe you’re plotting some crime. No, I am not going to help you. Do you hear me? I’m not going to help you. I’m not going to risk my job for someone who doesn’t even have a name just to get sent home, fired, no longer able to serve humanity at all, my useless life over in the very place it began. No. No means no and that’s that. Okay? So goodbye . . . And stop looking at me like a lost puppy because we aren’t friends and we don’t even know each other . . . Next. Next in line, please!

The scene reverts to a moonlit night on the beach.

Fisherman:     I have only one childhood memory. Only one and it’s strange, hazy, and I don’t understand it. I was very young. I was asleep and dreaming that I was afraid. It was one of those nightmares you forget in the morning. I woke up shaking, in a sweat. At the scariest part I screamed and jolted up in bed. When I opened my eyes, she was there looking at me. “Easy,” she said, “Mommy’s here. Easy, Mommy’s here.” And maybe she was there because I calmed down and went back to sleep. I slept so soundly that when I woke up she was no longer there and I was no longer a child; I had grown. I slept too long. That’s why I don’t sleep much now, Mermaid. I prefer looking at the sky and the stars and the sea, knowing that everything I see in the light of the moon is real. I love you my Mermaid, I truly do. (In the shadows the silhouette of a woman rises up from the sand and kisses him.)

The scene returns to the previous moment.

Fisherman:     It’s just me.

Dorotea:         I know, I see you.

Fisherman:     I am that person who needs you, needs your service and your attention. Help me.

Dorotea:         That’s different.

Fisherman:     Why?

Dorotea:         Because it can’t be done.

Fisherman:     Says who?

Dorotea:         Everyone. Everyone says so. The law, logic, life, rules, institutions, common sense. Even mathematics, which is so exact, would say so. Everyone. Go on, ask around to see if anyone would take your side: I, Fisherman of the Sea, I have determined that I am born today (she states the current day and date), here in this lost corner of the world that isn’t even on a map. And, what’s more, Dorotea Somebody gave birth to me.

Fisherman:     We can skip that last part, if you don’t mind.

Dorotea:         Of course.

Fisherman:     I never said I was born here.

Dorotea:         I just guessed you were.

Fisherman:     You assumed I was.

Dorotea:         Even worse.

Fisherman:     I just happened to stop here and you just happened to be here.

Dorotea:         Unfortunately.

Fisherman:     The sea brought us together.

Dorotea:         The sea brought us together! The sea doesn’t bring people together. What does the sea know about that? I’m just here by chance.

Fisherman:     The only thing I need is my certificate. A birth certificate so I can take off again and get my dog. If you want, I’ll come back afterward and we can continue discussing this so you can see you did nothing wrong by helping me. But if not, the poor thing is going to get desperate and swim across the sea to find me and make me keep my promise. I’m coming, I told him, I’m going to return, and you should have seen how he wagged his tail. (Toward the horizon.) I’m coming . . .  I’m coming . . . I’ll be back . . . I’m coming back! . . . (Shouting even louder.) I’m coming, I’m coming dog, I will not abandon you! . . . (To her.) You know I found him. I found him in the animal shelter and at that very moment he found me too. I’m sure he thinks the same way I do in his canine language: that now he is a dog with a man and I am a man with a dog. It was almost six o’clock in the evening. Over there, look, right over there where the sun is setting. He was alone and so was I, without anyone or anything. Both of us in the same circumstances. Then we looked at each other the way you do when you’ve been searching for someone for a long time, even if that someone is a dog. A big ugly man was there too. He was the guy from the animal shelter and you could tell he didn’t like dogs. I told him to give me the dog, but he said I had to go to the office to fill out a form. I went. First name, last name, address, age. All of that to get a stray dog? Just give him to me, I will love him and take care of him. First name, last name, address, age. You’re going to be my dog, I said . . . First name, last name, address, age. We will never be alone again, I told him . . . First name, last name, address, age . . . So I began sailing, sailing anywhere to find a place where I could be born, where I could take on an identity so I could return for my dog. When I got tired I let the tide and the wind and the stars carry me to some port. I told him I would return for him and he believed me. He barked. He barked loud and wagged his tail. Then he told me that if I didn’t return he would jump into the sea and find me to make me keep my promise.

Dorotea:         (After a pause.) Why couldn’t you be normal?

Fisherman:     What?

Dorotea:         You.

Fisherman:     You’re going to insult me again.

Dorotea:         No . . . I’m referring to your situation. You should have come here to my office and I would have asked you to get in line so I could help you. You would have been the first person and the last person in line and you wouldn’t have had to fight with anyone trying to cut in. I would have given you your birth certificate in a second and we would have happily gone our separate ways. Today you would leave for that far away place on the other side of the sea where at least a dog waits for you and I would be opening my door at this very moment, feeling I had fulfilled my mission . . . Why? Why couldn’t you be normal?

Fisherman:     I’m sorry.

Dorotea:         I am too.


Dorotea:         And that dog. What’s he like?

Fisherman:     What’s he like?

Dorotea:         Yes, what’s he like? Is he pretty? Is he big? Does he have a thick coat?

Fisherman:     No.

Dorotea:         Then, what?

Fisherman:     I don’t know, he’s just . . . alone.

Dorotea:         Oh! Alone.

Fisherman:     Yes. Alone.

Dorotea:         You probably need a name.

Fisherman:     I know. That’s why I’m here.

Dorotea:         I’m not referring to you. I mean, yes, you too. But I was talking about the dog.

Fisherman:     The dog?

Dorotea:         Yes, when he’s yours, he’ll need a name. All dogs that belong to someone have names. Only strays don’t have names.

Fisherman:     I hadn’t thought about that.

Dorotea:         Well, think about it. You can choose one. There are so many pretty names out there these days. Rover, Kaiser, Lassie, although that would be better for a female. Nero, Buddy, Rin-Tin-Tin . . .

Fisherman:     No. Dog. My dog will be named Dog.

It is the afternoon of the Fourth Day. He is on the dock and she has moved her chair around to the front of the desk and is reviewing her paperwork.

Fisherman:     Tell me about yourself.

Dorotea:         I don’t have anything to tell.

Fisherman:     Tell me. We all have something to tell.

Dorotea:         Not me.

Fisherman:     As you wish.

The scene changes to Dorotea’s past.

Dorotea:         Mommy, Mommy . . . when I’m big I’m going to be an astronaut. I’ll go to the moon and throw you stardust from there. Mommy, Mommy, when I’m big I’m going to be a fireman. I’m going to have a big hose to put out the fire that’s burning you up inside. Mommy, Mommy, when I’m big I’m going to be a teacher so I can teach your songs to the children. Mommy, Mommy . . . when I’m big I’m going to be a mommy and teach my kids to play Ring Around the Rosie with their grandmother. Mommy . . . Mommy? Why do you look so sad? Mommy? . . . My mother never became a grandmother . . .

The scene returns to the present.

Dorotea:         How long?

Fisherman:     How long what?

Dorotea:         How long are you going to wait?

Fisherman:     I don’t know, that depends on you. Dog is probably asking that same question.

Dorotea:         Poor Dog.

Fisherman:     I’m afraid he’ll leave, or that someone might take him, or that he’ll die.

Dorotea:         I don’t think so.

Fisherman:     You don’t?

Dorotea:         He’s not going to leave the shelter because he doesn’t have anywhere to go. No one’s going to take him because he’s too . . . alone. He’s not big, he’s not pretty, and he doesn’t have a thick coat, so no one will want him. And he won’t die . . . because you have given him hope. And no one who has hope dies.

Fisherman:     You don’t think so?

Dorotea:         No.

Fisherman:     Thank you.

Dorotea:         It’s just my opinion.

Fisherman:     That’s why I’m thanking you.

The scene returns to Dorotea’s past.

Dorotea:         I will wait for you. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. If it has to be, it has to be. I will be waiting here on the shore for you to return. Go ahead, sail the seas, see the world, become a man, travel many roads, defend your causes, make love, take up arms, follow your dreams, conquer the world, make money, run, escape, write poetry, be careful crossing the border, study. Do whatever you want, create the paradise you see in your dreams. Do whatever, whatever you want to do, but return. Don’t forget the waves that will bring you back, and return.

The scene returns to the present.       

Dorotea:         So many people.

Fisherman:     Where?

Dorotea:         Here. On these pages. Each page is a name. Each name is a story.

Fisherman:     Everybody’s there except me.

Dorotea:         You don’t have a name, but you do have a story.

Fisherman:     And what good does it do?

Dorotea:         Some good.

Fisherman:     Like what?

Dorotea:         I don’t know, it’s good for something. I, on the other hand . . .

Fisherman:     You have a name and a story. If you don’t want to tell it, that’s something else. In any case, no one would refuse to give you a dog, or a house, or a family. And why not? Just because you have a piece of paper with your first and last name on it that says you are a person.

Dorotea:         Fisherman . . . Fisherman . . . It could be a nice name.

Fisherman:     Who cares?

The past.

Dorotea:         When you are born I’m going to give you a pretty name. There are so many pretty names out there these days. A strong handsome name if you’re a boy. A sweet, melancholy name if you’re a girl. Rain. Rain would be perfect. Sweet and melancholy. And if you’re a boy? Lightning, Thunder, Hurricane. Those aren’t names for people, so I can’t give them to you. Zeus, Apollo, Dionysus . . . They’re too Greek, they aren’t in style any more . . . Sea . . . Maybe I should call you Sea, although it doesn’t sound like a person’s name . . . Rain . . . Sea . . . Maybe your father will come back soon and we’ll make you be born . . .

The present.       

Fisherman:     It’s late.

Dorotea:         Again.

Fisherman:     This is the hour of the afternoon when life truly seems to end.

Dorotea:         Again.

Fisherman:     Dog is probably sad and depressed waiting for me. I hope he doesn’t jump into the ocean.

Dorotea:         I like the afternoon. The breeze that warms my face, and the salt.

Fisherman:     I told him I wouldn’t be long and it’s already been three days.

Dorotea:         I like the salt, this taste of salt.

Fisherman:     The sun that is setting here is just coming up over there, on the other side.

Dorotea:         This is the hour of the afternoon when life truly seems to end.

Fisherman:     And this sound, the pounding. It pounds in my ears.

Dorotea:         Again.

Fisherman:     Don’t go yet.

Dorotea:         No . . . I’m not going.

Any time on the Fifth Day. Dorotea is sitting in her chair, which is now almost facing the sea. He is on the sand.

Fisherman:     All kinds of things happen in life. All kinds of things. More to some people than to others, you just never know. One day out of the blue, I came across a boat. She was old and looked abandoned. She was old all right, but she could still bounce around flirtatiously on the waves. She swayed back and forth and looked at me. Yes, she looked at me. That’s when I understood that she wanted me and that she was calling me. Me? I said. That’s right, I asked the boat if she was dancing for me and she said yes. I moved closer and saw that she had a pair of oars, a net, and a water jug. Everything. She was ready. There she was, all ready for me. I assumed that somebody had docked her there so I just went over to check her out. I was still really young then, so I hopped on and imagined that I was the owner of that nameless, neglected boat, that I was her owner and lord of the high seas. Then I left and I waited. Each time I passed by, I looked at her and waited. I waited more than a week. A day and a night, a day, a night, another day and another night, and no one claimed her or took her away. It was a place like this, nobody around, nothing going on, except there wasn’t an office and nobody was taking a census or anything like that . . . Well, the point is that the boat was still there flirting with me, looking at me and waiting for me. She was feeling old and she wanted to take her last trip with me and I, well, the fact is I didn’t have anybody or anything. I didn’t even know how I was born or how I got there. So that very day before noon, I decided to take her and leave. Let’s go then, I said, and that’s what we did. She’s still with me today, she brought me here. She has been rejuvenated.

Dorotea:         Hope always rejuvenates people . . . A boat too it seems . . .

Fisherman:     It seems so. And she still isn’t ready to make her last voyage. Well, off I went to all sorts of places, finally feeling like a young lad with hair on my chest and in other places you can imagine. I wasn’t a boy anymore, but I still needed more time to become a man, just more time! Away I went like a ship’s captain, with my boat, my net, and my oars. When I was hungry I fished. When I was thirsty I stayed thirsty because in my excitement I had forgotten to fill the water jug. When I got tired I just floated along and in the evening I followed the sunset. I studied the tides, the winds, and the stars. I discovered that they always have something to say. Now I’m an expert. That’s how I passed my days, nights, weeks, months, years. I don’t know how many. I counted them by the length of my fingernails, my beard, and my hair. Sometimes I would pull into a port and dock. I would look at the people, the streets, the houses. I sold fish and earned enough money to pay for a good soapy bath, a supply of water, and a few things I couldn’t get at sea. After a few days on land, I would get a strange feeling. I missed the air, the breeze, the water, the salt, and the rocking of the waves. Being on land was drowning me, yes, drowning me. Then I ran and got on the boat and left, rowing and rowing until I found peace . . . I had become part of the sea.

Dorotea:         Part of the sea . . . perhaps that’s what happens to everyone who sails . . .

Fisherman:     Could be . . . it very well could be . . .

Dorotea:         Part of the sea . . .

Fisherman:     I tried staying on land twice and each time it turned out bad. One time I arrived at a port, a small one, just a dock really . . .

Dorotea is lost in her thoughts.

Dorotea:         Rain, Sea, forgive me. I had always thought that you would both come by sea. That the father of my children would return by sea. Do whatever you want, I told him, but don’t forget the waves that will bring you back, and return. I waited for him, I really did. Maybe that was the problem, that I waited too long. Then suddenly a man arrived by land. By land, not by sea. He came in a rundown bus that had to spend the night in the capital. It was packed with people and covered in dust. Those of us at the city hall found the passengers a place to spend the night. And there he was in the midst of the dust and the people, tired but smiling. I didn’t know anything about stars or seas then; I only knew that he had arrived by land, not by sea. There he was with his soft eyes and his mischievous grin, approaching me with a sweet innocence. I was afraid and shy. Now I think that maybe my fear and timidity kept you from being born. There he was, sent by the stars perhaps. I didn’t know his name or how old he was. We didn’t talk about those things. All I know is that I didn’t let his hands caress my body and now I regret it. Rain, Sea, I’m sorry. I always thought that the father of my children would come by sea.

Fisherman continues.

Fisherman:     Am I boring you?

Dorotea:         No.

Fisherman:     Are you sure?

Dorotea:         Yes.

Fisherman:     Should I continue?

Dorotea:         If you want to.

Fisherman:     Why don’t you tell me about yourself?

Dorotea:         I’ve already said that I have nothing to tell.

Fisherman:     There must be something.

Dorotea:         Nothing interesting.

Fisherman:     It doesn’t have to be about the sea and the stars. Come on, tell me something.

Dorotea:         Let’s leave it for another day.

Fisherman:     I’ve bored you.

Dorotea:         No, but if you don’t want to tell me any more, I can’t force you.

Fisherman:     And what if someone comes?

Dorotea:         No one has come and no one will come.

Fisherman:     But if they do?

Dorotea:         Then . . . let them wait.

Fisherman:    Well, in that case . . . I was saying that I tried to stay on land twice. The first time I arrived at a small port during the hustle and bustle of the afternoon. There was a big, strong man there, a black man with big feet and small eyes. We looked at each other as if we were old acquaintances. He worked carrying goods to businesses around town.  He smiled at me and kept working. It had been a long time since someone had smiled at me. I followed him to return the smile, but I lost him. Actually, I was the one who got lost, and then I saw a church. I went in to rest. It was a little old church that made me feel something between devotion and fear, but it was very peaceful too. I somehow thought that I had arrived, that this was the place where I should stay and make a friend. The man was a good guy, lucky for the rest of us because he could’ve killed anyone with a swing of his fist if he felt like it. He liked me too, hardly anyone else talked to him. He would find me a job carrying loads. The small ones for you, he said, and the heavy ones for me. I could rent a room in his boarding house and I could even go to night classes with him, where the older folks studied, because after all, he said, God created light so men could work. I liked the idea: being on land wasn’t making me seasick anymore and I thought that it was time to give my boat a rest. But, guess what happened? I applied for a job: first name, last name, address, age. I tried renting a room: first name, last name, address, age. How can I give someone my address when I don’t have one? I went to the night school and the same thing: first name, last name, etcetera, etcetera . . . you know better than I do . . . My friend spoke to the pastor about me, but the pastor convinced him that if I didn’t have a name or an age, then I was trouble. That day even my friend became a little suspicious of me, so I left, rowing away from the port about to burst into tears. Only my black friend said goodbye. He came to the dock when he finished work and stood there looking at me trying to wave goodbye. Maybe if I had invited him, he would have come with me  . . . The second time was worse. By now I knew I couldn’t have a house, a job, friends, or go to school, but somehow I didn’t need any of that. But this time, this time, I thought I was dying, I really thought I was going to die. My heart was pounding, my palms clammy, I couldn’t breathe and I felt . . . I felt . . . that somewhere . . . don’t take this the wrong way . . . down there . . . that I would explode with desire. She was the most beautiful woman in the world. The most beautiful. It wasn’t like I had seen many women in my life because when you live on the ocean all you see are whales, jellyfish, and manta rays. But I’m telling you, this woman was like a real mermaid. I do think mermaids are extinct by now after so many years and so many myths, but there is one left, mine, my mermaid. I saw her on the beach when I went ashore for water. We looked at each other like old lovers and, without saying anything, she told me to make love to her. And I, I made love to her. We were like young lovers, playing in the waves and rolling around in the sand. I discovered love between her legs, and that urge I told you about—I just couldn’t resist it. We met on the beach every afternoon and I became an expert in other kinds of tides and winds and stars. I was happy. I lived on my boat, fishing for my meals, selling what was left over, and bathing with scented soap every morning. In the afternoon we played, at night we made love, and at dawn we sang like mermaids. But one day it happened. We were together, silhouettes in the moonlight, and I was telling her my adventures. I could feel her close to me, lying naked on the sand. When I finished my story she got up and gave me a kiss. Let’s get married and live like this forever, she said. Live like this forever, I thought, my head spinning. I saw her there, naked on the sand in the light of the moon, lying there forever, forever at my side. Let’s get married, I said suddenly without even thinking. She said we had to get dressed up to get married properly, so with the money I made selling fish I bought a white shirt and detergent to wash my pants because I didn’t have enough to buy new ones. She got all dolled-up in a white dress with little pearls and flowers that I would get to rip off her later, she said. The priest was standing in front of us frowning and then it happened. First name . . . last name . . . address . . . age . . . the priest said. My mermaid thought I refused to say them because I was hiding something, because I didn’t love her enough to marry her, and she spent the entire afternoon crying on the beach. I don’t understand . . . I just don’t understand . . . I am who I am, it doesn’t matter if I’m twenty or thirty or forty. You can call me Pedro or Tree or Star—I won’t stop being who I am . . .

Dorotea:         Shakespeare already said that . . .

Fisherman:     Who?

Dorotea:         William Shakespeare, a poet.

Fisherman:     Well, he must have been in love with a mermaid too.

Dorotea:         I suppose he was.

Fisherman:     I don’t understand . . . I am who I am and I was the one who loved her . . . Then I rowed away until anger and tears overcame me. When I got tired I was over there, where the sun sets, and when I docked to stretch my legs, I found Dog. You know the rest. We looked at each other the same way my friend and I had looked at each other and the same way my mermaid and I looked at each other, with eyes that said we had been searching for each other for a long time. I saw him and promised to return and he threatened to jump into the sea to find me if I didn’t go back for him. That worries me because he didn’t seem very patient or willing to stay alone like my friend and my mermaid were. Dog is over there, right over there, where the sun sets, waiting, but ready to jump into the sea if I don’t return, even though he doesn’t know anything about compasses or tides. The wind and the stars brought me here; I didn’t do anything, too tired to even row. I don’t know how or where I was born, I was so young then and I can’t remember anymore. My only childhood memory is a night when I woke up crying. I don’t know who my parents were or why they abandoned me, but I know I am who I am and that I’m the one who has a black friend on a small dock, who loves a mermaid who’s crying on the beach, and who promised Dog to return in a boat to get him. I know I am who I am and that I am here now, in this place and in this moment (toward the horizon), and that’s why I’m telling you, Dog, that I, Fisherman, Fisherman of the Sea was born on (he states the current day and date), in this lost corner of the world where no one comes and where nothing happens, at the side of Dorotea, a woman of a certain age who accompanied me at my birth and is therefore my mother.

A brief pause.

Dorotea:         Don’t go . . . please . . .

Fisherman:     No . . . I won’t go.


Time seems to stop.

Dorotea:         Why are you looking at me like that?

Fisherman:     Like what?

Dorotea:         Like that . . . like you did the first day.

Fisherman:     I’m not looking at you in any particular way.

Dorotea:         As if you didn’t . . . that way . . . as if . . .

Fisherman:     As if we’ve been looking for each other for a long time?

Dorotea:         I don’t know . . . that way . . . like on the first day.

Fisherman:     I’m not looking at you in any certain way and if I am, it’s just because, even though that’s not a reason.

Dorotea:         Who are you?

Fisherman:     Fisherman, and you?

Dorotea:         The black friend, the mermaid, and the dog.

Fisherman:     No. You are Dorotea.

Dorotea loses herself in the past.

Dorotea:         My name is Dorotea and I do not know who I am. I live on the street next to Central Park in this country’s capital and no one visits me. I prefer to forget my age and my last name was swept away by time: I don’t know if it left on a dusty bus carrying a memory with it or if it grew fins and swam away in the sea. My children were never born and no one ever called me mommy. No one waits for me when I get home—not a man, not a child, not a dog. Not even a mouse, although I suspect there’s one snooping around when I’m not there. I like my job and I strive to do it well. When I do, I sleep at night with the great satisfaction of having served a purpose, of being useful to someone, someone other than myself. I have a first name, a last name, an address, and an age but no one with whom to share them, not Rain or Sea, my children, my lost, forgotten children . . . This is the hour of the afternoon when life truly seems to end.

Dorotea and Fisherman are on the dock. The Sixth Day.

Dorotea:         What’s over there?

Fisherman:     Where?

Dorotea:         Over there. On the other side.

Fisherman:     Nothing.

Dorotea:         Nothing? Then why do you want to go back?

Fisherman:     Just for Dog.

Dorotea:         And then what?

Fisherman:     Then what? . . . I hadn’t thought about that.

Dorotea:         Well, you’ll have to think about it.

Fisherman:     I don’t know . . . maybe nothing.

Dorotea:         You’ll have to take Dog something.

Fisherman:     Take him something? I hadn’t thought about that . . .

Dorotea:         More waves, more water, more wandering?

Fisherman:     Maybe.

Dorotea:         Nothing will be the same when you have Dog.

Fisherman:     I hadn’t thought about that.


Dorotea:         What’s he like?

Fisherman:     Who?

Dorotea:         Dog.

Fisherman:     Dog?

Dorotea:         Yes, what is he like?

Fisherman:     Alone.

Dorotea:         Scrawny, old, and sad.

Fisherman:     Small, actually. Small, scrawny, and sad.

Dorotea:         Alone.

Fisherman:     Yes, alone.

Dorotea:         Then he must be old too.

Fisherman:     Not necessarily . . . Look at me . . . (Pause.) I think with a little effort, I could even get his hair to grow.


Dorotea:         And the town?

Fisherman:     What?

Dorotea:         What’s it like?

Fisherman:     The town?

Dorotea:         Yes, the town, the place. What is it like?

Fisherman:     People coming and going. Steep streets. Docks. Fishing boats. The same.

Dorotea:         The same?

Fisherman:     The same as the docks in any small, scrawny, sad town. With the illusion of activity and light.

Dorotea:         Activity and light . . . sometimes illusions help . . .

Fisherman:     A lot.

Dorotea:         With your certificate, Fisherman, you could return to your friend on the dock, rent a room, get a job, and study at the night school. You could go back to the dock where your mermaid is waiting and marry her, in her dress with pearls and flowers. You could go to church, have children, and take care of Dog.

Fisherman:     I don’t know.

Dorotea:         Why not?

Fisherman:     By now my friend has tripped on a coconut while carrying a huge load of fruit and has thrown out his back and he can’t even walk let alone carry a load. They closed the night school because there weren’t enough adult students and they tore down the church and replaced it with a new one that doesn’t inspire devotion or fear. All the boarding houses are expensive and my mermaid has four kids by two different men who took her to the beach just to sleep with her.

Dorotea:         Who told you all that?

Fisherman:     Nobody.

Dorotea:         So?

Fisherman:     I just know.

Dorotea:         How? (He doesn’t respond.) How do you know?

Fisherman:     I don’t know how . . . I just do. Just like I know that all this sun and salt water has dried up my brain and made me invent all this shit.


Dorotea:         I’m leaving tomorrow.

Fisherman:     What?

Dorotea:         I’m leaving tomorrow.

Fisherman:     What do you mean you’re leaving? Where are you going? Why?

Dorotea:         I’m going home, where else?

Fisherman:     Why?

Dorotea:         What do you mean, why?

Fisherman:     Just that, why?

Dorotea:         Because my time working here is up and now I have to go back.

Fisherman:     But no one is waiting for you.

Dorotea:         That’s true.

Fisherman:     I thought you were going to stay . . .

Dorotea:         It’s my home . . . that’s where my seas and stars are.

Fisherman:     But no one ever came, so you didn’t do your job and they’ll fire you.

Dorotea:         Next! Next, please! It’s your turn Fisherman, Fisherman of the Sea. Fisherman of the Sea, Book 9-A, page 404, male child born in the town of Hidden Harbor, a place where no one ever went and where nothing ever happened. Born on (she states the actual day and date without mentioning the year), in whatever year of Our Lord, in this lost corner of the world, where the tides, the winds, and the stars reign. Having provided this information, Mrs. Dorotea of the Sea, who professes to be his mother and midwife . . . (Silence.) Keep it, Fisherman, it will be useful.

Fisherman:     (Toward the horizon.) Dog, Dog . . . now I’m coming to take you home! . . . Don’t jump into the sea, don’t jump . . . stay there . . . wait for me!

Dorotea:         Anyway, I don’t believe it. I think your friend, the black man, is still on the dock waving goodbye and I think your singing mermaid is still on the beach in her dress with pearls and flowers. You should go back to them, Fisherman. Fisherman of the Sea . . . you should go back. And watch your mouth—I hadn’t heard a bad word from you all week until just now.

Fisherman:     What are you doing?

Dorotea:         I’m getting undressed. I’m going for a dip.

The Sixth Day, just before dusk. Both are soaking wet.

Fisherman:     Thank you.

Dorotea:         Be safe.

Fisherman:     You too . . . Do you think he’s still waiting for me?

Dorotea:         I think so.

Fisherman:     It’s been a long time. What if he jumped into the sea?

Dorotea          I don’t think he did.

Fisherman:     And if he did?

Dorotea:         Then he will find you.

Fisherman:     Do you think so?

Dorotea:         Yes.

Fisherman:     You know something . . . the day I found you, you got upset at the way I was looking at you. Do you remember?

Dorotea:         Yes.

Fisherman:     Why?

Dorotea:         Why what?

Fisherman:     Why did you get mad?

Dorotea:         I don’t know.

Fisherman:     Dorotea . . .

Dorotea:         Because you were looking at me . . . in a way . . . as if . . . the same way you looked at your dog.

Fisherman:     And at my friend and my mermaid.

Dorotea:         Well, I wasn’t your dog, or your friend, or your mermaid.

Fisherman:     No, you were you, Dorotea.

Dorotea:         Get going now.

Fisherman:     And you know what else?

Dorotea:         Get going, I said.

Fisherman:     You looked at me that same way too.

Dorotea:         That’s not true.

Fisherman:     Yes, you were looking at me like that.

Dorotea:         For me you were just someone who showed up from who knows where, from the other side of the sea.

Fisherman:     Exactly.

Dorotea:         Exactly what?

Fisherman:     Because you have spent your entire life waiting for something from over there . . .

Dorotea:         No.

Fisherman:     Yes.

Dorotea:         No.

Fisherman:     I know you have . . . And one day you’ll tell me your story.


Dorotea:         Will you come back?

Fisherman:     What?

Dorotea:         Nothing.

Fisherman:     Here?

Dorotea:         Yes . . . here.

Fisherman:     I was born here.

Dorotea:         But some people leave and never return.

Fisherman:     Would you . . . would you like me to come back?

Dorotea:         What do I have to do with it? I don’t even live here.

Fisherman:     No, but . . .

Dorotea:         Forget it.

Fisherman:     Would you want me to?

Dorotea:         Forget it . . . We have to go.

Fisherman:     Yes, I will come back. You can take me to the capital. I’ve never been to a capital city before. What’s it like?

Dorotea:         The same. With the illusion of activity and light, but more.

Fisherman:     Illusions help.

Dorotea:         A lot.

Fisherman:     I’ll come back. I’ll go get my Dog, say hello to my friend, find my mermaid, and come home . . . and I’ll make you a grandmother.

Dorotea:         You’re impossible!

Fisherman:     Wouldn’t you like that?

Dorotea:         Goodbye.

Fisherman:     I know you would like it.

Dorotea:         Goodbye . . . and be careful with the tides.

Fisherman:     And with the winds . . .

Dorotea:         And with the stars . . .

Fisherman:     Goodbye.

Dorotea:         Goodbye.

Fisherman leaves. Dorotea remains on stage trying to wave goodbye as the light starts to fade. She exits.

Before the stage becomes completely dark, a wet dog appears. He shakes himself. Running and barking, he crosses the stage and exits.


[1] The other Salvadoran recipients of the Casa de las Américas Award are Roque Dalton for poetry in 1969, Manlio Argueta for novel in 1978, Claribel Alegría for poetry in 1978, and Mario Lungo for essay in 1991.

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