Silvery snoek lie in a glistening heap, but not for long. Knives flash and blur as the men sharpen them on the harbour wall, ready for the plastic-aproned women who haul the heavy fish, one at a time, to their makeshift tables.
No health-inspected kitchens here. Sea-washed cement is good enough, except for one slab fitted with a blood-soaked remnant of patterned carpet. The women work fast, dragging the blades through the taut flesh. With practised hands they extract the guts and toss them into the water under the watchful eyes of a whirl of seagulls, who swoop and snatch at the morsels in ravenous glee.
It’s a bright, busy scene, achingly familiar in its picture postcard sweetness: scrubby hillside propped against a clear blue sky, painted boats rocking in their moorings, primed fishing rods around the base of the lighthouse … the images form an eternal stage set, indelibly recorded among my earliest memories. The actors are always here: the fishermen, the buyers, the drunks and the drop-outs; the mothers, clutching small jackets as children lean out to marvel at the gargantuan seal, scratching an ear on the slippery ledge below.
I know this play. I’ve seen it a thousand times, yet never tire of the scream of the gulls, the scent of the breeze, the slick of the seals popping up from the depths below Sulaiman’s keel, or the wail of the siren as the train rackets over the arches and approaches the level crossing.
My part is minuscule; an unknown extra walking on to add my speck of colour, my moment of action, my spark of pleasure, to the well-known story. But it’s my story too, so I keep coming back, just like the happy Southern Right out there in the bay, announcing her return with a blast of spray and a wave of a fluke among the white-tipped swells.