Book III: The Journey Home
Going Home, Really Going Home
The meal proceeded quietly for a while with only
the bantering of Doña Maria about her childhood in California breaking
the silence. Finally, the
older woman finished her tale and the room became even quieter.
“Ni hao,” the priest said to Diego in the intervening silence, bringing him out of his reverie.
“Ni hao, Ba,” Diego answered without thought. “How did you know that I had been to China?” he asked in Spanish for the benefit of the rest of those in the captain’s cuddy.
“An assumption that I backed up with the
proper question to you,” Father Juan Miguel laughed.
“I am returning from serving in a mission in Canton.
Would you mind telling about your trip to China?”
“There is not much to say, padre.
I worked with the Portuguese Trade Envoy, teaching his son.
I also spent a little time in the countryside, but that is
“Still, we must talk about it sometime.
I found Canton to be a fascinating place, and I never was able to
go outside the city. It is
a long voyage ahead of us, I am sure we spend some time together.
Do you play chess?”
Diego was beginning to feel that there was a conspiracy afoot to get him to tell them about himself. He just smiled and nodded. “I have played a time or two.”
“Good, Diego. I might just come calling on you.”
During most of the next few days, Diego found himself quietly reflecting on the recent past, resting on his bunk and feeling the power of the ocean beneath him. In fact, he found it a particular irony that he was actually sleeping as much as he had claimed to when he was riding as Zorro back in the days before his father knew about his secret. He also read from Carlos’ small library of books that the young man had brought with him. Of particular interest was Homer’s Odyssey. As he had done before, he speculated at how closely this story seemed to parallel his own travels since that time long ago after he had rescued little Marguerita. Periodically, he would practice the wushu he had learned, but it was usually when his roommate was away doing something else. He still felt a reticence about revealing his past experiences and the exercises were just something else for Carlos to be curious about.
A week into the voyage, Diego still felt no
lift, nothing that told him that this melancholy would dissipate. He leaned against the rail, gazing at the ocean and pondering
this strange phenomenon. No
one had tried to assassinate him and it seemed unreasonable that anyone
on this ship ever would, but still Diego could not shake off the need to
always check over his shoulder. He
could not get excited about going home.
What is wrong with me? he asked himself for, perhaps the
hundredth time. I am
going home!! he assured himself forcefully, something else he had
done many times in the last week. His mind understood, but it was as
though his heart could not hear or feel the words.
“Diego,” Carlos said softly.
Diego started, and then turned and gazed at his
roommate. Carlos leaned
against the rail and watched the waves, much as Diego had been doing.
“When we first met, I saw a tale in your eyes that would take many days to tell, and you promised to tell it,” Carlos said, reflectively, meeting Diego’s gaze.
“In my own good time, Carlos.”
“Yes, Diego, that is true, you did say that, but now I see someone who has seen much, someone who has experienced much pain. Someone who has wrapped that pain around him and will not let it out,” Carlos said softly, his voice just louder then the waves below.
Diego gazed sharply at the young man who
reminded him of himself several years earlier, optimistic, idealistic
and full of hope for the future. There was no hidden agenda behind the
blue-gray eyes, nothing but concern and . . . what?
Pity? Had he become
an object of pity? Diego
gazed back down at the waves, occasionally seeing a few flying fish in
the distance. Yes, I
suppose that I am rather pitiful, keeping to myself like a hermit in a
Diego remembered the trip home from Spain.
He was anxious, not knowing the reason for his father’s
request, wondering what was happening, if Father was ill.
However, he was still happy to be returning home, to his beloved
hills, the pueblo and his friends.
But I am going home now!
He was so confused. More
than he had ever been in his life.
He turned and saw Carlos still studying him.
His roommate said nothing and Diego returned to his study of the
ocean. They were the same
waves as those he had seen from the China Star, when he had been
traveling west. But
it’s different! Then
why didn’t he feel different? He
wished Bowman were here. The
older man had soothed so many black days and haunted nights.
But the supercargo was dead.
He missed Zhaou Haifang, but the physician was far away.
He wished Bernardo were here.
For all that he couldn’t talk, the mozo could anticipate
his anxieties and moods and lighten them in subtle ways that he
couldn’t even detect. Diego
would be angry one moment and then he would come up with solutions to
his problems the next, and that after only a few hand signals or a touch
on the sleeve from his mozo.
He remembered Carlos’ words again in his mind,
‘I see someone who has wrapped that pain around him and will not
let it out.’ Is
that what I am doing? he asked himself.
Am I wrapping myself in everything that has happened these
past few years, in the corruption, the despair, the depravity, as well
as the pain?
“Often, my father told me that young lips are
better left sealed together until the hair on the cheek is thick enough
to hide the skin,” Carlos said with a chuckle, breaking the prolonged
Diego remembered his father saying something
similar. “ ‘When you
are as old as my grandfather your words will be golden tomes of wisdom,
until then...’ ” he repeated. He
laughed softly in remembrance.
Carlos laughed with him. “Fathers have a way of taking their sons down a notch or two, don’t they?”
“Yes, they do and my father is a master.
But he is a master at many other things, too,” Diego replied,
seeing his father’s face in his mind’s eye and longing to feel his
strong embrace once more.
“Padre Marcos tried to get me to join
his order. He said I was a good listener,” Carlos mentioned casually.
“You are determined, aren’t you?” Diego
said, again gazing deeply into his companion’s eyes, assessing the
younger man’s reaction. And
again, he saw only open concern.
To Diego’s surprise, Carlos began laughing heartily. “I will not deny that I like a good adventure, and I know you have had one. Or two or three.” His laughter soon ebbed and he studied his roommate’s face. He saw evidence of a great weight on Diego’s shoulders, of a burden that could make one old. He had assessed his friend to be maybe six or seven years older than he was, but now Carlos wasn’t sure. “I like a good adventure, but that is not why I offered, Diego,” he added, the laughter gone. “My priest said that sometimes keeping painful, hard things inside only increases the pain and makes the soul so hard that it becomes brittle, easily broken and crushed.”
Diego thought of the relief that he felt when he
found out that his father knew the secret of Zorro.
Despite his reasons for keeping his secret from everyone except
Bernardo, he had felt liberated. “I
should be happy.”
“That you are going home?”
“Yes,” Diego answered simply.
Carlos knew that his roommate was reading his
copy of The Odyssey, and he felt there was some connection
between the story and Diego’s past, but he had so little information. He only knew that Diego wanted to go home and that he had
been in China. “Why did
you leave your home?”
“I was kidnapped and indentured to the captain of an outgoing ship,” Diego said, taking a deep breath, and then he began to talk about the kidnapping, his feelings as he was taken to the China Star in chains and his despair as he watched the shoreline recede and finally disappear. It was as though a floodgate had been released and the words couldn’t be contained.
“Santa Maria, Diego!” Carlos said
when his roommate paused to gather his thoughts and catch his breath. “No wonder you feel like Odysseus!”
“How did you know?”
“As my esteemed father once told me,
‘Carlos, you are too smart for your own good.’
I have seen you reading the book and I made an educated guess.”
Diego laughed softly. “He is right.” He turned and stared up at the sailors in the rigging, checking the ropes and sails. Without looking at Carlos, he said, “I have seen dates and I have a knowledge of how long I have been gone, but it doesn’t seem real to me. It seems as though I have been gone forever, for years, even longer than when I was in Spain. I see the waves, I see the sky and I wonder if the world is only waves and sky, that I will be sailing forever.”
“Diego, I have not been at sea as you have, but this will end and we will sail into the harbor of San Diego. There you will watch the shore come closer and closer and know that you have finally reached your Ithaca.”
Diego blinked the late afternoon sun out of his
eyes and looked back at his friend.
“Yes, my intellect tells me that; now my soul has to believe
“It will, Diego.
Eventually, it will.” Carlos
slapped his roommate on the back. “How
about a friendly game of chess, my friend, and we can talk some more in
the privacy of our cabin.”
“Carlos, I do not play friendly games of
chess,” Diego said, laughing, his friend joining in.
As they walked into the cabin and Carlos set up
a chessboard, Diego saw the small chest that Zhaou Haifang had sent with
him. He realized that he
had recently neglected to take the herbs that the physician had
prescribed. Perhaps that
would help him to restore his ‘vital energies,’ Diego thought wryly.
At the very least, the tea would help him relax.
Diego opened the chest and read his notes.
“Let me go to the galley and get some hot water.
I received a present of some Chinese tea and herbs.
I think that would be good with a game of chess.”
Carlos nodded, seeing in his friend a bit of release already.
Even after confiding in Carlos and telling him as much of his story as he felt he was able to tell the Filipino, assimilating the fact that he was finally on his way home, that nothing else was going to happen to him, was still a slow process that surprised and disturbed Diego.
Twelve days into the voyage, Diego woke up in
the middle of the night. He
felt the soft notes of an old lullaby floating in his head and he
realized that it was a tune that his mother had often sung to him when
he was very little. It was peaceful and he lay on his bed remembering that
time long ago when he felt safe and content in his mother’s arms.
Ah, such a long time ago, he thought.
He lay there for a while longer, but was unable to go back to
sleep. There was something
inside, something that wouldn’t let him relax.
He had to do something; he had to go somewhere, anywhere.
His body felt charged with energy.
If he had been alone, he would have practiced some of the wushu,
but he didn’t want to wake up Carlos.
So he slipped on his trousers and shirt, and quietly left the cabin, climbing the stairs to the quarterdeck. An eastward-blowing breeze refreshed Diego. In the moonlight, the sails looked like huge clouds above him, surreal and heavenly. As he watched them, Diego felt the knot of his melancholy begin to unravel itself from deep inside his heart. Suddenly, he felt liberated, free, his soul soaring high above those bright sails, higher then the clouds themselves. He remembered something Padre Felipe told him, not long after his mother had died . . . ‘My son, there are all kinds of stumbling blocks in our life-paths, but how we react to them shows the strength of our souls.’ Diego realized how very fortunate he had been in his misfortune. He laughed softly at the irony of the statement. Then he realized that there had been so many who had been in the right places when he needed help over those stumbling blocks. George Bowman, Wang Leiching, Qing Kang Zhu, Victoria Meachem, Carlos de Clavo… so many.
Suddenly Diego was able to fully appreciate the
fact that he was on his way home. Nothing
was going to stop him now, absolutely nothing!
It was a wonderfully euphoric feeling.
He almost laughed out loud.
Gazing upward and seeing the pennants floating from the top of
the main mast, Diego had a sudden and ridiculous urge to climb the
ratlines. He looked around him and saw the two sailors on watch smoking
their pipes on the poop deck, looking out to sea. He began climbing. It
was a little harder one-handed; he had to lean into the ropes as he
released his grip and reached upward, but the light wind was gentle and
he took his time. Even with
the slight breeze, though, by the time he reached the watch’s seat,
sweat was dripping down his face and causing his shirt to stick to his
Sitting on the watch’s perch on the main topsail yard, Diego reveled in the mild breeze that blew among the sails. He shivered slightly, and not totally from the chill of the air against his sweaty body. He looked toward the east, his longing a great hunger. If only wishing could hurry the ship, and allow him to see the harbor of San Diego right now in the moonlight. Turning to the west, Diego watched the large, orange-yellow waxing moon as it slid toward the western horizon. It was so large he felt as though he could reach out and touch it. Instead, he reached out and saw his fingers bathed in the glow of the celestial orb. He felt a tingling up and down his spine. Below him two lanterns bobbed in the gentle breeze, one on each end of the ship. The moon bathed the ocean in the same glow that had enveloped his hand, and showed soft lamb’s wool clouds above him. The watchmen were small, mere dolls below him as they made their rounds. Far to the north a small bank of clouds showed miniscule flashes of lightning, but they were so far away that he could not hear the thunder. How different this was from the first time he sat in the watch’s perch, Diego thought. The pain of that experience was now replaced with an inner peace, a feeling of contentment and happiness.
Diego carefully tied a safety rope around his
waist to secure himself against an accidental fall.
Ah, it would be a miserable thing, indeed, to fall from the
rigging now that I feel this good.
He laughed softly as he made himself comfortable, his back
against the hard rounded surface of the mainmast.
This ship was somewhat smaller and less ponderous than an East
Indiaman, so it moved through the sea more gracefully.
The moon set and the rise and fall of the ship on the waves and
the warm air currents soon made him drowsy.
It wasn’t long before he was curled up against the mainmast,
sleeping soundly, the rope keeping him secure throughout the night.
The bright light of the early morning sun in his
face awakened Diego. Looking
down, he saw members of the crew beginning their early morning routines.
Several men were dumping refuse from the cat’s head, and some were
bringing foodstuffs from the lower pantry to the galley, while others
were tending to the chickens in their coops on the poop deck.
On the northwestern horizon, clouds bunched up, reddish gold in
the morning sun, a precursor to an ocean squall.
He watched with great wonder as a school of dolphins frolicked in
the wake of the Isadora, then
he spied another pod riding the bow waves.
Diego had never had time to do more than glance at dolphins and
whales while on the China Star,
and he was amazed at the animals’ grace and speed.
Somehow he was reminded
Untying himself from the mainmast, Diego stood up and stretched, getting rid of the stiffness in his muscles, as he continued to watch the activities below. The more he watched, and the more the wind at his back blew the Isadora towards home, the more exhilarated he became, almost euphoric. He chuckled when two sailors sang a slightly bawdy song as they carried a side of beef to the galley. Then he gazed at the pennant and the Spanish flag popping from the top of the mainmast, smiling at the sight of the familiar yellow and red banner. His scrutiny returned to the dolphins at the bow, their enjoyment of the occasion contagious. In and out they swam, like underwater birds, taking turns at the front of the pod. No, they are more graceful than any bird, he thought, still fascinated.
Diego saw Carlos emerge from the great cabin area and look around. His roommate began walking the length of the quarterdeck, presumably making a leisurely and discreet search for him. Diego thought it a fine joke that he was in the one place where no one would think of looking for him. But when Carlos became more and more frantic, tapping sailors on the shoulders and inquiring as to his whereabouts, Diego thought it was time to end the joke. “Carlos! I am above you!” he called, wrapping his feet around the longest main mast rope and grasping it tightly with his right hand. Eyes wide with shock, the Filipino gaped up at him as did the sailors and the first mate who were on deck. Then he stepped off the watch’s deck, swinging outward and down.