Ballad of the Vagabond

A foreign wind from over the dry hills and dunes swept across the Mediterranean beach, creating a small whirlwind of sand. The sun rested in the clear sky and was captured within shattered reflections amid the ripples in the ocean, like a sea of emeralds with molten cores. The gems heaved forward in droves and either shattered into mist as they collided with the jagged reef and scattered fragments of a wooden raft with a Portuguese stamp, or ascended the shore until exhaustion overtook them and they returned home. Crabs of red and blue were in sparse clusters, scavenging the old turtle nests. Above the sandy beach and water were birds that spoke to one another in a language long forgotten by the beach, weaving between the palm trees, uniform in height and foliage. Oleander shrubs and tails of lavender cotton shuffled to avoid the peeling leather boots, tightly attached to their legs with a plethora of straps, strings, and buckles. The sand hugged the first step of the wanderer with a warm and quiet embrace as he entered the beach. The forest was behind him. He looked towards the sun to the east, the golden orb’s beckon capturing him in a trance.


He had wanted to travel since he was a boy. When his mother, Celia, held his hand at the market, he was often caught staring at the sun, a wide smile stretched across his face. The streets of Portugal were hyperactive in the clamor of commerce, the spirit of adventure and conquest salient throughout the kingdom. His father, Sebastian, was a Spanish sailor who met Celia during a voyage to Portugal. The boy enjoyed happy days with his parents, smiling over bowls of soup as Sebastian told stories of the seas and beyond. When Sebastian had departed for an expedition and been absent for over two years, he and Celia agreed his father would not return. He sought to provide for his mother in any way he could. Within a year, he was a respected worker, having worked under a local carpenter and blacksmith. Though his crafts were appreciated both socially and financially, it was widely known that he had a desire for adventure.

The sky was clear the day his mother died of sickness, his long unkempt black hair a stark contrast against the blue canvas sky in the sea’s reflection. Standing at the wooden pier as the salty air came to a standstill, he looked towards a merchant ship nearby. Its hull was clean, having been cleared of barnacles and rot from the salty sea. He stowed himself aboard and never looked back, taking with him only his father’s carving knife and the clothes he was wearing.

The ship took him to see many places and meet many people. His ability to learn and master new trades became unparalleled. Before long, he had traveled to much of the seas and acquired possessions that became well-known themselves. He earned a pair of boots in Florence by helping a wealthy family attend to their vineyard. They seemed to have an odd enchantment upon them, as they lasted many years longer than leather boots ought to have at sea. He wore a Pileus hat he had won in a wager in Greece. He eventually came into possession of his own ship. He nailed a crude wooden carving of the sun into the center of the ship’s wheel.


Beaches were a common sight to him, from the mango trees and the sand to the squawking of the beach birds, but never had he seen a beach such as this. In the four days he had been trapped on this island, he had not anticipated discovering such a place. The delicate pinks of the oleander and the harsh yellow of the lavender cotton provided a forbidden tandem of strangeness that marked the borders of the beach. The entire line between the beach and the forest was a band of two vibrant colors that could undoubtedly be seen from a distance in the water. The palm trees were stern and healthy; the coconuts clad in their husks of green as they celebrated their own ripeness in clamoring bunches. He looked across this paradise to the lively waters. The dangers of the reef’s jagged teeth could be seen from where he stood. He remembered a night where the winds whipped violently and the sea churned and his ship crashed into a giant jagged maw.

A bird landed near him, meeting him with a squawk and stare. It was a small round gull with white feathers and gray wings. Its slim, dark beak opened to repeat the questioning squawk.

“I’m stranded on your beach,” he said, “a beautiful beach, but stranded nonetheless. If I could fly like you, I would follow the winds until I returned here. But it is not so.”

The wind blew again and the palm trees swayed. His white hat was blown off, the sunlight searing his naked eyes and forehead. He chased his hat as it scampered across the sand, until it landed upside down.

“Cursed hat,” he said, grunting.

In his pursuit, his body began to pulsate with heat, his own heart clanging against the stone wall of his chest cavity in a rhythm that rushed his breath. Beads of thick sweat trickled from the roots of his black locks down into his thick beard, gathering at his chin and then venturing down his neck and into the collar of his tarnished white shirt, which was now stained. He lifted the upside-down hat from the sandy knoll, his hair falling past his face, the delicate shadows along his arms revealing the subtle but firm muscle and veins. He stood tall and replaced his headwear, glancing at the sea as he sighed in relief of the shade his hat provided. Far to the south, he could see a storm approaching. His face tightened as he examined the horizon before resting his gaze finally upon the perilous reef.

“That reef’s a problem.” he said to himself as he had become accustomed to, “Best I finish my raft today while I still have the sun.”

He followed his own footsteps back towards the forest, through the pink and yellow plants and just over the next grassy hill, to where his mostly-built raft and his axe lay. The axe was the only tool he had recovered from his shipwreck. It had a pale wooden handle and a balanced iron head that was rusted from the saltwater. It was one of his prized possessions because he made it himself. With the axe in one hand and the raft harness in the other, he dragged the progress of his vessel into the sea near the beach. He would be able to depart immediately following his raft’s completion. From there, he ventured once more into the forest with his favorite tool to find wood for his raft.

The forest itself lacked the spectacle of the beach, the brown soil of its floor occupied by squirming insects and brush that ignored the wanderer’s footsteps. The treetops consisted of a uniform green interrupted only by the scattered punctuation of brown coconuts. All the trees in the forest were of similar height and thickness, proving helpful to the construction of his raft. Much of the day would be spent finishing the raft and making his paddle.

He stared again at the flower-barrier, picked up his axe, and walked towards the nearest tree. His steps became heavier and unwilling, his boots dragging through the sand.

“If I were a tree, I could stand and sway in the sun all day,” he said, “but it is not so.”

A few hours later the raft was complete. The paddle was thicker than he preferred, but sufficient. He looked back at the beach, his stomach and heart in a synchronized flutter. This beach was a home to so many things. The friendly birds had kept him company, the plentiful coconuts filled his belly, and the sand served as a hospitable blanket to lay on and listen to the soothing melody of the wind against the shrubs. This could be his home. For eternity, he could stay and enjoy this paradise.

“No,” he said to himself.

The storm had crept slightly along the horizon, the day now in flight.

He inspected the raft one final time. It was a wide log bundle tied together by vines. Erected from its base was a Mast taller than he. He attached a scrap of sail he had salvaged from his ship’s wreckage before. Every edge of the raft had a raised lip. This would help him climb aboard the raft, as well as keep him from rolling off if he slept at sea. The design also helped to keep coconuts on the raft.

It was time for him to begin his next voyage and set sail. He began the careful navigation of the reed, pushing the raft forward. It was as if the logs remembered their home and longed to stay, as the raft felt heavier than before. He waded cautiously to avoid the dagger-like stones and shells, then leapt aboard his raft. The rushed carving of the paddle was rough, but he held it firmly with his calloused hands, propelling towards the horizon. As he rowed forward, he saw a black shape floating in the water nearby. He laughed aloud and steered towards the shape. It was a board from his old ship, drifting in the sea. Atop it was his black coat. He lifted it and checked its pockets. There was his compass, each of its eight directions decorated with a golden design. He pocketed his compass and opened the sail, which caught the wind. The raft’s speed increased. A wide grin consumed his face through his black beard. He would follow the winds eastward, leaving behind the storm and the beach.

The sea churned harshly, the waves growing large and violent. His raft was well-made but also small and thus thrown about slightly. He looked from the sun, which was beginning to dip into the horizon, towards the beach. The colorful boundary of the beach had dimmed significantly since the sun began to set, and now he could only see the pale sand and the ridged trunks of distant trees.

“I am sorry,” he said to the beach, “I must go. If I was a grain of sand, I would forever remain across your dunes and hills. But it is not so! I am Lorenzo Marques, and I must chase the sun!”

With a deep chuckle, he waved farewell to the shore for the last time, and tossed his hat into the waters. The ocean suddenly calmed and a wooden panel with a crude carving of the sun floated past him as he began to paddle again. He thought of Celia and Sebastian. They were somewhere past the horizon. He smiled. Lorenzo stood as a topaz in the sea of emeralds, his core a deeper gold that outshined even the sun’s resemblance in the waters. He was himself a mirror, a single being manifested as an aspect of the eternal, even if just for a moment.


Barry Smith Jr. is a mechanical engineer residing in Charlotte, North Carolina. He studied English and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. When he isn’t building a machine, or hovering over his computer, he spends his time hiking along mountain trails. He is currently working on a novel.