Later that day, I made my way eastward along the shore, a growing unease about the waves had me gingerly walking along the shoreline. The beach got steadily rougher the further east I went; while still passing throngs of tanning locals and vacationers; small scouts of beginner surfing groups; the lone reader enjoying a book; the beach became more wooded and harder to walk. As I reached the edge of the proper beach, an outstretched thorny tree overtook the sand, smothering any walk-able sand, forcing anyone who wanted to continue on back slightly into the water.
I made my way onward, balancing myself between the sharp branches and the ocean; the waves now rapidly running onto the shore, waist-high. Since I can’t swim, I focused with each step, one eye warily watching the water. Underwater, unseen branches from the tree swam and turtle-snapped around my legs and one of the branches scraped my foot.
When I finally crossed to the other side, I sat on the beach and raised my right foot: two razor-thin trails zagged across the crown of my foot, the blood already rising up.
But I’d made it to the other side nonetheless, and spent a few minutes sitting on the hot sand, splashing water onto my foot as I took pictures of docked boats. One had just unloaded a group of German men fresh from surfing onto the shore, and we all nodded and greeted each other. We spent 2-3 minutes trying to talk before they laughingly walked off, disappearing into the water around the bend that I came from.
I followed not far behind, the waves now an angry froth. As I waded back across, I avoided the thorny branches this time, drifting further out into the ocean a bit more, my phone raised high over my head to stay dry. I must’ve looked like a beach-head infantry troop, raising my vacation artillery as I crossed enemy territory. Once I slipped too far into a rivet in the sand and the water rushed up shoulder-high to greet me, making me momentarily terrified as my body immediately seized up out of fear. Backtracking a few yards, I climbed an embankment and crossed through a thorny patch of branches on the shore to cross to the other side. Forty yards from our resting spot, a throng of people gathered.
The first thing I saw were the feet. Jeweled with sand, long as boat shoes. The middle toenail on his right foot was so long it curled over the end of the toe like a dragon’s claw. His feet were wide apart, splayed in the uber-relaxed way everyone slept on the beach. No worries. But his feet jolted and skipped as two men and woman bent close to him, pumping his chest.
The woman, young and lean in a black two-piece bathing suit, puffed and pushed air into his mouth, vice-gripping his open mouth with hers. One man fastened the old man’s head in place with his hands as she did this while the other man violently pressed the old man’s chest. I watched his belly, which looked comically raised and bloated, billow to unbelievable proportions.
All around me, about 15 locals and visitors watched, some murmuring and genuflecting in Spanish, kissing and crossing themselves in an almost OCD-like fashion while others stared at the desperate scene with hands clasped over their mouths. Everyone was either sweaty with sun, caked with sand or christened with ocean water. An old man, local, leaned his grizzled face close to the feet and turned to everyone nearby and said, mockingly, over and over again, finite, finite, dead, dead-o, giving every odd variation on death to make sure everyone understood.
People yelled advice, distress, for help. It was dizzying and hypnotic; I turned and looked at the waves several times, watching them endlessly churn. A lifeguard violently pushed past me and raced back into the water without even removing his sunglasses.
More minutes passed as we all watched. By then, the young woman was dry-heaving from exhaustion, turning to the side more than once to retch into the sand. Her face was increasingly smeared with the dark sand from wiping her mouth.
The man lay as lifeless as before; nothing stirred. The bulbous gold ring on his right hand steadily glinted in the sun like a small flame. During the moments they pulled away from him to converse or recuperate, his mouth hung open like a hammock, and inside I could see his brown, crooked teeth. He’d only had a few. His gray-white hair was wiry and shocked. His swim trunks, I finally saw, weren’t even trunks; he’d worn shorts into the water, black and frayed at the bottom.
When I got there, they were matted and wet against his freshly-drawn ocean body. By now they were stone-stiff. I watched a man kneel in the sand between his legs and slide his hand up the right pant leg, touching him somewhere dark to see if he could get a reaction at all. Eventually a lot of the onlookers lost interest and hope, most of them returning to their beach spot shaking their heads. A few of them slid into the water, slipping and in out of the wild, wild waves.
As the remainder of us waited around, an older man—white, pot-bellied with red, sunken eyes like he’d been drinking heavily—was handed a single hotel key fastened to a green keychain by one of the rescuers. I overheard the man, American, say that he’d only met the drowned man earlier in the week; they were both traveling alone and had befriended each other. He didn’t even know what the drowned man’s hotel was; didn’t even recall his name for sure.
He passed his hands roughly over his face over and over again. When the ambulance pulled onto the beach and they loaded the body onto an orange board, he was lightly cajoled to load into the back of the ambulance too, asked to accompany a dead man he’d only met on vacation, the green hotel keychain dangling loosely from his hand.
I tried to sleep, read or even watch for the golden man when I returned to our lounging spot, but the recounting of the story, the splayed fleet, the golden ring, the restless waves, and the green keychain dangling the sad, red-eyed old man spun in my head. I wriggled around on my cheap beach towel.
As the day deepened, the tide resumed its routine of climbing deep onto the shore, reaching us and our things, staining everything. We left midday, having a quiet Italian dinner that night at a restaurant near our hotel.
The next morning, Prince died.