Our thanks to Sudhir Borgonha for letting us use this story from the Duckbill Workshop in Bangalore for the blog.
In 1492, which was a long time ago, longer ago than when Grandpa was born, there were two boys, Diego and Fernando playing ball on the wooden deck of a ship called the Santa Maria. The ship had set sail from Spain many weeks ago. Christopher, their father, watched them and said ‘Careful, we’re hitting rough seas.’
Just then a large wave smacked the side of the ship and Diego stumbled, missing the ball.
‘Below deck, now,’ said Christopher and the boys retreated. It had been seven weeks on the seas, most of it rainy and downcast. Only the last few days had been sunny and the boys were happy to be on deck, where they could run around a bit, help the crew mending the sails and sometimes catch fish.
As Diego moved towards the hatch that would take them below deck, he turned around and tossed the ball to Fernando. ‘Catch,’ he said but Fernando was stumbling around on deck, the waves having gotten a little bigger. Fernando missed the ball that his brother had thrown and it went sailing overboard, bobbing on the waves. That was the only ball the boys had and their faces fell. Christopher, seeing the boys glum and realizing many more weeks of the journey lay ahead, commanded his first shipman.
‘Amerigio Vespucci, I want that ball back.’
‘The boys need the ball. I want you to go and get it.’
‘In this weather?’
‘Yes. Use one of the small boats,’ said the captain.
‘Alright,’ said the first shipman, upset for having to go out in the rough seas. He had been looking forward to his dinner but now he had to do what the captain commanded.
A red boat was lowered and four sailors got into it, paddling furiously towards the bobbing away ball. It seemed the harder they paddled, the further the ball seemed to bob away. For a short while, the red boat could not be seen from the ship and the captain, like the rest of the crew was worried.
After what seemed like a really, really long time, Amerigio Vespucci returned, all four sailors safe and the ball held to Amerigio’s chest. Diego and Fernando saw them through the porthole and clapped. ‘Silly you,’ said Fernando, punching his brother on the shoulder, ‘Who throws a ball like that on deck?’
‘Silly you,’ responded Diego, punching him back. ‘If only you would learn how to catch a ball.’ They were both happy that the ball and the sailors had returned safely. They also knew they had to thank their father for taking the trouble.
Amerigio Vespucci boarded the ship slowly. He was tired and he was now really looking forward to his dinner. When he came face to face with Christopher, pointing East, he said, ‘I think there is land there.’
That a-ways. Eastwards ho. When we went after the ball, we saw cut coconut husks floating around, burnt wood pieces and even some feathers. People on land must have done that.’
‘Must be Asia,’ said Christopher.
‘Could be something new,’ said Amerigio.
The captain boarded the stern of the ship and using his telescope, scanned the horizon. He then yelled down at the mate. ‘Heave ho! We make landfall tonight.’
The chatter went through the decks and the foghorn blared: ‘Captain Christopher Columbus says we hit new land tonight’