N eemias steps gingerly into the fishing boat. It is wide and flat and it tips as his foot touches the bottom. For a moment, he thinks he is going to push all of them into the water. His arms flail. He flings them forward and his weight backward, and all of a sudden, Boy is there beside him. Two small hands steady him, two blue eyes look into his, calmly. Behind him, Captain gives a bellicose laugh. Neemias sits down on the wooden bench and looks up, cheeks flushed.

Captain reaches over and squeezes his shoulder. “We all laugh at each other,” he says, “pay no heed to it. It is just our way.”

The first day, they do no fishing. They simply sail down the River Seine, out of Paris, through the French countryside. As they leave the city, the water grows clearer and flows quicker. Captain throws back his shoulders and a change comes over his face: The lines on his forehead smoothen and he begins to whistle some seafaring tune. Boy pulls hard on the oars, so they speed quickly down the belt of water. By evening, they can sniff the briny smell of sea on the breeze and hear the harsh caw of gulls.

The second day, as they head into the open ocean, they begin to fish.

He had not realized that the water is viscous and the rope is heavy with slime and barnacles, and that it is hard to get a grip on the net. He had not realized that a catch of fish can be so heavy, and that hauling it out the water, while the small boat rocks back and forth, is a learned skill. “Delicate, like,” Captain tells him. “You need to get the fish out, but keep the balance of the boat.” Mending a net, Boy looks on.

It is no easy matter. Twice he pulls slowly, slowly, only to give a large yank when the net rises further to the surface, so as to get it into the boat. Once, the boat almost capsizes and throws them all into the sea.

Each day as they sail into the ocean, they keep land in sight. Captain always has one eye on the sun, another on the horizon, and somehow, as if he has a third eye, he’s always checking the shoreline, steering the boat parallel to land.

When the sun has crested, they return to shore and drop anchor, then head for the nearest market. Most days, the women flock to them like birds, beady eyes surveying the catch. They ask for mackerel and bream; arms strong as thighs reach into the baskets. Coins clinks into Captain’s pocket. When, chattering and cheeping, the knot of women drifts away, they survey what is left. And then comes Neemias’ favorite time of the day: They find a place near the harbor, build a campfire, and out comes the frying pan. Somewhere, at some place along the way, they will have gotten crusty bread from the baker, and a pat of butter from a kind housewife.

They sit around the flickering flames, and they eat what remains of the day’s catch, sprinkled with salt and sometimes a little vinegar. When their bellies are full, they eat some more, and Captain starts with his tales from the ocean. Neemias and Boy listen, until Boy takes a little wooden whistle from his pocket and they begin to sing.

Neemias does not know the words, but he is learning to pucker his lips and whistle along, to tunes so wild and lonely that they are like the very waves. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 561)