“Never fall in love with a sailor,” she was told again and again, because his life is governed by the sea and not by the laws of man. Over and over she was told of the many widows of sailors. Some of their husbands had been lost at sea. Some had been shipwrecked and drowned. Still others found foreign ports more inviting, and their wives were as good as widowed. No, never fall in love with a sailor.
But she did. She found a handsome young man, a young sailor who visited her port often enough. She was warned against him, but she did not heed the warning. He was warned, too, not to lose his heart to a woman of the land because then she would take him from the sea. But young love is the strongest love, and who’s to say if it’s right or wrong in the end? So they fell madly in love. He brought her small gifts from other ports. She brought him news of the land. Whenever he got shore leave, they were inseparable. If only life could continue exactly as it is when it reaches that pinnacle, that one day, of perfection. But that is not what life does.
So they made plans for marriage, and he would leave the sea. They would have a home together and children and eventually grandchildren. He would find a new profession and he would do his best to love and serve her all his life. She would make their house into a home and bear children and ease his loneliness. It’s what all relationships eventually come to: They are either cemented or released. The day of perfection cannot last forever, after all.
“I will go abroad one more time,” he told her, “and I will work hard and bring you back rubies and gems and enough for us to make our start. I can do this. I know a way. There is much treasure to be found in the world.” She did not want rubies or gems or any kind of money. She just wanted him, but she wanted him to be happy, too. He told her he couldn’t be happy unless he knew he was secure and could provide for her. He wanted her to live like a queen. So she reluctantly let him go and waited for his return.
She waited many days down by the ocean for him to return. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, and still her sailor had not returned. She did not lose faith, however, and she continued to wait. Perhaps he had found the rubies after all and was bringing them back in a ship of his own making. So she waited and waited, and the months turned into years.
Many things happened in the lives of those around her. Most of her friends got married. Some moved away or enlisted in foreign wars or went off on their own treasure hunts. A terrible illness crept through the port one year, and both of her parents died. New town mayors came and went, and new children were born and grew. She worked at various jobs, sometimes as a waitress, sometimes as a teacher, always with her eye to the sea, waiting for her lover’s return.
Time went on and on, as it has a habit of doing, and one day she was very old. Still, she went down to the port every night and looked out expectantly into the ocean. He had been delayed so very long. One night a young girl came and stood beside her. They were quiet for a while, but eventually the young girl began to talk. She told the old woman of a young sailor she had met and how handsome he was and how she wanted to marry him, but everyone was warning her against him. But what did they know? They didn’t understand at all, she explained to the old woman.
The old woman just smiled a very sad and faraway smile. The young girl told the old woman that she had seen her down at the port all the time in the evenings, and she asked why she came every night. The old woman regarded the young girl with wise, old eyes and said, “I come every night for my rubies.” She pointed out to the clouds made red by the setting sun and explained that they looked like rubies to her. The young girl smiled and remarked at the blood-red beauty of the sky, and she told the old woman that rubies were her favorite gem and that someday she planned on having many and hoped her young sailor would bring them to her.
“But rubies are found in the earth, my dear, not in the sea,” the old woman said. “Turn your eyes to the land. The land is where you’ll find your treasure, safe and secure. Any treasure that goes out to sea will become lost at sea because the sea is always hungry for life.”
“But what about the adventure, the excitement, the glory of sea travel and a handsome young sailor?” the young girl asked.
“What about an old woman, tired and sad, who waits at the shore--her only rubies the red clouds from the setting sun, and a life lost in waiting?” the old woman responded.
The young girl looked at the old woman in a strange way, nodded politely, said goodbye and left. The old woman watched her and wondered what she might do with the advice she was given. Then she turned back to her rubies.