Martinez The Pescado
Carlos had not always been a star; in fact he had not always had legs. Barcelona FC, that was his dream, it was the role every boy in his village dreamed of: playing football for what they believed was the greatest team in the world. Yet Carlos was chair-bound until the age of seventeen. The other village boys would often mock him, calling him ‘el pescado’ meaning ‘the fish.' Carlos had gained this name for two reasons. Firstly, because he was not able to walk and if he fell from his pitiable wheelchair, he would panic and therefore writhe and squirm on the floor, like a fish does whilst fecklessly attempting to return to the water. The second reason for this name was due to the smell Carlos emitted. Often Carlos would smell of fish, the sea and the salt regularly dried into his clothes. His father was a fisherman, searching for Marlin or dolphin in the gulf. He would leave his gaff and hook and overcoat, amongst other items of his occupation, in Carlos’ bedroom. This was because there was not enough space in the terracotta house for his father to leave his things elsewhere.
One afternoon, Carlos’ father returned from a two-day excursion where he had not managed to catch anything. The sea had been most unkind, he explained. The marlins were too tired he said, and the heat had been unbearable. The sharks however were hungry, and he had managed to get one into the boat using two gaffs. Carlos followed his father out to the boat where the shark laid, its dark eyes like chunks of coal sunken in its skin. It was when Carlos’ father gutted the monster that they discovered it had failed to devour a human, and recently. Amongst half an oxygen tank, the legs and groin of a diver fell from the opening in the shark; these would soon become the legs Carlos Martinez would be world renowned for.
The doctor had refused at first, it was an outlandish procedure for him to perform, let alone for Carlos to desire. However, ego is a great thing. Understanding he would be recognised globally as a surgical genius, the doctor eventually agreed. He performed the procedure in the hope that he would be granted fame. Should it work, he would be the man who gave the gift of walking.
Carlos took only weeks to stand from his wheelchair, and after that only another few months before he was running and jumping like the other boys in the village. At first he joined in playing football, where he began in the goal. But before long, with his tough diver’s legs, a different shade to his caramel complexion, Carlos was playing outfield. He was dribbling past the other players with great skill. From el pescado, Carlos became, ‘Tiburón Blanco’—‘White Shark.' The other boys were jealous. They were furious the same boy who had once flopped around the floor, as helpless as the fish they had named him, was now beating them at the game they had excluded him from for many years.
That was how Carlos came to play in the towns. He had to travel to play football. The boys in the village would refuse to play with him because they could no longer beat him. One afternoon during practice, Carlos was asked to talk to a man in a suit. The gentleman was impressed with the level of talent that Carlos displayed, and even by the discoloration of the boy’s legs.
Within a matter of days Carlos had packed his bags for Europe; he was to play in Spain. His family however, was left behind with the promise of financial security. Only two years after his arrival in Spain, he transferred to Barcelona. The team he had idolized his entire life, watching them from a communal village television, in the familiar seat of his wheelchair.
His legs made him a star; Carlos became a legend in Barcelona. ‘Magia Martinez’ the crowd chanted, and he was, ‘Magic Martinez’. He signed shirts, appeared in adverts, and his family wrote to him of how they’d watch him on the communal television. Even the other boys he’d once played with would finally chant ‘Magia Martinez’. His father, still a fisherman, would stand and smile, smoking a cigarette and remembering the boy he had wheeled around, the boy he’d taught to fish, the boy who was now a man.
Carlos found himself a wife. His life had been transformed. From being the boy who could only watch and shuffle on the floor, he was a man now, and his wife, a beautiful actress, shared his majestic home where not a single room smelt of fish or salt, and not a commonplace work tool, hook or gaff would ever be found.
But the diver legs that Carlos had received a few years prior did not last forever. There were complications, the bones became brittle, the muscles torn and stretched. Despite the physiotherapists, the doctors, the lawyers, the surgeons, not a single person could abate the issue. The very doctor who had performed the surgery was gone, vanished as a magician or swindler does. It was not long before Carlos ended his career. His legs had failed and, finally, they were amputated. Carlos returned to a wheelchair, and no matter how comfortable his fortunes made him, everything he had built as the ‘Shark’ or ‘Magic Martinez’, failed. Like those legs that were never really his, but borrowed, his wife left, his house was sold, and his fortunes paid for little.
Carlos found himself back in Mexico almost a year after the amputation. The boys no longer called him el pescado. Nearly all of them had moved out from the village, but Carlos was back, unable to function on his own. Instead, Carlos sat on his father’s boat, with the gaffs and the rods in front of him, the smell of the salt and the breeze of cool air in his face. Next to him, his father sat there waiting, smiling as he looked upon his son. Carlos Martinez waited too, looking out at the sea, the waves glistening under the hopeful sun, and he waited for el tiburón blanco.