Aboard the Santa Maria, October 1492
He isn’t the sexiest of men. In fact, he’s too short, has prematurely grey hair and stinks to high heaven. Well; they all do, the whole ship is a miasma of body odours strong enough to fell an ox should one have the temerity to venture below deck. I never do.
And yet, for his physical insignificance, the man beside me exudes so much energy it’s like standing beside a generator. I guess those burning eyes of his, combined with that dark, silky voice that hums with conviction had a lot to do with him getting the required funding. He scratches at his chest and stares off towards the west.
“Why?” I say.
“Huh?” He retakes his eyes from the empty horizon.
“Why are you doing this? What drives you?”
“Drives me?” Cristóbal (he prefers that version of his name) raises his brows.
“Oh, come off it. You’re risking your life, the lives of your men …”
“Shh! Stupid woman! I should have thrown you into the sea the moment I found you.”
“Whatever. So why?”
He looks away. “For God.”
My turn to raise my brows. Cristóbal is very devout – most men in the here and now are – but he’s also ambitious, greedy and the father of two young sons.
He sighs. “Not only for God, then. For me, to prove them wrong, all those pompous bastards who’ve laughed their heads off at my calculations. Tsss! To tell me – me! – I can’t calculate distances! To insinuate I am wrong, when I have spent years over my numbers, my maps.”
“Hmm,” I say. His calculations ARE wrong. Very wrong. He’ll never set foot in India.
“What? You think I’m wrong too? Do you?Then why are you here? Porqué?” He fists his hands and I move away. I don’t want him to pitch me overboard, not here.
He comes after, his eyes alight with passion and … fear, I decide. For a moment his face crumples, but there are too many people around us, far too many ears pitched in our direction for him to even breathe of second thoughts.
“Land,” he says, “you just wait, dimwitted woman that you are. In …” He stops, looks up at the skies and furrows his brows as if he were calculating some very complex numbers. ” … yes, in three weeks we’ll anchor off the coast.”
“Sure you will.” He’s wrong again. Today is the 3rd of October, and in nine days he’ll be the first European in five hundred years to set foot on the American continent. But why tell him that?