Mustards: A Summer Song by Keith A. Raymond, MD

Coffee, Ajaccio Corsica, a summer morning, light streaming from behind Gautier on turquoise water pointing him toward the sea. The dive skin clung to his body, sculpting his muscles so much that the barista could not fail to notice. He sighed, checked his dive computer. Finished the ristretto quickly, rose and raced for the boat.

Tied to the pier, a thirty-meter fishing boat with a dive flag. Not what he expected, it was usually a crowded rubber dinghy. Gautier looked for something smaller, but then Jennifer, the dive master, waved to him from the stern deck. He could drown in her eyes.

Gautier was one of the last to arrive. Still, there were only fifteen in the group. Not a six-pack, but certainly too small to justify this ocean-going vessel. Jennifer drew everyone’s attention to the chalkboard on the wall where the dive site had been scrawled. She walked them through the sub-sea terrain as lines were cast off and the ship made headway.

When Jennifer finished, Gautier turned and checked his gear. He watched her pull on her wetsuit, then self-conscious, began to don his own neoprene. Gautier was an expert scuba diver, but only a novice journalist. He was stuck doing farm reports for a local newspaper but was also lucky enough to live in Arles.

Despite being on vacation, he was looking for a story to launch his career. For now, Gautier was eager to dive the wreck off L’isles Sanguinares. In no time at all, they were twenty meters down, he following Jennifer more to watch her behind than for any other reason. She pointed out a rare sea turtle swimming along the coral encrusted steel hull, looking back at him. He smiled and gave her a thumbs up. They were on their own as the others had peeled off to explore on their own different parts of the wreck.

Suddenly there was a buzzing in his ears, his head stuck in a beehive. He looked up at the surface where a number of zodiacs were converging on their dive boat. Gautier looked at Jennifer concerned, but she gave the ‘okay’ sign. So they turned on their torches and entered the wreck. Redfish swam upside down on the ceiling and moray eels peaked out of rusty holes.

Jennifer checked her watch and pointed upward signaling dive’s end. Gautier had so much fun, it felt like it was over almost before it began. As they did their slow ascent, he noticed the zodiacs were gone. He didn’t know what to expect when he was up top, but the stern deck was empty as before.

Meanwhile, Sadica and fifty others huddled in the hold of the boat, as she watched the hatch above her drop into place. The fresh air and daylight extinguished in the twilight, the boat reeked of fish and anxious sweat. Surrounded by Mohammeds, Ibrahims, and Fadumas, Sadica was the lone Christian among the Muslim refugees from Somalia.

Unlike cats, their eyes did not glow in the dark. They had chosen this route, instead of going by land through Croatia, or by sea to Italy, hoping for a better chance in Europe. This route required a premium tariff, but she had a job waiting for her in Dijon.

The French, like Gautier, avoided the factory work that mustard production demanded. The owners were eager to fill the slots with cheap labor. It was a win/win. Sadica mourned her wasted skills as a nurse to make mustard.

He shifted his regulator and BCD to a full tank for the second dive. He watched Jennifer, while she tried not to watch him. Gautier had that happy relaxed feeling that comes from nitrogen loading in cold water.

As he was trying to figure out how to ask her out Jennifer turned to the chalkboard, drawing the new dive site. Below, Sadica chewed her lip nervously.

The second dive was majestic as sunlight filtered through slits in the coral, sparkling light rays spraying the grotto in mystery. Reflections danced over the orange sponges where purple nudibranchs struggled to hang on, their yellow combs waving in the current. This time Jennifer grabbed Gautier’s wrist and pulled him to where an octopus built a nest. She tickled its tentacles, and they shared the moment.

The heat inside the hold grew as sunshine burned on the deck. The men elbowed the women grabbing space, forcing them to huddle. This was a steel sauna, one woman passed out and collapsed, while Sadica was sweating and nauseous.

Hours later, Gautier sat with Jennifer at lunch on a terrace overlooking the port. The meal was superb. The glass of Montrachet even better. Jennifer knew the maitre d’ and the wine was free, left by a Sheik the night before trying to impress a diplomat.

Jennifer sipped pensively when a load of refugees walked down the pier from the dive boat caught Gautier’s eye.

“Mustards,” gushed a fat Italian at another table, gold chains over tan skin, his shirt buttoned only to his navel.

“What?” Gautier asked Jennifer. She followed his gaze to the line of disheveled folk.

“Them,” she nodded, “An American contraction for ‘Muslim retards’. You know, mus-tards.”

“God, what a horrible thing to say,” he shook his head.

“They get carted to factories in Dijon, veritable slave labor. At least they work,” Jennifer finished.

Instantly, Jennifer’s politics interfered with her looks. Sadica looked up and caught Gautier’s eye. He dropped his napkin on his chair, and said, “Excusez-moi.”

He ran down the stairs to the street and caught up to Sadica, trudging with the rest. “Pardon me,” Gautier said in English, “I’m a journalist, I’d like to write your story.”

Sadica looked up at him with world-weary eyes. Suddenly Gautier was pulled backward by his silk shirt and thrown to the ground. Startled, a huge bald Serbian man glared down at him. “Back off!” he snarled. Gautier saw a Sig Sauer pistol tucked in his belt as the Serb lifted his shirt briefly.

Gautier watched them head for a van, and he took off for his car to give chase. Finally, a story worth writing.

Dr. Raymond is a Family and Emergency Physician that practiced in eight countries in four languages. Currently living in Austria with a wife and an old stray dog. When not volunteering his practice skills with refugees, he is writing or lecturing. He has multiple medical citations, and also published stories and poetry in Flash Fiction Magazine, The Grief Diaries, The Examined Life Journal, RumbleFish Press, and The Satirist.