By Stephen O’Connor
It’s 1492. Christopher Columbus is leaning on the taffrail of the Santa Maria, writing in his log. He raises his head, brows knit, looking toward the horizon as he polishes the lens of his telescope with a lace handkerchief. Finally, he tucks the handkerchief into a sleeve and raises it to his right eye. As he scans the barren sea, Martín Alonso Pinzón, his first mate, approaches.
MAP: The men are getting restless. It’s been two months. What if we sail off the edge of the world some night…right down to Hades?
CC: Well, then we’ll all be dead and there’s an end to it. (He laughs). Oh, stop it Pinzón. Won’t be long now. (He lowers the telescope) Seabirds.
MAP: You see birds?
CC: Seabirds! (He hands him the telescope). Two points Southwest off the starboard bow. That lazy ass in the crow’s nest hasn’t even spotted them.
MAP: (Pinzón looks through the telescope). By God, so there are! Thank the Virgin we’re near land! What if it’s not India? What if it’s some unknown island? You can claim it for Spain! Think how pleased Ferdinand will be!
CC: Really, Pinzón, you amaze me! The idea that I can just go stick a flag in the ground and claim the land for Spain! Inequitable! Barbaric!
MAP: But the Moors claimed our land for seven hundred years! And took everything but Asturias! We just got it back! Everyone takes everyone else’s land! Especially those English dogs! So, you arrive in this place and if they don’t have matchlock muskets and hand cannons, we claim the land! That’s common sense! In the name of the King!
CC: King indeed! They put a gold circle on his head and his ass on a purple pillow, and he’s better than anyone else? Is that what you think?
MAP: Cristobol! That’s heresy! The King rules by Divine Right of God!
CC: Don’t make me laugh! Divine right. You’d have to be daft to believe in that nonsense.
MAP: Cristóbal! I thought you were a good King-fearing fifteenth century man! You’re frightening me. You’re going to need God on your side. What if we have to deal with savages in this new world?
CC: First of all, we’re the savages. Senseless wars and short, miserable lives for the working classes. Europe is a mess! I’m hoping they can teach us how to be better people!
MAP: But they may be pagans! We’d be doing them a favor bringing them Christianity!
CC: That’s all you know! Christianity is just a social construct invented to keep the ignorant masses in line!
MAP: By the Santisima Virgin, I hope the men don’t hear you talking like this. They’ll run you through and toss you to the sharks. There can be no luck on a ship where the captain is a damned atheist!
CC: Sailors are so superstitious. It’s sickening. Bad enough the Spaniards had to put big crosses on my sails. Just tell the whole world—Here come the Christians! Anyway, the men will be thinking more clearly once I switch them to a plant-based diet, and get these cages full of hogs and chickens off my deck. Disgusting.
MAP: Plant-based . . . what?
(A cry from aloft). LAND HO!
The men begin to run about the deck and peer over the rail, cheering and blessing themselves.
MAP: (looking westward with eyes glistening) I wonder if the women there are good-lookin’.
CC: Pig! Stop it. I’ll have you clapped in irons in the cockroach-crawling hold of the Pinta if I hear that sort of insinuation again.
MAP: Well, then, I hope the natives have gold! We can return rich men, and I’ll never board a rat-infested ship with a lot of stinking sailors again!
CC: I hope you’re not thinking that we are going to enrich ourselves at the cost of the native inhabitants! Steal their gold and resources and that sort of thing! The means of production and the profit of those means belong to the people. Nor will I attempt to impose our religion on them. There are many different ways of interpreting the divine, and I’m sure that their way is just as good as ours. I would not invalidate them as a group by questioning their religious values or their social mores.
MAP: Keep that talk down, Cristobol, please! Why did we risk our lives and leave our families to sail into unknown perils and dangerous storms?
CC: Why, to expand our human understanding and to appreciate other peoples. Listen to this little poem I began to write in my log. (Opens log). You may say I’m a dreamer, and yes, I’m the only one. I hope someday, you’ll join me… and there will be two of us.
MAP: Two of us, yes. It’s been a stressful voyage, Cristobal . . . and, well, please don’t have me flogged for this captain, but it appears you’ve gone completely mad!
CC: Flogging is an antiquated punishment; a study at the University of Barcelona reported that it’s ineffective. I may send you to your hammock, where you can swing for a while and consider your own lack of social awareness! I have not gone mad. I simply woke this morning and began to think. How would I like to be remembered?
MAP: As an intrepid explorer who expanded both the Imperio Español and the one true Catholic religion?
CC: Hell no. Who cares about that? As a good person, Pinzón, a good person. A kind of community activist, but on a global scale.
MAP: Global? I have no idea what global means. And what’s an activist?
CC: Never mind. I think it’s time I addressed the men.
MAP: No! Please! Don’t! Not until you’ve got out of the sun and had a lie-down!
CC: Men! Gather ‘round now! The ship’s intercom is on the blink! I must set out our goals now that we have found land! (The camera pulls back as Columbus speaks-we hear murmurs from the men that turn into shouts and finally, Columbus is tossed overboard screaming).
MAP: (Final close-up of Pinzón). I don’t know what happened to the captain! He just started with the wild talk! There must have been some terrible imbalance of his humors! Or probably he slept where the moonbeams hit his head. He might have been all right if we could have bled him and given him some St. Paul’s potion. My doctor, (who is also my barber), says the fat of a bear is an excellent cure for madness, but where could I find a bear on short notice? Oh well, I tried to warn him. It’s a shame, really. He wasn’t a bad guy for an Italian.