This is a response to a Flash Fiction prompt from ‘Putting My Feet In the Dirt’, Writing Prompts hosted by ‘M’. Which can be found by following the link below..
HE WAS A WHISTLING WONDER
by John Yeo
In July 2015, Margaret and I visited La Gomera, a small island in the Canary Islands. This tiny island is extremely mountainous with narrow winding roads leading from valley to valley. The journey from one small village to another could take hours along the narrow, winding roads.
In the days before mobile phones arrived, the quickest and most reliable form of communication between the rugged valleys would be a whistling language. This is a historical form of communication the early settlers developed, to pass messages from one high ravine to another. Sadly redundant, in these days of mobile phones, the authorities are trying to preserve this whistling language, through compulsory lessons at school
Pedro Hernandez was an expert whistler and managed to communicate with the surrounding villages by using this unique whistling language. This was similar to the famous jungle drumbeat form of communication, but this was developed by using the power of breath and the human lips and lungs. Given that whistles can travel much further than normal speech – as far as 8km (5 miles) in open conditions – they are most commonly found in the mountains, where they help shepherds and farmers to pass messages down the valleys.
One day a lorry had collided with a car and pushed the car off the road into a deep ravine.
Pedro raised the alarm by whistling the recognised SOS whistle. This was picked up by a farmer in the next valley and passed on to the nearest rescue centre and a rescue helicopter was soon on the way.
Pedro’s whistling abilities were in demand when he was recruited to pass them on to the children in the village schools.
It’s a sunny day in the popular seaside resort. Michael is constructing a garden shed for a customer of his DIY store, when his pager goes off. He scans the device briefly then turns and starts running. His colleagues are not surprised. They’re used to it. Within minutes he arrives at the local lifeboat station on the southeast coast. Soon he and the rest of the crew are at sea, powering towards the rocky cliffs, where two swimmers are trapped against the rocks by a heavy swell. It’s a tricky operation to steer the rigid inflatable boat close enough without it being smashed against the rocks. The team have to bring it in quickly then hover, balancing carefully at 90 degrees to the swell. The crew hoist one man out and manoeuvre the boat round for the other man before turning for home. With both men delivered safely to the emergency services, the lifeboat is rehoused, washed and prepared for the next incident. Within hours Michael is back at the store. This is just a solitary incident in the life of an unpaid ordinary member of the public who devote their time and efforts to saving lives at sea. Imagine for a moment that you’re part of the crew on a lifeboat. It’s 2.30am on a freezing January morning and the pager’s just woken you from a deep sleep in a snug warm bed. You then head out to sea in complete darkness and 10m waves rise and fall around you, ready to swamp you at any moment. Strong gale force winds throw the lifeboat around like a toy. Most lifeboat crew members are volunteers, ordinary people who simply and selflessly want to save lives at sea. When the pagers go off, they drop everything and are regularly called away from their families, their beds and their work, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A donation to to the RNLI, is always money well-spent, to enable this important rescue work to continue.
Pinto was a farmer, he grew fruit and vegetables in a fertile valley on the island of Vesta. Hidden among a group of larger islands in the Caribbean Sea, not many visitors arrived to break the monotony of the hard, day-to-day fight for survival. Steep rocky mountains engulfed the island, sheltering fertile valleys, where a hardy people who had lived and survived on the rocky, isolated, island, for centuries, scraped a living by exporting their produce to the mainland.
Communication between neighbouring valleys was almost impossible before the dawn of the electronic age; to drive on the steep, rough and ready roads, from one valley to another could take a whole day.
A whistling language developed over the years, from one valley to another, sharp, long and short, drawn-out whistles, would warn the people of danger or impending changes in the erratic winter weather conditions.
The council of the island decreed that all the island’s children must be taught to communicate by whistling to keep this valuable ancient form of communication going.
Pinto’s eldest son Paulo, resented this but reluctantly did as he was told and absorbed the skills.
Mr. Zen, the whistling schoolteacher would drum the calls of alarm into the children….
“Two long whistles and one short for an urgent request for help. One continuous long drawn out whistle for a helicopter rescue. Three short sharp whistles for a threatening stranger.”
One memorable day, Paulo was working hard in the rock-strewn fields, when he vaguely heard an unusual whistle message from the neighbouring valley. It took a while for the realization that someone was in trouble to sink in, and he was quickly on the radio to the authorities who dispatched two helicopters immediately.
“It looks like someone is lying prone at the bottom of that ravine there!” shouted the pilot to the two paramedics. “The police helicopter is landing on a flat space a mile away, leaving that flat area clear for us!” The helicopter landed to find a young girl in a state of shock, frantically whistling the well-taught distress call.
“Don’t move, just tell us what happened?” enquired one of the medics.
“I came here with my boyfriend, but he tried to rape me: When I resisted he pushed me off the rock above and I landed here. My leg hurts, and I think I have twisted my neck.” the distraught young girl blurted out.
“Lie still now, the police will catch up with him. I will have to take you to the hospital on the mainland, we will just lift you gently on to the stretcher and we will be off.”
The police were informed of the situation by radio, and the other helicopter arrested a suspect, who was later charged with assault.
Paulo was soon commended for his swift response to the distress whistle.
He related the whole thing to Pinto, his Dad, and they both agreed that the whistle code was a very valuable language to pass on, and keep alive.