A light in the black
The place: Comino, the smallest of Malta’s inhabited Islands. The time: 4:30am on a damp and dewy Sunday morning in August.
An early wake up for our yearly appointment with Mass in the tiny chapel at the mouth of Santa Marija Bay where Wied Imdied slopes gently into a smoothly shelving sandy beach.
My wife and I wake up at 4:30am and we quietly make our way down the deserted hotel corridors and staircase to start the brisk half hour walk from San Niklaw Bay to the next inlet along the coast. The air is still and heavy with dew. The stars of the summer constellations twinkle brightly as a faint indication of the forthcoming dawn starts to appear on the eastern horizon. Across the channel, the sleepy lights of Gozo seem so near and yet so far away. In spite of the short distances, the feeling of insularity on this tiny island is very strong.
We walk along the dusty path, the limestone gravel crunching beneath our sandals and the noise of nocturnal insects and the occasional scurrying wild rabbit breaking the silence. The path is dimly lit by evenly-spaced light bulbs but that is enough as our eyes adjust to night vision and the walk is easy and straightforward. The smells of wild fennel and Mediterranean thyme permeate the air with their cloying aromatic sweetness whilst the occasional brush with a wet African tamarisk, saturated with dew and expelled brine is bound to give a refreshing feeling in contrast to the warm, sticky air of an August night.
Walking through the sleepy Club Nautico bungalows we reach the arms of Santa Marija Bay to the gentle sound of waves lapping the shallow sandy beach. The bay harbours a handful of sailing boats protected from the currents of the Gozo Channel, huddling together under the watchful gaze of the ancient Police Station built in colonial times to discourage smuggling from neighbouring Sicily.
From here the road slopes gently upwards, from the sea level of the beach to the side of Wied Imdied where the small chapel which is our destination lies, protected by a group of stiff, old cypresses standing to attention like ancient sentinels protecting something precious.
Aside of the few dim lamps affixed to the structures along the road, it is still pitch dark. The collared doves huddled on the chapel’s roof croon monotonously while a dog barks in the distance, perhaps from one of the tents in the small campsite behind the beach or on one of the anchored boats. And in that monochrome darkness, a source of warm light stands out: emanating from the open door of the chapel where we, together with a handful of other early risers congregate for the short, rushed ceremony celebrated by the wizened old priest who crosses over from Gozo every weekend for the purpose.
The darkness, the warm, damp night, the sounds and smells of the walk and the thin layer of talc like dust sticking to our feet. And the welcoming light in the black, coming out of a centuries-old rustic chapel on a one square mile island, suggesting an unchanged ritual spanning hundreds of years. Simply wonderful.