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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 50)

2006-08-22 21:08

  CHAPTER 50

  It was three and a half feet deep, eight feet wide and twenty-six feet long, exactly. I know because it was printed on one of the side benches in black letters. It also said that the lifeboat was designed to accommodate a maximum of thirty-two people. Wouldn't that have been merry, sharing it with so many? Instead we were three and it was awfully crowded. The boat was symmetrically shaped, with rounded ends that were hard to tell apart. The stern was hinted at by a small fixed rudder, no more than a rearward extension of the keel, while the bow, except for my addition, featured a stem with the saddest, bluntest prow in boat-building history. The aluminum hull was studded with rivets and painted white.

  That was the outside of the lifeboat. Inside, it was not as spacious as might be expected because of the side benches and the buoyancy tanks. The side benches ran the whole length of the boat, merging at the bow and stern to form end benches that were roughly triangular in shape. The benches were the top surfaces of the sealed buoyancy tanks. The side benches were one and a half feet wide and the end benches were three feet deep; the open space of the lifeboat was thus twenty feet long and five feet wide. That made a territory of one hundred square feet for Richard Parker. Spanning this space width-wise were three cross benches, including the one smashed by the zebra. These benches were two feet wide and were evenly spaced. They were two feet above the floor of the boat-the play Richard Parker had before he would knock his head against the ceiling, so to speak, if he were beneath a bench. Under the tarpaulin, he had another twelve inches of space, the distance between the gunnel, which supported the tarpaulin, and the benches, so three feet in all, barely enough for him to stand. The floor, consisting of narrow planks of treated wood, was flat and the vertical sides of the buoyancy tanks were at right angles to it. So, curiously, the boat had rounded ends and rounded sides, but the interior volume was rectangular.

  It seems orange-such a nice Hindu colour-is the colour of survival because the whole inside of the boat and the tarpaulin and the life jackets and the lifebuoy and the oars and most every other significant object aboard was orange. Even the plastic, beadless whistles were orange.

  The words Tsimtsum and Panama were printed on each side of the bow in stark, black, roman capitals.

  The tarpaulin was made of tough, treated canvas, rough on the skin after a while. It had been unrolled to just past the middle cross bench. So one cross bench was hidden beneath the tarpaulin, in Richard Parker's den; the middle cross bench was just beyond the edge of the tarpaulin, in the open; and the third cross bench lay broken beneath the dead zebra.

  There were six oarlocks, U-shaped notches in the gunnel for holding an oar in place, and five oars, since I had lost one trying to push Richard Parker away. Three oars rested on one side bench, one rested on the other and one made up my life-saving prow. I doubted the usefulness of these oars as a means of propulsion. This lifeboat was no racing shell. It was a heavy, solid construction designed for stolid floating, not for navigating, though I suppose that if we had been thirty-two to row we could have made some headway.

  I did not grasp all these details-and many more-right away. They came to my notice with time and as a result of necessity. I would be in the direst of dire straits, facing a bleak future, when some small thing, some detail, would transform itself and appear in my mind in a new light. It would no longer be the small thing it was before, but the most important thing in the world, the thing that would save my life. This happened time and again. How true it is that necessity is the mother of invention, how very true.

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