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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 80)

2006-08-22 21:28

  CHAPTER   80

  Of all the dorados, I remember one in particular, a special dorado. It was early morning on a cloudy day, and we were in the midst of a storm of flying fish. Richard Parker was actively swatting at them. I was huddled behind a turtle shell, shielding myself from the flying fish. I had a gaff with a piece of net hanging from it extended into the open. I was hoping to catch fish in this way. I wasn't having much luck. A flying fish whizzed by. The dorado that was chasing it burst out of the water. It was a bad calculation. The anxious flying fish got away, just missing my net, but the dorado hit the gunnel like a cannonball. The thud it made shook the whole boat. A spurt of blood sprayed the tarpaulin. I reacted quickly. I dropped beneath the hail of flying fish and reached for the dorado just ahead of a shark. I pulled it aboard. It was dead, or nearly there, and turning all kinds of colours. What a catch! What a catch! I thought excitedly. Thanks be to you, Jesus-Matsya. The fish was fat and fleshy. It must have weighed a good forty pounds. It would feed a horde. Its eyes and spine would irrigate a desert.

  Alas, Richard Parker's great head had turned my way. I sensed it from the corner of my eyes. The flying fish were still coming, but he was no longer interested in them; it was the fish in my hands that was now the focus of his attention. He was eight feet away. His mouth was half open, a fish wing dangling from it. His back became rounder. His rump wriggled. His tail twitched. It was clear: he was in a crouch and he was making to attack me. It was too late to get away, too late even to blow my whistle. My time had come.

  But enough was enough. I had suffered so much. I was so hungry. There are only so many days you can go without eating.

  And so, in a moment of insanity brought on by hunger-because I was more set on eating than I was on staying alive-without any means of defence, naked in every sense of the term, I looked Richard Parker dead in the eyes. Suddenly his brute strength meant only moral weakness. It was nothing compared to the strength in my mind. I stared into his eyes, wide-eyed and defiant, and we faced off. Any zookeeper will tell you that a tiger, indeed any cat, will not attack in the face of a direct stare but will wait until the deer or antelope or wild ox has turned its eyes. But to know that and to apply it are two very different things (and it's a useless bit of knowledge if you're hoping to stare down a gregarious cat. While you hold one lion in the thrall of your gaze, another will come up to you from behind)。 For two, perhaps three seconds, a terrific battle of minds for status and authority was waged between a boy and a tiger. He needed to make only the shortest of lunges to be on top of me. But I held my stare.

  Richard Parker licked his nose, groaned and turned away. He angrily batted a flying fish. I had won. I gasped with disbelief, heaved the dorado into my hands and hurried away to the raft. Shortly thereafter, I delivered to Richard Parker a fair chunk of the fish.

  From that day onwards I felt my mastery was no longer in question, and I began to spend progressively more time on the lifeboat, first at the bow, then, as I gained confidence, on the more comfortable tarpaulin. I was still scared of Richard Parker, but only when it was necessary. His simple presence no longer strained me. You can get used to anything-haven't I already said that? Isn't that what all survivors say?

  Initially I lay on the tarpaulin with my head against its rolled-up bow edge. It was raised a little-since the ends of the lifeboat were higher than its middle-and so I could keep an eye on Richard Parker.

  Later on I turned the other way, with my head resting just above the middle bench, my back to Richard Parker and his territory. In this position I was further away from the edges of the boat and less exposed to wind and spray.

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