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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 86)

2006-08-22 21:28

  CHAPTER   86

  “Richard Parker, a ship!”

  I had the pleasure of shouting that once. I was overwhelmed with happiness. All hurt and frustration fell away and I positively blazed with joy.

  “We've made it! We're saved! Do you understand, Richard Parker? WE'RE SAVED! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”

  I tried to control my excitement. What if the ship passed too far away to see us? Should I launch a rocket flare? Nonsense!

  “It's coming right towards us, Richard Parker! Oh, I thank you, Lord Ganesha! Blessed be you in all your manifestations, Allah-Brahman!”

  It couldn't miss us. Can there be any happiness greater than the happiness of salvation? The answer-believe me-is No. I got to my feet, the first time in a long time I had made such an effort.

  “Can you believe it, Richard Parker? People, food, a bed. Life is ours once again. Oh, what bliss!”

  The ship came closer still. It looked like an oil tanker. The shape of its bow was becoming distinct. Salvation wore a robe of black metal with white trim.

  “And what if……?”

  I did not dare say the words. But might there not be a chance that Father and Mother and Ravi were still alive? The Tsimtsum had had a number of lifeboats. Perhaps they had reached Canada weeks ago and were anxiously waiting for news from me. Perhaps I was the only person from the wreck unaccounted for.

  “My God, oil tankers are big!”

  It was a mountain creeping up on us.

  “Perhaps they're already in Winnipeg. I wonder what our house looks like. Do you suppose, Richard Parker, that Canadian houses have inner courtyards in the traditional Tamil style? Probably not. I suppose they would fill up with snow in winter. Pity. There's no peace like the peace of an inner courtyard on a sunny day. I wonder what spices grow in Manitoba?”

  The ship was very close. The crew better be stopping short or turning sharply soon.

  “Yes, what spices……? Oh my God!”

  I realized with horror that the tanker was not simply coming our way-it was in fact bearing down on us. The bow was a vast wall of metal that was getting wider every second. A huge wave girdling it was advancing towards us relentlessly. Richard Parker finally sensed the looming juggernaut. He turned and went “Woof! Woof!” but not doglike-it was tigerlike: powerful, scary and utterly suited to the situation.

  “Richard Parker, it's going to run us over! What are we going to do? Quick, quick, a flare! No! Must row. Oar in oarlock……there! HUMPF! HUMPF! HUMPF! HUMPF! HUMPF! HUM?

  The bow wave pushed us up. Richard Parker crouched, and the hairs on him stood up. The lifeboat slid off the bow wave and missed the tanker by less than two feet.

  The ship slid by for what seemed like a mile, a mile of high, black canyon wall, a mile of castle fortification with not a single sentinel to notice us languishing in the moat. I fired off a rocket flare, but I aimed it poorly. Instead of surging over the bulwarks and exploding in the captain's face, it ricocheted off the ship's side and went straight into the Pacific, where it died with a hiss. I blew on my whistle with all my might. I shouted at the top of my lungs. All to no avail.

  Its engines rumbling loudly and its propellers chopping explosively underwater, the ship churned past us and left us bouncing and bobbing in its frothy wake. After so many weeks of natural sounds, these mechanical noises were strange and awesome and stunned me into silence.

  In less than twenty minutes a ship of three hundred thousand tons became a speck on the horizon. When I turned away, Richard Parker was still looking in its direction. After a few seconds he turned away too and our gazes briefly met. My eyes expressed longing, hurt, anguish, loneliness. All he was aware of was that something stressful and momentous had happened, something beyond the outer limits of his understanding. He did not see that it was salvation barely missed. He only saw that the alpha here, this odd, unpredictable tiger, had been very excited. He settled down to another nap. His sole comment on the event was a cranky meow.

  “I love you!” The words burst out pure and unfettered, infinite. The feeling flooded my chest. “Truly I do. I love you, Richard Parker. If I didn't have you now, I don't know what I would do. I don't think I would make it. No, I wouldn't. I would die of hopelessness. Don't give up, Richard Parker, don't give up. I'll get you to land, I promise, I promise!”

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