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Life of Pi (part 1 chapter 69)

2006-08-22 21:28

  CHAPTER   69

  On many nights I was convinced I saw a light in the distance. Each time I set off a flare. When I had used up the rocket flares, I expended the hand flares. Were they ships that failed to see me? The light of rising or setting stars bouncing off the ocean? Breaking waves that moonlight and forlorn hope fashioned into illusion? Whatever the case, every time it was for nothing. Never a result. Always the bitter emotion of hope raised and dashed. In time I gave up entirely on being saved by a ship. If the horizon was two and a half miles away at an altitude of five feet, how far away was it when I was sitting against the mast of my raft, my eyes not even three feet above the water? What chance was there that a ship crossing the whole great big Pacific would cut into such a tiny circle? Not only that: that it would cut into such a tiny circle and see me-what chance was there of that? No, humanity and its unreliable ways could not be counted upon. It was land I had to reach, hard, firm, certain land.

  I remember the smell of the spent hand-flare shells. By some freak of chemistry they smelled exactly like cumin. It was intoxicating. I sniffed the plastic shells and immediately Pondicherry came to life in my mind, a marvellous relief from the disappointment of calling for help and not being heard. The experience was very strong, nearly a hallucination. From a single smell a whole town arose. (Now, when I smell cumin, I see the Pacific Ocean.)

  Richard Parker always froze when a hand flare hissed to life. His eyes, round pupils the size of pinpricks, fixed on the light steadily. It was too bright for me, a blinding white centre with a pinkish red aureole. I had to turn away. I held the flare in the air at arm's length and waved it slowly. For about a minute heat showered down upon my forearm and everything was weirdly lit. Water around the raft, until a moment before opaquely black, showed itself to be crowded with fish.

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