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Chapter no 42

Life of Pi

She came floating on an island of bananas in a halo of light, as lovely as the Virgin Mary. The rising sun was behind her. Her flaming hair looked stunning.

She came floating on an island of bananas in a halo of light, as lovely as the Virgin Mary.

I cried, “Oh blessed Great Mother, Pondicherry fertility goddess, provider of milk and love, wondrous arm spread of comfort, terror of ticks, picker-up of crying ones, are you to witness this tragedy too? It’s not right that gentleness meet horror. Better that you had died right away. How bitterly glad I am to see you. You bring joy and pain in equal measure. Joy because you are with me, but pain because it won’t be for long. What do you know about the sea? Nothing. What do I know about the sea? Nothing. Without a driver this bus is lost. Our lives are over. Come aboard if your destination is oblivion—it should be our next stop. We can sit together. You can have the window seat, if you want. But it’s a sad view. Oh, enough of this dissembling. Let me say it plainly: I love you, I love you, I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you.

Not the spiders, please.”

It was Orange Juice—so called because she tended to drool—our prize Borneo orang-utan matriarch, zoo star and mother of two fine boys, surrounded by a mass of black spiders that crawled around her like malevolent worshippers. The bananas on which she floated were held together by the nylon net with which they had been lowered into the ship. When she stepped off the bananas into the boat, they bobbed up and rolled over. The net became loose. Without thinking about it, only because it was at hand’s reach and about to sink, I took hold of the net and pulled it aboard, a casual gesture that would turn out to be a lifesaver in many ways; this net would become one of my most precious possessions.

The bananas came apart. The black spiders crawled as fast as they could, but their situation was hopeless. The island crumbled beneath them. They all drowned. The lifeboat briefly floated in a sea of fruit.

I had picked up what I thought was a useless net, but did I think of reaping from this banana manna? No. Not a single one. It was banana split in the wrong sense of the term: the sea dispersed them. This colossal waste would later weigh on me heavily. I would nearly go into convulsions of dismay at my stupidity.

Orange Juice was in a fog. Her gestures were slow and tentative and her eyes reflected deep mental confusion. She was in a state of profound shock. She lay flat on the tarpaulin for several minutes, quiet and still, before reaching over and falling into the lifeboat proper. I heard a hyena’s scream.

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