Chapter no 84

Life of Pi

I was on the tarpaulin, wrapped in a blanket, sleeping and dreaming and awakening and daydreaming and generally passing the time. There was a steady breeze. From time to time spray was blown off the crest of a wave and wet the boat. Richard Parker had disappeared under the tarpaulin. He liked neither getting wet nor the ups and downs of the boat. But the sky was blue, the air was warm, and the sea was regular in its motion. I awoke because there was a blast. I opened my eyes and saw water in the sky. It crashed down on me. I looked up again. Cloudless blue sky. There was another blast, to my left, not as powerful as the first. Richard Parker growled fiercely. More water crashed against me. It had an unpleasant smell.

I looked over the edge of the boat. The first thing I saw was a large black object floating in the water. It took me a few seconds to understand what it was. An arching wrinkle around its edge was my clue. It was an eye. It was a whale. Its eye, the size of my head, was looking directly at me.

Richard Parker came up from beneath the tarpaulin. He hissed. I sensed from a slight change in the glint of the whale’s eye that it was now looking at Richard Parker. It gazed for thirty seconds or so before gently sinking under. I worried that it might strike us with its tail, but it went straight down and vanished in the dark blue. Its tail was a huge, hiding, round bracket.

I believe it was a whale looking for a mate. It must have decided that my size wouldn’t do, and besides, I already seemed to have a mate.

We saw a number of whales but none so close up as that first one. I would be alerted to their presence by their spouting. They would emerge a short distance away, sometimes three or four of them, a short-lived archipelago of volcanic islands. These gentle behemoths always lifted my spirits. I was convinced that they understood my condition, that at the sight of me one of them exclaimed, “Oh! It’s that castaway with the pussy cat Bamphoo was telling me about. Poor boy. Hope he has enough plankton. I must tell Mumphoo and Tomphoo and Stimphoo about him. I wonder if there isn’t a ship around I could alert. His mother would be very happy to see him again.

Goodbye, my boy. I’ll try to help. My name’s Pimphoo.” And so, through the grapevine, every whale of the Pacific knew of me, and I would have been saved long ago if Pimphoo hadn’t sought help from a Japanese ship whose dastardly crew harpooned her, the same fate as befell Lamphoo at the hands of a Norwegian ship. The hunting of whales is a heinous crime.

Dolphins were fairly regular visitors. One group stayed with us a whole day and night. They were very gay. Their plunging and turning and racing just beneath the hull seemed to have no purpose other than sporting fun. I tried to catch one. But none came close to the gaff. And even if one had, they were too fast and too big. I gave up and just watched them.

I saw six birds in all. I took each one to be an angel announcing nearby land. But these were seafaring birds that could span the Pacific with hardly a flutter of the wings. I watched them with awe and envy and self-pity.



Twice I saw an albatross. Each flew by high in the air without taking any

notice of us. I stared with my mouth open. They were something supernatural and incomprehensible.

Another time, a short distance from the boat, two Wilson’s petrels skimmed by, feet skipping on the water. They, too, took no notice of us, and left me similarly amazed.

We at last attracted the attention of a short-tailed shearwater. It circled above us, eventually dropping down. It kicked out its legs, turned its wings and alighted in the water, floating as lightly as a cork. It eyed me with curiosity. I quickly baited a hook with a bit of flying fish and threw the line its way. I put no weights on the line and had difficulty getting it close to the bird. On my third try the bird paddled up to the sinking bait and plunged its head underwater to get at it. My heart pounded with excitement. I did not pull on the line for some seconds. When I did, the bird merely squawked and regurgitated what it had just swallowed. Before I could try again, it unfolded its wings and pulled itself up into the air. Within two, three beatings of its wings it was on its way.

I had better luck with a masked booby. It appeared out of nowhere, gliding towards us, wings spanning over three feet. It landed on the gunnel within hand’s reach of me. Its round eyes took me in, the expression puzzled and serious. It was a large bird with a pure snowy white body and wings that were jet-black at their tips and rear edges. Its big, bulbous head had a very pointed orange-yellow beak and the red eyes behind the black mask made it look like a thief who had had a very long night. Only the oversized, brown webbed feet left something to be desired in their design. The bird was fearless. It spent several minutes tweaking its feathers with its beak, exposing soft down. When it was finished, it looked up and everything fell into place, and it showed itself for what it was: a smooth, beautiful, aerodynamic airship. When I offered it a bit of dorado, it pecked it out of my hand, jabbing the palm.

I broke its neck by leveraging its head backwards, one hand pushing up the beak, the other holding the neck. The feathers were so well attached that when I started pulling them out, skin came off—I was not plucking the bird; I was tearing it apart. It was light enough as it was, a volume with no weight. I took the knife and skinned it instead. For its size there was a disappointing amount of flesh, only a little on its chest. It had a more chewy texture than dorado flesh, but I didn’t find there was much of a difference in taste. In its stomach, besides the morsel of dorado I had just given it, I found three small fish. After rinsing them of digestive juices, I ate them. I ate the bird’s heart,

liver and lungs. I swallowed its eyes and tongue with a gulp of water. I crushed its head and picked out its small brain. I ate the webbings of its feet. The rest of the bird was skin, bone and feathers. I dropped it beyond the edge of the tarpaulin for Richard Parker, who hadn’t seen the bird arrive. An orange paw reached out.

Days later feathers and down were still floating up from his den and being blown out to sea. Those that landed in the water were swallowed by fish.

None of the birds ever announced land.

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