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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Chapter Two: Blood in the Water

People have been clambering to find out what happened when I jumped into the ocean, after having my neck sliced open by the captain. Forgive me for not writing sooner. I was a bit traumatized by the event and had much gardening and Spring cleaning to do.

I remember a few more details now.  The captain's name was Captain Cutthroat. One very raggedy, slothful crew member realized I could be worth a fortune as a slave. As Captain Cutthroat turned away to straighten his golden locks of hair (He was vain about his appearance but especially his hair), the ragtag pirate capitalized on the moment to throw me a life preserver. Unfortunately, when he tossed it over, several coils of rope wrapped around his elephantine wrist. More unfortunately, he cried out in fear and Cutthroat spun around with speed of a barracuda. He allowed the pirate to fall overboard. The pirate created a massive wave. This caused the ship to toss and turn. Cutthroat beat the first mate with one glove, once elegant, sadly now filthy, stolen off a very wealthy man from England. It came with the man's hand inside. Now the captain wore the finger bones around his neck, and used the glove to insult his inferiors.

The first mate was hanging onto the wheel, as it spun out of control. He finally got the ship righted. He steered the ship into another of the waves, and the ship disappeared from sight. 

The pirate in the water was struggling with the ropes, trying to cling to the life preserver. Everyone knows pirates can't swim. I wasn't sure if I should rescue him, as I am very justice-oriented.

Finally, as he was bobbing up and down with every wave, I swam closer to him, yet out of reach. I asked him his name. Choking and sputtering, he coughed out "They call me Slimjim." I asked him where his knife was (mine was in my camera bag on board). I knew he would have one on his person. 

"Me knife is in the sock in my boot. Help me! Help me! I can't swim". 

I was bleeding from my wound. The salt water burned the slash severely. So I said to him, "I am going to cut you free with your knife." I swam closer to him and duck-dived the next wave. I propelled my body down into the cooler water. I could see him above. And then, I saw his boots. Beat-up, black leather boots that would probably go up to my thighs. Although I have many kinds of boots, I do not have boots from an honest-to-goodness pirate!

I decided they were found objects, and pulled them off his fungus-infected feet. I came up for air. Slimjim watched as I floated at the surface, putting on one then the other. He was infuriated. "Them is my boots. I had them since I was a lad. I will kill you"! I ignored him, and simply said, "You are drowning. You will have no need for these on the ocean floor". Slimjim remembered he was drowning, and went into histrionics. I have been know as an empathetic soul; I have none for drama queens. He was seriously annoying me. Again, I had a moral struggle with myself about his outcome.

"Slimjim, I called. "I am going back down for your knife. If you kick me, I will come for air, and you will need to make peace with your maker." He was a bit confused, because he replied, "How do I make peace with me dad? He's been dead twenty years".

I determined Slimjim had hit the rum bottle one too many times, and was not a great thinker at this point. I said no more, and dove underwater to retrieve his knife. Slimkim was right about the sock. I pulled a long, curved, bone-handled knife from his sock. Then I took his sock, somewhat stoically, as I presumed he would die. I popped back up in the water behind him, and pressed the knife into his fleshy back.

"Do you mean me harm?", I inquired. He burst out into sobbing. Gritty tears fell from his salt-burned, red eyes. Tears from a pirate are like fool's gold (Pyrite for enthusiasts.) I glared at him a few seconds. I knew he was weak, undisciplined, with less brain cells regenerating than there should have been. I moved my knife (finders keepers) away from his back, and told him to hold still. He was paralyzed with fright, and said nothing. I sawed the rope from his wrist. He immediately began sinking. At this point I realized he could have some value to me. A fatty pirate, alive and kicking, would be a fine meal for a shark. I made a huge slipknot, slid back under the water, and swam around him with the rope until I had the slipknot around his middle. I swam as hard as I could, and we were barely moving. I swam behind him and pinched him very hard. It scared him so much he suddenly was pulling himself up, and then I was able to guide us toward the life preserver. I pulled on the rope while he scrambled to climb on. Then I simply tied him to it. 

I hung to a rope on the life preserver, washing his sock for a long time. The waters around us were brackish when I finally decided the sock would be safe to use. I wrapped it around my cut throat (three times, as it was a huge sock).  The less blood in the water, the better off we would be. The waters around Somalia are warm, and since I am an ocean swimmer, I was not uncomfortable. I was already preparing for what might come. I knew one thing for sure. If push came to shove, Slimjim would be the first to go!

The afternoon was turning to dusk. I knew three things: sharks off Somalia are deadly, dusk is just about their feeding time, and I needed dusk to fall so I could find East and West.

Slimjim had fallen into a gurgling, sputtering sleep. I very carefully pulled myself up onto his stomach, which actually seemed to help with his breathing. I felt pretty confident I would come through this, but my major concern was drinking water.  Everyone who knows me understands because I am a water drinker, all day long, and into the night. The only thought on my mind was to get out of the ocean, and find the coldest jug of water to chug. I had to control my thought patterns. I could not think about drinking water. That would make me go mad. I had a moment of clarity. Slimjim's odor had not improved at all by being in the water. I wasn't going anywhere if I didn't put that rope over my shoulder, and start swimming.

With determination, I slid off Slimjim's belly, and back in the water. I was more comfortable there anyway! I knotted the rope again, and made a sling for my right shoulder. We began the swim toward the Horn of Africa. When my right shoulder was on fire from pulling, I switched the rope to my left hand. I refused to stop swimming. I was grateful for the hundreds of hours I'd spent bodyboarding at San Clemente, north of the pier. If a swell rose up, I swam harder, so I could catch waves that helped me stay on course. It was very dark now. The Milky Way was in full view, as were Jupiter, Mars, and, of course, the moon. Shooting stars were so vivid, and long-tailed. I prayed for one friend after another, until I was just plain prayed out. I decided to take a rest,  and wrapped my left hand on the life preserver rope. "This is really not that bad", I thought "I can take short breaks, keep on course by following the stars, and maintaining an exact routine." 

I breathed in the sea air, and almost gagged. Slimjim's time in the ocean had created a toxic brew emanating off his body. A sea rat (known to tourists as seagulls) found a respite from a long flight. It perched on Slimjim's nose. Broken so many times during sword play or from tripping on deck after drinking rum, he couldn't remember what the nose had looked like before he chose the life of a pirate. I laughed at our ludicrous plight. I bobbed up and down with the swells, became hypnotized by the ocean's rhythms, and began to nod off.

My eyes had just closed when a powerful force slammed into the life preserver, leaving a gigantic  explosion of water spreading out in all directions. Whatever it was flipped the life preserver over. Slimjim was helpless, face underwater, and no air to breathe. Overturning it had also spun me around, jerked me up and down, until I was disoriented. I struggled with the life preserver, but couldn't get the knife out of my pirate boot. I knew Slimjim would die. I actually felt a bit bad about that. There was not that much time to feel sorry. The moonshine stretched across the water. This time I knew what was coming in for the fatal blow.

I saw that fin, straight up in the water, barreling at us with just incredible speed. As a naturalist, I knew exactly what this was, and that we would not survive. No sane Somali surfs that part of the ocean. It is rife with Zambezi River Sharks (aka the bull shark.) It was not a good day to die, if there is such a thing.

I have to leave you here because my right hand goes numb and tingling because of the neck injury. So...more of this saga later. I actually feel a bit queasy just thinking about what comes next.
Slimjim in 'hot water.' Spelling correction: Illinois;)



Tattoos: Mama, Mom, Ma