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Death Boat
The inner dialogue of a coward on the sea...


I'm no expert when it comes to things nautical, but from my vantage point in the tiny fishing boat - which was more like a canoe with a motor, sail, and outrigger ­- we were about to die. The swells? Yes, they're called swells rose up before us like gelatinous mountains... dark, menacing, and ravenous.

I wonder if this is normal. I wish I could ask the fisherman... if only I spoke Balinese and he spoke more English. I know it's three hours to Gili Air - he tells me that every time I present him with a question .

"Is this normal?" I asked. "Three hours to Gili Air," he replied. Just as I thought.

I realized I'd been clenching the sides of the boat since we left the beach in Lipah. My fingers were starting to cramp and my knuckles were the color of the white foam capping the waves.

They shouldn't be white on top. That means the sea is rough or choppy or something like that. When people look out to the sea and see those whitecaps, they always say something like, "Boy, it sure does look nasty out there," and then decide not to do whatever it was they were going to.

WOOSH!

At least the water is warm, but I wish it would stop coming into the boat. What's that noise? It must be some drainage system used to prevent us from sinking - boats usually have some sort of plug or something, don't they?

I turned to locate this plug, the salvation that would keep our sea-going vessel from becoming a scuba diver's wreckage dream. It wasn't an easy maneuver. The boat was only as wide as my hips - which are, granted, rather wide. But when it comes to boats, my hips are usually quite small in comparison. It's something I've always taken comfort in. Oh. He's bailing the boat with a bucket.

A bucket! He's bailing the boat with a bucket! And we're on the ocean! How many gallons of water are there in the ocean? Let's see... it covers almost the entire planet Earth, so there should be no problem: a bucket against the rest of the planet. Seems like a good match to me. Like pitting a fruit fly against an orangutan in a battle for their lives. It wouldn't be so alarming if the bucket were a proper bucket - that is, larger than my coffee mug. Now, I'll admit, I do favor extra large coffee mugs. I feel better about my caffeine addiction by drinking one cup of coffee in the morning than six. And so, in honor of that delusion, a large mug is necessary.

The fisherman smiled at me. "Three hours to Gili Air," he announced as if for the first time.

Well, there's one thing I can count on. It's three hours to Gili Air. Make that two things: the fisherman will keep reminding me.

I looked out to the horizon.

I don't see any land in front of us. THERE IS NO LAND IN FRONT OF US. Should I alert the fisherman? "Excuse me, but are we going the right way? When I said 'California', I was only telling you where I'm from - we're not headed there are we? It's just that THERE IS NO LAND IN FRONT OF US and the ocean looks like it would like to eat us for lunch." Speaking of lunch, I wonder what kind of animals are swimming below us. Sharks, that's what kind.

WOOSH!

With the amount of water coming into the boat, I bet one of those sharks will come right in with it. It will come into the boat, eat me whole (which is the best - and most painless - way to be eaten by a shark I think) and then it'll grab the bucket from the fisherman and hit him on the head with it before returning to the sea. Sharks are arrogant like that.

"It's three hou -," "Yes, I know."

I shouldn't have cut him off like that, but he was disrupting my composition of a quote - the kind that people come up with to make a bad situation seem worth the pain, like, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." I can't stop thinking about the one that people use in times of defeat that goes, "I guess it wasn't meant to be." I hate that New Age shit and besides, it wasn't a very comforting quote when trapped in a boat that I could wear as underwear while on an angry sea full of hungry sharks.

My quote, before I was interrupted, went like this, "If you don't do something because it seems scary, then you're not living life, you're hiding from it." This was in response to my usually calm 'inner voice', which had been screaming at me from the top of its (my?) lungs, "You idiot! You could die out here, and all for a little convenience!"

Perhaps I should explain the circumstances that brought me to this cry of terror. It's an 8-hour voyage from Bali's Padangbai Harbor to Lombok's Gili Air. In addition, I was on the East Coast adding more time and mileage to the trip that was already an irritating journey of bus, boat, bus, boat. From Lipah, I could jump in a fishing boat and go there direct in less than three hours. The choice seemed clear at the time: risk my life to save some time. But that's how brilliant ideas are. They make sense when you think them, but seem ridiculous when you're in the process of acting on them.

I could save a lot of time and a transportation headache by taking a shortcut on the open sea in a tiny boat. But supposing I died in the process - saving time is kind of pointless if you die doing it. And what soul taken before her time wouldn't trade the afterlife for a piddling headache?

You are dumb, dumb, dumb! Scratch that pearl of wisdom you came up with earlier. Here's a better one, "Living life is all about avoiding death." At least for most of us it is, save Australian TV personalities who wrangle crocodiles, people who get joy from jumping over a parking lot full of cars on a motorcycle, and American postal agents.

Suddenly, the waters calmed and the faint outline of land appeared on the horizon. "Lombok!" I cried excitedly, pointing at the smudge as if I'd just witnessed the second coming of Christ.

"Now less than three hours," the fisherman replied. This, the welcomest quote of the day.

 

 

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© 2005, Cheryn Flanagan