Almost 28 days have gone past, on board this cargo ship, skating the North West African coast before it shoots off onto Caracas. I've got my habits already on board, habits of a sea lion. I lounge.
All the live long day I bask on the panels next to the rusty swimming pool I got them to fix. Carpet bomb, dive in, in as many ways as I can invent, the siskin, the rye catcher, the elephant turtle back, all before I bask again sucking slow at my cigarette stash, and depending on the hour I might wear a towel as a turban; from morning to night, the body bitten by the sun, my eyes squinting sharped by the salt, I’m thinking of nothing, save the Atlantic winds rushing the pool cooling my yoke.
From Southampton heading to Puerto La Cruz - that ultra-modern port established from the mouth of dunes where in the distance sparkle the Andes - the cargo was collected, picked up and derouted - space never meant for passengers, immigrants, loaders like me, but for merchandise - forty thousand boxes of bottles, lentilles de Puy, gum-arabic and Polish vodka, and now that a shipment of electro-domestics has been collected in Essaouira, to add further funds to the coffers, I'm told there'll be two more debarkations in the Canaries, not that I might give a fuck, or let off steam, joyful how I am when my life's of a flake.
I was never pressed to arrive at great speed, but then again who should for it is only when you're at constant movement that you ever feel at ease. Nothing is really waiting for me Latin America, nothing other than I had promised myself I’d find a writing job, publish something about the Puppet Televangelist with some of his schemes and Cuban dreams.
This is the first time I'm leaving Europe for good, and if I had chosen this boat it was so that I may cruise by myself, feel in permanent flux, really life seems to me great on board, a chance to recontact all; the universe, the ocean, the sky, with drops, the flyeng fishe, the heat of the tropics, sea water, the constellations of the hemisphere, the pelicans and sea gulls, the real nature of things, and be around sailors the darkest yet most understanding of men.
'La Clarnica' - not the prettiest of faces. Neglected, battered by the rough, some Ukrainians, some still on board, thought they'd go to the Horn, fish Nile Perch though they got chased by Omani pirates with bazookas for fuel. 'La Clarnica' at eight knots, with odd equipment and unloaded shipments old as the ship itself, somnambulant, worn-out, still chugging like a train holding it down. And as for its commander, M. Baptiste Triston, who for the entire journey of 69 days stays locked in his cabin, I have seen only three times, once at Cadiz, the other at Casablanca, and the last at Dakar, and each time he was out of it. An old guy, little melon head, dressed in black, a man of few words, the sailors do the orders, his tongue unlike theirs not the colour of colon cancer.
Thanks to the cockroaches, I pass even the nights by the side of the pool with my head on some cords, only ever going down to my cabin to get dressed. I take joy in brushing my teeth watching the waves on the side of the ship. And on most nights I am joined by the cook and his assistant, who, well aware that I am the sole paying client, accompany me, bringing added supplies of alcohol. They laze, obliviously, flicking ash, one with dark tobacco, the other with a chillum smoking pungent ‘zero zero’ he got in Morocco.
Night after night familiar stars disappear. Other new ones take their place, as if the sky moved like a cog, notch by notch - the Little Bear gone as the South Cross approaches - Life from the fish eye lens. Nights as empty as the beer bottles, without even a whistle, navigators mind their own business, with no interest in talking about their lives back home.
But it’s all good.
Come dawn, each the their post, stagger though they might, and me, I dive happily in my swimming pool, where I swim alone like a seal in the zoo.
One morning – the day after hitting Dakar – in order to distract myself, and not kill time, I thought I might invent a new way of swimming, one done under water without ever touching the floor and then I started catching coins with my mouth, throwing them in the air before quickly plunging. My accuracy so acute I can throw coins from behind my head and calculate the correct angle from which I dive. I revel in my spins and escape strategies, sometimes imagining the floor as the sky, doing all sorts of strokes - but then - this body files past. I immediately get out of the pool. Dammit, feeling indignified by this irruption upon my element, a complete violation of ones own habitat. As if this stranger had broken my intimate space, or worse still, as if this unknown had slid into my bed. Inconsiderate muther fucker, every little fucking thing I resent. Solitude and silence tossed over board, showing me for the shy savage I was cherishing for a month - a misanthrope.
So I went to stretch myself over the panel, where I laid on my back, face covered by a towel as if covering my face from the mad glare from the sun, now well decided not to say anything to this cunt, or encourage any sort of conversation he may want. Where might this odbin have arrived? I hear him splashing around the pool, smack the water, sniff, cough, splutter like a Pole gone wrong, I ain't like this walrus-looking cunt, splashing around the pool, smack water, sniff, cough.
Within 15 minutes from when I heard this Visogoth-Vandal enter the pool and shake himself off, he couldn't help it, help approach the shaky planks, the boards from where I cotch. So in a friendly voice he comes and says:
-Good day Sir. What a beautiful morning!
I say nothing
-Pretty good baff ah?
I say nothing
-Will you let me? May I borro your...matches?
-...Dale, claro que si
I hear him strike a match, take it on his gob, while Im cursing under my breath, ready for him to strike again or continue on his rant.
- Zank You Sir! My lighter doesn't work, jew see. Like all lighters I buy. When it's not the flame, it's the stone. Or it's the missing fuil. I wanted to buy a good electric one, japanese, but I found nothing but shit markets in Dakar. Maybe Venezuela? Do you know Venezuela?
I flinched not. Hoping he may fall silent. The chatterbox blurts out like a loudspeaker.
-You have very proud idea Sir! The commander told me it was you, who made him install swimming pool on bridge...
-Let me present myself. My name is Theodemir, engineer. I just spent three months in Dakar. Fucking country. Now first time I cross to..'new' world. Mr....Mr?
Four, Five, Six, maybe even a week goes past. Why should I change even an inch of my habit patterns, despite me feeling uneasy to this man who jumped on board at Dakar. Like Dog and Cat, it must be the same with the Seal and the Walrus, with no other reason than pure animosity. They just don't get on. I said to myself I won't let myself be surprised by this intruder. And I won't call him a cunt no more...restrain.
Four, Five, Six, a Week, Nine days, every morning at around 10 o'clock, the engineer comes to dip, finding me asleep over the panels, towel over my head, my back facing the sun faking sleep. Hear him belly flop...that lard...doggy paddle, come out of the water, cough, shake himself off, clear his throat, approach me and get all huffed up. I placed my matches on top of a box with a sign saying, SIRVASE, spanish for help yourself. GRACIAS. There he goes lighting up his fags, funniest shit I've ever done, my own little chuckle in silence, ‘cept I have to incorporate my snorts into my snores. I can guess whenever he's about to address something, sighing without the courage to continue, and then leave, and each time I snigger underneath, with another small victory. Half opening my eyelids, I see him leaving - bald, fat, penguin waddle type, white forehead and white calves, poor man with a left arm longer than his right. And so, I light my cigarette, swing off the towel and throw myself in the pool with a defiant star jump.
Naturally this situation couldn't last indefinitely, that pivotal mathematical point was approaching when we would have to talk. How and in what way this might come about I'd ask myself with curiosity, cos for many days that he was on board, the intruder also started developing habits, habits that quite skilfully exacerbated me straight to my core. I know for well you’ve been doubting me and my integrity, but I am an excellent judge in character. Like an innocent this son of a bitch'd killed time, firing shots with a kalashnikov! Where the fuck did he get a kalashnikov?! Shooting passing albatross and sorts - the winds carrying them across long distances for them to then get gashed up. So close in addressing some stark words. You know do it for the birds. At least kill this wretched hobby. Kill him if I could. And still I have this inner battle that I should stay firm maybe see how far it can get, see to what limit it could go on to. Idiots that get bored when travelling become cumbersome. It started off with him taking pictures, cackling, blowing off rounds in admiration of the architecture of clouds. Now he shoots off his rifle. One thing is clouds, the other is this muther fucking Tom Cruise Russian Rambo, and each time Id wish he’d fall into the sea and get swallowed by the great sea serpent.
Black hole*, Pot-au-noir, or passing the equator, it’s tradition in the Sea to fill the skull of the neophyte beginner who passes for the first time certain points of the ocean. I’d read about this. And so I came up with elaborated stories, one of my father being a guide on cruise ships, and me following in line. I told them of a time I was roughed up, me along with my Swedish girlfriend of the time. She was a deep-sea diver. We were passing one of the several deep-sea black holes, and the sailors locked her up in the mess room with fish heads and smells. And me they said I had to water-ski, impossible how that might have been dragged by a frigate. I shat myself while they said I had to prove it could be done, they said the last guy managed to stay afloat as it travelled at 17 knots for over five minutes. As they were about to throw me on the choppy death sea I begged them to hold me back, when they finally did, I cried, they laughed all night. La Belle Nautica it was called, and now I have this tattoo to prove it. The day Neptune baptised me Puffin face. A story completely fabricated with a very credible tattoo.
*Black Hole – that line announced to the beginner – a brusque change in the level of the ocean, a crack that separates the hemispheres, a collapse, a void, a Niagra of foam, of winds, of whirl pools, an abyss with whales, sharks, octopuses, and other monsters, that shipwrecks fleets, and whirls your stomach bringing with it sinking cemeteries.
Four o’clock in the morning they said. I was hoping it would happen. Ha! And here I am writing to you this shit on satellite wi-fi, God knows what they’ve done to him. Ha! Massive...deep in shit. I don't know what they've done to him, but I know they've taken him down. The cook assured me I'd be fine. He won't tell me what they're going to do with him, it's early days...
The ocean, the surface the sky mirrors, infinity, immensity, the sun does its tracks through the day dazzling leaving objects with no shadows. Everything which, to the reach of eyes, has form, the guardrail, the chimney shoots...dissolves in the heat and comes into fusion and trembles