Life of pi, p.13
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       Life of Pi, p.13

           Yann Martel

  I said to it, "Go tell a ship I'm here. Go, go." It turned and sank out of sight, back flippers pushing water in alternate strokes.


  Clouds that gathered where ships were supposed to appear, and the passing of the day, slowly did the job of unbending my smile. It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion. Still, that second night at sea stands in my memory as one of exceptional suffering, different from the frozen anxiety of the first night in being a more conventional sort of suffering, the broken-down kind consisting of weeping and sadness and spiritual pain, and different from later ones in that I still had the strength to appreciate fully what I felt. And that dreadful night was preceded by a dreadful evening.

  I noticed the presence of sharks around the lifeboat. The sun was beginning to pull the curtains on the day. It was a placid explosion of orange and red, a great chromatic symphony, a colour canvas of supernatural proportions, truly a splendid Pacific sunset, quite wasted on me. The sharks were makos--swift, pointy-snouted predators with long, murderous teeth that protruded noticeably from their mouths. They were about six or seven feet long, one was larger still. I watched them anxiously. The largest one came at the boat quickly, as if to attack, its dorsal fin rising out of the water by several inches, but it dipped below just before reaching us and glided underfoot with fearsome grace. It returned, not coming so close this time, then disappeared. The other sharks paid a longer visit, coming and going at different depths, some in plain sight at hand's reach below the surface of the water, others deeper down. There were other fish too, big and small, colourful, differently shaped. I might have considered them more closely had my attention not been drawn elsewhere: Orange Juice's head came into sight.

  She turned and brought her arm onto the tarpaulin in a motion that imitated exactly the way you or I would bring out an arm and place it on the back of the chair next to our own in a gesture of expansive relaxation. But such was clearly not her disposition. Bearing an expression profoundly sad and mournful, she began to look about, slowly turning her head from side to side. Instantly the likeness of apes lost its amusing character. She had given birth at the zoo to two young ones, strapping males five and eight years old that were her--and our--pride. It was unmistakably these she had on her mind as she searched over the water, unintentionally mimicking what I had been doing these last thirty-six hours. She noticed me and expressed nothing about it. I was just another animal that had lost everything and was vowed to death. My mood plummeted.

  Then, with only a snarl for notice, the hyena went amok. It hadn't moved from its cramped quarters all day. It put its front legs on the zebra's side, reached over and gathered a fold of skin in its jaws. It pulled roughly. A strip of hide came off the zebra's belly like gift-wrap paper comes off a gift, in a smooth-edged swath, only silently, in the way of tearing skin, and with greater resistance. Immediately blood poured forth like a river. Barking, snorting and squealing, the zebra came to life to defend itself. It pushed on its front legs and reared its head in an attempt to bite the hyena, but the beast was out of reach. It shook its good hind leg, which did no more than explain the origin of the previous night's knocking: it was the hoof beating against the side of the boat. The zebra's attempts at self-preservation only whipped the hyena into a frenzy of snarling and biting. It made a gaping wound in the zebra's side. When it was no longer satisfied with the reach it had from behind the zebra, the hyena climbed onto its haunches. It started pulling out coils of intestines and other viscera. There was no order to what it was doing. It bit here, swallowed there, seemingly overwhelmed by the riches before it. After devouring half the liver, it started tugging on the whitish, balloon-like stomach bag. But it was heavy, and with the zebra's haunches being higher than its belly--and blood being slippery--the hyena started to slide into its victim. It plunged head and shoulders into the zebra's guts, up to the knees of its front legs. It pushed itself out, only to slide back down. It finally settled in this position, half in, half out. The zebra was being eaten alive from the inside.

  It protested with diminishing vigour. Blood started coming out its nostrils. Once or twice it reared its head straight up, as if appealing to heaven--the abomination of the moment was perfectly expressed.

  Orange Juice did not view these doings indifferently. She raised herself to her full height on her bench. With her incongruously small legs and massive torso, she looked like a refrigerator on crooked wheels. But with her giant arms lifted in the air, she looked impressive. Their span was greater than her height--one hand hung over the water, the other reached across the width of the lifeboat nearly to the opposite side. She pulled back her lips, showing off enormous canines, and began to roar. It was a deep, powerful, huffing roar, amazing for an animal normally as silent as a giraffe. The hyena was as startled as I was by the outburst. It cringed and retreated. But not for long. After an intense stare at Orange Juice, the hairs on its neck and shoulders stood up and its tail rose straight in the air. It climbed back onto the dying zebra. There, blood dripping from its mouth, it responded to Orange Juice in kind, with a higher-pitched roar. The two animals were three feet apart, wide-open jaws directly facing. They put all their energies into their cries, their bodies shaking with the effort. I could see deep down the hyena's throat. The Pacific air, which until a minute before had been carrying the whistling and whispering of the sea, a natural melody I would have called soothing had the circumstances been happier, was all at once filled with this appalling noise, like the fury of an all-out battle, with the ear-splitting firing of guns and cannons and the thunderous blasts of bombs. The hyena's roar filled the higher range of what my ears could hear, Orange Juice's bass roar filled the lower range, and somewhere in between I could hear the cries of the helpless zebra. My ears were full. Nothing more, not one more sound, could push into them and be registered.

  I began to tremble uncontrollably. I was convinced the hyena was going to lunge at Orange Juice.

  I could not imagine that matters could get worse, but they did. The zebra snorted some of its blood overboard. Seconds later there was a hard knock against the boat, followed by another. The water began to churn around us with sharks. They were searching for the source of the blood, for the food so close at hand. Their tail fins flashed out of the water, their heads swung out. The boat was hit repeatedly. I was not afraid we would capsize--I thought the sharks would actually punch through the metal hull and sink us.

  With every bang the animals jumped and looked alarmed, but they were not to be distracted from their main business of roaring in each other's faces. I was certain the shouting match would turn physical. Instead it broke off abruptly after a few minutes. Orange Juice, with huffs and lip-smacking noises, turned away, and the hyena lowered its head and retreated behind the zebra's butchered body. The sharks, finding nothing, stopped knocking on the boat and eventually left. Silence fell at last.

  A foul and pungent smell, an earthy mix of rust and excrement, hung in the air. There was blood everywhere, coagulating to a deep red crust. A single fly buzzed about, sounding to me like an alarm bell of insanity. No ship, nothing at all, had appeared on the horizon that day, and now the day was ending. When the sun slipped below the horizon, it was not only the day that died and the poor zebra, but my family as well. With that second sunset, disbelief gave way to pain and grief. They were dead; I could no longer deny it. What a thing to acknowledge in your heart! To lose a brother is to lose someone with whom you can share the experience of growing old, who is supposed to bring you a sister-in-law and nieces and nephews, creatures to people the tree of your life and give it new branches. To lose your father is to lose the one whose guidance and help you seek, who supports you like a tree trunk supports its branches. To lose your mother, well, that is like losing the sun above you. It is like losing--I'm sorry, I would rather not go on. I lay down on the tarpaulin and spent the whole night weeping and grieving, my
face buried in my arms. The hyena spent a good part of the night eating.


  The day broke, humid and overcast, with the wind warm and the sky a dense blanket of grey clouds that looked like bunched-up, dirty cotton sheets. The sea had not changed. It heaved the lifeboat up and down in a regular motion.

  The zebra was still alive. I couldn't believe it. It had a two-foot-wide hole in its body, a fistula like a freshly erupted volcano, spewed half-eaten organs glistening in the light or giving off a dull, dry shine, yet, in its strictly essential parts, it continued to pump with life, if weakly. Movement was confined to a tremor in the rear leg and an occasional blinking of the eyes. I was horrified. I had no idea a living being could sustain so much injury and go on living.

  The hyena was tense. It was not settling down to its night of rest despite the daylight. Perhaps it was a result of taking in so much food; its stomach was grossly dilated. Orange Juice was in a dangerous mood too. She was fidgeting and showing her teeth.

  I stayed where I was, curled up near the prow. I was weak in body and in soul. I was afraid I would fall into the water if I tried to balance on the oar.

  The zebra was dead by noon. It was glassy-eyed and had become perfectly indifferent to the hyena's occasional assaults.

  Violence broke out in the afternoon. Tension had risen to an unbearable level. The hyena was yipping. Orange Juice was grunting and making loud lip-smacking noises. All of a sudden their complaining fused and shot up to top volume. The hyena jumped over the remains of the zebra and made for Orange Juice.

  I believe I have made clear the menace of a hyena. It was certainly so clear in my mind that I gave up on Orange Juice's life before she even had a chance to defend it. I underestimated her. I underestimated her grit.

  She thumped the beast on the head. It was something shocking. It made my heart melt with love and admiration and fear. Did I mention she was a former pet, callously discarded by her Indonesian owners? Her story was like that of every inappropriate pet. It goes something like this: The pet is bought when it is small and cute. It gives much amusement to its owners. Then it grows in size and in appetite. It reveals itself incapable of being house-trained. Its increasing strength makes it harder to handle. One day the maid pulls the sheet from its nest because she has decided to wash it, or the son jokingly pinches a morsel of food from its hands--over some such seemingly small matter, the pet flashes its teeth in anger and the family is frightened. The very next day the pet finds itself bouncing at the back of the family Jeep in the company of its human brothers and sisters. A jungle is entered. Everyone in the vehicle finds it a strange and formidable place. A clearing is come to. It is briefly explored. All of a sudden the Jeep roars to life and its wheels kick up dirt and the pet sees all the ones it has known and loved looking at it from the back window as the Jeep speeds away. It has been left behind. The pet does not understand. It is as unprepared for this jungle as its human siblings are. It waits around for their return, trying to quell the panic rising in it. They do not return. The sun sets. Quickly it becomes depressed and gives up on life. It dies of hunger and exposure in the next few days. Or is attacked by dogs.

  Orange Juice could have been one of these forlorn pets. Instead she ended up at the Pondicherry Zoo. She remained gentle and unaggressive her whole life. I have memories from when I was a child of her never-ending arms surrounding me, her fingers, each as long as my whole hand, picking at my hair. She was a young female practising her maternal skills. As she matured into her full wild self, I observed her at a distance. I thought I knew her so well that I could predict her every move. I thought I knew not only her habits but also her limits. This display of ferocity, of savage courage, made me realize that I was wrong. All my life I had known only a part of her.

  She thumped the beast on the head. And what a thump it was. The beast's head hit the bench it had just reached, making such a sharp noise, besides splaying its front legs flat out, that I thought surely either the bench or its jaw or both must break. The hyena was up again in an instant, every hair on its body as erect as the hairs on my head, but its hostility wasn't quite so kinetic now. It withdrew. I exulted. Orange Juice's stirring defence brought a glow to my heart.

  It didn't last long.

  An adult female orang-utan cannot defeat an adult male spotted hyena. That is the plain empirical truth. Let it become known among zoologists. Had Orange Juice been a male, had she loomed as large on the scales as she did in my heart, it might have been another matter. But portly and overfed though she was from living in the comfort of a zoo, even so she tipped the scales at barely 110 pounds. Female orang-utans are half the size of males. But it is not simply a question of weight and brute strength. Orange Juice was far from defenceless. What it comes down to is attitude and knowledge. What does a fruit eater know about killing? Where would it learn where to bite, how hard, for how long? An orang-utan may be taller, may have very strong and agile arms and long canines, but if it does not know how to use these as weapons, they are of little use. The hyena, with only its jaws, will overcome the ape because it knows what it wants and how to get it.

  The hyena came back. It jumped on the bench and caught Orange Juice at the wrist before she could strike. Orange Juice hit the hyena on the head with her other arm, but the blow only made the beast snarl viciously. She made to bite, but the hyena moved faster. Alas, Orange Juice's defence lacked precision and coherence. Her fear was something useless that only hampered her. The hyena let go of her wrist and expertly got to her throat.

  Dumb with pain and horror, I watched as Orange Juice thumped the hyena ineffectually and pulled at its hair while her throat was being squeezed by its jaws. To the end she reminded me of us: her eyes expressed fear in such a humanlike way, as did her strained whimpers. She made an attempt to climb onto the tarpaulin. The hyena violently shook her. She fell off the bench to the bottom of the lifeboat, the hyena with her. I heard noises but no longer saw anything.

  I was next. That much was clear to me. With some difficulty I stood up. I could hardly see through the tears in my eyes. I was no longer crying because of my family or because of my impending death. I was far too numb to consider either. I was crying because I was exceedingly tired and it was time to get rest.

  I advanced over the tarpaulin. Though tautly stretched at the end of the boat, it sagged a little in the middle; it made for three or four toilsome, bouncy steps. And I had to reach over the net and the rolled-up tarpaulin. And these efforts in a lifeboat that was constantly rolling. In the condition I was in, it felt like a great trek. When I laid my foot on the middle cross bench, its hardness had an invigorating effect on me, as if I had just stepped on solid ground. I planted both my feet on the bench and enjoyed my firm stand. I was feeling dizzy, but since the capital moment of my life was coming up this dizziness only added to my sense of frightened sublimity. I raised my hands to the level of my chest--the weapons I had against the hyena. It looked up at me. Its mouth was red. Orange Juice lay next to it, against the dead zebra. Her arms were spread wide open and her short legs were folded together and slightly turned to one side. She looked like a simian Christ on the Cross. Except for her head. She was beheaded. The neck wound was still bleeding. It was a sight horrible to the eyes and killing to the spirit. Just before throwing myself upon the hyena, to collect myself before the final struggle, I looked down.

  Between my feet, under the bench, I beheld Richard Parker's head. It was gigantic. It looked the size of the planet Jupiter to my dazed senses. His paws were like volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

  I made my way back to the bow and collapsed.

  I spent the night in a state of delirium. I kept thinking I had slept and was awaking after dreaming of a tiger.


  Richard Parker was so named because of a clerical error. A panther was terrorizing the Khulna district of Bangladesh, just outside the Sundarbans. It had recently carried off a little girl. All that was found of her was a tiny ha
nd with a henna pattern on the palm and a few plastic bangles. She was the seventh person killed in two months by the marauder. And it was growing bolder. The previous victim was a man who had been attacked in broad daylight in his field. The beast dragged him off into the forest, where it ate a good part of his head, the flesh off his right leg and all his innards. His corpse was found hanging in the fork of a tree. The villagers kept a watch nearby that night, hoping to surprise the panther and kill it, but it never appeared. The Forest Department hired a professional hunter. He set up a small, hidden platform in a tree near a river where two of the attacks had taken place. A goat was tied to a stake on the river's bank. The hunter waited several nights. He assumed the panther would be an old, wasted male with worn teeth, incapable of catching anything more difficult than a human. But it was a sleek tiger that stepped into the open one night. A female with a single cub. The goat bleated. Oddly, the cub, who looked to be about three months old, paid little attention to the goat. It raced to the water's edge, where it drank eagerly. Its mother followed suit. Of hunger and thirst, thirst is the greater imperative. Only once the tiger had quenched her thirst did she turn to the goat to satisfy her hunger. The hunter had two rifles with him: one with real bullets, the other with immobilizing darts. This animal was not the man-eater, but so close to human habitation she might pose a threat to the villagers, especially as she was with cub. He picked up the gun with the darts. He fired as the tiger was about to fell the goat. The tiger reared up and snarled and raced away. But immobilizing darts don't bring on sleep gently, like a good cup of tea; they knock out like a bottle of hard liquor straight up. A burst of activity on the animal's part makes it act all the faster. The hunter called his assistants on the radio. They found the tiger about two hundred yards from the river. She was still conscious. Her back legs had given way and her balance on her front legs was woozy. When the men got close, she tried to get away but could not manage it. She turned on them, lifting a paw that was meant to kill. It only made her lose her balance. She collapsed and the Pondicherry Zoo had two new tigers. The cub was found in a bush close by, meowing with fear. The hunter, whose name was Richard Parker, picked it up with his bare hands and, remembering how it had rushed to drink in the river, baptized it Thirsty. But the shipping clerk at the Howrah train station was evidently a man both befuddled and diligent. All the papers we received with the cub clearly stated that its name was Richard Parker, that the hunter's first name was Thirsty and that his family name was None Given. Father had had a good chuckle over the mix-up and Richard Parker's name had stuck.

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