Life of pi, p.29
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       Life of Pi, p.29
 

           Yann Martel

  "Thank you. It is very kind of you. Now, Atsuro-kun, you're new at this, so pay attention and seek to learn."

  "Yes, Okamoto-san."

  "Is the tape recorder on?"

  "Yes, it is."

  "Good. Oh, I'm so tired! For the record, today is February 19th, 1978. Case file number 250663, concerning the disappearance of the cargo ship Tsimtsum. Are you comfortable, Mr. Patel?"

  "Yes, I am. Thank you. And you?"

  "We are very comfortable."

  "You've come all the way from Tokyo?"

  "We were in Long Beach, California. We drove down."

  "Did you have a good trip?"

  "We had a wonderful trip. It was a beautiful drive."

  "I had a terrible trip."

  "Yes, we spoke to the police before coming here and we saw the lifeboat."

  "I'm a little hungry."

  "Would you like a cookie?"

  "Oh, yes!"

  "Here you go."

  "Thank you!"

  "You're welcome. It's only a cookie. Now, Mr. Patel, we were wondering if you could tell us what happened to you, with as much detail as possible."

  "Yes. I'd be happy to."

  CHAPTER 97

  The story.

  CHAPTER 98

  Mr. Okamoto: "Very interesting."

  Mr. Chiba: "What a story."

  "He thinks we're fools. Mr. Patel, we'll take a little break and then we'll come back, yes?"

  "That's fine. I'd like another cookie."

  "Yes, of course."

  Mr. Chiba: "He's already had plenty and most he hasn't even eaten. They're right there beneath his bedsheet."

  "Just give him another one. We have to humour him. We'll be back in a few minutes."

  CHAPTER 99

  Mr. Okamoto: "Mr. Patel, we don't believe your story."

  "Sorry--these cookies are good but they tend to crumble. I'm amazed. Why not?"

  "It doesn't hold up."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Bananas don't float."

  "I'm sorry?"

  "You said the orang-utan came floating on an island of bananas."

  "That's right."

  "Bananas don't float."

  "Yes, they do."

  "They're too heavy."

  "No, they're not. Here, try for yourself. I have two bananas right here."

  Mr. Chiba: "Where did those come from? What else does he have under his bedsheet?"

  Mr. Okamoto: "Damn it. No, that's all right."

  "There's a sink over there."

  "That's fine."

  "I insist. Fill that sink with water, drop these bananas in, and we'll see who's right."

  "We'd like to move on."

  "I absolutely insist."

  [Silence]

  Mr. Chiba: "What do we do?"

  Mr. Okamoto: "I feel this is going to be another very long day."

  [Sound of a chair being pushed back. Distant sound of water gushing out of a tap]

  Pi Patel: "What's happening? I can't see from here."

  Mr. Okamoto [distantly]: "I'm filling the sink."

  "Have you put the bananas in yet?"

  [Distantly] "No."

  "And now?"

  [Distantly] "They're in."

  "And?"

  [Silence]

  Mr. Chiba: "Are they floating?"

  [Distantly] "They're floating."

  "So, are they floating?"

  [Distantly] "They're floating."

  "What did I tell you?"

  Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, yes. But it would take a lot of bananas to hold up an orang-utan."

  "It did. There was close to a ton. It still makes me sick when I think of all those bananas floating away and going to waste when they were mine for the picking."

  "It's a pity. Now, about--"

  "Could I have my bananas back, please?"

  Mr. Chiba: "I'll get them."

  [Sound of a chair being pushed back]

  [Distantly] "Look at that. They really do float."

  Mr. Okamoto: "What about this algae island you say you came upon?"

  Mr. Chiba: "Here are your bananas."

  Pi Patel: "Thank you. Yes?"

  "I'm sorry to say it so bluntly, we don't mean to hurt your feelings, but you don't really expect us to believe you, do you? Carnivorous trees? A fish-eating algae that produces fresh water? Tree-dwelling aquatic rodents? These things don't exist."

  "Only because you've never seen them."

  "That's right. We believe what we see."

  "So did Columbus. What do you do when you're in the dark?"

  "Your island is botanically impossible."

  "Said the fly just before landing in the Venus flytrap."

  "Why has no one else come upon it?"

  "It's a big ocean crossed by busy ships. I went slowly, observing much."

  "No scientist would believe you."

  "These would be the same who dismissed Copernicus and Darwin. Have scientists finished coming upon new plants? In the Amazon basin, for example?"

  "Not plants that contradict the laws of nature."

  "Which you know through and through?"

  "Well enough to know the possible from the impossible."

  Mr. Chiba: "I have an uncle who knows a lot about botany. He lives in the country near Hita-Gun. He's a bonsai master."

  Pi Patel: "A what?"

  "A bonsai master. You know, bonsai are little trees."

  "You mean shrubs."

  "No, I mean trees. Bonsai are little trees. They are less than two feet tall. You can carry them in your arms. They can be very old. My uncle has one that is over three hundred years old."

  "Three-hundred-year-old trees that are two feet tall that you can carry in your arms?"

  "Yes. They're very delicate. They need a lot of attention."

  "Whoever heard of such trees? They're botanically impossible."

  "But I assure you they exist, Mr. Patel. My uncle--"

  "I believe what I see."

  Mr. Okamoto: "Just a moment, please. Atsuro, with all due respect for your uncle who lives in the country near Hita-Gun, we're not here to talk idly about botany."

  "I'm just trying to help."

  "Do your uncle's bonsai eat meat?"

  "I don't think so."

  "Have you ever been bitten by one of his bonsai?"

  "No."

  "In that case, your uncle's bonsai are not helping us. Where were we?"

  Pi Patel: "With the tall, full-sized trees firmly rooted to the ground I was telling you about."

  "Let us put them aside for now."

  "It might be hard. I never tried pulling them out and carrying them."

  "You're a funny man, Mr. Patel. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

  Pi Patel: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"

  Mr. Chiba: "Ha! Ha! Ha! It wasn't that funny."

  Mr. Okamoto: "Just keep laughing. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

  Mr. Chiba: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"

  Mr. Okamoto: "Now about the tiger, we're not sure about it either."

  "What do you mean?"

  "We have difficulty believing it."

  "It's an incredible story."

  "Precisely."

  "I don't know how I survived."

  "Clearly it was a strain."

  "I'll have another cookie."

  "There are none left."

  "What's in that bag?"

  "Nothing."

  "Can I see?"

  Mr. Chiba: "There goes our lunch."

  Mr. Okamoto: "Getting back to the tiger ..."

  Pi Patel: "Terrible business. Delicious sandwiches."

  Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, they look good."

  Mr. Chiba: "I'm hungry."

  "Not a trace of it has been found. That's a bit hard to believe, isn't it? There are no tigers in the Americas. If there were a wild tiger out there, don't you think the police would have heard about it by now?"

  "I should tell you about the black panther that escaped from the Zurich Zoo in the middle of winter."

  "Mr. P
atel, a tiger is an incredibly dangerous wild animal. How could you survive in a lifeboat with one? It's--"

  "What you don't realize is that we are a strange and forbidding species to wild animals. We fill them with fear. They avoid us as much as possible. It took centuries to still the fear in some pliable animals--domestication it's called--but most cannot get over their fear, and I doubt they ever will. When wild animals fight us, it is out of sheer desperation. They fight when they feel they have no other way out. It's a very last resort."

  "In a lifeboat? Come on, Mr. Patel, it's just too hard to believe!"

  "Hard to believe? What do you know about hard to believe? You want hard to believe? I'll give you hard to believe. It's a closely held secret among Indian zookeepers that in 1971 Bara the polar bear escaped from the Calcutta Zoo. She was never heard from again, not by police or hunters or poachers or anyone else. We suspect she's living freely on the banks of the Hugli River. Beware if you go to Calcutta, my good sirs: if you have sushi on the breath you may pay a high price! If you took the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shook it, you'd be amazed at all the animals that would fall out: badgers, wolves, boa constrictors, Komodo dragons, crocodiles, ostriches, baboons, capybaras, wild boars, leopards, manatees, ruminants in untold numbers. There is no doubt in my mind that feral giraffes and feral hippos have been living in Tokyo for generations without being seen by a soul. You should compare one day the things that stick to the soles of your shoes as you walk down the street with what you see lying at the bottom of the cages in the Tokyo Zoo--then look up! And you expect to find a tiger in a Mexican jungle! It's laughable, just plain laughable. Ha! Ha! Ha!"

  "There may very well be feral giraffes and feral hippos living in Tokyo and a polar bear living freely in Calcutta. We just don't believe there was a tiger living in your lifeboat."

  "The arrogance of big-city folk! You grant your metropolises all the animals of Eden, but you deny my hamlet the merest Bengal tiger!"

  "Mr. Patel, please calm down."

  "If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for? Isn't love hard to believe?"

  "Mr. Patel--"

  "Don't you bully me with your politeness! Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?"

  "We're just being reasonable."

  "So am I! I applied my reason at every moment. Reason is excellent for getting food, clothing and shelter. Reason is the very best tool kit. Nothing beats reason for keeping tigers away. But be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out the universe with the bathwater."

  "Calm down, Mr. Patel, calm down."

  Mr. Chiba: "The bathwater? Why is he talking about bathwater?"

  "How can I be calm? You should have seen Richard Parker!"

  "Yes, yes."

  "Huge. Teeth like this! Claws like scimitars!"

  Mr. Chiba: "What are scimitars?"

  Mr. Okamoto: "Chiba-san, instead of asking stupid vocabulary questions, why don't you make yourself useful? This boy is a tough nut to crack. Do something!"

  Mr. Chiba: "Look! A chocolate bar!"

  Pi Patel: "Wonderful!"

  [Long silence]

  Mr. Okamoto: "Like he hasn't already stolen our whole lunch. Soon he'll be demanding tempura."

  [Long silence]

  Mr. Okamoto: "We are losing sight of the point of this investigation. We are here because of the sinking of a cargo ship. You are the sole survivor. And you were only a passenger. You bear no responsibility for what happened. We--"

  "Chocolate is so good!"

  "We are not seeking to lay criminal charges. You are an innocent victim of a tragedy at sea. We are only trying to determine why and how the Tsimtsum sank. We thought you might help us, Mr. Patel."

  [Silence]

  "Mr. Patel?"

  [Silence]

  Pi Patel: "Tigers exist, lifeboats exist, oceans exist. Because the three have never come together in your narrow, limited experience, you refuse to believe that they might. Yet the plain fact is that the Tsimtsum brought them together and then sank."

  [Silence]

  Mr. Okamoto: "What about this Frenchman?"

  "What about him?"

  "Two blind people in two separate lifeboats meeting up in the Pacific--the coincidence seems a little far-fetched, no?"

  "It certainly does."

  "We find it very unlikely."

  "So is winning the lottery, yet someone always wins."

  "We find it extremely hard to believe."

  "So did I."

  "I knew we should have taken the day off. You talked about food?"

  "We did."

  "He knew a lot about food."

  "If you can call it food."

  "The cook on the Tsimtsum was a Frenchman."

  "There are Frenchmen all over the world."

  "Maybe the Frenchman you met was the cook."

  "Maybe. How should I know? I never saw him. I was blind. Then Richard Parker ate him alive."

  "How convenient."

  "Not at all. It was horrific and it stank. By the way, how do you explain the meerkat bones in the lifeboat?"

  "Yes, the bones of a small animal were--"

  "More than one!"

  "--of some small animals were found in the lifeboat. They must have come from the ship."

  "We had no meerkats at the zoo."

  "We have no proof they were meerkat bones."

  Mr. Chiba: "Maybe they were banana bones! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!"

  "Atsuro, shut up!"

  "I'm very sorry, Okamoto-san. It's the fatigue."

  "You're bringing our service into disrepute!"

  "Very sorry, Okamoto-san."

  Mr. Okamoto: "They could be bones from another small animal."

  "They were meerkats."

  "They could be mongooses."

  "The mongooses at the zoo didn't sell. They stayed in India."

  "They could be shipboard pests, like rats. Mongooses are common in India."

  "Mongooses as shipboard pests?"

  "Why not?"

  "Who swam in the stormy Pacific, several of them, to the lifeboat? That's a little hard to believe, wouldn't you say?"

  "Less hard to believe than some of the things we've heard in the last two hours. Perhaps the mongooses were already aboard the lifeboat, like the rat you mentioned."

  "Simply amazing the number of animals in that lifeboat."

  "Simply amazing."

  "A real jungle."

  "Yes."

  "Those bones are meerkat bones. Have them checked by an expert."

  "There weren't that many left. And there were no heads."

  "I used them as bait."

  "It's doubtful an expert could tell whether they were meerkat bones or mongoose bones."

  "Find yourself a forensic zoologist."

  "All right, Mr. Patel! You win. We cannot explain the presence of meerkat bones, if that is what they are, in the lifeboat. But that is not our concern here. We are here because a Japanese cargo ship owned by Oika Shipping Company, flying the Panamanian flag, sank in the Pacific."

  "Something I never forget, not for a minute. I lost my whole family."

  "We're sorry about that."

  "Not as much as I am."

  [Long silence]

  Mr. Chiba: "What do we do now?"

  Mr. Okamoto: "I don't know."

  [Long silence]

  Pi Patel: "Would you like a cookie?"

  Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, that would be nice. Thank you."

  Mr. Chiba: "Thank you."

  [Long silence]

  Mr. Okamoto: "It's a nice day."

  Pi Patel: "Yes. Sunny."

  [Long silence]

  Pi Patel: "Is this your first visit to Mexico?"

  Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, it is."

  "Mine too."

  [Long silence]

  Pi Patel: "So, you didn't like my story?"


  Mr. Okamoto: "No, we liked it very much. Didn't we, Atsuro? We will remember it for a long, long time."

  Mr. Chiba: "We will."

  [Silence]

  Mr. Okamoto: "But for the purposes of our investigation, we would like to know what really happened."

  "What really happened?"

  "Yes."

  "So you want another story?"

  "Uhh ... no. We would like to know what really happened."

  "Doesn't the telling of something always become a story?"

  "Uhh ... perhaps in English. In Japanese a story would have an element of invention in it. We don't want any invention. We want the 'straight facts', as you say in English."

  "Isn't telling about something--using words, English or Japanese--already something of an invention? Isn't just looking upon this world already something of an invention?"

  "Uhh ..."

  "The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn't that make life a story?"

  "Ha! Ha! Ha! You are very intelligent, Mr. Patel."

  Mr. Chiba: "What is he talking about?"

  "I have no idea."

  Pi Patel: "You want words that reflect reality?"

  "Yes."

  "Words that do not contradict reality?"

  "Exactly."

  "But tigers don't contradict reality."

  "Oh please, no more tigers."

  "I know what you want. You want a story that won't surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won't make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality."

  "Uhh ..."

  "You want a story without animals."

  "Yes!"

  "Without tigers or orang-utans."

  "That's right."

  "Without hyenas or zebras."

  "Without them."

  "Without meerkats or mongooses."

  "We don't want them."

  "Without giraffes or hippopotamuses."

  "We will plug our ears with our fingers!"

  "So I'm right. You want a story without animals."

  "We want a story without animals that will explain the sinking of the Tsimtsum."

  "Give me a minute, please."

  "Of course. I think we're finally getting somewhere. Let's hope he speaks some sense."

  [Long silence]

  "Here's another story."

  "Good."

  "The ship sank. It made a sound like a monstrous metallic burp. Things bubbled at the surface and then vanished. I found myself kicking water in the Pacific Ocean. I swam for the lifeboat. It was the hardest swim of my life. I didn't seem to be moving. I kept swallowing water. I was very cold. I was rapidly losing strength. I wouldn't have made it if the cook hadn't thrown me a lifebuoy and pulled me in. I climbed aboard and collapsed.

  "Four of us survived. Mother held on to some bananas and made it to the lifeboat. The cook was already aboard, as was the sailor.

  "He ate the flies. The cook, that is. We hadn't been in the lifeboat a full day; we had food and water to last us for weeks; we had fishing gear and solar stills; we had no reason to believe that we wouldn't be rescued soon. Yet there he was, swinging his arms and catching flies and eating them greedily. Right away he was in a holy terror of hunger. He was calling us idiots and fools for not joining him in the feast. We were offended and disgusted, but we didn't show it. We were very polite about it. He was a stranger and a foreigner. Mother smiled and shook her head and raised her hand in refusal. He was a disgusting man. His mouth had the discrimination of a garbage heap. He also ate the rat. He cut it up and dried it in the sun. I--I'll be honest--I had a small piece, very small, behind Mother's back. I was so hungry. He was such a brute, that cook, ill-tempered and hypocritical.

 
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