Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (41)

Poor Sophie had spent much of the night retching into a bucket – by morning, there was little of anything left inside her. Her stomach felt as though it had been sucked inside out by a giant vacuum cleaner – the muscles there were tired, and aching. As was her head. The throbbing in her temples was a hitherto unknown feeling for the seven-year-old, and the confusion as much as the pain it caused only added to her anxiety. Feeling teary, she thought constantly of home. “Mummy,” she whispered under her breath, as if just saying the word would break the spell, and she would wake up back in Sunny Cape again. Like her heroine Dorothy, she wanted to click her heels together three times and say: There’s no place like home. But despite her tender years, Sophie secretly knew that this would not work, either.

Familiar with the danger of dehydration at sea and recognising Sophie’s symptoms, a sympathetic crewmember had sat in vigil by her side all night, to no avail. For everything he poured down her had come straight back up. Now, as the rays of the morning sun played a dance on the crystal waters off the coast of Vietnam, he encouraged her once more to take in fluid. “He shui ba.” Here, drink some water. Silently accepting the plastic bottle he offered, Sophie gulped greedily, only for the man to quickly snatch it back. Through crusty features, he acknowledged the sad and confused look this action produced with a tender smile. For it must have seemed to the girl a cruel and despicable trick. In truth, the deckhand was merely attempting to slow her down, lest she drink too fast only to waste the precious fluid by retching it all up again. Little by little, he tried to convey in a manner as best he could, gesturing with a hand, its palm face down. Quick to understand, the young girl slowly nodded, when he allowed her to take back the bottle. Once more, he gave Sophie an encouraging smile. Shui ba. Compared with the other crewmembers he was unusual, this particular man. Gentle, and with a conscience, he appeared to be on her side. It seemed that he cared. Having witnessed the constant misery suffered by the young guimei since they left port, the man was now completely unsure about his involvement in what was, after all, a delivery voyage. Whose cargo was human and young and innocent. And although the man was Godless, growing up under the ruthlessly atheistic Communist regime, the goodness inside him now vowed that he would try some day to make amends for his participation in the whole sordid affair.

The crewmember’s concern for Sophie’s welfare was somewhat allayed when a huge grin suddenly lit up her face. Just moments earlier she had been staring listlessly over his shoulder, but now a radiant beam seemed to shine from her innocent blue eyes. Swivelling to look in the same direction, he saw immediately what had thrilled her. A dozen or so humpback dolphins were speeding effortlessly alongside the launch, accelerating now and then to leap ahead of the vessel and tease her bow, before veering away once more. The juvenile play of these stunning creatures gave Sophie a welcome distraction, lifting her momentarily from the grim despair of her predicament. And while the rest of the crew largely ignored their playful incursion, the man beside her hoped, as she did, that the pod would stick around for a while. They’re my friends, the young captive told herself. They’ve been sent here by God to look after me. But after diving beneath the hull, the group sped off on the starboard beam, leaping and diving through the waves with breathtaking agility. It was breakfast time in the fishing grounds, it seemed.

Soon after, however, another welcome diversion came slowly into view, in the form of Ha Long Bay’s staggering array of monolithic rocks. Surveying them wide-eyed, it occurred to Sophie that they resembled mouthfuls of crooked teeth, jutting from the ocean as they did, at a variety of angles. And it was then that she remembered recently losing a tooth herself. Probing around with her tongue, she now flinched as it pushed into the hole where the incisor had once been rooted. For while it did not really hurt, the sensation produced by making contact with the soft tissue there gave her a funny feeling, putting her a little on edge. My Dad always says you get money when your tooth falls out, she reflected, a tear now forming in the corner of an eye. But you’re s’posed to put it under your pillow. And now the tears began to fall again in earnest; the heavy sobs returning as she realised she had literally lost it somewhere back at the place where they had boarded the launch, when the horrid man had grabbed her and pulled her roughly from the car. And neither did she possess a pillow, she contemplated sorrowfully, nor even have a bed in which to lie down.

Tremulously, and for a strange moment fearing that he, too, might shed a tear, the deckhand put a strong arm around her, in comfort.

posted by Kirk at 9:26 pm  

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress