“Don’t come near me.” She holds something pointed, probably a bit of plastic. I don’t know her name, but that’s not really a problem. The problem is giving her the space she needs to feel safe; this is a small raft and, despite both of us working on it, falling apart.
We’re adrift and trying to hold, lash and knot wreckage together. The horizon is flat in all directions, just sea: almost totally calm sea with no wind. This will change. It’s difficult to know what will kill us first. We have UV rays unrelenting during the day and biting cold at night. Water is a problem but, as she explained to me, it’s OK in the short term to drink seawater first and then die on whatever fresh water you have after your kidneys pack up and you start talking to goblins.
Except I think she’s a bit mad already. I may be too – but how can I be the judge of that?
My knuckles bleed. They have bled for ages. I have no idea how long we have endured this. We fight every exhausted waking moment to keep mending this raft. Everything works loose but we occasionally find string, plastic bags and so on, to make into rope – but it all wears out.
When the doldrums lift and real waves come all this will fall apart and we’ll drown. Unless we shrivel and burn first.
I think we’re both going insane. She’s fearful, even a bit paranoid; I’m getting numb, vaguer and more forgetful by the minute.
“You keep away!” She’s dropped whatever weapon she held and scans around in panic but doesn’t find it. “Keep away!”
“I’ll keep away as far as I can. You just tell me when it’s time to open the water.”
She snatches up our 500ml bottle. “Don’t you dare!”
The corners of my lips have cracked and this adds to every other pain, blister and bleeding area I have. I still want to speak even though the inevitable taste of blood is revolting. “I’m not daring anything. The water is safe from me.”
“Nothing is safe from you – you’re a man. No one has been safe from you for thousands of years. Women will never be safe and you even slaughter each other as if it’s some great sport you can be heroic and manly about. Fuck off.”
“Oh yes, I am a man and therefore liable to be judged for all the evils of every man ever. Of course you are a woman and equally guilty of all the evils of women.”
She glares at me but doesn’t speak. I go on, “Yes, men slaughtered, raped and enslaved. Women and men hated being slaves but liked having them. Maybe all humans abuse each other physically and emotionally even when they’re not aware of it.”
“Except you of course, ha-ha. So you’re some sort of saint or something?” Her tone spits venom.
I snort in laughter, though my nasal membranes turn to fire. “Male or female, it doesn’t matter now: I’m human. I don’t really know anything else.” I scan for any more useful plastic in the ocean but my sight is getting poor and I have no strength to swim very far anyway.
She’s ignoring me, trying to sharpen something as a new weapon. I see the last one, trapped under her left ankle. She must have forgotten – or not feel – it’s there. I ask, “Would you kill me with that … really?”
“Good. Look, I know we all start off born or forced into different circumstances and some of them are so harsh we can barely survive unless we cheat, fight and lie…” I don’t know what I was going to say next: all my effort went into that and I need a rest. She’s still rubbing plastic against plastic. It’s a useless exercise but … but that makes sense.
“It’s about caring,” I say, hoping my brain will work out what the next point is. “You have to care about yourself … your survival: at least at first. Then you care about all sorts of shit and end up in so many messes.” I chuckle. That hurts a bit too. “Then you realise that it’s all about caring. You care if you have something or if you don’t. You care if something is beautiful or ugly, good or bad … if you didn’t care you wouldn’t even notice.” I think she’s ignoring me. My eyes are closed and somehow I’m lying down. That’s bad news. This raft is such a chaos of stuff, lying on it could only cause injury. I feel nothing. That’s fine then.
I think I’m still talking out loud, “You get told what to care about but eventually ignore what other people tell you and choose for yourself – or give in and believe in the wisdom of geniuses or fools – you’ll never know the difference because they’re not you.”
The motion of the raft is a musical massage, creaking and snapping as things come adrift. Rising water laps under my neck and shoulders.
There’s something still to say, what was it? “I care about the sea but it’s fine without me. I care about the stars and the sun – the same. I care about me and I care about you. I can either care or damn – I can’t see an in-between though I’ve tried so hard. Damning something is damning everything. Ignoring something which needs caring about is damning it. Eventually I worked out that completely caring about one thing means completely caring about everything. I never thought I’d be strong enough to care that much until I realised it doesn’t take the slightest strength. It’s fighting against caring which destroys me. I just wanted to mention all this because it’s all I ever needed to understand, and wondered if you
thought the same.”
©Gary Bonn, 2021
Photo: WWF – thank you