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Chapter 41
The elements allowed me to go on living. The lifeboat didnot sink. Richard Parker kept out of sight. The sharks prowledbut did not lunge. The waves splashed me but did not pull meoff.
I watched the ship as it disappeared with much burbling andbelching. Lights flickered and went out. I looked about for myfamily, for survivors, for another lifeboat, for anything thatmight bring me hope. There was nothing. Only rain, maraudingwaves of black ocean and the flotsam of tragedy.
The darkness melted away from the sky. The rain stopped.
I could not stay in the position I was in forever. I was cold.
My neck was sore from holding up my head and from all thecraning I had been doing. My back hurt from leaning againstthe lifebuoy. And I needed to be higher up if I were to seeother lifeboats.
I inched my way along the oar till my feet were against thebow of the boat. I had to proceed with extreme caution. Myguess was that Richard Parker was on the floor of the lifeboatbeneath the tarpaulin, his back to me, facing the zebra, whichhe had no doubt killed by now. Of the five senses, tigers relythe most on their sight. Their eyesight is very keen, especiallyin detecting motion. Their hearing is good. Their smell isaverage. I mean compared to other animals, of course. Next toRichard Parker, I was deaf, blind and nose-dead. But at themoment he could not see me, and in my wet condition couldprobably not smell me, and what with the whistling of the windand the hissing of the sea as waves broke, if I were careful,he would not hear me. I had a chance so long as he did notsense me. If he did, he would kill me right away. Could heburst through the tarpaulin, I wondered.
Fear and reason fought over the answer. Fear said Yes. Hewas a fierce, 450-pound carnivore. Each of his claws was assharp as a knife. Reason said No. The tarpaulin was sturdycanvas, not a Japanese paper wall. I had landed upon it froma height. Richard Parker could shred it with his claws with alittle time and effort, but he couldn't pop through it like ajack-in-the-box. And he had not seen me. Since he had notseen me, he had no reason to claw his way through it.
I slid along the oar. I brought both my legs to one side ofthe oar and placed my feet on the gunnel. The gunnel is thetop edge of a boat, the rim if you want. I moved a little moretill my legs were on the boat. I kept my eyes fixed on thehorizon of the tarpaulin. Any second I expected to see RichardParker rising up and coming for me. Several times I had fits offearful trembling. Precisely where I wanted to be most still –my legs – was where I trembled most. My legs drummedupon the tarpaulin. A more obvious rapping on RichardParker's door couldn't be imagined. The trembling spread tomy arms and it was all I could do to hold on. Each fit passed.
When enough of my body was on the boat I pulled myselfup. I looked beyond the end of the tarpaulin. I was surprisedto see that the zebra was still alive. It lay near the stern,where it had fallen, listless, but its stomach was still pantingand its eyes were still moving, expressing terror. It was on itsside, facing me, its head and neck awkwardly propped againstthe boat's side bench. It had badly broken a rear leg. Theangle of it was completely unnatural. Bone protruded throughskin and there was bleeding. Only its slim front legs had asemblance of normal position. They were bent and neatlytucked against its twisted torso. From time to time the zebrashook its head and barked and snorted. Otherwise it layquietly.
It was a lovely animal. Its wet markings glowed brightly whiteand intensely black. I was so eaten up by anxiety that Icouldn't dwell on it; still, in passing, as a faint afterthought, ............
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