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Chapter 43
The last trace I saw of the ship was a patch of oilglimmering on the surface of the water.
I was certain I wasn't alone. It was inconceivable that theTsimtsum should sink without eliciting a peep of concern. Rightnow in Tokyo, in Panama City, in Madras, in Honolulu, why,even in Winnipeg, red lights were blinking on consoles, alarmbells were ringing, eyes were opening wide in horror, mouthswere gasping, "My God! The Tsimtsum has sunk!" and handswere reaching for phones. More red lights were starting toblink and more alarm bells were starting to ring. Pilots wererunning to their planes with their shoelaces still untied, suchwas their hurry. Ship officers were spinning their wheels tillthey were feeling dizzy. Even submarines were swervingunderwater to join in the rescue effort. We would be rescuedsoon. A ship would appear on the horizon. A gun would befound to kill the hyena and put the zebra out of its misery.
Perhaps Orange Juice could be saved. I would climb aboardand be greeted by my family. They would have been pickedup in another lifeboat. I only had to ensure my survival for thenext few hours until this rescue ship came.
I reached from my perch for the net. I rolled it up andtossed it midway on the tarpaulin to act as a barrier, howeversmall. Orange Juice had seemed practically cataleptic. My guesswas she was dying of shock. It was the hyena that worriedme. I could hear it whining. I clung to the hope that a zebra,a familiar prey, and an orang-utan, an unfamiliar one, woulddistract it from thoughts of me.
I kept one eye on the horizon, one eye on the other end ofthe lifeboat. Other than the hyena's whining, I heard very littlefrom the animals, no more than claws scuffing against a hardsurface and occasional groans and arrested cries. No majorfight seemed to be taking place.
Mid-morning the hyena appeared again. In the precedingminutes its whining had been rising in volume to a scream. Itjumped over the zebra onto the stern, where the lifeboat's sidebenches came together to form a triangular bench. It was afairly exposed position, the distance between bench and gunnelbeing about twelve inches. The animal nervously peered beyondthe boat. Beholding a vast expanse of shifting water seemed tobe the last thing it wanted to see, for it instantly brought itshead down and dropped to the bottom of the boat behind thezebra. That was a cramped space; between the broad back ofthe zebra and the sides of the buoyancy tanks that went allround the boat beneath the benches, there wasn't much roomleft for a hyena. It thrashed about for a moment beforeclimbing to the stern again and jumping back over the zebrato the middle of the boat, disappearing beneath the tarpaulin.
This burst of activity lasted less than ten seconds. The hyenacame to within fifteen feet of me. My only reaction was tofreeze with fear. The zebra, by comparison, swiftly reared itshead and barked.
I was hoping the hyena would stay under the tarpaulin. Iwas disappointed. Nearly immediately it leapt over the zebraand onto the stern bench again. There it turned on itself a fewtimes, whimpering and hesitating. I wondered what it was goingto do next. The answer came quickly: it brought its head lowand ran around the zebra in a circle, transforming the sternbench, the side benches and the cross bench just beyond thetarpaulin into a twenty-five-foot indoor track. It did one lap –two – three – four – five – and onwards, non-stop, till I lostcount. And the whole time, lap after lap, it went yip yip yipyip yip in a high-pitched way. My reaction, once again, wasvery slow. I was seized by fear and could only watch. Thebeast was going at a good clip, and it was no small animal; itwas an adult male that looked to be about 140 pounds. Thebeating of its legs against the benches made the whole boatshake, and its claws were loudly clicking on their surface. Eachtime it came from the stern I tensed. It was hair-raisingenough to see the thing racing my way; worse still was thefear that it would keep going straight. Clearly, Orange Juice,wherever she was, would not be an obstacle. And the rolled-uptarpaulin and the bulge of the net were even more pitifuldefences. With the slightest of efforts the hyena could be at thebow right at my feet. It didn't seem intent on that course ofaction; every time it came to the cross bench, it took it, and Isaw the upper half of its body moving rapidly along the edgeof the tarpaulin. But in this state, the hyena's behaviour washighly unpredictable and it could decide to attack me withoutwarning.
After a number of laps it stopped short at the stern benchand crouched, directing its gaze downwards, to the space belowthe tarpaulin. It lifted its eyes and rested them upon me. Thelook was nearly the typical look of a hyena – blank and frank,the curiosity apparent with nothing of the mental set revealed,jaw hanging open, big ears sticking up rigidly, eyes bright andblack – were it not for the strain that exuded from every cellof its body, an anxiety that made the animal glow, as if with afever. I prepared for my end. For nothing. It st............
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