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Chapter 45
I was cold. It was a distracted observation, as if it didn'tconcern me. Daybreak came. It happened quickly, yet byimperceptible degrees. A corner of the sky changed colours.
The air began filling with light. The calm sea opened uparound me like a great book. Still it felt like night. Suddenly itwas day.
Warmth came only when the sun, looking like an electricallylit orange, broke across the horizon, but I didn't need to waitthat long to feel it. With the very first rays of light it camealive in me: hope. As things emerged in outline and filled withcolour, hope increased until it was like a song in my heart. Oh,what it was to bask in it! Things would work out yet. Theworst was over. I had survived the night. Today I would berescued. To think that, to string those words together in mymind, was itself a source of hope. Hope fed on hope. As thehorizon became a neat, sharp line, I scanned it eagerly. Theday was clear again and visibility was perfect. I imagined Raviwould greet me first and with a tease. "What's this?" he wouldsay. "You find yourself a great big lifeboat and you fill it withanimals? You think you're Noah or something?" Father wouldbe unshaven and dishevelled. Mother would look to the skyand take me in her arms. I went through a dozen versions ofwhat it was going to be like on the rescue ship, variations onthe theme of sweet reunion. That morning the horizon mightcurve one way, my lips resolutely curved the other, in a smile.
Strange as it might sound, it was only after a long time thatI looked to see what was happening in the lifeboat. The hyenahad attacked the zebra. Its mouth was bright red and it waschewing on a piece of hide. My eyes automatically searched forthe wound, for the area under attack. I gasped with horror.
The zebra's broken leg was missing. The hyena had bitten itoff and dragged it to the stern, behind the zebra. A flap ofskin hung limply over the raw stump. Blood was still dripping.
The victim bore its suffering patiently, without showyremonstrations. A slow and constant grinding of its teeth wasthe only visible sign of distress. Shock, revulsion and angersurged through me. I felt intense hatred for the hyena. Ithought of doing something to, kill it. But I did nothing. Andmy outrage was short-lived. I must be honest about that. Ididn't have pity to spare for long for the zebra. When yourown life is threatened, your sense of empathy is blunted by aterrible, selfish hunger for survival. It was sad that it wassuffering so much – and being such a big, strapping creatureit wasn't at the end of its ordeal – but there was nothing Icould do about it. I felt pity and then I moved on. This is notsomething I am proud of. I am sorry I was so callous aboutthe matter. I have not forgotten that poor zebra and what itwent through. Not a prayer goes by that I don't think of it.
There was still no sign of Orange Juice. I turned my eyes tothe horizon again.
That afternoon the wind picked up a little and I noticedsomething about the lifeboat: despite its weight, it floated lightlyon the water, no doubt because it was carrying less than itscapacity. We had plenty of freeboard, the distance between thewater and the gunnel; it would take a mean sea to swamp us.
But it also meant that whatever end of the boat was facing thewind tended to fall away, bringing us broadside to the waves.
With small waves the result was a ceaseless, fist-like beatingagainst the hull, while larger waves made for a tiresome rollingof the boat as it leaned from side to side. This jerky andincessant motion was making me feel queasy.
Perhaps I would feel better in a new position. I slid downthe oar and shifted back onto the bow. I sat facing the waves,with the rest of the boat to my left. I was closer to the hyena,but it wasn't stirring.
It was as I was breathing deeply and concentrating onmaking my nausea go away that I saw Orange Juice. I hadimagined her completely out of sight, near the bow beneath thetarpaulin, as far from the hyena as she could get. Not so. Shewas on the side bench, just beyond the edge of the hyena'sindoor track and barely hidden from me by the bulge ofrolled-up ............
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