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Chapter 49
In the morning I could not move. I was pinned byweakness to the tarpaulin. Even thinking was exhausting. Iapplied myself to thinking straight. At length, as slowly as acaravan of camels crossing a desert, some thoughts cametogether.
The day was like the previous one, warm and overcast, theclouds low, the breeze light. That was one thought. The boatwas rocking gently, that was another.
I thought of sustenance for the first time. I had not had adrop to drink or a bite to eat or a minute of sleep in threedays. Finding this obvious explanation for my weakness broughtme a little strength.
Richard Parker was still on board. In fact, he was directlybeneath me. Incredible that such a thing should need consentto be true, but it was only after much deliberation, uponassessing various mental items and points of view, that Iconcluded that it was not a dream or a delusion or amisplaced memory or a fancy or any other such falsity, but asolid, true thing witnessed while in a weakened, highly agitatedstate. The truth of it would be confirmed as soon as I felt wellenough to investigate.
How I had failed to notice for two and a half days a450-pound Bengal tiger in a lifeboat twenty-six feet long was aconundrum I would have to try to crack later, when I hadmore energy. The feat surely made Richard Parker the largeststowaway, proportionally speaking, in the history of navigation.
From tip of nose to tip of tail he took up over a third of thelength of the ship he was on.
You might think I lost all hope at that point. I did. And asa result I perked up and felt much better. We see that insports all the time, don't we? The tennis challenger startsstrong but soon loses confidence in his playing. The championracks up the games. But in the final set, when the challengerhas nothing left to lose, he becomes relaxed again, insouciant,daring. Suddenly he's playing like the devil and the championmust work hard to get those last points. So it was with me.
To cope with a hyena seemed remotely possible, but I was soobviously outmatched by Richard Parker that it wasn't evenworth worrying about. With a tiger aboard, my life was over.
That being settled, why not do something about my parchedthroat?
I believe it was this that saved my life that morning, that Iwas quite literally dying of thirst. Now that the word hadpopped into my head I couldn't think of anything else, as ifthe word itself were salty and the more I thought of it, theworse the effect. I have heard that the hunger for air exceedsas a compelling sensation the thirst for water. Only for a fewminutes, I say. After a few minutes you die and the discomfortof asphyxiation goes away. Whereas thirst is a drawn-out affair.
Look: Christ on the Cross died of suffocation, but His onlycomplaint was of thirst. If thirst can be so taxing that evenGod Incarnate complains about it, imagine the effect on aregular human. It was enough to make me go raving mad. Ihave never known a worse physical hell than this putrid tasteand pasty feeling in the mouth, this unbearable pressure at theback of the throat, this sensation that my blood was turning toa thick syrup that barely flowed. Truly, by comparison, a tigerwas nothing.
And so I pushed aside all thoughts............
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