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Chapter 79
There were sharks every day, mainly makos and bluesharks, but also oceanic whitetips, and once a tiger sharkstraight from the blackest of nightmares. Dawn and dusk weretheir favourite times. They never seriously troubled us. Onoccasion one knocked the hull of the lifeboat with its tail. Idon't think it was accidental (other marine life did it too, turtlesand even dorados). I believe it was part of a shark's way ofdetermining the nature of the lifeboat. A good whack on theoffender's nose with a hatchet sent it vanishing post-haste intothe deep. The main nuisance of sharks was that they madebeing in the water risky, like trespassing on a property wherethere's a sign saying Beware of Dog. Otherwise, I grew quitefond of sharks. They were like curmudgeonly old friends whowould never admit that they liked me yet came round to seeme all the time. The blue sharks were smaller, usually no morethan four or five feet long, and the most attractive, sleek andslender, with small mouths and discreet gill slits. Their backswere a rich ultramarine and their stomachs snow white, coloursthat vanished to grey or black when they were at any depth,but which close to the surface sparkled with surprisingbrilliance. The makos were larger and had mouths burstingwith frightening teeth, but they too were nicely coloured, anindigo blue that shimmered beautifully in the sun. The oceanicwhitetips were often shorter than the makos – some of whichstretched to twelve feet – but they were much stockier andhad enormous dorsal fins that they sailed high above thesurface of the water, like a war banner, a rapidly moving sightthat was always nerve-racking to behold. Besides, they were adull colour, a sort of greyish brown, and the mottled white tipsof their fins held no special attraction.
I caught a number of small sharks, blue sharks for the mostpart, but some makos too. Each time it was just after sunset,in the dying light of the day, and I caught them with my barehands as they came close to the lifeboat.
The first one was my largest, a mako over four feet long. Ithad come and gone near the bow several times. As it waspassing by yet again, I impulsively dropped my hand into thewater and grabbed it just ahead of the tail, where its bodywas thinnest. Its harsh skin afforded such a marvellously goodgrip that without thinking about what I was doing, I pulled. AsI pulled, it jumped, giving my arm a terrific shake. To myhorror and delight the thing vaulted in the air in an explosionof water and spray. For the merest fraction of a second Ididn't know what to do next. The thing was smaller than I –but wasn't I being a foolhardy Goliath here? Shouldn't I let go?
I turned and swung, and falling on the tarpaulin, I threw themako towards the stern. The fish fell from the sky into RichardParker's territory. It landed with a crash and started thwackingabout with such thunder that I was afraid it would demolishthe boat. Richard Parker was startled. He attacked immediately.
An epic battle began. Of interest to zoologists I can reportthe following: a tiger will not at first attack a shark out ofwater with its jaws but will rather strike at it with its forepaws.
Richard Parker started clubbing ............
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