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Chapter 90
I said, "Richard Parker, is something wrong? Have you goneblind?" as I waved my hand in his face.
For a day or two he had been rubbing his eyes andmeowing disconsolately, but I thought nothing of it. Aches andpains were the only part of our diet that was abundant. Icaught a dorado. We hadn't eaten anything in three days. Aturtle had come up to the lifeboat the day before, but I hadbeen too weak to pull it aboard. I cut the fish in two halves.
Richard Parker was looking my way. I threw him his share. Iexpected him to catch it in his mouth smartly. It crashed intohis blank face. He bent down. After sniffing left and right, hefound the fish and began eating it. We were slow eaters now.
I peered into his eyes. They looked no different from anyother day. Perhaps there was a little more discharge in theinner corners, but it was nothing dramatic, certainly not asdramatic as his overall appearance. The ordeal had reduced usto skin and bones.
I realized that I had my answer in the very act of looking. Iwas staring into his eyes as if I were an eye doctor, while hewas looking back vacantly. Only a blind wild cat would fail toreact to such a stare.
I felt pity for Richard Parker. Our end was approaching.
The next day I started feeling a stinging in my eyes. Irubbed and rubbed, but the itch wouldn't go away. The veryopposite: it got worse, and unlike Richard Parker, my eyesstarted to ooze pus. Then darkness came, blink as I might. Atfirst it was right in front of me, a black spot at the centre ofeverything. It spread into a blotch that reached to the edges ofmy vision. All I saw of the sun the next morning was a crackof light at the top of my left eye, like a small window too highup. By noon, everything was pitch-black.
I clung to life. I was weakly frantic. The heat was infernal. Ihad so little strength I could no longer stand. My lips werehard and cracked. My mouth was dry and pasty, coated witha glutinous saliva as foul to taste as it was to smell. My skinwas burnt. My shrivelled muscles ached. My limbs, especiallymy feet, were swollen and a constant source of pain. I washungry and once again there was no food. As for water,Richard Parker was taking so much that I was down to fivespoonfuls a day. But this physical suffering was nothingcompared to the moral torture I was about to endure. I wouldrate the day I went blind as the day my extreme sufferingbegan. I could not tell you when exactly in the journey ithappened. Time, as I said before, became irrelevant. It musthave been sometime between the hundredth and thetwo-hundredth day. I was certain I would not last another one.
By the next morning I had lost all fear of death, and Iresolved to die.
I came to the sad conclusion that I could no longer takecare of Richard Parker. I had failed as a zookeeper. I wasmore affected by his imminent demise than I was by my own.
But truly, broken down and wasted away as I was, I could dono more for him.
Nature was sinking fast. I could feel a fatal weaknesscreeping up on me. I would be dead by the afternoon. Tomake my going more comfortable I decided to put off a littlethe intolerable thirst I had been living with for so long. Igulped down as much water as I could take. If only I couldhave had a last bite to eat. But it seemed that was not to be.
I set myself against the rolled-up edge of the tarpaulin in themiddle of the boat. I closed my eyes and waited for my breathto leave my body. I muttered, "Goodbye, Richard Parker. I'msorry for having failed you. I did my best. Farewell. DearFather, dear Mother, dear Ravi, greetings. Your loving son andbrother is coming to meet you. Not an hour has gone by thatI haven't thought of you. The moment I see you will be thehappiest of my life. And now I leave matters in the hands ofGod, who is love and whom I love." I heard the words, "Issomeone there?" It's astonishing what you hear when you'realone in the blackness of your dying mind. A sound withoutshape or colour sounds strange. To be blind is to hearotherwise.
The words came again, "Is someone there?" I concluded thatI had gone mad. Sad but true. Misery loves company, andmadness calls it forth. "Is someone there?" came the voiceagain, insistent. The clarity of my insanity was astonishing. Thevoice had its very own timbre, with a heavy, weary rasp. Idecided to play along.
"Of course someone's there," I replied. "There's always someone there. Who would be asking the question otherwise?""I was hoping there would be someone else." "What do youmean, someone e/se? Do you realize where you are? If you'renot happy with this figment of your fancy, pick another one.
There are plenty of fancies to pick from."Hmmm. Figment. Fig-ment. Wouldn't a fig be good?
"So there's no one, is there?""Shush… I'm dreaming of figs.""Figs! Do you have a fig? Please can I have a piece? I begyou. Only a little piece. I'm starving.""I don't have just one fig. I have a whole figment.""A whole figment of figs! Oh please, can I have some? I…"The voice, or whatever effect of wind and waves it was,faded.
"They're plump and heavy and fragrant," I continued. "Thebranches of the tree are bent over, they are so weighed downwith figs. There must be over three hundred figs in that tree."Silence.
The voice came back again. "Let's talk about food…""What a good idea.""What would you have to eat if you could have anythingyou wanted?""Excellent question. I would have a magnificent buffet. Iwould start with rice and sambar. There would be black gramdhal rice and curd rice and – ""I would have – ""I'm not finished. And with my rice I would have spicytamarind sambar and small onion sambar and – ""Anything else?""I'm getting there. I'd also have mixed vegetable sagu andvegetable korma and potato masala and cabbage vadai andmasala dosai and spicy lentil rasam and – ""I see.""Wait. And stuffed eggplant poriyal and coconut yam kootuand rice idli and curd vadai and vegetable bajji and – ""It sounds very – ""Have I mentioned the chutneys yet? Coconut chutney andmint chutney and green chilli pickle and gooseberry pickle, allserved with the usual nans, popadoms, parathas and puris, ofcourse.""Sounds – ""The salads! Mango curd salad and okra curd salad andplain fresh cucumber salad. And for dessert, almond payasamand milk payasam and jaggery pancake and peanut toffee andcoconut burfi and vanilla ice cream with hot, thick chocolatesauce.""Is that it?""I'd finish this snack with a ten-litre glass of fresh, clean,cool, chilled water and a coffee.""It sounds very good.""It does.""Tell me, what is coconut yam kootu?""Nothing short of heaven, that's what. To make it you needyams, grated coconut, green plantains, chilli powder, groundblack pepper, ground turmeric, cumin seeds, brown mustardseeds and some coconut oil. You sauté the coconut until it'sgolden brown – ""May I make a suggestion?""What?""Instead of coconut yam kootu, why not boiled beef tonguewith a mustard sauce?""That sounds non-veg.""It is. And then tripe.""Tripe? You've eaten the poor animal's tongue and now youwant to eat its stomach?""Yes! I dream of tripes à la mode de Caen – warm – withsweetbread.""Sweetbread? That sounds better. What is sweetbread?""Sweetbread is made from the pancreas of a calf.""The pancreas!""Braised and with a mushroom sauce, it's simply delicious."Where were these disgusting, sacrilegious recipes comingfrom? Was I so far gone that I was contemplating setting upona cow and her young? What horrible crosswind was I caughtin? Had the lifeboat drifted back into that floating trash?
"What will be the next affront?""Calf's brains in a brown butter sauce!""Back to the head, are we?""Brain souffle!""I'm feeling sick. Is there anything you won't eat?""What I would give for oxtail soup. For roast suckling pigstuffed with rice, sausages, apricots and raisins. For veal kidneyin a butter, mustard and parsley sauce. For a marinated rabbitstewed in red wine. For chicken liver sausages. For pork andliver pate with veal. For frogs. Ah, give me frogs, give mefrogs!""I'm barely holding on."The voice faded. I was trembling with nausea. Madness inthe mind was one thing, but it was not fair that it should goto the stomach.
Understanding suddenly dawned on me.
"Would you eat bleeding raw beef?" I asked.
"Of course! I love tartar steak.""Would you eat the congealed blood of a dead pig?""Every day, with apple sauce!""Would you eat anything from an animal, the last remains?""Scrapple and sausage! I'd have a heaping plate!""How about a carrot? Would you eat a plain, raw carrot?"There was no answer.
"Did you not hear me? Would you eat a carrot?""I heard you. To be honest, if I had the choice, I wouldn't.
I don't have much of a stomach for that kind of food. I find itquite distasteful."I laughed. I knew it. I wasn't hearing voices. I hadn't gonemad. It was Richard Parker who was speaking to me! Thecarnivorous rascal. All this time together and he had chosen anhour before we were to die to pipe up. I was elated to be onspeaking terms with a tiger. Immediately I was filled with avulgar curiosity, the sort that movie stars suffer from at thehands of their fans.
"I'm curious, tell me – have you ever killed a man?
I doubted it. Man-eaters among animals are as rare asmurderers among men, and Richard Parker was caught whilestill a cub. But who's to say that his mother, before she wasnabbed by Thirsty, hadn't caught a human being?
"What a question," replied Richard Parker.
"Seems reasonable.""It does?""Yes.""Why?""You have the reputation that you have.""I do?""Of course. Are you blind to that fact?""I am.""Well, let me make clear what you evidently can't see: youhave that reputation. So, have you ever killed a man?"Silence.
"Well? Answer me.""Yes.""Oh! It sends shivers down my spine. How many?""Two.""You've killed two men?""No. A man and a woman.""At the same time?""No. The man first, the woman second.""You monster! I bet you thought it was great fun. You musthave found their cries and their struggles quite entertaining.""Not really.""Were they good?""Were they good?
"Yes. Don't be so obtuse. Did they taste good?""No, they didn't taste good.""I thought so. I've heard it's an acquired taste in animals. Sowhy did you kill them?""Need.""The need of a monster. Any regrets?""It was them or me.""That is need expressed in all its amoral simplicity. But anyregrets now?""It was t............
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