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Chapter 99
Mr. Okamoto: "Mr. Patel, we don't believe your story.""Sorry – these cookies are good but they tend to crumble.
I'm amazed. Why not?""It doesn't hold up.""What do you mean?""Bananas don't float.""I'm sorry?""You said the orang-utan came floating on an island ofbananas.""That's right.""Bananas don't float.""Yes, they do.""They're too heavy.""No, they're not. Here, try for yourself. I have two bananasright here."Mr. Chiba: [translation] "Where did those come from?
What else does he have under his bedsheet?"Mr. Okamoto: "Damn it. [/translation] No, that's all right.""There's a sink over there.""That's fine.""I insist. Fill that sink with water, drop these bananas in,and we'll see who's right.""We'd like to move on.""I absolutely insist."[Silence]
Mr. Chiba: [translation] "What do we do?"Mr. Okamoto: "I feel this is going to be another very longday." [/translation]
[Sound of a chair being pushed back. Distant soundof water gushing out of a tap]
Pi Patel: "What's happening? I can't see from here."Mr. Okamoto [Distantly] : "I'm filling the sink.""Have you put the bananas in yet?"[Distantly] "No.""And now?"[Distantly] "They're in.""And?"[Silence]
Mr. Chiba: [translation] "Are they floating?"[Distantly] "They're floating." [/translation]
"So, are they floating?"[Distantly] "They're floating.""What did I tell you?"Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, yes. But it would take a lot of bananasto hold up an orang-utan.""It did. There was close to a ton. It still makes me sickwhen I think of all those bananas floating away and going towaste when they were mine for the picking.""It's a pity. Now, about – ""Could I have my bananas back, please?"Mr. Chiba: [translation] "I'll get them."[Sound of a chair being pushed back]
[Distantly] "Look at that. They really do float."[/translation]
Mr. Okamoto: "What about this algae island you say youcame upon?"Mr. Chiba: "Here are your bananas."Pi Patel: "Thank you. Yes?""I'm sorry to say it so bluntly, we don't mean to hurt yourfeelings, but you don't really expect us to believe you, do you?
Carnivorous trees? A fish-eating algae that produces freshwater? Tree-dwelling aquatic rodents? These things don't exist.""Only because you've never seen them.""That's right. We believe what we see.""So did Columbus. What do you do when you're in thedark?""Your island is botanically impossible.""Said the fly just before landing in the Venus flytrap.""Why has no one else come upon it?""It's a big ocean crossed by busy ships. I went slowly,observing much.""No scientist would believe you.""These would be the same who dismissed Copernicus andDarwin. Have scientists finished coming upon new plants? Inthe Amazon basin, for example?""Not plants that contradict the laws of nature.""Which you know through and through?""Well enough to know the possible from the impossible."Mr. Chiba: "I have an uncle who knows a lot about botany.
He lives in the country near Hita-Gun. He's a bonsai master."Pi Patel: "A what?""A bonsai master. You know, bonsai are little trees.""You mean shrubs.""No, I mean trees. Bonsai are little trees. They are less thantwo feet tall. You can carry them in your arms. They can bevery old. My uncle has one that is over three hundred yearsold.""Three-hundred-year-old trees that are two feet tall that youcan carry in your arms?""Yes. They're very delicate. They need a lot of attention.""Whoever heard of such trees? They're botanicallyimpossible.""But I assure you they exist, Mr. Patel. My uncle – ""I believe what I see."Mr. Okamoto: "Just a moment, please. [translation] Atsuro,with all due respect for your uncle who lives in the countrynear Hita-Gun, we're not here to talk idly about botany.""I'm just trying to help.""Do your uncle's bonsai eat meat?""I don't think so.""Have you ever been bitten by one of his bonsai?""No.""In that case, your uncle's bonsai are not helping us.
[/translation] Where were we?"Pi Patel: "With the tall, full-sized trees firmly rooted to theground I was telling you about.""Let us put them aside for now.""It might be hard. I never tried pulling them out andcarrying them.""You're a funny man, Mr. Patel. Ha! Ha! Ha!"Pi Patel: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"Mr. Chiba: "Ha! Ha! Ha! [translation] It wasn't thatfunny."Mr. Okamoto: "Just keep laughing.[/translation] Ha! Ha!
Ha!"Mr. Chiba: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"Mr. Okamoto: "Now about the tiger, we're not sure about iteither.""What do you mean?""We have difficulty believing it.""It's an incredible story.""Precisely.""I don't know how I survived.""Clearly it was a strain.""I'll have another cookie.""There are none left.""What's in that bag?""Nothing.""Can I see?"Mr. Chiba: [translation] "There goes our lunch."[/translation]
Mr. Okamoto: "Getting back to the tiger…"Pi Patel: "Terrible business. Delicious sandwiches."Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, they look good."Mr. Chiba: [translation] "I'm hungry." [/translation]
"Not a trace of it has been found. That's a bit hard tobelieve, isn't it? There are no tigers in the Americas. If therewere a wild tiger out there, don't you think the police wouldhave heard about it by now?""I should tell you about the black panther that escaped fromthe Zurich Zoo in the middle of winter.""Mr. Patel, a tiger is an incredibly dangerous wild animal.
How could you survive in a lifeboat with one? It's – ""What you don't realize is that we are a strange andforbidding species to wild animals. We fill them with fear. Theyavoid us as much as possible. It took centuries to still the fearin some pliable animals – domestication it's called – but mostcannot get over their fear, and I doubt they ever will. Whenwild animals fight us, it is out of sheer desperation. They fightwhen they feel they have no other way out. It's a very lastresort.""In a lifeboat? Come on, Mr. Patel, it's just too hard tobelieve!""Hard to believe? What do you know about hard to believe?
You want hard to believe? I'll give you hard to believe. It's aclosely held secret among Indian zookeepers that in 1971 Barathe polar bear escaped from the Calcutta Zoo. She was neverheard from again, not by police or hunters or poachers oranyone else. We suspect she's living freely on the banks of theHugli River. Beware if you go to Calcutta, my good sirs: if youhave sushi on the breath you may pay a high price! If youtook the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shookit, you'd be amazed at all the animals that would fall out:
badgers, wolves, boa constrictors, Komodo dragons, crocodiles,ostriches, baboons, capybaras, wild boars, leopards, manatees,ruminants in untold numbers. There is no doubt in my mindthat feral giraffes and feral hippos have been living in Tokyofor generations without being seen by a soul. You shouldcompare one day the things that stick to the soles of yourshoes as you walk down the street with what you see lying atthe bottom of the cages in the Tokyo Zoo – then look up!
And you expect to find a tiger in a Mexican jungle! It'slaughable, just plain laughable. Ha! Ha! Ha!""There may very well be feral giraffes and feral hippos livingin Tokyo and a polar bear living freely in Calcutta. We justdon't believe there was a tiger living in your lifeboat.""The arrogance of big-city folk! You grant your metropolisesall the animals of Eden, but you deny my hamlet the merestBengal tiger!""Mr. Patel, please calm down.""If you stumble at mere believability, what are you living for?
Isn't love hard to believe?""Mr. Patel – ""Don't you bully me with your politeness! Love is hard tobelieve, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist.
God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problemwith hard to believe?""We're just being reasonable.""So am I! I applied my reason at every moment. Reason isexcellent for getting food, clothing and shelter. Reason is thevery best tool kit. Nothing beats reason for keeping tigers away.
But be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out theuniverse with the bathwater.""Calm down, Mr. Patel, calm down."Mr. Chiba: [translation] "The bathwater? Why is he talkingabout bathwater?" [/translation]
"How can I be calm? You should have seen RichardParker!""Yes, yes.""Huge. Teeth like this! Claws like scimitars!"Mr. Chiba: [translation] "What are scimitars?"Mr. Okamoto: "Chiba-san,, instead of asking stupidvocabulary questions, why don't you make yourself useful? Thisboy is a tough nut to crack. Do something!" [/translation]
Mr. Chiba: "Look! A chocolate bar!"Pi Patel: "Wonderful!"[Long silence]
Mr. Okamoto: [translation] "Like he hasn't already stolenour whole lunch. Soon he'll be demanding tempura."[/translation]
[Long silence]
Mr. Okamoto: "We are losing sight of the point of thisinvestigation. We are here because of the sinking of a cargoship. You are the sole survivor. And you were only apassenger. You bear no responsibility for what happened. We –""Chocolate is so good!""We are not seeking to lay criminal charges. You are aninnocent victim of a tragedy at sea. We are only trying todetermine why and how the Tsimtsum sank. We thought youmight help us, Mr. Patel."[Silence]
"Mr. Patel?"[Silence]
Pi Patel: "Tigers exist, lifeboats exist, oceans exist. Becausethe three have never come together in your narrow, limitedexperience, you refuse to believe that they might. Yet the plainfact is that the Tsimtsum brought them together and thensank."[Silence]
Mr. Okamoto: "What about this Frenchman?""What about him?""Two blind people in two separate lifeboats meeting up in thePacific – the coincidence seems a little far-fetched, no?""It certainly does.""We find it very unlikely.""So is winning the lottery, yet someone always wins.""We find it extremely hard to believe.""So did I."[translation] "I knew we should have taken the day off.
[/translation] You talked about food?""We did.""He knew a lot about food.""If you can call it food.""The cook on the Tsimtsum was a Frenchman.""There are Frenchmen all over the world.""Maybe the Frenchman you met was the cook.""Maybe. How should I know? I never saw him. I was blind.
Then Richard Parker ate him alive.""How convenient.""Not at all. It was horrific and it stank. By the way, how doyou explain the meerkat bones in the lifeboat?""Yes, the bones of a small animal were – ""More than one!"" – of some small animals were found in the lifeboat. Theymust have come from the ship.""We had no meerkats at the zoo.""We have no proof they were meerkat bones."Mr. Chiba: "Maybe they were banana bones! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Ha! Ha!"[translation] "Atsuro, shut up!""I'm very sorry, Okamoto-san. It's the fatigue.""You're bringing our service into disrepute!""Very sorry, Okamoto-san." [/translation]
Mr. Okamoto: "They could be bones from another smallanimal.""They were meerkats.""They could be mongooses.""The mongooses at the zoo didn't sell. They stayed in India.""They could be shipboard pests, like rats. Mongooses arecommon in India.""Mongooses as shipboard pests?""Why not?""Who swam in the stormy Pacific, several of them, to thelifeboat? That's a little hard to believe, wouldn't you say?""Less hard to believe than some of the things we've heardin the last two hours. Perhaps the mongooses were alreadyaboard the lifeboat, like the rat you mentioned.""Simply amazing the number of animals in that lifeboat.""Simply amazing.""A real jungle.""Yes.""Those bones are meerkat bones. Have them checked by anexpert.""There weren't that many left. And there were no heads.""I used them as bait.""It's doubtful an expert could tell whether they were meerkatbones or mongoose bones.""Find yourself a forensic zoologist.""All right, Mr. Patel! You win. We cannot explain thepresence of meerkat bones, if that is what they are, in thelifeboat. But that is not our concern here. We are herebecause a Japanese cargo ship owned by Oika ShippingCompany, flying the Panamanian flag, sank in the Pacific.""Something I never forget, not for a minute. I lost my wholefamily.""We're sorry about that.""Not as much as I am."[Long silence]
Mr. Chiba: [translation] "What do we do now?"Mr. Okamoto: "I don't know." [/translation]
[Long silence]
Pi Patel: "Would you like a cookie?"Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, that would be nice. Thank you."Mr. Chiba: "Thank you."[Long silence]
Mr. Okamoto: "It's a nice day."Pi Patel: "Yes. Sunny."[Long silence]
Pi Patel: "Is this your first visit to Mexico?"Mr. Okamoto: "Yes, it is.""Mine too."[Long silence]
Pi Patel: "So, you didn't like my story?"Mr. Okamoto: "No, we liked it very much. Didn't we,Atsuro? We will remember it for a long, long time."Mr. Chiba: "We will."[Silence]
Mr. Okamoto: "But for the purposes of our investigation, wewould like to know what really happened.""What really happened?""Yes.""So you want another story?""Uhh…no. We would like to know what really happened.""Doesn't the telling of something always become a story?""Uhh…perhaps in English. In Japanese a story would havean element of invention in it. We don't want any invention.
We want the ‘straight facts', as you say in English.""Isn't telling about something – using words, English orJapanese – already something of an invention? Isn't justlooking upon this world already something of an invention?""Uhh…""The world isn't just the way it is. It is how we understandit, no? And in understanding something, we bring something toit, no? Doesn't that make life a story?""Ha! Ha! Ha! You are very intelligent, Mr. Patel."Mr. Chiba: [translation] "What is he talking about?""I have no idea." [/translation]
Pi Patel: "You want words that reflect reality?""Yes.""Words that do not contradict reality?""Exactly.""But tigers don't contradict reality.""Oh please, no more tigers.""I know what you want. You want a story that won'tsurprise you. That will confirm what you already know. Thatwon't make you see higher or further or differently. You wanta flat story. An immobile story. You want dry, yeastlessfactuality.""Uhh…""You want a story without animals.""Yes!""Without tigers or orang-utans.""That's right.""Without hyenas or zebras.""Without them.""Without meerkats or mongooses.""We don't want them.""Without giraffes or hippopotamuses.""We will plug our ears with our fingers!""So I'm right. You want a story without animals.""We want a story without animals that will explain thesinking of the Tsimtsum .""Give me a minute, please.""Of course. [translation] I think we're finally gettingsomewhere. Let's hope he speaks somesense." [/translation] [Long silence]
"Here's another story.""Good.""The ship sank. It made a sound like a monstrous metallicburp. Things bubbled at the surface and then vanished. I foundmyself kicking water in the Pacific Ocean. I swam for thelifeboat. It was the hardest swim of my life. I didn't seem tobe moving. I kept swallowing water. I was very cold. I wasrapidly losing strength. I wouldn't have made it if the cookhadn't thrown me a lifebuoy and pulled me in. I climbedaboard and collapsed.
"Four of us survived. Mother held on to some bananas andmade it to the lifeboat. The cook was already aboard, as wasthe sailor.
"He ate the flies. The cook, that is. We hadn't been in thelifeboat a full day; we had food and water to last us forweeks; we had fishing gear and solar stills; we had no reasonto believe that we wouldn't be rescued soon. Yet there he was,swinging his arms and catching flies and eating them greedily.
Right away he was in a holy terror of hunger. He was callingus idiots and fools for not joining him in the feast. We wereoffended and disgusted, but we didn't show it. We were verypolite about it. He was a stranger and a foreigner. Mothersmiled and shook her head and raised her hand in refusal. Hewas a disgusting man. His mouth had the discrimination of agarbage heap. He also ate the rat. He cut it up and dried it inthe sun. I – I'll be honest – I had a small piece, very small,behind Mother's back. I was so hungry. He was such a brute,that cook, ill-tempered and hypocritical.
"The sailor was young. Actually, he was older than me,probably in his early twenties, but he broke his leg jumpingfrom the ship and his suffering made him a child. He wasbeautiful. He had no facial hair at all and a clear, shiningcomplexion. His features – the broad face, the flattened nose,the narrow, pleated eyes – looked so elegant. I thought helooked like a Chinese emperor. His suffering was terrible. Hespoke no English, not a single word, not yes or no, hello orthank you. He spoke only Chinese. We couldn't understand aword he said. He must have felt very lonely. When he wept,Mother held his head in her lap and I held his hand. It wasvery, very sad. He suffered and we couldn't do anything aboutit.
"His right leg was badly broken at the thigh. The bone stuckout of his flesh. He screamed with pain. We set his leg as bestwe could and we made sure he was eating and drinking. Buthis leg became infected. Though we drained it of pus everyday, it got worse. His foot became black and bloated.
"It was the cook's idea. He was a brute. He dominated us.
He whispered that the blackness would spread and that hewould survive only if his leg were amputated. Since the bonewas broken at the thigh, it would involve no more than cuttingthrough flesh and setting a tourniquet. I can still hear his evilwhisper. He would do the job to save the sailor's life, he said,but we would have to hold him. Surprise would be the onlyanaesthetic. We fell upon him. Mother and I held his armswhile the cook sat on his good leg. The sailor writhed andscreamed. His chest rose and fell. The cook worked the knifequickly. The leg fell off. Immediately Mother and I let go andmoved away. We thought that if the restraint was ended, sowould his struggling. We thought he would lie calmly. He didn't.
He sat up instantly. His screams were all the worse for beingunintelligible. He screamed and we stared, transfixed. There wasblood everywhere. Worse, there was the contrast between thefrantic activity of the poor sailor and the gentle repose of hisleg at the bottom of the boat. He kept looking at the limb, asif imploring it to return. At last he fell back. We hurried intoaction. The cook folded some skin over the bone. We wrappedthe stump in a piece of cloth and we tied a rope above thewound to stop the bleeding. We laid him as comfortably as wecould on a mattress of life jackets and kept him warm. Ithought it was all for nothing. I couldn't believe a human beingcould survive so much pain, so much butchery. Throughout theevening and night he moaned, and his breathing was harshand uneven. He had fits of agitated delirium. I expected him todie during the night.
"He clung to life. At dawn he was still alive. He went in andout of consciousness. Mother gave him wat............
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