The High Island
After seven days at sea, the storm had seized him; for a day and a night the wind had raced around the little sailboat. The agarwood merchant had not bothered to take in the sails, for an old seam had been torn open in the very first gusts, and the rags fluttered unreachable in the wind.
But instead of overturning his boat and sinking it, the storm had swept him far off course. Now it was subsiding and he was drifting, for the time being, sail-less through the steaming sea above which the last showers of rain were descending. The rainwater ran over his face, washing salt from his lips, and he saw that water and air were about to break away from their embrace in the first light. Not far away, some patches were illuminated by the sun.
Climbing out of his seat, he finally removed the rags from the rigging and retrieved a second sail that lay stowed in his small cabin. He set it without effort and began to sail with a light wind.
“So you almost became shark food,” he said good-humoredly to himself, just as his friend and business partner Karun had always predicted.
He had certainly stunned him when he had absconded like that. Now he even felt sorry for him, good Karun, he would surely look for him. Not a word had he said about leaving. Karun had to suspect that some riffraff had drowned him at the port.
But it did not bother him for long, now he wanted to sail where he had never sailed before. Yes, he praised the storm and called it cosewords. For in the strong currents that had been roaring around his boat since dusk had arrived, he suspected land just beyond the horizon. Perhaps he would find agarwood, perhaps not. If there were people, he could sleep in a hut tonight, and maybe there would be a hot meal.
As he had done so many times on this trip, he looked at his baskets, filled with white and brown pouch shells, moored in the nets and beams of the outriggers. At night, while the water was lashing more furiously than he thought he could bear, he had clung to one of these baskets with all his might on each of the terrible crests. Despite the storm, it had not been completely dark, but as the water kept breaking, and as he clung to his possession, he believed that the next wave must surely rip the bound hull apart. But once and again his boat had splashed through the crests, only to plunge down into a new abyss.
That was the night, in the morning one of the baskets next to him had come loose, the heavy lid was thrown down as if someone had grabbed it, and in the first light of day he saw the shimmering shells. The lacing was furiously ripped and with a white gush the bulbous basket had spilled everything into the black water. All this happened silently in the hiss of the storm, even his shouts of exultation were swept away.
Yes, he laughed and cheered, it had not been difficult in that storm. He had felt joy in shedding what he had gathered in the great city. How quickly had he turned everything into pouch shells, he thought, there was almost nothing he left behind. His shop, his warehouse, and his other possessions were sold off. Nor had he kept any of her cloth, except for half a panel of the red silk she had tied to his mast.
The scraps of fabric had defied the storm and now they blossomed as the sun reached his boat. He remembered how she had smiled at him, how she had cried and how she wished him corrupt wind gods, squid attacks and other shenanigans, only to curse him in such a way that the dockworkers stopped and nodded in recognition. He heard her lament, for the sake of the sea that had played with her life for so long, but no word did he she revoke.
Then she had stopped crying or clamoring and started singing. The old schmonz, “If they kill me, I will praise your courage to stay alive.” It had been beautiful, despite the tears, after which he had sailed away.