Jako or Jack Retief
Jako was exhausted. He’d been walking for what seemed like hours and he was finished.
He came across a main road, and, despite the risk of being caught, started to hitch-hike. While standing at the side of the road, he decided to change his name. He thought about it and decided on Jack. It sounded like Jako, but it was different.
No cars were stopping.
“Come on… ”
After a few hours, a white driver finally stopped. “Where are you going?”, he asked.
“Somewhere I can find a job.”
“Well, I’m going to Richard’s Bay. It’s a growing town on the north coast,” the driver explained. “Get in.”
Jako hitched a ride to Richards Bay, about two hours to the north of Durban, and was dropped off in the harbour vicinity.
“Thanks, bye, Sir.” The driver acknowledged him with a wave.
What work can I do to earn some money? He wondered.
He had stopped to look longingly at the fruit and vegetables on display outside a tea room when he spotted a newspaper stand also outside the store. It said “Free”. He took the opportunity to take one and started flipping through it. He eventually found some advertisements.
There were many jobs for white men (nothing for his black or Asian counterparts), like: Carpenter; engineer (all kinds); tug masters; marine pilots; estimators (he wondered what those were); even chefs.
What would I do with those jobs?
He saw that many placements were offering:
“Entry-level jobs and educational programmes provide outstanding opportunities for talented, ambitious young people who are eager to kick-start a challenging career.”
That’s not for me, he thought.
But, there was one job for a crew member. He considered that he could help out on boats. Besides, he thought that the vessel might get him out of the country, at least for some time, and out of the grasp of the police.
The contact details said that he should go to the boat to apply for the position. He took the advert with him and made his way to where he saw the boats were moored.
He looked at his clothes. They were fucked up from running through the forest and in a real mess.
The advert gave the name of the boat as Adventurer. He had to look through many of the small boats before he found the right one.
He climbed aboard the boat and said to the first person he saw: “I’m coming about the work.”
The person looked him up and down.
Jako thought: What’s he looking me up and down for? But, he accepted that he looked a mess.
“I’m the captain, you can deal with me. My name is Jonas Gregory.”
He didn’t offer his hand, although Jako had extended his. Jonas was a stocky man, with unkempt, woolly-looking white hair.
“You can call me Captain Gregory. I’ll give you a trial with no pay to see whether you work out.”
Jako was going to say something, but bit his tongue instead.
Captain Gregory continued: “ ..and food is part of the deal. Good thing, because we’re leaving at midnight.”
He would be put to the test for a week, while the boat went to sea to fish.
Jako found that working at sea was something he could get used to. The ship, or boat, was about 10m long, and it went far out from the Richard’s Bay Harbour. He watched until the land disappeared below the horizon.
For the first few hours, Captain Gregory kept an eye on him, while steering the boat. He picked up that Jako was struggling.
“Watch out for those lines!”, he shouted, venom in his voice.
Two days had passed and Jako had helped catch king mackerel, king-fish and queen-fish. Over that time, he had developed an admiration for a guy called Martin. He admired him for his fishing skills, and Jako sensed that Martin was approachable. He looked to be in his 40s. His face was rugged and he had sandy coloured hair.
“I’m battling with this tackle. Please could you tell me how to hold this?” Jako asked.
He didn’t feel at ease with the captain. He had refused to shake Jako’s hand because, Jako thought, his clothes had been in a mess. He decided that Captain Gregory was a son of a bitch who didn’t care for the workers around him. At least they were getting paid, though, which he was not.
It was after midnight. Despite being weary, he couldn’t sleep. They were sailing in a south-westerly wind to get back to Richard’s Bay, and there was no land in sight yet.
His thoughts turned to Kate. What a fuck-up that he didn’t made it to the service or cremation. There had probably not been anyone else there.
He was interrupted by the captain shouting: “Get me some tea!” Jako got up and went to get it.
Later, Jako noticed the captain nodding off, neglecting to steer the vessel. At the same time, he noticed heavy clouds covering the moon and advancing from the south. The rest of the crew were sleeping.
Jako woke the captain, but he was not expecting the response he received. The captain was not very grateful.
This got Jako’s back up. “Can we talk about whether you’ll pay me?” Jako asked.
Captain Gregory looked him in the eye, and responded: “I told you, you’re not getting paid for this trip! Maybe on the next trip. We will see.”
Jako was fuming. He went down below and, in a fit of anger, lashed out at the power plant with an iron pole. He regretted it immediately because he hit it so hard that the ship’s lights flickered and cut out entirely. The vessel shuddered and slowed right down, rocking in the winds of the impending storm.
He heard the captain running towards him to see what had happened. In the gloomy light, he looked at the power unit and at Jako. He realised what had happened and yelled at the top of his voice: “You’ll pay for this! Come with me! I’m putting you under lock and key!”
The results of Jako’s actions were disastrous. Gregory sent a may-day call, but the storm was already on top of them. Physically weaker than Gregory, Jako found himself locked up in the deck cabin.
“Fuck, what did I do that for?”
He heard the crew working hard to repair the plant. He heard lots of: “Fucks,” “cunts,” and “bitches”, as they sweated at it. Still, they were unable to make it work.
The weather had become vicious and the full force of the storm hit the boat. Jako heard a disruption from the deck. Suddenly there was a violent crash and the boat was turned upside down.
“What the fuck?” He was partly submerged in water. Jako thanked Captain Gregory for locking him up in the deck cabin. The rest of the crew, except Captain Gregory, were trapped below deck.
Striking whatever he had hit had surely crippled the ship, and Jako could feel the sea rushing in. Surely men would be lost in the storm. The boat had turned upside down, which must have meant the keel was severely damaged.
The padlock faltered and shattered and Jako was free. He swam underwater, fighting to hold his breath, until he found a pocket of air. Then, amidst the violence of the storm, he felt something. It was the captain. He was shocked as he had never seen a body before except Kate-Emily. But, was he dead or unconscious? It was difficult to feel for a pulse while the ship lurched.
“Come on, where’s the pulse?” Jako was struggling, but at last he felt something.
“You fuck, after you treated me so badly, you deserve to die here.”
But the good-natured Jako felt that he had to struggle to get Gregory out of there. He felt the continuous battering of the gale. The ship was leaning, and he was battling to get a grip on the treacherous wall of the gangway, which was upside down and lying at a crazy angle.
He searched for immediate signs of Martin, but couldn’t locate him. All of the crew were missing, save for the captain. Through all of this, Jako struggled to maintain his grip on the captain. He fought the tide rushing into the upside-down crew quarters, and battled to keep his senior above the foaming water.
Once he had his head above water, he shouted over the din: “Fuck, I nearly lost him!”
The storm was raging and they were still stuck in the lopsided hull. Jako feared that he would face more charges for the damage and sinking of the ship, as well as the loss of life – if he survived.
“I must hurry, the ship is sinking,” he said to himself. Pulling Gregory, Jako saw the dim light of the emerging moon breaking through the disappearing clouds and filtering through a porthole.
“God, you’re heavy.”
There was another problem – sharks! Jako made it out of the doomed ship just before it sank. He spotted the lifeboat being tossed about the angry sea. Struggling in the turbulent water, he swum towards it, pulling Gregory. He was shitting himself because he’d seen some Zambezi sharks that morning.
Finally, he made it to the life boat, but he couldn’t pull Gregory on to the boat with him. Jako decided he should save himself and Gregory must wait his turn. Jako tied Gregory to the oar hitch so that he wouldn’t be carried away by the rough seas. He was exhausted after pulling himself on to the boat.
Then, to his surprise, he saw that Gregory was climbing into the boat on his own. But he only got half way there before something tugged him so violently that the way Jako had tied him to the boat shredded and broke loose.
“Sharks...!” Jako shouted. “Fuck!”
Gregory was gone.
There was an additional problem: The boat was leaking. The lifeboat was barely above water and sinking fast into the violent sea.
He heard the crashing of the huge waves, more than 10m high. He would have to negotiate a big backline break with a rocky reef. He was sucked in deep and lost his tight grip on the lifeboat.
He was getting sucked and battered by the waves and rocks. He gasped when he broke the surface, but didn’t finish his breath before he was pulled back down by the furious current.
Jako came up for air and choked on the water lodged in his throat. Then he was forced down again. Deep. He caught glimpses of the moon before being sucked back beneath the surface. He could make out the shore in the broken moonlight, and then he was sucked back, tumbling…
Jako felt something scrape his knees. Thank God. he thought, through the twisting and tumbling. He was finally washed up on the shore, battered, but alive.
He dragged himself away from the angry sea and collapsed, exhausted. Jako fell asleep right there, until the Sun had cast its glow. He awoke and stared at the shimmering ball.
“Oh Sun, what fury you’ve missed!” Jako shouted.
Jako caught his breath. Quite possibly, any evidence of his misdemeanours had gone down with the boat. But, he couldn’t help wondering whether the captain had got word back to the officials about his deeds.