Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Part 1-13 Oh Ryuusui-Maru! Goodbye

On that windless morning we slipped out of the sunken reefs onto the vast open sea, and were now riding up and down the mountainous waves, rowing onwards to the west.
When the lighter was carried up onto the peak of a high swell, we could see the shipwrecked Ryuusui-Maru. Her mast faltered, perhaps she was lamenting her lost crew. She was a pitiful sight, so far away with the waves beating against her mercilessly, her hull engulfed in white waves. Despite her wounds, she would fight bravely until the end. Our dear old Ryuusui-Maru.
"Ryuusui-Maru, for a long time you fought for your life through the wind and waves. We leave you behind because we sixteen must go on living for our country. You may think us callous, but please understand our hearts. This is a glorious end for you, your death will not have been in vain. Goodbye, we must part ways. This must be the last time we set eyes upon you--goodbye."
I, the captain, was not the only one to put his hand to his heart. There were tears in all our eyes.
"She was a good ship..."
"What a sad ending, she'll be crushed to pieces."
"Don't cry."
"But you're crying too..."
We looked back again and again, heading to the west. We rowed the lighter on.

With the lighter at full capacity, we could row the oars constantly. The Old Man of Ogasawara was grasping the bowl and bamboo broomstick which had made it to the boulder.
"Old Man, it that going to be your cane?" someone said.
The Ogasawaran replied, "Ha, ha, it's not a cane. You could say the bowl is more of a cane. But everyone must be thinking that. Things that you think are of no interest, may be useful when it comes to hard times. That is the way of the world. You young men wouldn't understand, the tides still have much to teach you." He spoke with the same tone of voice as always, and then began to sleep.
I wondered how much time had passed. We had no clock, so it wasn't clear, but I thought we had been rowing for quite a long time and we had not seen any islands. Though in reality it couldn't have been more than two hours, and we couldn't have come that far. It was only that I was exhausted from the troubles all through the night.
The men rowing and steering were thirsty and not as energetic as they usually were, but there was not a single drop of drinkable water on the lighter. When the Ryuusui-Maru had crashed onto the reef, the water tanks had burst.
"There must be islands somewhere out here," mumbled one of the fishermen.
The Ogasawaran encouraged him, "There are islands somewhere. Don't worry."
"Maybe there aren't any islands in the direction were going. If we get hungry part way through it'll be bad. We should turn back," said Hanta, one of the other naturalized Japanese, in a worried voice. But no one answered him.
Most of the men were veterans of the sea. Their drowsy heads nodded while they squatted in soaking wet clothes, packed like sardines onto the lighter, barely able to move their bodies.
No one paid any mind to being wet. If there is rain during a voyage, sailors are drenched while working on deck. During rough waters, the waves come down ceaselessly and sailors are soaked through. It makes no difference no matter how many raincoats they wear and if they change clothes, they'll have to change again soon, and there aren't many changes of clothes. After finishing a shift and retiring below decks, they go to sleep wet.
To cheer the men, I said, "put more spirit into it, everyone change shifts and row. Men with nothing to do should sleep and save their energy. We'll have plenty to do when we find an island."
The new shift of rowers, in quiet voices, chanted out, "yan-sa, ho-sa, horae, yo-sa..." getting into the mood, working the oars. This chant, like a old lullaby, soothed the sleeping crew.
The helmsman stood in the prow looking forward, shielding his eyes from the sun. Under that watchful gaze he found a spot of haze on the horizon.
"Is it smoke?"
"Is it an island?"
"We've got a hit, row harder!"
Everyone stood up and several men were shouting. The fishermen were saying "we've got a hit," which in the fisherman's language means that they've seen an island sail for, or that they've arrived at an island.
We had found a low, white sand island. Standing only about one meter above the water. There was not a single blade of grass and it might have been a hundred square meters. It was a very small island.
Search--the lighter struck the white sand beach and everyone dashed onto the island. By the position of the sun, it must have been noon.
After we came on land, the noon heat of the south sea sun quickly warmed our skin.
First, I said that to celebrate our arrival we would open one of our precious cans of fruit. One can for sixteen men. Only a sip for each thirsty, parched mouth. However it was a little sour, so somehow it quenched the dryness and everyone was satisfied. Starting now, for many years, we would live deserted island life. One sip of canned fruit was a feast.
We took a look around the island though it was small and bare. There was not a single blade of grass, and there was nothing washed up on shore. We couldn't live here. We had all come together again, when someone shouted, "I see an island!"
In the direction he was pointing on the horizon there was an island as much as three or four times bigger than the one we were standing on.
We could see grass growing green and seabirds in the air, though what we could see was still only a shred of cucumber skin stuck on the whitish horizon.
"It's perfect!"
"Yes, that island!"
The excited men clambered aboard the lighter, and we set out rowing quickly.
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The Sixteen Desert Islanders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.