Public Key (xxix)

The Cellarius was making fifteen knots up the Mozambique Channel, bound for Nacalo Porto. She was carrying a hold full of hemp and sissal and cargo containers stuffed with this and that. The crew spoken eighteen languages between them. Everyone spoke English, well enough to get by.

The food was good and the work they put me to didn’t hurt my appetite too badly. Mostly they handed me a mop and told me to look busy. I scrubbed floors. I scrubbed every floor they had. I probably could have sat in my little room and listened to Bach and the hum of the engines. But it was good to have something to do.

Once I’d cleaned the bathrooms, the crew stopped ignoring me. Once I’d scrubbed the mess hall to a shine they even said hello.

When I gave them the privilege of taking a hundred dollars off of me in a poker game, they even bothered to ask my name. Such as it was.

It was three days to Nacalo, then a day and a night in port. I stayed belowdecks until we were back out to sea. There might have been a way to get some internets, but I didn’t ask. It was too dangerous. Besides, I needed a break.

Instead I read, and scrubbed, and played guitar.

My hands were raw from pushing the mop. My fingers were always raw from fretting. I broke a string and decided, rather than putting on a fresh set, I’d replace them as they broke. I was down to four sets. Had to make them last.

From there we sailed a day to Moroni, then a day and a half to Dar Es Salaam. The captain promised we’d make South Africa eventually. I shrugged. I would have been happy to stay on board as long as they’d keep me. But I knew I would overstay my welcome, about as soon as I stopped losing money in poker.

We sailed just over two days to Antisiranana. We were in port overnight, taking on supplies. Customs inspected the ship but they didn’t check my room. Probably because it was marked as a supply closet. And the handle had been taken off the door.

They took on more hemp, six containers of rice and one half-full with vanilla beans. A storm blew up out of the south and in the morning one of the rice containers was gone. The captain cursed, the first mate laughed, and then they went back to work.

It was six hundred miles back to Nacalo. We were heavily laden and took three days and two nights. A night in port and we sailed south, carrying tobacco and tea from Malawi. Everyone in the crew took a pouchful of fresh shag. I traded mine for a lifted box of tea.

We sailed five days. When the sun was up I lay on the deck and played guitar while spray fell on my face. I got a sunburn. I rubbed lotion into it and scratched it too much and it went away. I traded an hour alone with my computer for a tube of sunblock. Or, more particularly, an hour with my collection of porn.

We made landfall at Port Shepstone around noon. I asked permission to stay aboard until night had fallen. The captain said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

I thanked him for the ride. He thanked me for the scrubbing. I took my suitcase and my guitar, and made landfall.

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~ by davekov on 14 February 2011.

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