ship had sunk. There was debris floating all around. There were
several lifeboats with survivors. Some lifeboats were receiving
survivors who swam or drifted within reach. There were shouts,
screams, and other human noises heard from various distances.
story is about one of those lifeboats. This one was like most lifeboats
in that it had places for six persons, and that the places
were numbered on the surface of the rim of the lifeboat, in large
one on this lifeboat was occupied by a Sailor from the ship. That was
sheer happenstance. He happened to be the first to swim to this
lifeboat. So far, he had helped the five others to climb into the
the Sailor had helped the sixth person, he made an announcement.
am in charge, because all of you are here because I helped you be
here, and because I am a Sailor from the ship."
asked, in a troubled tone, "What made the ship sink?"
do not know. It happened very fast. I can assure you the ship was not
torpedoed, as I heard some persons claim. Yes, there is a war
happening far away. Too far away from here, and our Nation is not in
that war. My guess is that there was an accidental explosion from a
malfunction in the boiler room. But that's just a guess. I suggest we
do not spend time thinking about the cause. We have more immediately
serious life-and-death problems we have to cope with. I can assure
you, radio signals were sent out repeatedly in the last minutes.
There are rescue ships on their way to us this minute. Night will be
on us in a short while. I have a flashlight, at your service. In the
dark, our names will not mean anything, so, please, if you need to,
identify yourself by the fluorescent number of your seat.
me one last note. All sailors on our ship are trained to be in a
situation like this. By that training I have to make this observation
to you. Normally, when we are among people, we are under obligation
to relate to others. In this situation nobody is under obligation to
relate to anyone. Keeping to your seat is your only obligation."
if the seat is uncomfortable?"
daresay no seat on this boat is comfortable. Mine definitely is not
as comfortable as I would wish."
Sailor did not announce he had a loaded pistol hidden under his
lifejacket. He was the only one wearing a brightly colored yellow
lifejacket. He kept it to himself that he was aware that Number Six,
a woman, had a pistol hidden in a pocket.
called out. "Are we in danger of sharks." Number One
replied, "Yes. Everyone is, in every part of an ocean, all the
time. We, on the ship, did not see any sharks around the ship.
Perhaps we can thank that far away war, which must be providing
sharks with more than enough food." A lone attempt at a laugh
came from somewhere.
Two was a man who coughed repeatedly. Most of the times he succeeded
in mostly stifling the attacks. He persisted in struggling to
apologize every time he coughed.
Three was a tall, highly strung woman. She had declared she was a
retired Opera singer, and that she would be happy to entertain them
if they wished. Someone called out if she could lead them in "Row,
row, row your boat." She immediately began singing, and a number
of others joined in; Number One, too, loudly and boisterously:
row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily merrily, merrily,
merrily, life is but a dream. Row, row, row your boat gently down the
brook. If you catch a little fish, please let it off the hook. Row,
row, row your boat gently
down the creek. If you see a little mouse, listen to it squeak."
Four was a man who struck Number One as suspicious. In the dark of
night, no one, not even Number One, could know that Number Four had
food items in his pockets. He kept them a secret, and from
time-to-time he would silently feed himself small pieces. Because he
dared not risk being suspected of chewing, he suffered discomfort
swallowing unchewed chunks. To further hide his eating, he would lean
over and pretend to dip a hand pleasurably in the ocean.
Five was a whiner. She continually complained. Her seat was too hard;
she asked that someone, anyone, exchange seats with her. She whined
about nobody caring to exchange seats with her. She whined about
being hungry; about being thirsty; about being cold and wet. She was,
probably, the only one that did not join in the singing.
bumped against the boat. Number One searched the sides with the
light showed a body in the water, at Number Three's position. The
person was weakly trying to get a grip on the boat. Number Three was
the retired Opera singer. She stopped singing, and struggled to turn
enough to provide assistance. She lost balance, and fell away from
her seat. Number Two, the cougher, grabbed a hold of her and saved
her from tumbling to the floor of the boat. In the confusion in the
dark, Number Five, the whiner, made a clumsy dash to occupy vacant
seat Number Three. Someone else, probably Number Six, woman with a
hidden gun, plunged into the confusion and threw Number Five, the
whiner, into the ocean.
Five, without emitting a sound, hit the water and sank instantly.
Someone helped the man in the water to climb into the boat, helped by
the light from the flashlight. He sat in seat Number Five. If anyone,
other than the Number who threw the former Number Five overboard, was
aware of the throw, no one made mention of it.
away in the dark, a ship's horn announced its approach. A warm rain
started to fall. In the distance, from various directions, feint
shouts of joy were heard from other lifeboats. And waving feint
lights from flashlights.
ever came to know that the new Number Five was the Captain of the
ship that had sunk.
author's name in
of the message we
won't know where to send it.)