My Name is Jane

Jane on the Ocean

Chapter V

I began to find a rhythm on the boat. The men seem to like me. I’m a good listener even though, or maybe because, I only understand one word in 20. During the first days, after I woke up I was in a daze. My body ached, my head hurt. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find a core “me.” The water helped I think. I didn’t suffer any kind of sea sickness, just a sort of mental nausea. The sea itself was calming. Looking over the waves, completely without reference, I heard a soft furry voice singing to me “…my Bonnie lies over the ocean.” I had no idea whose voice it was, but it was amazingly comforting.

Certain things about my hosts were becoming clear. They weren’t exactly fishing where they should be. They avoided other boats. In the days just after I came aboard there were many low-toned conversations and glances in my direction. Not everything they were carrying was their own catch either. The holds were filled with lobster, shark fin, and a few boxes they kept carefully nailed shut. Sometimes other boats would come alongside and exchanges were made at which time I was hustled quickly out of site. Clearly they were trying to figure out what to do with me. I’m pretty sure the one I think of as half-brow was in favour of throwing me overboard. But after a while, when it was clear I really didn’t know who I was and they started to bring in boat-fulls of spiny red-brown lobster, I got the impression they were beginning to think of me as a some sort of good luck angel.

We started to communicate with pictures. I discovered I was better than good at drawing. The men made a game of it in the evenings. I’d draw and they’d tell me the word in Chinese and write the name beside the picture. At this point I’d practically created an encyclopedia. They didn’t exactly have a lot of materials on board but they did keep good accounts of their hauls. Though the lobster were their main haul. They took wonderful prints off the fish they caught to create accurate tallies of the types they hauled in. I gathered that at least some of these men were illiterate. I began to fit in. Wanting to be useful, I took over the printing and counting, freeing them to haul and gut and freeze. It all felt strangely familiar. I found the galley and tried my hand at cooking. I wasn’t great but I could prep and that too was appreciated.

I learned the names of the men or at least, their nick-names. Though they seemed to trust me I think it was just policy not to use real names on a pirate boat. At first they called me Yùnqì (pronounced Yunchi) which I think meant something like, the saved one, but when the lobster started coming in, it switched to Tianshi (which means angel but I liked it because it sounded like tea-and-shoe which always made me laugh). Anyway, it felt good to have a name. Early on they’d given me a notebook so I could at least draw what I needed to communicate. I had started a calendar for myself, 4 months passed quickly. Maybe I was a quick study. Maybe my brain was so vacant that there was plenty of room for learning. but it took very little time for me to be able to understand quite a bit of what was said to me. Finally I could ask the big questions. Where had they found me? Where were we going? How much longer before we went home? where was home?

Oddly, I wasn’t particularly eager to get “home.” I enjoyed this pirate life. I was learning, absorbing a new reality. I enjoyed my companions. I felt no pressure. In fact, I had an odd sense of relief, as if I’d left something terrible behind. I felt a great synchronicity with myself, the constant movement of the boat, the air and the simple joy of physical labour. The bump on my head was long gone. Daifu (which I think was an equivalent of doctor), an older man with kind eyes and a gentle touch who did all the ship’s first aid, was amazed at how quickly I healed. The scars on my legs had faded too. It was as if someone had rebooted my program. I was getting younger, not older, on this boat. the phrase “sea air” kept popping up, but for the life of me I couldn’t put a finger on where it was from.