Time Ticking

I woke up with a start and immediately knew I wasn’t alone. In the frame bay beside me, as if we were sharing a single bed, lay a snoring jangadeiro. His face was turned toward mine and his breath reeked of stale tobacco. João!  I immediately recoiled, turning aft as far as I could go. It wasn’t far enough.

I could feel my panic rising again—No, no, no. I tried to stop it, tried to focus on something—anything—that would keep me from thinking about where I was and what I would need to do to get out of the hold, now that my exit was blocked by a sleeping body. For a moment it was touch and go.

The only thing that saved me was remembering a game I played as a child, when I woke up afraid in the middle of the night. It’s not a game, really, but a guess. I would try to guess what time it was before looking at the clock on my bedside table.

It may sound silly — for me it was very serious. I would lay as still as I could for as long as it took, waiting patiently for the numbers to come to me. They didn’t always come and frequently I fell asleep before they did (which was the point, I guess). But when the numbers did appear, when I could see them clearly in my mind’s eye, I was always surprised by how close they were to the actual time. Call it a poor man’s meditation, the focused effort did help to calm me down, bringing me back to solid ground — a world marked by passing time. Whatever is happening outside or in, those seconds just keep ticking.

So with nothing to lose but another bump on my head, I decided to give it a try right there in the hold. I lay perfectly still and relaxed all my muscles.  I cleared my mind and focused on my breathing.  I became completely present in the moment — blocked out the stinky snoring: tick—tick—tick—tick—tick—tick—tick  5:35.  Clear as a bell!  Slowly I raised my hands to my face and pressed the light button on my Casio watch.  See time.

SHIT!  Still hours to go.

Dropping my arms, my elbow accidentally struck João’s side. It wasn’t a hard blow, but enough to interrupt the snoring, causing him to shift his body to a new position. As he turned, someone just forward of him groaned and turned.

Expecting the fourth domino to drop, I was surprised to hear footsteps above. They were coming from the port side — Mamede’s spot!  He was alone on deck, and from the sound of things, not much was happening up there. He took a few steps forward, then silence — a few steps aft, more silence. It continued this way.

What was Mamede thinking about, up there all alone? The deck of a small boat at sea can get pretty lonely at night, and few places are more conducive to introspection. It’s hard not to wonder about things when the entire universe is hanging over your head and the powerful ocean is surging below you. It changes your perspective in fundamental ways. It humbles you. It slows you down and forces you to think. It gives you dreams. Standing on the deck of his jangada at 03:14, what was Mamede thinking about? And more important, what were his dreams?

Next chapter: Tuesday Morning