Sunday, 15 February 2015

A Whaling Ship! - by Tula Maxted

A Day in the Life of Tula

A whaling ship!

We lay side by side in the long grass, smoking flat foreign cigs, spent all afternoon talking and snogging. I was very young. Geir, a few years older, was a lot more life experienced. A merchant seaman, Norwegian, tall, strongly built, with a gaze that travelled miles.

He talked about himself, half in mixed English and French, half in mime and pencil pictures on the fag packet. “My father worked the whalers, I followed when I was old enough. The ship was the biggest thing I’d seen, a whole city on the sea. We caught whales and cut them up and everything of the whales could be sold, used or eaten.” Geir paused, looked at the sky, squinting… “There’s mist coming up river, it’ll get cooler.”

How would you start to cut up a whale? “Everyone does their bit – sharp hooks to rip through backbone, then knives, saws, machetes, anything. A dangerous time, all is covered with blood and slime, everything washed down below deck. It takes time, we tire, there are injuries. But this first trip was good, successful.” He lit a cigarette, inhaled, exhaled, brushed a kiss across my mouth.

“Next trip was big, Antarctica. Weather bad, seas heavy. There were accidents. “Geir drew on the cigarette – holding the smoke a while then exhaling slowly. “As I said, I followed my father. We were in the catcher, chasing the whale. High waves and winds tipping us this way and that. We lost our bearings in a trough, a harpoon line snagged under the boat.” He took a last drag on the cigarette and handed it to me, “Finish it,” he said, “I don’t want any more.”

He lifted my hand to his cheek. “So, there we were – towed along by the whale. Very fast! The whale turned and made a great wash with his tail. The boat tipped and three of us rolled into the sea, Lars – the Swede, me, and my Father.” Geir patted my hand. “Lars just vanished, Father was swimming, shouting to me. I was shocked with cold, stiff with fear, I couldn’t get his words. Then I heard 'Swim – swim!' "

He squeezed my fingers tight, I bit my lip, said nothing. “I swam but with no progress, the current was too strong. Then Father was beside me, grabbed me close, hooked his arm under my shoulder, pulling me to the boat, slowly, so slowly. Other hands hauled me aboard. Then my father was not there.” Geir’s face was firmly set, bar a small tic in his cheek. He looked directly at me, repeated, “My Father was not there.” He shrugged, “Now I work the merchant ships.”

Geir kissed my fingertips, stood up, pulling me with him. “I smell salt from the river, the ship will leave soon. I must go.” He kissed me once more, “It was good to know you.” Then he was gone, and I felt a little older.

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