Shipping News

By | 15 February 2023

My father calls me late one night. He’s
building a boat, gathering sticks of balsa
wood and grainy plans printed off the internet.
Expecting rain? I ask and he laughs
agreeably: a dazzling Bengal light
over the 5,163 nautical miles
of Indian Ocean.

He tells me then that we have mariner
blood, that his great-great-grandfather spent
his days on the fractious waves of Durban Bay –
in a careful choreography of ships seeking
safe harbour. He’ll test the boat in my
brother’s swimming pool; he’s not quite
sure if it will carry one person or two.

It’s physically the most complex of
the three oceans. I feel I should warn him
before he sets sail, it’s a perilous swathe
of water between us. He’ll have to schedule
his voyage meticulously, aligned with the
trade winds and monsoon rhythms that
could make or break him, because

I’m not picturing my father bobbing
in his balsa wood boat in my brother’s
suburban pool. He’s crossing the ocean instead,
eyes on the horizon, cap pulled low, he’s
Larry Taylor’s Birdseye. And he’s bearing
tea chests and lanterns, lifebuoys and blankets –
he’ll whisk me from these waves.

And maybe I say it all out loud because
he’s silent, and then he says
gently: does it always have to go
like this.
And when he sighs, it’s a kindly
sound, a rustling ebb and flow of his breath
over the 5,163 nautical miles
of Indian Ocean.

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