Months had passed and believe me; the days spent at sea have a similar fate as that of anything above a quicksand. It fades away in no time. But, I still remember it was late in the evening, when one of my crew gave me the worst panic attack. The ship was anchored in Sidi Kerir, a place near Egypt. Owing to the work pressure over the last few days, everybody was feeling a bit frazzled. Depleted of energy, I plodded my way to the engine control room and with the air still gushing out of my nostrils, I sprawled on the chair. The cool air breezed out of the ventilation duct above me, and I kept wiping the beads of sweat off my brows. I shifted the weight of my body at the edge of the chair and tardily closed my eyes. Just when I thought of having a few minutes for myself, I felt a flick on my shoulder, followed by a voice of one of my Filipino crew, ‘Ah, look what I found.’
I slowly rolled up my drooping eyelids but was instantly taken aback by the sight that lain inches from my face. I shoved my chair behind and snapped at him,‘What the f..?’, still moving away from him and whatever he was holding on to.
Seeing me in an alarmed state, he chuckled and said, ‘Chill man, it’s just a crab.’
‘Where the hell did you find it? Is it still alive?’ I asked him as I looked at the crab warily from a distance.
‘Yes, pretty much. Found in the one of the filters,’ he said as he placed the crab on the desk.
He kept tampering its hard shell and I felt it quite annoying and asked him, ‘Will you just stop that. It might bite you.’
‘No, it wouldn’t as long as you don’t touch its claws. Try it.’
I moved an inch forward and gazed at its straw-coloured sticky and glossy body. It was despicable and quite displeasing to my eyes. I tried to run my index finger over it but it kept moving sideways. After a few failed attempts, I finally got a hold of it. But it again managed to free itself from my clasp. That thing is hostile.
‘So what do we do?’ I asked still gazing at it.
‘Planning to eat it,’ he replied instantly.
‘You must be freaking kidding me. It’s small and still breathing. How could you even think about that?’
‘It’s fresh and it would be better than the frozen ones in galley.’
‘You know what… forget it. I am going to keep it for myself,’ I fought back.
‘What will you do? You are a lacto-vegan,’ he smirked.
‘I will have it as my pet,’ I responded bluntly.
‘What… a pet? Who on earth takes delight in keeping crab as their pet?’
‘Well.. we Indians do,’ I said with complete seriousness. I wondered how this little thing survived the pump impellers. Technically speaking, it should have been crushed by it. It had endured such a harsh environment and passed through all the hindrances for a reason. And definitely the reason wasn’t to be a victual for him.
‘Fine, have you ever thought how you would go ahead?? Do you have any aquarium? BTW, is that a male or female’ he asked.
‘That’s a tricky question,’ I replied as I ran my fingers over my chin. It was the first time I had a close encounter with a live crab in my life. I took a pen and tried to lift its claw. I wasn’t that familiar with the anatomy of a crustacean. But there were this pair of things (Thought to google it later on) behind its claws, which kept reciprocating vertically in a particular rhythm, and it reminded me the climax of the movie ‘Predator’ because both looked equally disgusting.
Though being a biology student, I couldn’t find anything familiar in its anterior. I thought of looking from its posterior end for any copulatory organ protruding outside. But I immediately changed my mind, when he asked me surprisingly, ‘Hey, are you looking for the thing, what I am thinking?’
‘Probably yes,’ I replied casually, ‘Frankly speaking, in India that’s what everyone does to find the gender of a child. Look into the diaper and holla, suspense is disclosed instantly. How things go in your country?’
He gave me a weird look and said, ‘Unlike yours, we ask the child’s parent directly.’
I didn’t want to be perceived as a pervert and so I continued, ‘What if parents aren’t around? Anyway, this crab is quite aggressive and it hates me. A perfect distinguishing quality of a woman. So, sighting all the physical attributes, we can conclude with firmness it’s feminine.’
He was about to retaliate my statement but didn’t want to. Instead he said, ‘Forget it…What you going to feed it? Vegetables, leaves…the food of yours? Where and how will you keep it? Will it survive on board the ship?’
His questions were getting on my nerves. I know he was mocking me for my madness. To him, he was just facing the other side of my sanity.
‘You leave that to me,’ I replied back sternly.
I always wanted a pet for myself but never had one before. Whenever I tried raising this topic to my parents, they would shush me away telling, ‘Who will look after it once you are at sea?’ Probably a good question but I had no answer. Though I despised sea animals as they stunk, I saw this as an opportunity to do what I desired. Being honest, I didn’t have a clue or a notion how to go ahead. No plans or a strategy whatsoever.
But, there it was sitting on my desk with its thing reciprocating at a faster rate. Probably, it was giving us signs of its discomfort and frustration in equal proportion. It was almost dinner time. I took an empty transparent bottle of Nescafe Coffee and filled it with seawater. I slowly slid the crab into the bottle and added few sea shells, ensuring a proper ambience for its survival. You see, I wanted my pet to have the best in the world.
I was tired of calling ‘the pet’, ‘my pet’, ‘it’…etc. I seriously needed a name for it. Plenty suggestions flew in. Initially, we thought of naming it as Sophie (Because our ship was inspected by Drug and Narcotics Department in South America and a dog named Sophie accompanied them). But, that name was commonly encountered these days and so we dropped it. As it was found in the sea of Sidi Kerir, we named it Siddy. It was cheesy and though it looked disgusting, its name sounded nice.
I desperately needed a place for Siddy to crash for tonight. I couldn’t keep her in the engine room as it was really noisy. I could not keep her in the galley even because I was sure that would scare the shit out of her, when she sees her cousins being cut, copped, fried, barbequed around her vicinity. So, that night, I took Siddy to my cabin.
I made arrangements similar to that off an actual aquarium. I used my fluorescent table light and focused the beam on the water surface. I added few more shells and little sea weeds (Found in the same filter). The only thing which I lacked was the equipment which supplied air. Instead, I decided to change the seawater every 12 hrs, so that she gets fresh dose of oxygen. Since, I didn’t know what she eats; I fed a few crumbs of bread to her. I expected she would at least move and head towards it. But there wasn’t any movement. Instead, she held on to one of the shells and kept moving around. It was like watching an animal rolling a huge ball in a circus. I added few more crumbs but still there wasn’t any response. But this time, she stopped moving and turned her back at me. I rotated the bottle so that I could see her face. On the contrary, she moved towards right and stepped on to one of the shells and showed her back again. This went on for a while until I gave up.
‘What the hell is her problem?’ I questioned myself. ‘Do I look that bad? Definitely, she has some serious girl issues.’ It’s a well-known fact that, if you give too much importance to a woman, she takes you for granted. I decided to leave her alone. Let’s see how long she could do that. But I couldn’t sleep the whole night. Instead, I kept checking on her if she was still breathing. My goodness, these crustaceans never sleep. Every time I woke up, I found her eyes wide open and that thing kept reciprocating whenever I neared it. It was indeed a warning as though she was asking me to stay away from her. But I am man and I couldn’t help it.
Due to lack of sleep the previous night, the following day was terrible. Whenever I found time during breaks, I used to spend time with her. But still, she was adamant and never reciprocated any of my taunts. I was getting pissed off actually. So, I googled this… ‘Crustacean and what they love?’ I found what I needed.
I decided to keep her in some place where there was abundant air supply, sea water (so that I can frequently change the water), sunshine and no other human disturbances (I was an exception though). The only place which I found appropriate was near the swimming pool deck, which was quite dormant for a long time. Nobody used it as everyone found a new interest in playing darts and music. I placed the bottle in a comfortable position and this time I fed her few slices of tuna fish. That was the first time I touched a fish in my life. Believe me, she took a piece and minced it slowly. That’s it, this woman like’s food… her biggest weakness.
I visited her thrice a day and changed the water, fed tuna and rice (though it ate very less) and played around. I know it might sound stupid, but we bonded. Every time I neared her, she would never turn her back at me anymore. It was cool that she was responding now. When I first took her under my care, I wondered if she could survive a day. Now, it’s already a week. Everyone used to ask me how Siddy was doing or what was she eating? All stuffs you know. In short, it became one of our biggest conversations during our break times. She was part of our marine life, not as a food but as a woman. There was a proud feeling. We started speaking about her rather than our machineries. It was the sounds of our laughs which reverberated through the engine control room rather than the sounds of our machinery. Siddy was behind that change. She made us realise the importance of smaller things in life. But on the seventh day, I let her go. I wanted her to go back to where she belonged, return back to her own natural habitat. Who are we to enchain her? Earlier her face looked disgusting but now it showed signs of remorse and that was pitiable.
For a second, imagine earth inhabited with just humans and nothing. When I say nothing, I literally mean nothing else. Believe me; we humans would be bored to death. You would be annoyed of facing people similar to you, walking by your side on a daily basis. You would end up frustrated and lock yourself in a room. Actually, we all humans have one common personal trait and we call that as ‘Curiosity’… a mere lust for gaining knowledge. This is what that keeps our life interesting and worth living. We are attracted towards things which we haven’t come across our lives and we become curious to know about it. In that whole process, we forget what we have already. We fail to appreciate what little nature has given us. We tend to repent only the day we lose it.
Let it be a leaf or a butterfly, let it be the wave which kisses your foot as you stand near the seashore or the cool breeze which wafts through your hair as it touches your skin, everything has an important role in our life. We just fail to acknowledge its beauty because we are living with it. There is so much happening around us and we let it pass. Just like that.
As of today, I complete my 8 months at sea. I haven’t seen land or went ashore. I had been surrounded by deep blue sea and even now as I write, I can still hear the waves sloshing on the ship side. That’s quite disturbing but that’s the fact. I had just faced humans and nothing else. Same faces, same scorns, same smiles and same old routines… for eight solid months. We are 26 people on board, who are alive in midst of the ocean.
And then the entry of another life, the entry of Siddy, made a huge difference. There was indeed something else living on board the ship other than us. It was no more 26… she was part of our family now. She was the No.27 on the muster list. You wouldn’t have a slightest idea how it feels within. The feeling is way similar to seeing a boat when you are stranded on an island all alone. I think there is one apt word for that feeling – Exuberant.
Though it was for just a week, it was god-gifted. I miss that ugly crustacean and so does everyone. Nobody admits that but I do. I am not sure if she’s alive now, but I hope she is still breathing and rolling a piece of shells somewhere deep down in the ocean.
P.S. I just hope, she is SHE and not HE.