Excerpt: IN THE SEVEN SEAS – 1
SEARCHING FOR THE WINGED SEAHORSE
There was no door number. Not a street name either. Streets, neighborhoods, parks, factories were nowhere to be found. There wasn’t even a city but let’s not dwell on it. Was there a house? Actually we don’t even know about that.
Ultimately, there was something much bigger. There was the sea. An infinite sea, the islands visible on the horizon, the squeals of the seagulls, star constellations that sparkled like the heroes of an old story: Big Dipper, Orion the Hunter, Draco, and the others. And then a name? What was the name?… Was it written in white over marine blue paint? Yes, yes, that’s what it was. It read Shonga. Ahh, that’s what the name of the ship was. It wasn’t much to write home about. A small ship with two holds for dry goods and a tank for liquid cargo. You could cross over its deck in ninety-six steps. Living quarters had three stories. You’d go up from the engine room at the bottom to the wheelhouse at the top in sixty-two steps.
As the girl took the stairs up two at a time and came back down, she jumped down the last five steps in a single leap. Not because she was built large; she could even be said to have a small frame. But she had a hard to subjugate, big and tumultuous world inside her that she had difficulty fitting into that tiny body. A mysterious world that betrayed its presence with a dolphin-like smile and a wild glitter in her deep-blue eyes, resembling a hunter lying in wait till the last moment for his prey and then biting suddenly; eyes staring from underneath her twilight-colored short hair ruffled at the slightest breeze.
She would stoop down from the bow of the ship and talk with the dolphins. In the evenings she’d be up for her shift on the bridge, she’d chat away with the ships nearby with a wireless in one hand and a fish sandwich in the other, and wager about the weather next day with the British, Russian, or Filipino sailors. She could spend the whole day playing cards with the chief engineer in the engine room if she wanted to, or she could catch fish on the deck. In the midst of a storm, she’d perch like an albatross on top of the signal post at the minyal deck and watch the waves pound the ship’s bow. Until today she had traversed 723 thousand nautical miles, circumnavigated the earth three times, and stopped at all the ports. She knew the people living ashore, and knew with whom she had to act polite and at whom to cuss and spit on the ground. If needed she could draw all the flags of the world, command a ship on her own, and determine her position in open water by looking at the stars.
Some attributed the girl’s different nature to the fact that she was born at sea. Throughout her life she had seen nothing but an expanse of blue with no end, island silhouettes visible from afar, the mountain ranges on the mainland, and ports sitting on the edge of the water. Thus she didn’t recognize borders. She had no idea about the walls that held people back. The darkness of labyrinthine streets, all those tall buildings, passengers who traveled for hours in buses or trains without moving were all strange things for her. When she witnessed such things she would pout and grow impatient to get back at once to the sea. There was no stopping in her world because the ship had a route and was in constant motion. The routes followed one another like a school of fish.
Nevertheless, people still weren’t in consensus that this was the reason why the girl had transformed into a nautical savage with not even a fistful of soil in her. Ultimately all boys and girls born and raised at sea have spirits as tumultuous as the waters and act differently from the other children. She on the other hand was like a sea creature out of her mother’s womb. This is why the handful among those who knew the girl since the day she was born would search for a deeper reason for her oddity, and at the end would reach the conclusion that her mother’s status as a Far Eastern pirate had left deep impressions on the girl’s soul. They of course would not share this with her father or else they would be kicked out of the ship in an instant. Captain Abidin Dodo could not stand even to hear his ex-wife’s name. The woman who was the only and true queen of the pirates who terrorized the seven seas had left her daughter with the girl’s father as soon as the child was born and then left, never to be seen again.
The girl’s name was Renda. Just like every ship at sea had a route, she also had a goal. What, you ask? It wouldn’t be bad if you first take a deep breath because this girl with copper-colored hair and blue eyes had a rather big goal. Renda wanted to listen to the voice of the world. She didn’t mind at all if the world was turned upside down for this. What…? Why upside down? Well, lend me your ears.
Renda had no idea what happened to her but she somehow managed to tumble – or should we say fly? — out of her bed and lie down on the ceiling of her cabin. Not only that but she was also holding on her lap the binded logbook of Captain Cook, the famous explorer of the 18thcentury. Even though she didn’t quite know why, she was hanging on to this tattered and frayed book for dear life. As she was staring at the floor and cursing without resorting too much to profanity, she reminded herself not to retire to her cabin and fall asleep the next time there was a storm, since in weather like that small ships like Shonga could exhibit the strange habit of sharply keeling over.
While continuing to rest on the ceiling, she thought her mother, Zheng Li, would never have committed such a mistake. She looked at the cover of the book she was holding which read “Captain Cook’s Logbook – The First Expedition.” No, she did not think her mother, a daredevil sailor, would ever have dozed off before a storm while reading the memoirs of the world’s most boring man, especially if the guy was having his crew drink lemonade and eat pickled cabbage! Could you believe that?!
However, in addition to this logbook with hundreds of pages, a few sea maps and guide books regarding Far Eastern seas were the only books left to Renda as a memento from her Chinese pirate mother. The girl used to make herself scarce once in a while and got lost among the pages of the logbook. She somehow believed that the book would contain clues to her mother’s whereabouts. Had anyone stumbled upon any such clue until that day? No way. Or did the stuff written by that famous British explorer helped her any? You wish!
The only difference her logbook had from the thousands of copies in the hands of thousands of sailors around world was the drawing on its first page.
The drawing of a winged seahorse.
Renda was thinking about the meaning of this drawing before she went to sleep. A winged seahorse was her mother Zheng Li’s signature, sort of her family crest. The woman to whom she owed her life had the image of winged seahorse scratched on everything she owned. It was possible to see this image on every book and magazine left behind by her. It was a creature that opened her wings to the back, rolled her tail inwards as though she wanted to stop abruptly, and stiffened her body, with her golden-color scales shining bright. In Renda’s eyes it was the only living creature emerging from the sea of the legends.
Lying on the ceiling like that, she stared at the sea outside from the submerged window of the ship that listed on its side. Sorry, it’d be better if we said “under the water” since the ship went topsy-turvy and its floor had become the ceiling. Even though the water could not seep in since the portholes were shut real tight, it surrounded the living quarters and drowned all the sounds. You know how you hear the sound of a sea afar and the waves lapping at the shore when you press your ear against the shells of the sea snails, similarly the world now felt like a sea shell that she placed against her ear. Renda was listening to that.
“Let’s think about this” she said to herself. Every object emitted a sound — the rain drops hitting the window pane, the footsteps echoing in the corridor, the ropes stretched, the whistle of the ship… everything. Thus the world had to have a sound too. A sound separate from those living on her and solely her own. Just like you heard the sound of the sea when you placed a sea shell against your ear, there should also be something with which you could listen to the world’s sound.
Or a place…
For example… an Earth Shell?
The phrase did not sound bad at all to the ear.
If she could hear the sound of the Earth, perhaps there could be a way to make herself heard by the world as well. That’s when she could ask the Earth where the winged seahorse was. If there were anyone who knew where the legendary winged seahorse lived, it could not be anyone other than the world herself.
“The conqueror of the seven seas Renda Dodo is going after the winged seahorse!” she shouted to herself.
At that exact moment the ship that fell asleep on its side after the storm woke up with a booming sound and stood up yawning and stretching like a drunkard with a hangover from the night before. Renda who was lost in deep thoughts was first glued like a fly against the wall, and then she found herself again face-down on her bed.
The booming voice of her father, or more correctly Captain Dodo, was raining down orders on the outside of her door. You could tell from the way the sailors were shouting and clamoring that the ship was in trouble. She couldn’t continue to lay face-down on her bed. Nobody would call a sailor who spent a storm in bed a “sailor.” She flew out of her cabin without even putting on her raincoat since she didn’t have a minute to lose. Soon she would regret that, since right then a large wave that rushed in through the door grabbed and flung her to the other end of the corridor.
While flailing in the water she was trying to grab onto the railing; but just when she was about to get on her feet she was spiked again onto the floor with a new wave.
Then a voice like the boom that waves create in deep caves reverberated in her ears: “Renda Dodo!” Captain Abidin was standing at the foot of the corridor. Her father looked at her with the sour expression of someone who had just smelled cauliflower.
“Why are you rolling around like an unfastened oil barrel? Get out on the deck! Right away!”
Renda wiped her face with the back of her hand. “Unfastened oil barrel eh? Sheesh!” she muttered to herself while lunging towards the staircase. She found herself up on the deck after taking two stairs at a time.
————— END OF THE FIRST CHAPTER ————————-