minute 06

Merchant Royal

The sea is a merciless beast. So many ships have sunk in horrible storms. So many brave and good men have already died fighting against this powerful force of nature. And the sea? The sea doesn’t give a damn. Its waves keep pounding relentlessly against the shore and the tide keeps rolling in twice a day no matter how many battles we fight against this superior enemy. The sea existed long before we were born and it will exist long after we all have died. Our trivial life lasts just a blink of an eye compared to the eternal existence of nature. Time is a tricky thing – we all have a different perception of it. 

I’ve been working as a cook aboard the “Merchant Royal” for about 3 years now. The “Royal”, as we call her, is an English merchant ship that has spent the last three years trading with Spanish colonies in the West Indies. Now we are on our way back to England and the “Royal” is loaded with more than half million Spanish silver pesos, 500 bars of gold and ingots of silver, and hundreds of pieces of jewellery. However, all this gold and silver is completely worthless when you are on a ship in the middle of an ocean and all the fresh water you have left in the tanks and all the food has gone bad. Oh God, how I miss England! This will be my last journey aboard a ship. When I come back to England, I’m going to open my own restaurant and settle down somewhere. I’m so sick of this life as a sailor. When was the last time I set foot on English ground? I can’t remember. I have the feeling that it’s been hundreds of years since my last visit. I can’t remember to have set foot on any ground in the last few years. It’s almost as if I’ve lost my sense of time. What day is today? Friday? Monday? Or what month? It must be August or September! I can’t even remember the year. We left England in 1637, so we must have 1640 by now. It feels as if hundreds of years have gone by.
Every single day I sit in the galley and do nothing. From time to time I look through the little round window in the door that leads to the bow deck to watch the crew working. I used to cook for all men aboard the “Royal”, but since all the food and fresh water have rotten away, I’m pretty much out of work. I’m never hungry anyway and I can’t remember anybody else to come down here and ask for food. It’s been a few weeks since the last time the crew came to me and asked for water. I told them that the rotten water was going to kill them, but they were too thirsty. WE were too thirsty. Although I saw many men dying, I drank it too. First I felt very sick; a few days later I lost consciousness. However, after a while I woke up again and even the others seemed to recover rapidly. Apparently, they didn’t die, but just fell into a deep unconsciousness. 

I can’t remember the last time I left the galley. I can’t remember the last time I slept. Or am I sleeping right now? Is this just a vivid dream? I look through the little round window again. A few men are scrubbing the deck. Others are setting sails. They appear to me like lifeless shells, doing their work apathetically. Almost like zombies making the same moves over and over again just by force of habit. From time to time, I can hear the captain’s command to alter course. I guess, he is as lost as the rest of us.
Setting sails is completely pointless anyway. There hasn’t been the slightest breath of wind in weeks. This damn dense fog sticks to us as a fly sticks to a cowpat. You can hardly tell if it’s day or night. It’s only this dark grey moist monster surrounding us forever.
“I wanna go home and see my girl. I really love her. She’s so pretty”, I hear Henry say. Henry is the only one I talk to. He is with me in the galley all the time. Henry has been my cook’s mate for the entire journey helping me cooking and keeping the galley clean. He is a handsome young man and has become a good friend to me. “When do we come back to England?” he asks. “I wanna go home, I’m so tired and I miss my girl. I really love her. She’s so pretty!” “Soon”, I say. “Have a little patience!” I have the feeling that I have said these words a hundred times to him not really believing that we will ever arrive anywhere. “When I come home, we’re gonna get married and have loads of children!” Poor Henry, the hope to see his girlfriend again is the only thing that keeps him going on. “We will be home soon, don’t worry”, I say more to myself than to Henry.
I can see lights from a distance. They seem to come closer. Is it another ship? Oh God, I haven’t seen any other ships for ages. She must be huge. As she comes closer, I can see four giant funnels puffing out plenty of tight black smoke. How can this ship move without having any masts or sails? It’s almost as if ghosts are pushing her relentlessly forward. I realize that she is not made of wood, either. It rather seems to be some sort of metal, she consists of. And these beautiful bright lights aboard the ship! You can hardly see your very own hands in the light of the old oil lamps we use aboard the “Royal”. As the ship passes by, I can hear music and people talking and laughing. “They must be having a great wild party over there”, Henry says. I look up and try to spot the people that are making such a racket, but I can’t see anybody. However, what I do see now is the name of the ship, written in big shiny letters. It says: TITANIC

Christiane Helfenbein