I had been alone on the island for four months. How did I know this? I’d marked the days on a palm tree near the shore where I first washed up. I remember that day. I was all alone for the first time in my life. Pirates had shot at our ship. And they had good aim, for they sank us quickly. I wonder why they sank us, instead of just boarding the ship and killing us all, or taking us prisoner and getting money. Maybe it was just Providence, so that I would survive.
We – my family, that is, four brothers, two sisters, my mother, and father, and I – were traveling from our home in England to South America. My father had purchased a plantation there. We were all excited about going, and the days at sea were wonderful, until the pirate ship came. Somehow I survived and washed up on the shore of the island.
I felt safe there, even though I was alone.
But then I saw the South African flag flying from a ship.
They landed the next morning, and I tried to get as close to them as possible to find out what they wanted.
I hid above them in the trees as they explored.
“Wait, did you hear that?” They spoke in a language I didn’t understand, but I could understand some of what they meant because of the tone of their voice and their actions. I was so engrossed in watching them that I fell out of the tree – right into the arms of one of the pirates. I took one look at him and wriggled free, but the pirate who I later learned was named Erich grabbed hold of me again.
The leader of the small band stepped forward.
“So this is our pygmy, hey?”
I glared and struggled to get away. “You’re on my island,” I said.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we were intruding,” he said sarcastically. It took me a few seconds to understand what he said, his accent was so thick.
“If you’re here for fresh water, you won’t find any.”
He looked skeptical. “Then how are you alive?”
“Boil salt water and it removes the salt.” I said. What else would you do?
“Well, we’re not here for water.”
“Then get off of my island.”
“First of all, it’s not your island, and secondly, it looks like you’re slightly outnumbered here.” His voice was rising angrily, and his hand slipped toward his pistol. He started speaking in the other language again. “Let’s go back to camp. We can tie him up there and continue our search. Later maybe he can show us around some.”
“I doubt it, he doesn’t seem like one who would share his secrets with us.” Erich answered. He pushed me forward, none too gently. We got to their camp, and they started speaking more in their language. My eyes darted back and forth, watching their faces, wishing I knew what they were saying. They seemed to be arguing. Every now and then they would point at me. Finally they stopped arguing and Erich took me over to the jolly boat. No, don’t you dare take me off of the island! I thought. But he didn’t, just tied me there.
I let the sunlight seep in through my closed eyes, reveling in the early morning sun and island air. Then a shadow covered the sun and I opened my eyes. It was their leader again. He held his pistol down at one side. So then they’re going to kill me, destroy all evidence of me, claim this island for South Africa… pirates.
But he crouched down next to me. “What’s your name?” He said.
I refused to answer him.
“Well, I’m Mikhal. And the two with me yesterday are Erich and Nico.”
Yeah, well, this is my island. “So, what are you gonna do with me?”
“That’s what we were arguing over yesterday. When we’re done here we’ll take you to South Africa with us.”
Pirates, I thought again. “Why?”
“Don’t you want to get off of this island?”
“No, I like it here. Besides, I’m not from South Africa, I’m from Scotland.”
“Well, laddie, maybe our plans weren’t to take you home.”
“Right so you take me from this island, and get big money selling me as a slave.”
“I was thinking a hostage.”
“Yeah, sure, currently the king hates protestants.”
“How did you get here?”
“What are you, the inquisition?”
His voice was strained, angry, again. “How did you get here?” He pronounced each word clearly, over-annunciating.
“Shipwrecked by pirates like you.”
“Hey – we’re not pirates. We’re privateers, commissioned by our king.”
“Same difference. Still killed my family, still made it so we couldn’t get to our p-“ I stopped. I shouldn’t let them figure out how rich we were. “Where we were going.” I shrugged. “So. You leaving soon?”
“No, and when we leave you’ll be coming with us.”
“Not if I can help it.”
He fingered his gun. “I’ll make a deal with you.”
“You show us around this island, and we’ll think about letting you stay.”
“Show you what around the island?”
“The way you live, the animals, plants…”
“Why, so you can come back and colonize here?”
“I’m giving you a chance.”
“Well maybe I don’t want it!”
“You have two options – show us around and maybe go free, or come with us.”
“There’s a third you’re forgetting. I could run away.”
He laughed. “Just try. Those knots are good and tight.”
Erich came up next to him. “Nico and I are ready to go.”
“Hey, would you mind speaking in English?”
“Yes, we would.” Erich said.
“Fine, then I’ll speak in Gaelic.” I retorted in Scotch Gaelic.
Mikhal cut the ropes tying me to the boat. “Come, you’re going to show us where you live.”
“Who’s going to make me?”
He lifted his gun. “This.”
I glared. “Fine, I’ll show you.” Mikhal grabbed my upper arm and pulled me to my feet.
I led them through the jungles of the island, purposefully making extra twists and turns on the way there. Then I broke off running.
“Hey!” Nico shouted. A gun went off, but missed me. I scrambled up into my cave and hid behind a boulder, waiting. Nico came around the bend first. Rock in hand, I sat, poised to throw.
I let fly.
Nico fell to the ground, stunned. But then there was Mikhal behind me, gun to my back. I don’t know how he got there without me seeing him.
“Get. Up.” He said.
I stood, and he backed me against the cave wall.
“What was that for?” When he was angry, it was even harder to understand him.
“Get off of my island!” I said.
“Erich, come tie him up again. We’ll take him back and put him onboard the ship until we sail away.”
“What was that?” I asked.
“You’re too much trouble to keep an eye on.”
“So you’re letting me go, right?”
“No. You’re going to wait for us to leave in the brig of the ship.”
“You have no right!” I shouted.
“And you can do something about that?” He fingered his gun.
He had a point. I was helpless against them. Three of them, one of me. Even if it was only of them and one of me, they’d still win. All three of them were at least twice as strong as I was. Mikhal moved aside and Erich twisted my arms behind my back. I struggled to get away, but he kicked me and I fell to my knees. Then I refused to walk, not even responding to Mikhal’s threats with his pistol. I knew he wouldn’t shoot me, not when I could be sold into slavery. No, he picked me up and slung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Nico had revived while we were arguing, and so he and Erich walked behind us. I decided it was useless to struggle, and so for now I let him carry me away.
Back at the beach, he dumped me into the dinghy. They spoke to the other men gathered around the fire pit. Then Erich, Nico, Mikhal, and three other men climbed into the dinghy. I kept my gaze out to sea the whole boat ride to the ship. I knew that Mikhal, who wasn’t rowing, was staring at me the whole time. He had his gun across his lap, and his fingers were absentmindedly running over the engraving in the metal.
Finally we reached the ship. They hauled me onboard, then untied my hands and locked me in the brig.
I sat there for days. I was bored; I wanted out. They opened the door to put food in, but I saw no one apart from that. I know not how many days later it was, but finally they came back onboard.
Mikhal came to see me right away. He seemed to take pleasure in making me angry.
“I hope you have been enjoying our ship.”
“I wouldn’t use those words.”
“What words would you use?”
“Look, just put me back on the island.”
“You’ll be stuck there forever.”
“Better stuck there forever than here forever.” Alright, maybe I could see why he seemed to enjoy making people angry.
“Then I feel very sorry for you.”
“Oh do you?”
“I’ll make your life miserable.”
“My papa always said I had a tongue sharp enough you could skin a cat with it.”
“In that case, we’ll have to do something about that tongue of yours.”
“You wouldn’t, I don’t think.”
“Really. Ever considered that a tongue-less slave would bring a lot less money?”
“You’re very funny.”
I was really having fun now. “Imagine.” I pretended to talk without my tongue.
“Well.” Mikhal said uncomfortably. “I think I know how to make your life a little less miserable.”
“The only way to do that is to put me back on the island.”
“We’re already on our way back to South Africa; that’s not possible.”
I made sure I showed my annoyance.
“However, if you give me your word that you’ll cooperate we’ll let you out of this… this… box.”
I shrugged. “How would that benefit me? I’d just be stronger for the slave market.” I wanted him to go.
His jaw clenched and unclenched. “I’m trying to help you. We can work something out, you help us, we help you.” He grinned. “You’ll drive yourself crazy in here before long.”
He stood and left, but a few minutes later, Erich came in with a bucket of water and a mop. “If you want,” he said. I didn’t “want,” and told him so.
He muttered something in his language, something I could tell wasn’t very nice to me. I shot up like a firecracker (made me miss my dad – when I was little he used to call me ‘firecracker.’) and before I could stop myself my fist was on the way up to his face. He caught my wrist partway up.
“I could have you whipped for that,” he said.
I relaxed my arm, and he let it go.
“So will you or will you not?”
“Fine, I’ll do it,” I said.
Erich thrust the mop and bucket into my hands, and then opened the door. He pointed to the floor of the hold. “Here.”
He stayed and watched me as I worked, mockingly pointing out places where I missed spots. Meanwhile my mind was busy, trying to come up with ways of escape. I figured I would have to wait until land…
And then I woke up.
Inspired to post this by Anna's "Cormac and the Trial," based on her dream. :)
This is what my dreams are like.
I had this dream after spending two evenings in a row with my wonderful South African friends (whose names really ARE Mikhal, Erich, and Nico... and Mikhal's sister as well... don't worry, they're not really like these characters at all), and while I was reading Robinson Crusoe for literature. :P
(And just for the record... this is one of my "tamer" dreams... )
I tried very hard to come up with an ending, but failed.