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fiction 85 December 17, 1820 Dearest Ezadurah, With luck, this will reach you before I’m missed. Time comes when a man has to rattle his fortune and see what shakes out, so says my new fast friend, and by God, with my lungs filled with sea air, the salt spray in my face, I reckon he’s right. You’re likely still in a temper, but hear me out. When I return, it’ll be at the front door, not skulking at your window like a baboon outside a sweetshop. And I’ll have money enough to buy your freedom. Here’s what’s happened since I left your bed. I’ll tell it straight, in the plain words of a soldier, without any flash and spangle. After you and I quarreled, I stomped off to the Prince William Tavern, my blood still in a boil. I meant to drink off the anger before my money ran out, but I threw dice with some jumped-up little macer and got swindled. At the table next, a sea captain noticed I wore the green and black of the Cape Corps and offered to share his brandy. He took keen interest on hearing I command a company of Negroes. “Takes a tough old sweat,” says he, “to lead a mob of armed savages into battle.” My new friend’s a stout Welshman of easy manners. Before we reached the bottom of his brandy, I was already on about you. He George Makana Clark Wreckers The 86 ecotone squinted at the bar girl and told me he’d loved a Malay once, a whore at the company lodge in the days of the Dutch East India Company. For a moment he seemed not to know where he was. He put down his glass and asked if I wanted to prosper in life, as he could put me on the short road to riches. He wouldn’t state the nature of his expedition, nor did I press him, having learned enough in life to know that honest work never paid well. I had to decide on the spot, for he sailed that very night. A subaltern’s pay barely keeps a man in drink and clean linen—if I didn’t follow my fortune, you’d forever remain a slave, and so our unborn child. We spilled into the street, the captain and I, arms round each other’s shoulders for camaraderie and balance as we made way to the docks, both of us singing, I’ll go no more a roving, until we fell into laughter. See, it hadn’t set in that I’d really go. Waiting at the quay was a dreggy mob of sailors the captain had mustered in the taverns, newly released criminals and old men with teeth like broken bottles, the residue of opium etched into their wrinkles . A few shouldered sea bags, but most came with only the contents of their pockets. The darkened ship appeared lifeless, silhouetted by the stars. She was wide below decks, her hull sheeted with copper. A flat-bottomed yawl hung abaft. Not a word was spoke as we ventured up the dock. One of the deck apes refused to board a ship whose name began and ended with an a, and a mate appeared from the shadows to wrestle him up the gangway. When another saw the ship’s naked prow, he whispers to me, “A vessel without a figurehead’ll certain lose its way.” There in the dark, surrounded by those luckless thugs, such superstitions put me in a funk. I turned back to where two men stood guard at the foot of the quay, pistols drawn. Above the harbormaster’s office, I saw the roofline of the Prince William and suddenly wished only to be back in that convivial place, enveloped in the heat of the fireplace, a throat full of brandy, you in your bed waiting for me to crawl back. The captain turned at the top of the gangway and braced my shoulders . “Go back to your Malay slave girl,” says he, not unkindly. If not for this reminder of your servitude, I might’ve quit...


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