Came the loud, static blare of loudspeakers over the still anchorage.
“Ilaha illa allah…”
Disgruntled at the interruption of my much needed sleep, I rose from my bunk and ascended the companionway to see, still in his black watch coat despite the fast-rising heat, Saturnius McWhirr already on deck. His stark, grim profile seemed transfigured by the dawn light with an aura of rapturous praise. I had always thought he was of the Zoroastrian persuasion.
Not wanting to disturb his meditations, I returned below and put on a pot of joseph.
After a harrowing passage through
the Sunda Strait, we’d anchored in the Sunda Kelapa harbour the night before, under the tall spires of north Jakarta. I’d had a fitful sleep, and the portentous imagery of my dreams had been confounded by a blasted, bleeping racket that still echoed over the calm anchorage. Turns out we’d brought up just off the Ancol Theme Park.
McWhirr came below. I handed him a cup and asked:
“Captain, why have we sailed into this steaming latitude?”
For indeed, it was cruel muggy and a pall of charcoal gray hung over the city.
McWhirr lit his pipe and said:
“I was but a green swab surfing the long fetch of the seven cyber-seas when I first heard of the East Indies. That was a simpler time, when a single multinational corporation called the IndiaRubber.com ruled the whole archipelago. Now it’s dog eat dog, with upstart pirates challenging the Dutch spice monopoly and their quasi-governmental powers.
“But take care son,” he said darkly, “one word from the Dutch, colonial CEO and we could be standing before a firing squad before you can say: Garcia Lorca.”