How Open End Kept His Promise©
(selected from the Adventures of Open End. Open End was a pirate who only wanted a piece of the action at a time when the kings of Old Europe thought the Americas was ready for plucking. There was so much gold and silver over which no one had any exclusive rights, divine or otherwise. The Divine Rights that Europe touted in their domain didn’t extend there. Open End saw so much wealth and exclaimed, “I have needs therefore I exist.” Philosopher Descartes could not have summed it more succinctly. Only after he said ‘yea’ to free enterprise did he realize all he deserved for his pains was a rope from the yard arm. Well he knew how to play the game while the Kingdoms of this world played the Great Game.
Out of seven adventures this story is the first.)
…While Queen Elizabeth ruled England, Old Spain together with Portugal would have carved the wealth of Americas between themselves if they could. But news such as this cannot be hid for long. It was only a matter of time the news reached the ears of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
“The New World shall never survive this!” exclaimed those officials who counseled the Sultan; but he had his own plate full at the moment. He did not care for the Americas or Helios.
Helios was a one-camel town in his empire, which was collapsing under neglect. In a small town where the only exciting feature was the town- gate that led one out, Murcius, a young lad was dying of boredom. Day by day. He would have got out. But where to? He had no idea.
Oblivious of what momentous events were being played out on the open seas Murcius tried to liven up his miserable life a little. Helios did not particularly inspire him. He thought at first Tripoli was where the action was. For his neighbor’s son, the one who worked for an Agha in Istanbul had come on leave and told him the streets anywhere in the chief city of the Ottoman Empire were paved with gold. He said, ’Murcius you ought to do something with your life.’ Murcius, young and hot blooded that he was, knew he had a sure lead. He would not waste his life with slim pickings in Tripoli. So it was to Turkey he went before the law began showing undue interest in him. He knew he could be nailed over some petty thieving done in the past.
He laughed all the way to Asia Minor thinking what he had escaped. His town didn’t mean a thing. ”What a dump!” thus he dismissed the land of his fathers. He would have liked to step down in style in Istanbul but a little fracas aboard the dhow made it impossible. As a result the other passengers caught him hand and foot and threw him unceremoniously over board. They were also in that vessel for the same reason as he. ‘One less to compete with’, thought they.
This incident made him realize that it was a meeting with Destiny. There was no doubt of that. He saw a great white shark, which surfaced as if out of nowhere. The murderous shark didn’t waver but made a beeline towards him and it meant business. He was a good swimmer so he gave a stiff competition to it. He was saved in time. At that moment hazily he thought, an angel had come down, to save him. Just as what that old monk in Helios had been telling. From that moment he was sold out to his belief: he was a child of Destiny!
The wet bedraggled man in his early twenties was thankful to the shark, which spared his life. ‘That has been by design’,he could not help recalling the way it all turned out. Down there he was one moment at the mercy of a monster. In that brief moment the white- bellied monster transfixed him with its glassy eye he had promised another man in his place. “Do we have a deal?” he could not be sure. He thought the jet of air that rattled through its gills in a cloak of foam was its answer. His offer was accepted as a token of which its glazed eyes seemed to relax and dorsal fin quivered a little. Next instant in a thunderous scudding of waves, which ran pell-mell the leviathan had taken leave of him. That white shark merely answered to a higher call and let him off. He was convinced.
He knew he would come across the shark again. The sign of the shark did show a crescent moon. A distinctive mark on its dorsal fin. Open End thought it meant Istanbul where the streets in his mind’s eye had already acquired a 24- karat look.
His savior, a stick-in-the mud type however didn’t have plans to take him to Istanbul but to his home in Izmir. He asked his chance find what his name was. He said, “Open End.” That name stuck.
Murcius or Open End was thus in the boat of Tarbuz whose wealth had made Izmir synonymous for watermelons. Tarbuz as he could see was still ecstatic of casaba (* a variety of winter melons) of which everything that was to be known he had imparted to his ward; the young man realized in whichever way he changed the subject, it somehow rolled back to casaba. He had nothing personal against watermelons. But. If anyone did think of forming an Anti-Casaba League, Open End was sure he would have put his name down in the first place.
Naturally his biggest letdown was yet to come. In that little effusion of the milk of human kindness Tarbuz had acquired a slave for nothing. “I have been greatly mistaken!” Open End exclaimed as he set his foot on the soil of Izmir. Instead of gold he was picking watermelons for Tarbuz who made him work from sunrise till sundown. Whom he had thought was an angel made sure he worked till he dropped off in fatigue; where he believed in divine intervention from an untimely death, his master believed in the redeeming nature of work. He had cucumbers and sour yogurt day in and day out. Tarbuz intended to get the worth of every ounce of food he doled out to him. He ate what little he got to stay alive. All work and no play made him cunning, inhumanly cunning. Open End knew he needed to lie low as low as his spirits. “By the beard of Mar Chrys-o-stom,” he asked in disgust, “what Destiny were you talking me into?”
Two years of hard labor however paid dividends. In his case he was taken out from dirt and put in a not so seaworthy felucca. He was all for a watery grave than rubbing his nose any more in the dirt. So he happily took control of the Casaba. The first time he smelled the sea after two years of drudgery and felt its salty spray on his cheeks he thought it was time he gave Destiny a not so gentle nudge.
To two of his fellow workers who happened to have come from his village he explained.” Now, fellows you know what it is to catch a Turk?” The expression being new to them he took to apprise them his meaning. They could sense the general idea. “Well what of it?”
“We are it!”
“We caught a Turk! Didn’t we?”
“To catch a Tatar is terrible, we know. What about a Turk?” they asked. Proxy and Moxy were not so much endowed in the direction of catching a drift when given. “We give him trouble instead,” replied Open End. Proxy was for caution and Moxy was for Abundant caution. Open End thought they were stuck in a groove. Of commonplace. ’Getting them out was not easy,’ he knew. Two years of service had given Open End something more special while they were for caution.
Open End was all for striking out in a new direction if he knew how. After two months Proxy asked, “Have you heard of the New World?” “No,” said Open End whose world was stopped with the Ottomans. “Well what of it?” Open End had a low resistance to anything new. This New World was an eye opener. What with an eyeful of melons for months together his old values had already died. It was to such a lost soul Proxy had casually mentioned of a new world. “ A brave new world!” Open End whooped with joy, ”we will start our lives fresh!”
“Caution!” whispered Proxy.
Open End thought these two were sent by Satan to try his patience. These two reminded him of that old monk Anselm, who shoved homilies down his throat and had warned,“ Murcius, what you need is patience. Patience of Job!” It was to such a soul who had heard the siren song of deliverance the duo applied their salve. “Caution?” he could have burst out, ’tell it to the birds’.
One evening they brought a piece of news which forever changed him. But they began as usual with such commonplace, trite expressions Open End thought his curiosity would die before they got to the point. To prevent himself from screaming, he gritted his teeth till they took their time, to tell of all that wealth which went their accustomed rounds. They did not notice the state of shock, which convulsed their listener and made his eyes grow wider. Those whom he thought were dull as ditchwater knew what he did not know. Besides they were asking him, “What will you do Open End?”
“Check it out, of course!”
“You will not overstep the law, will you?”
“No, of course not!”
“Abundant caution!” intoned Moxy.
Open End with the patience of Job looked at Proxy for his turn. “Caution!” said he and Open End was not disappointed. He let out a laugh the significance of which was lost to both. They had not realized the patience of Job was at last snapped. At that very moment he had come to a decision. If he were Destiny’s child they would be left to the gutter, he assured himself.
Expecting to conquer a brave a new world with their help was as good as looking for eggs from a mare’s nest.
Moxy was deep in thought. He opened up, “I was wondering if there could be a vessel we could lay hands on?” Proxy asked in his turn, “Perhaps the seamen may be drunk and all the loot lying there unattended. What will you do in such a case?”
“Abundant caution!” Open End said with a laugh.
“Yes, as I said, Abundant caution!” Moxy added as it were some sort of benediction. Open End could not believe that he ever seriously took those wretched fellows who would have not spared even a snail from advising caution and abundant caution.
Sometime in 1567,
only when Open End veered the course of his felucca from its normal course into the Atlantic Ocean he realized he was in the path of a great Battle Of Wits among the kingdoms of this world. The Zaragoza belonging to the Spanish fleet loomed before him. It had beaten the Portuguese and the English to the wealth of the New World, which were piled up within every inch of its hold. Against that setting sun it was like a phantom ship cast anchor in murky waters slowed down by a crew who had lately worked too hard and for too long. They needed a break. With no activity whatsoever aboard the vessel it looked ominous and awful.
Open End nudged his companions and they tensed. They could well imagine the wealth, which would greet upon their inspection. “Do we ask permission?” Proxy asked. “By way of caution?” Open End asked with a sneer.
“Only if we are challenged!” Moxy urged,
” Abundant caution!”
They had worked out a plan of sorts. Open End knew he had to play by the ear when they were at it. They were there aboard the Spanish ship to satisfy that urge which had grown out of all proportion and they would, if confronted, ask the Spaniards in all politeness. It was deceptively simple. Really. They went through it all over again. “We will merely invite ourselves to the captain and perhaps he may give each a doubloon to send us on our way.”
“If we are not challenged?” Proxy asked. “We will have to leave each a doubloon instead.” Open End was certain.
“Abundant Caution,” chimed Moxy dutifully.
Only after they boarded the unsuspecting ship Open End realised how easy it all was. Open End quickly let himself back into the boat with items carefully sought out; so did two of his associates whose hands flew all over the cargo, picking out what they wanted most from the cargo which they lugged on their backs without wasting time. For want of time they did not count their booty. How they managed to empty the cargo before the drunken sailors could realize what went on, would always remain a mystery to Open End. Only that he broke nearly his back carrying the load and nearly his neck with all those climbing down to his vessel under its weight and running back for more. His adrenalin rush must have been more in the class of a tsunami to have accomplished so much in so little time. He had made it. He set aside some doubloons for the seamen towards tip. A promise is a promise so he believed.
It surprised him that the fellows who shared the same risks as he for once worked without mentioning the damn word ‘caution’!
Open End had come aboard uninvited and once he made his getaway he realized he was a pirate! He couldn’t go back to his old life. His career as the captain of Casaba was once and for all ruined. Like Humpty-Dumpty he was smashed to smithereens! Open End of course at times rued that if he was ever caught all the kings men would not bother putting him together. “Why I will be drawn and quartered instead!” It sobered him up. No more did he think of going back to his old ways.
Instead he had Proxy and Moxy for company. They were forever applying their caution to fix things up. Open End listened to them as if all those riches had somewhat hampered his hearing.
One said, ”Caution!” and the other added of course, what was expected of him. Open End had with sheer will power learnt to let them bounce off. Instead he gave them an inscrutable smile in reply.
Proxy would have liked to check the extent of their pickings. Open End said, ”Well it is taken care of. Abundant caution you know.” Proxy did not get it. He asked why. Open End explained he had put up their old felucca for sale. He said he had something to worry about at the moment. “ The sale of Casaba is our immediate concern.” he said, ”What is the point of counting money which is there while we look for a buyer who is not here? ” Proxy and Moxy shook their heads as if they were faced with a conundrum. For all their caution Open End played elusive and he did not show any of the loot to them. “Profit is not what we talk right now.” The pirate explained,” For mercy sake, a little caution will do nicely, thank you.”
Some days later he announced, “It is taken care of!” Open End said he had already arranged with a Venetian buyer, Bozo by name. “Proxy, you should not let the felucca out of sight!” The pirate warned him,” the buyer is a slim customer.” “Yes,” Open End moped his forehead, ”You both ought not leave Bozo out of sight.”
They stared as if they did not understand him.
As the buyer came in view Open End said in a whisper, ”You two go along with the buyer and engage him into a spiel.” Proxy looked at Open End unable to fathom him. “ I shall deal with his notary and the paperwork, which of course, you do not want that?” Open End asked. Proxy and Moxy rued they had neglected their 3 R’s. ”Don’t you fellows want me to make sure we got to the last doubloon? If I let you fellows count, it would be ages before we come to close the sale.” “Something seems not right,“ Moxy exclaimed, “Abundant caution!”
“Just for once humor me will you?” Open End pleaded. Meanwhile Bozo the Venetian had come with his men to inspect the felucca and Proxy eyed him with suspicion. Moxy covered him from other side. These two fellows thought they were there to drum up a sale. Only when the buyer wanted them to climb aboard and show him the ropes they realised that there was more to a felucca than met the eye.
Did Open End feel a tear or two for dispatching two unsuspecting countrymen to a life long servitude? Even if he did he kept it all to himself. A pirate cannot be free with his feelings so he shut up as soon as he counted the blood money and put it away. What is known of his career was that he straightaway bought a galley which the Barbary pirates had fitted with a rigged lateen sail. It was a souped up job built for speed: it could achieve a speed of 10 knots (*18 kilometers per hour). It had weathered many storms and it still looked seaworthy. How Barbary pirates could make a getaway with her was beyond belief. Open End thought his luck again held in getting her at knock down price. He called her Rule Of Thumb. ( Why he chose the name has its own story to which I shall come by and by.) Forthwith he sailed to a cove in Bozburun close to Gulf of Kerme.
Open End had phenomenal luck. His booty from almost so juvenile in its conception and execution was an astronomical sum of four and half millions. It could have sustained him for at least ten generations. But he was all for the present. Those escudos and florins were stacked in chests; they were impressive but the thought they were many times handled by others and were tainted cooled his ardor somewhat. Not so with his jewels. There were bloodstones, zephyrs, diamonds and rubies in six chests that he could not look at without being affected. Overcome with a sensation that the saint from Avila would have well approved of, he would have shouted in joy. But he had to be careful since the Knights of St.John had set up their base of operations in the nearby.
Every time he resorted to an elaborate charade of sorts to throw off suspicion before he went his rounds. He had his treasure chests scattered in so many grottos so ingeniously hidden from all eyes. While he examined his beauties his face would drain off all color and see visions. Never had such moments assailed him in his callow youth but as a pirate he knew they were beyond explaining. Every time. Each stone glimmered with its lustrous sheen in his hands and he could feel its weight. Before long he would involuntarily close his eyes expecting to be struck dead by its very beauty. Each time his private devotions unnerved him, “I am lost if I take a look at these another minute!” Without exception he would put them back in an act of self- preservation muttering a prayer or two. It was not that he expected his patron saint would relieve him of his wealth; he was not stupid.( He worked for it, didn’t he?) His prayer was simple: ‘let me keep my fruits of labor; towards this give me a stronger stomach.’- He was modest in his needs- ‘Keep those simple pleasures of my life be long, as the years of Methuselah.’
What he had collected he found place for them along the least visited beaches of Kerme overlooking Aegean sea. Whenever he was busy checking his treasures had he been found out or his hiding place by another he would have killed him then and there. He could well imagine. He definitely wanted no one to witness his mystical moments. He was in a sense a mystic with two stranded pearls and amethyst for a crown of thorns! He had such thoughts, which were not permitted to mortals to contemplate, visions no one can look on without cracking up into a frenzy. It was then that his soul rapped with such insistence for human company and he had to attend to his needs.
When he was lost among his fellow men he thought nothing but savoring the every day smell of humanity. They were the scum and low specimens who thought nothing but of liquor, women and loot. Ensconced in the smoke filled parlor and safe from all harm the adventurers of all stripes and colors would be there eying every customer who came in and those who straggled their way out. Mostly they were dreamers who dreamt of heists and waited for a change in fortunes. There they drank from black- jacks, spilt wine or dashed beer over their matted hair to give it a sheen. While among them what he could surely expect was not any one saying ‘caution’ followed with another responding, ‘abundant caution’.
One day he happened to drop ashore at Bodrum along the gulf of Kerme. He hastened along the wharf as he was wont, checking the names of so many eateries gorged with hungry customers. He set his eyes on The Felafel, a dingy eat-house. He had passed along that place so often and each time without seeing it. That balmy noon as his eyes picked it out, as on purpose, his fervid brain tapped out some kind of significance. In a shiver he looked at that yellowed sign doing a jig in the breeze. He knew it had an unsettled matter with him to conclude then and there. He shook himself still smarting from all that violence which his wealth had set in motion.
The Felafel! Open End felt his heart racing and blood rushing to his head at the sight. He was all for checking out the Felafel. A new experience.
Yes, Open End was in for a surprise. That premonition he had while he took in the rocking signboard was true! Bozo the Venetian merchant was already in Felafel. What a small world he thought. He to whom he had sold the Casaba was at the point of finishing his lunch. He was deliriously happy.
Bozo saw him enter, almost lurching as if he had seen ghosts and his haggard face told it all. Bozo hailed him and the unfortunate man in response burst out cackling. How his vacant eyes moved him! In that one look Bozo knew he was at the edge of madness and he had kindly brought him back to sanity. The Venetian hailed him and asked him to join him. Open End wanted to ask but Bozo preempted his move. ”Abundant caution!” He had finished his meal. Bringing his chair close to him Bozo took his pipe and lit it. He whispered that the felucca, which he bought did bring him luck. “Luck in what sense?” Open End loved a story and he was eager to hear him. “I sold Proxy and Moxy before they could infect me.” He burst out laughing. In between paroxysms of laughter he would punctuate with ”Caution!”. Open End could well understand.
“Yes, you took abundant caution in getting rid of their influence!” Open End shuddered at what might have been had he let them by his side for long.
The waiter materialized as if from nowhere and was ready to take order. The boy had a face like the full moon and he was round for all the running he did in a day’s work. He was sixteen and as cheeky as one who knew he was in demand by hungry customers throughout the day. He took orders as if he did them a favor and was familiar which did not go well with many. He did not mind. “Call me Ishamael,” announced he.
“Why should we call when you are already here?” Open End was surprised. “And you shall serve us. Won’t you?”
Open End asked Bozo in a whisper if he could trust the food provided by the establishment. It was the turn of Bozo who almost wilted at the sight of Ishmael and he found difficulty to find words. ”Give my good friend your best!” he croaked.
“Felafel!” the waiter younger by some eight years or so snapped, ”Nothing but felafel!”
“Why can’t you serve some venison for a change?” Bozo asked him. Ishmael quickly went off leaving him unnerved. “I have been here all these five days. Every time you have been hollering me down.” Bozo found his voice as his bugbear returned. “Not for once you have heard what I really would like to eat.” Bozo was obviously unhappy,” Venison I could have the next time I order here for.”
“In such a case we will have to change the name of the house.” came the retort. Bozo seemed to faint with disappointment.
Open End somehow was for obliging the waiter. He whispered to the Venetian who was in ill-humor,
”Think of his state. Poor boy having to work at all hours. Naturally his temper is bound to be all knotted up.”
Open End looked at the waiter and said sweetly, “My good fellow serve me some felafel.” The waiter launched himself into the vicissitudes of serving seamen who were seen one day and not seen thereafter. “I wonder where do they all disappear?”
“I have been here for five days,” Bozo whined.
“You don’t count!” Ishmael snapped.” Venison eh?”
“May be you could ask your chef to improve his cooking?” Open End was all for keeping the conversation going.” In such a case sea men will be here oftener.” He was beginning to feel those terrible thoughts which the stones had set off were somewhat deadened. “So you have already judged this eating house before you have had, even a bite!”
After a quarter of an hour of his monologue he suddenly came to a halt.
Open End seemed to him a customer not to be trifled with. “Ishmael you may have time on your hands,” Open End was beginning to feel the hunger like a wolf let loose on a scorched earth, “By the beard of Mar Chrysostom, give me felafel!”
“How do you wish it served?”
“In silence!” Bozo said, ”I want this good friend of mine served with your excellent felafel.” “If you had seen where the chick-peas are grown you would hardly call the dish excellent.”
Within an hour he brought a dish, which tasted O.K. Open End was hungry so he wolfed it down and his mouth was burning hot. ”You could have used a clean plate, ”Bozo complained looking at the plate of his companion,” your thumb prints run all over.”
“ He has eaten only what was set therein or do you intend to lick his plate?” Bozo looked at Open End and smiled weakly.
Ishmael was very rude and he gave the impression he was established there to wreck whatever custom Felafel would have hoped to get.
“Less of your lip,” Open End almost got up with his eyes blazing, ”Here is a glass of wine,” the waiter insolently said,” I know the signs.”
Open End drank the proffered glass of wine which soothed him somewhat. “The cook throws black pepper with a heavy hand.” Ishmael added conversationally.
“Who pays for the wine?”
“It is on the house.” Ishmael had the last word.
“But for that overwhelming urge to meet people and hear some human voice I would not have come here!” Bozo said in a defeated tone. Open End realised, ‘here is a kindred spirit.’
They talked at length and in the end it was apparent Bozo had a whole gang of slaves whom he wanted to sell to the West Indies where sugar plantations needed them in galore. “If I had some transportation I could have taken them myself to the Spaniards who pay well,” Bozo sighed, “I would have been rolling in wealth. Alas that is not to be!” Open End liked what he heard. Bozo was a broker. If the transaction lined his pockets and it brought himself a windfall, well he was all for it. Bozo was a piece of humanity dropped on him as manna, an insurance against the terrible havoc, which went on in his soul while looking at the precious stones. He only knew too well how the sight of him had cleansed him through and through.
He followed Bozo to inspect the merchandise. Those slaves from Benin were cheap. 230 of them, men and women chained together. There they sat in a dark warehouse and suffered themselves to be checked, prodded and paraded as if Bozo were a circus master and he, a potentate for whose pleasure no effort was to be stinted. He smiled straight from his soul to see them. What appealed to him most was he would have human company for some three months. “Nothing like human beings to put rosy cheeks to a soul.” While they negotiated over the price their initial friendliness took a severe beating and then as they talked in terms of hard cash they were again back to square one. They shook hands and agreed the price. They met in a private room over the Turkish Delights where money changed hands and the Venetian declared he was bouncing back once again. He admitted before he left how broke he was the day before he first did business with him. “The Casaba changed all that.” He smirked with satisfaction, “But by the day after I had my millions. Just when I needed some liquid cash!” Bozo was merely expressing the whirlwind of fortunes that was part of their career.
Open End said, “We shall meet again!” After he received the cargo he lost no time in fitting his galley with his new acquisition. They were sorry looking human cargo all lined up and bound in chains. He had the satisfaction he had company all the way to Mondego Bay.
Next morning Open End was to sail for the Caribbean Islands but disaster struck him. His cook had deserted in the blink of an eye! On such a short notice he didn’t know where he could find another cook. The human cargo who took every available space needed to be fed and every hour wasted meant only one thing. A financial disaster! Seven days he trudged his lonely furrow in search of a cook while his human cargo got their sustenance like a clockwork. It was nothing what one with a free will would have ordered but being bound by chains of iron the people from Benin ate just what was ladled out to them. Open End had instructed his steward a greasy bird who ate like a bird and went by the name Jack Boots to keep meticulous account of what they consumed daily.
Open End pored over the expenses, which Jack Boots had written in his crabbed hand and his heart sank. He was staring at disaster.
It was with some trepidation he took to the direction of Felafel. Perhaps Ishmael would prove to be man of the hour. If everything failed Open End vowed he would have to pressgang him into service. A dish of felafel night and day for a month would wreck his constitution beyond repair. It was but a trifle compared to the prospects of a certain disaster that stared at him. He had to get rid of his human cargo before they made a meal of him.
That evening Felafel was overcrowded by those customers that had been aboard for long. Open End had seen the ship which had just moored in the open sea. As its crew streamed in so many boats they looked as large as life and he made enquiries. Not a single one of them wanted to join him as a cook. Neither for silver or for praise.
It was late in the night Open End had a chance to talk to Ishmael. “I know a disappointed youth checked in every turn by an underhand blow,” said Open End before Ishmael could catch his breath. ”Life can be cruel. Isn’t it?”
“Well what of it?”
“A ship’s cook has better prospects than a waiter.”
“In what way?”
“A waiter’s life is made to order.”
“So what?” Ishmael was beginning to look nasty.
“ You make your round from kitchen to table. What it gives you?”
Ishmael was tired of guessing. He kept his silence. “Tired feet!” Open End thought he was beginning to score over him. “A kitchen that I have, comes with everything that is latest in a ship. More ever the crew eats off the cook’s hands.” Open End paused for breath. “You know what a cook would feel being so much in demand?”
“Tired hands!” Ishmael was not impressed. “I shall clobber even if it is the captain who dares to lick my hand.”
“Aw come, come, “Open End laughed at the simpleton, ”We are talking in figure of speech. Aren’t we?”
“No” Ishmael retorted morosely, “ You are talking of my career!” Open End drew himself up.
“O.K we shall come to the point!” he said.
“I need a cook for a three months voyage to Jamaica and back.” The pirate explained,” If you would serve me you shall at the end of your term, be a wealthy fellow by any standards. You can retire if you will as a gentleman of leisure with a country house in Marmarus.” He sat down.
“What sort of business are you in?” Ishmael came to the point. “Anything that can be carried in a galley.” Open End felt a little embarrassed, ”At the moment I have human cargo to sell.”
“That means I have to cook for the crew and not to mention you, and for all those slaves as well. Am I right?”
“Yes.” “ May be on the return you will help me find a vessel carrying treasures instead of human cargo.” Open End gave a mirthless laugh,” in that case you have cut your work out. What do you say?”
“So you are a pirate?”
“Yes, unabashedly!” He stood up and made a pirouette to show himself in a better light.
Ishmael looked at the abominable pirate in a felt, floppy wide-brimmed hat and a cutlass, which was dangling alongside. ”You are not much for hand to hand combat. Are you?”
Open End shuddered involuntarily.
“What makes you say that?”
“You cutlass is brand new.” Ishmael bent down to examine closely. Next moment he laughed
uproariously, which he tried to control with one hand on his mouth while the other pointed to his hapless weapon. It attracted the attention of every seaman who was unwinding after a couple of bottles of rum down the hatch.
“You haven’t even removed the price tag!” Ishmael reminded him. “For sale, as-where-is condition! For sale, going cheap!” One took up.
“A pirate and his cutlass as good as new!” Another added his refrain.
The rest of the sea men craned their necks to take it all in. They were really enjoying a free entertainment, which they all agreed was really their money’s worth. One said,” The waiter is an useless brat but so entertaining.”
For a quarter of an hour they took on the pathetic figure of a pirate who was fiddling with his weapon to get it out of its scabbard. He knew he cut a sorry figure. He could not back out or make himself disappear. If he had his way he could have tried the cutlass first on the jackanapes who was rolling in mirth with his hand on his belly. At last he had the cutlass out. He held it aloft as if he was examining it and put it back again feeling very foolish. He had no choice but to take their ribbing. He wanted the fellow as a cook. Somehow.
He gritted his teeth and waited for the merriment to die down. It died sometime later. Ishmael said he would be laughed out by every cook along the Mediterranean if he ever did tell he worked for a pirate who dared not spill blood. He looked at the lanky figure with a big nose and a head almost at the point of being bald.
“Hope you have enough money to pay for my services?” “What do you think?” Ishmael realized he was foolish to push him further. “I shall take your offer, “Ishmael said,” if you promise to make me the captain at the end of three months.” Open End thought it over. It set Ishmael off once again: “A pirate who goes green at the thought of blood!” Against his will laughter broke out.
“Am I green?” Open End croaked boiling with rage, which increased his mirth several decibels higher.
Ishmael checked him out from his back, ”Look, he has a yellow streak Ho, Ho. Ho!” He was slapping himself hard overcome with his victim who merely quivered.
“Do I take you seriously?”
“You had better!”
“Why should I?”
“You are looking for a new position. Aren’t you?”
“Will you be then my cook?”
“Do you agree to pay me in time?”
“Agreed!” Open End said without flinching.
“Listen fellows!” Open End hollered overlooking some titter that greeted his posture as a pirate,” By the skull and crossed bones I have said it. Ishmael shall be the capt’in of my vessel once he has served me satisfactorily during the voyage to Jamaica.”
“Hurrah!” they greeted it as the owner of the establishment came to investigate. Inonu smelled in the hubbub some trouble. It could only be the work of Ishmael. He had his eye on the fellow who he suspected was systematically undermining the foundation of his business. His wife worked from morning till night without a break; so did he. If he did cut corners and added water to wine it was for keeping his head above insolvency. So many years of drudgery despite of his single error in judgment in letting Ishmael stay on, would crash on his head if he did not instantly attend to it. He knew it.
Ishmael was a one man wrecking crew. Inonu
rushed in as if his house was on fire. The scullery maid ( who was his daughter) just stood in his path and informed him the news. He couldn’t believe it! Ishmael was leaving him that very night. It was mighty glad news!
It came to him the reason in a flash. The time he turned up there the first time he said that he would only work as a cook. “At the time being we have only a position as a waiter open.” He had said then. The pudding faced youth had taken it ill he could not straightaway prove his skills as a chef. That explained.
His wife said the fellow was holding the center stage and what’s more heaping insults after insults on a customer. “Preposterous!” He exclaimed at the cheek of his waiter. But when he listened to what went on he was somewhat at ease. “So some one wants to take him on as a cook!” Inonu said. “On a short notice,” the owner said to himself,” well good riddance. A plague on him!”
Open End had just made public with a nonchalant air worthy of a pirate “I have found me a cook!”
A fresh round of drinks were passed on which they toasted while the pirate enquired the imp of a waiter if he could cook. “A feast fit for a king!” Ishmael crowed.
“But judging from your service I thought you were a washout?” “As a waiter I am.” Ishmael was open about it, “But leave me to cook a meal I am what you call a miracle worker!”
“Promise you will make me the captain?” Ishmael added. “I promise you!” Open End said solemnly and the crowd greeted it with guffaws of merriment. Ishmael was satisfied too. “By the way what is the name of your ship?”
“Rule of Thumb!”
“No, it is not!” Ishmael was certain,” The Golden Tulip It is called.” “Come and see for yourself!” Open End was certain of his ship. “No, We shall fix it,” Ishmael said,” this very night if I were to step aboard her.” Open End realized his fate hung upon a single thread. So he gave in. “You are an excellent cook,” The pirate was not sure,” Are you not?”
“Of course I am!” Ishmael insisted,” Every day a feast for your table. Nothing less than that.”
“A promise is a promise!”
“Amen!” replied Open End.
Since Open End felt time was of the essence he wanted to move to the next matter. He was drunk as every other but he had not slackened his hold from the sleeve of Ishmael. He had to steer him to his ship and take off. He felt wine warming within; He was ready to declare peace with the world unconditionally but to let go his hold from the cook was impossible. He was his safe conduct from a certain disaster!
Open End and his ward as if drawn by mysterious pull gravitated towards the door making only a single loop to go to that alcove where Ishmael slept. In a trice the cook designate had collected his valise and his back wages and before he could say ‘Abou’s kous-kous’ he was out into the night, firmly held by a slightly tipsy pirate. There his ship stood in the silhouette with a few lights to give it some raffish air of a pirate’s ship.
“I am at your service master!” Ishmael was obviously impressed to take in its tall masts and ropes and tackles.
“Don’t you have your folks to take leave of?”
“Oh “ the imp replied,” Let not that worry you!”
“O.K ,“exclaimed Open End,” a family complicates matters. I agree with you!”
At least Ishmael realized that he was in agreement with the pirate on certain things. He slept for the first time in a ship which was just christened The Golden Tulip. It was to be his world for some time to come. As a cook. He did not get to think beyond. He slept.
Ishmael was as good as his word. He supervised the larder and store. He took inventory of items and wrote down whatever he thought would make the captain’s table second to none. At the first landfall in Crete he ordered for new pewter service, which he said was reserved for Open End.
“In any other,” he said with tongue in cheek, will not show a feast fit for a king.”
It cost him money but Open End held his silence and told Jack Boots on whom lay the onerous duty of keeping accounts, to give Ishmael a long leash. ”Go and give your hand some rest, fellow!” Another time. “Since Ishmael was making his ship something of a talking point he might spend much more than I may myself want to spend”, he explained, “But did not you see how green with jealousy I am looked at?”. Yes all the pirates envied him and gave Open End credit for his excellent taste. The pirates judging from his tableware and quality of dishes suspected that he must have had a pact with Beelzebub.
Ishmael did not want to take credit but served a feast for a king. Each time.
The only flaw as far as Open End could see was the elaborate menu, which he tacked on his table and the words “A promise is a promise!” As The Golden Tulip held its course the dishes which Ishamael served were beginning to be very predictable. He served fish which had brought home to Open End, whichever way Ishmael decided, fishes would have had a glorious death. So masterly he was in serving fish heads with its eyes peering above its watery grave. Open End knew from its look how lovingly his cook would have attended to its last rites.
Ishmael had only one complaint that he could serve fish head soup only for special days. It was just as well. For breakfast he served plaice and lunch was without exception, cod it was ; for dinner he always saved his masterly stroke. He could carve filets of tuna, slabs of which he placed for his master to chew on. As appetizing as his dishes were he never forgot to add, “A promise is a promise!”
One month later Open End was mentioning a dream that he had the night before. “I dreamt of lambs frolicking on grassy meadows of my town.“
“What is the sea for?” Ishmael said when Open End suggested whenever he dreamt of veal cutlets he had an urge to buy himself a dish at the next port of call. “I am beginning to dream more of cutlets, Ishmael!” Open End cried as the days went by.
One morning.“ You have had a nightmare, master” Ishmael said concerned,” I shall fix you some cloves and fennels fried in fish oil. I have my mother’s secret mix to keep you from recurring dreams.”
“Am I to drink it?” Open End asked when that night Ishmael brought him the stinker in a small leather bag. “Oh no, keep it by you bedside and it works while you sleep.” Ishmael bowled him over. If it were not for his cargo he might have committed cold blooded murder for the very stink which he had to endure whole night.
“Was it not effective?” the cook wanted to know.
“Sure!” Open End said next day mirthlessly,” the day has come and the glorious sun is over my head. It tells me Ishmael the night is no more a problem. But how come I cannot smell a thing but your fish oil?” His woebegone face was plain. A little later he added,” How long do you think it is going to last. One month?”
The master chef did not take the sarcasm; neither did he let cry from the heart swerve him from fulfilling his part of the bargain. Ishmael knew his mother’s secret formula was beyond compare and chased the recurring nightmares away. He was confident,” it works like a dream! I knew it.”
But for Open End there was no reprieve. He was condemned to sleep badly and worse was his recurring day dreams. He saw the sun taking the shape of a sunny side up turning golden brown. He began mistaking those flocculent clouds for slivers of white meat done to a rare. Some days he stared at the menu for hours together wondering what kept eggs off his fare. He thought Ishmael had some unexplained grievance against poultry or pig trotters. Open End of course put up with the fare but he was somewhere cracking up and he could not put his finger on it. It was not his gullet or his belly the matter. Neither was it his tongue. Somewhere all that tutti frutti di mari clashed with his soul and he could barely look at his plate no matter how elaborate the menu had become with each day. He did scream inwardly. Never once did he complain to the high heavens about the cost as much as the absence of wild game or mutton. He murmured the cook could have caught some turtledoves, which flew about over head as the ship neared the land.
Only when the ship cast its anchor off Jamaica he realized that he had a human cargo to sell. All his thoughts were for weeks together seized off as it surfaced by a great urge: he drooled that he could splurge on red meat.
The Spanish broker who approached him with his service to dispose his cargo took one look at the slaves. He wrung his hands in joy, “Magnifico!” He knew Open End had the right stuff. All that he needed were the right moves. The swarthy sun burnt face of Miguel wreathed in smiles brought the abominable pirate to the present. “May I shake the hands of a millionaire?” the broker pointed out to those sleek and well fed slaves who were almost shining though somewhat marred by their shackles. The broker complimented the pirate profusely. Never for once he had done business with one who had invested in his cargo so assiduously as to increase their sale value. “They have been fed well all the way to Mondego Bay,” commented Miguel, “and they are fatted calf if I may say so!”
After the papers were exchanged and money passed hands Miguel left the pirate in a happy frame of mind. He saw those slaves still drawing the breath of the buyer away. It did not escape the notice of Open End either. When he was left to himself he called his master chef. “I have just one question, Ishmael,” he queried,” What were you feeding the slaves?”
“You don’t want to know master,” Ishmael was sheepish and explained,” I hated to waste even a sliver of fish. I saved every piece for your table.” There was a pained expression on the face of Open End. He asked, “What did you serve them?”
“Oh, I am sorry. Master, I have been rather mean, disgustingly so petty towards them.” “O.K” replied the pirate, “I shall not hold it against you. They are anyway out of our hands.”
“What did you feed them?” “Salted beef and mutton,” Ishmael said embarrassed. He took his role rather seriously he said. He knew he had fallen from that high standard he had set for himself.
“ Now and then I served them veal cutlets when I could not bother with them. So unhealthy!” Ishmael said, “Sausages and bacon! A sure way to an early grave. Master I have been slack, and ashamed at my indifference to the best traditions of my profession.” While Open End mulled over this piece of information Ishmael exclaimed, ”A promise is a promise!”.
All the way to Bodrum Open End had time to think over. He viewed the sea turning green or turquoise blue as the sun swept its kindly eye during its daily rounds. For three months the sea had supplied his table with an assorted menu, and Ishmael had seen a feast fit for the king was set before him.
It was then that his eye caught on a flurry of foam the cause of which was obvious. A telltale shark’s fin signaled that its owner was waiting for The Golden Tulip to make the contact. Open End looked on transfixed against that darkening sky. Ishmael joined him at the deck and said, “A promise is a promise!”
Open End was friendly and pointed to him the great white shark, which he said was waiting for the galley to come in. “You mean the one with a funny tail?” Open End corrected him, “Dorsal fin, Ishmael!”
“It has a cut something of a crescent moon?” Ishmael knew that it looked kind of funny.
“A promise is a promise!” Open End observed.
“Yes, that is what I live by,” The master chef was emphatic,” A promise is a promise.”
The sliver of a moon could be seen suspended precariously as the dark rolling continents of clouds fled across. As if by a sign the shark was looming like a specter before them. At that moment two swarthy hands belonging to the boatswain picked up Ishmael from behind.
The chubby cheeked boy giggled and then he became maniacal ranting on a single theme ‘A promise is a promise!” Hearing his voice run high and low and teetering to that of a caterwauling tomcat, the fellow who held him up from behind laughed.
Ishmael who didn’t get the joke shouted, “A promise is a promise!” He shouted again this time a few decibels higher. Open End was past caring. He had heard the same strain with every meal for the past three months; but however so much he hollered and screamed his head off Open End could take it with unflappable composure. What he felt was so different from the time he felt with all those fishes he chewed on, with emotions turning from violence to extreme violence he thought he owed himself to give Ishmael a clear unvarnished look into his soul which could only take so much and no more.
His self-composure was inhuman he knew. ‘A promise is a promise’ he mused.
” Are you going to keep your promise?”
“Of course,” Open End said with a laugh,” Only that I promised that shark first.” The bo’s’n caught his eye. He nodded.
Next instant Open End looked as a cat who just had washed his whiskers in bowl of milk while waters below splashed in a frenzy which was least of his concern. He had just kept his promise to the great white shark with a peculiar dorsal fin.
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