“Unknown vessel in vicinity of twenty-eight degrees, forty-two minutes north, fifty degrees, forty-five minutes east, course 190, speed 5 knots, this is a United States Navy warship ten miles off your port bow. I am engaged in flight operations and restricted in my ability to maneuver. Request you contact me on this frequency and alter your course to the southeast to maintain a safe distance, over.”
Down on the flight deck, the CO and his problematic wingman sat in their turning fighters thinking their private thoughts.
Of the drama playing itself out in slow motion on the bridge, they had no knowledge.
Farokh was a fisherman and the son of a fisherman. That worthy’s father had been fisherman in turn, and his father before him and so on as far as anyone could remember. The dhow upon which he sailed, with its diesel motor hacking and coughing behind him had in fact originally belonged to his grandfather, although it was true that his father had replaced the engine sometime back in the ’60s. Farokh had been told by his grandfather at their village that his own father, Farokh’s great grandfather Farhang, had fished by sail and when the wind died, by strength of arm. His dhow had been lost at sea back before the turn of the century, leaving his grandfather an orphan. But all of that was the will of God, rheumy-eyed old grandfather had said, inshallah.
Sometimes, Farokh reflected, he wished that he had a sail of his own. The wind was directly from abaft, and it blew the smelly blue diesel smoke over the single white light he shipped aft in concession to the rules of the sea and to prevent the Revolutionary Guards from having a pretext to board him and shake him down. Although the Bahre Farsi was a good provider, all thanks to God, so that neither a man nor his sons would ever fear to starve in the honest work of hauling fish up out of the sea, neither would they ever be truly prosperous. No, in order to prosper one had to smuggle a bit on the side, and keep the Revolutionary Guards from seizing the cigarettes, booze or hashish and selling them themselves, after of course, having emptied Farokh’s wallet.
Smuggling however was something Farokh stolidly refused to do, unless of course he had to. But his wife Mahasti had been nagging him for quite some time now to sell the old truck that had been his father’s (peace be upon him) and buy a car, so tonight Farokh had slipped his moorings at sunset with two bales of hash stowed right forward under the counter and beneath his fishing nets, one bale for him and one for the farmer. The night after next, inshallah, he would be in Bahrain where he knew a man who would trade booze and cigarettes for the hash and these he could pass to a man he knew in the next village over for cash which he would then split more or less evenly with the farmer. In time he could buy Mahasti a car, inshallah, although probably not a new one: God punishes the greedy. He decided to reverse course momentarily and see if he was being followed, but once satisfied that no one was coming up on him out of Bushehr, he resumed his southwesterly course to Bahrain.
Wrapped up in his private thoughts, Farokh was late to see Leviathan haul up on his port bow, the noisy diesel masking the sound of her engines and those of the aircraft moaning on her flight deck as she closed in the darkness, 100,000 tons of American steel looming in the night. He had been idly picking his nose and eyeing the results appreciatively in the low glow of his engine console when he was startled suddenly out of his reveries by the sound of a great whistle like a foghorn blowing five short blasts, a signal that this was no Leviathan but rather a ship of enormous proportions. It also signalled, as Farokh knew very well from a life at sea that the master of the other vessel considered the situation to be dire. He heard voices too in the darkness, a strange and alien tongue shouting through a mechanical announcing system – some sort of prayer perhaps? – and then another signal which he could not identify, three short, high pitched beeps, repeated over and over again. Something flew loud and low over his head, something he felt more than saw.
Momentarily terrified, Farokh briefly considered putting his helm over and trying to maneuver, but once he’d settled down he attempted to fully understand his predicament – this great ship had a strange and, to him confusing light configuration – he could not easily determine her heading in the darkness. It occurred to him that to turn at this point might as easily put him more squarely in her path as otherwise. He shrugged philosophically. “Doubt makes the mountain which faith can move,” his mother had told him as a boy and anyway it was all in the hands of God. Still, there was time to close his eyes and say a prayer, if not to wash himself nor break out his prayer rug nor yet consult the compass, so this Farokh did do, knowing that Allah was great and merciful and would forgive him the exigencies of the moment.
Continue reading Rhythms, part XL