Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The Mystical Wombat's Guide to Life - excerpt 6
He found he was lying in a warm, dimly-lit room, on what felt like a bed of straw, covered with a rough grey wool blanket. He tried to lift his head but found it impossible; every part of him ached and what little strength he had seemed only sufficient to allow him to move his eyes. As his vision gradually sharpened, he could see an old man hunched over a small stove in the far right corner of the room, in what passed for a tiny kitchen area. The old man was busily stirring a black iron pot, which was perched precariously on a small gas ring and wobbled over with a bump with every stir. The old man was humming a raspy, cracked tune as he worked, occasionally singing the odd lyric here and there.
‘…young girl called Rosie Lee… hmmm, hmmm, hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm… longer legs than a hmm-hmm-heee, hmmm, hmmm, hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm… shot a hmmm with a hmm-hmm gun, hmmm, hmmm, hmm-hmm, hmm-hmm… and flashed her hmm for a hmm-hmm hmmm… with a hey and a ho and a big nonny… hmm, hmm, hmm-hmm hmm-hee..’ he took a big breath, ‘Grrreat big hmms and a bag of plums, hmm, hmm…’
McBee began to cough again and Old Sid stopped his humming and stirring to look over.
‘You’re awake then, eh boy?’ he observed, leaving the spoon in the pot and shuffling slowly over to where McBee lay.
McBee struggled to find his voice. ‘How did I…?’
‘Get ‘ere?’ offered Old Sid, ‘I dragged you out the river, that’s ‘ow you got ‘ere, matey.’
‘You? You got me out?’ asked McBee, observing the old man’s wiry frame.
‘Arr, so I did. I ‘auled you out by myself and brought you ‘ome to my barge. That’s where you is right now, by the by.’
McBee tried to smile at the old man. ‘Thank you,’ he said weakly.
‘No need to thank me, son,’ Old Sid smiled, ‘Twas nothing, really. Nearly gave this old sea dog a ‘eart attack, mind. Shocked the ‘ell out of me, you did.’
‘Ah, my jump…’ McBee felt a wave of nauseous embarrassment flood up within him.
As if sensing McBee’s feelings, Old Sid shook his head and patted McBee’s hand. ‘Twasn’t the jump, boy,’ he said, ‘I’s used to jumpers. Bit of a side-line of business for me, jumpers- if you gets what I mean?’
McBee didn’t, staring blankly at Old Sid.
‘Well,’ Sid explained, ‘I’s a ferryman, see? And I works yonder part of the river under the bridge. That’s my livin’, right? Not much of one, truth be told, but a livin’ nonetheless. I comes from a long line of ferrymen and my family’s always worked that stretch – even before the bridge went up. But since they built that bridge, there’s been a steady flow, if you’ll pardon my pun, of folks what want to end it, see? Jumpers, we call ‘em round ‘ere. Anyways, they tend to land in my patch, if you like, and I’s a great believer in the ‘finders, keepers’ theory of life, if you get my meaning? That City Authority pays ‘andsomely for bodies retrieved from the river. Saves ‘em doin’ it, I s’pose, don’t it? So if I gets a jumper, I gets a fair bit of cash on the quiet, see? I likes to think it’s a chance to give yon poor buggers a reason for jumpin’ – kind of like them ‘elping someone to live after they die, see?’
‘Umm...’ McBee’s head was swimming slightly.
‘So when I saw you comin’ out the sky, so to speak, I says to myself, ‘Sid,’ I says, ‘Yon poor bugger there’ll bring you that outboard motor you’ve been ‘ankering after’ So, there I was, waitin’ for your corpse to come up floatin’ – no offence, like – but, blow me, if you don’t come up alive! Couldn’t believe my eyes I couldn’t! I’s been draggin’ yon corpses out of that river for the best part of twenty years and I’s never seen one come up alive!’
‘Well, I must say it surprised me,’ said McBee, as the reality of his reality began to strike home.
‘I’ll bet it did,’ Sid nodded, ‘I’ll bet you was there, thinkin’ you was ‘eaded for some great glowin’ Nirvana, and bugger you if you didn’t find yourself back in the land of the livin’. Twas a bit of a bummer, I shouldn’t wonder.’
‘I’m… I don’t know,’ replied McBee, and promptly burst into tears.
Old Sid took an awkward step back, wringing his hands together, slightly embarrassed at the sobbing wreck of humanity lying before him. ‘Now, now come on, lad, it can’t be that bad, can it? I mean, yes, you wanted to end it all, like, but someone somewhere ‘ad other ideas, see? I don’t know a vast deal about Gods and stuff, but what I see is this: you flew from yonder bridge into that river and you survived – that’s a miracle s’far as I’s concerned, son. So maybe you’s got yourself a Second Chance. You can do anythin’ you wants to. Go anywhere your ‘eart desires, see? There’s not many a soul gets that type of opportunity, lad, I can tell you. Now, I’s made you some broth. I’ll get you some, you can ‘ave somethin’ to eat and you’ll feel better.’
‘Thank you – um…’
‘Sid. Sid the Old Salt they calls me round ‘ere. But Sid will do just fine.’ Old Sid smiled, patted McBee on the shoulder and returned to the stove.
© Miranda Dickinson 2007
What's next for McBee? Find out soon...