The storm came without warning. In the darkness, the noise was deafening and the sea thrashed against the deck. A giant wave had damaged the ship causing it to crack, allowing water to flood in. Although the men did everything they could, the Excelsior had been mortally wounded and was stranded in the middle of nowhere. From the faint flash of a lightning bolt, Juan de Mengíbar saw Carson caressing the mast at the bow end of the ship, as one would caress and say goodbye to a dying horse ready to be put down; a cherished animal that was tired and no longer had the strength to carry anything. In spite of the fact the ship was going under and had to be abandoned, he seemed strangely happy.
At the crack of dawn, the boat sailed towards the beach. During the trip, Frank Castello and John Good took turns to command. They had spent many years navigating together and their synchronisation was second to none. Nobody spoke, neither while at sea nor on land. Under the first row of palm trees, they searched for a place to sleep; hoping their dreams would ease the horror of the previous night and the worries of the day to come.
Carson awoke at dusk. Escarrabelli and Merlone hummed a tune while cooking some recently caught fish. Inseparable from a very young age while growing up in Napoli, the two cousins retained their mischievous nature and cheeky affection acquired in the southern streets and shared a deserved fame as gamblers and womanisers. Some of the men were still sleeping. Carson looked around and saw that the most important things had been salvaged; Juan approached him.
“We need provisions. I’ve sent some men inland. There are a few villages nearby, they will help us,” said Juan.
“We must return to Padang; there’s a ship I’d like you to see.”
“Last night, at the mast…?”
“Last night…,” said Carson, “was a goodbye…”
“During these years, the Excelsior has been my only tie to the past.”
“Do you mean a burden…?”
Carson took his time to respond. Perhaps he was trying to find the right words; maybe it was difficult to say out loud what, for many years, had been kept secret.
“I didn’t know until I realised the ship was sinking,” he proceeded slowly. “During my childhood I dreamt about escaping from the family home. My father was from a different time; cruel, tyrannical and self-immersed. But I didn’t try. I left leaving my mother even more at the mercy of that man. When she died, an old man she knew handed me money she had been keeping hidden for years. Who knows for how long and with what strength she must have needed to do that. And a note: “James, when you read this, it means now we are free. Go, my son, leave this place. When I brought you into this world I never thought you would take so long to fully live it.” With that money I bought the Excelsior. I haven’t forgotten it was paid for with her suffering.”
“There’s a bridge on the island and it has a magnificent legend,” said Juan. “Whoever decides to cross it must find a stone near the bank of the river and hang it next to ones heart; to heat it up and to pass into it the troubles we wish to leave behind. When you get to the other side you must then throw it into the river. The natives say that, in time, when the stones reach a certain height so that the river stops flowing, man will then find true happiness.”
“In that case, never,”said Carson.
“It all depends on how many men wish their troubles away,” Juan replied.
“Juan, in spite of my mother’s death, and the loss of the Excelsior…”
“There’s no more pain…?” Juan interjected
“Yes, there’s none.”
“Sometimes the proximity of our death can make us truly realise the wonder of life,” replied Juan.
Juan then showed Carson to the bridge. He waited. When Carson returned, Juan put a skull cross in his hand: five sections of ebony and a silver skull.
“North, south, east and west; death in the middle, but the world is yours,” he said.
Carson smiled. Juan never failed to surprise him.
“By the way, the ship’s name is the Made’s.”
They walked together towards the beach. They had to gather all the men together and return to Padang. The Made’s, which means the second one, awaited them at the port.