It happened at Puerto Rico – part of the group of islands in the Caribbean Sea to which also belong Cuba and St. Kitts. There had been no hint of what was to come even a day before when our ship was routinely discharging cargo. The day’s work done, that evening we had followed our ears to the huge wooden jetty built on the water front from where the sound of merry band music was emanating. We found ourselves in the midst of a jolly Puerto Rican crowd. Small kiosks on the jetty were selling food and drink. Pina Colada (pineapple juice, coconut cream and an optional dose of Bacardi), the favorite local drink was flowing freely. In the spaces between the kiosks tall, well-built men and women were dancing to lively music, their coffee colored skin gleaming in the soft light. It was a glimpse of a fun loving people I never forget. The next day the scene change dramatically. The ship was still discharging cargo when there was a storm warning. We were pushed out to sea because during cyclonic weather, ships are safer at sea than in port. This was a sea I had never seen before. Angry. Dark and purple with a pent up violence human imagination could never grasp. Snapping at the ship like a teething dog, tossing it like a plaything. I sat on the cabin floor clinging to a fixed sofa as the ship rolled heavily to port (left). The refrigerator door flew open. Oranges rolled out chased by clattering cans of soft drinks and beer. A milk carton fell out with a thud and split open. My wide eyes just stared, unable to cry over the spilt milk because the next minute the ship rolled to starboard (right) and the milk, oranges, cans all went sliding away. Port and starboard, starboard and port – mesmerized I had no idea how much time elapsed. I didn’t know it then but there was mayhem all over the ship. TVs and refrigerators and even some machinery had broken their moorings and crashed. There was nothing anyone could do. To make matters worse, there was a Coast Guard call to help out a lost fishing vessel. The search, which ultimately turned out futile, took us to within fifty nautical miles from the eye of the storm. It was like entering the mouth of a wild animal. The ship shuddered and moaned as frenzied waves just lifted it and tossed it back. When the Captain finally decided to abandon the search it was impossible to return to his designated route. The ship was getting sucked into the eye of the storm. He had to change tack to come out. It was the longest night. All the time I had my abandon-ship bag ready – a small waterproof bag with our passports and other essential papers. We didn’t need it. Suddenly in the morning the lashing rain stopped. The sea was calm and in the horizon the softest of colors shimmered. Pale indigo. Gleaming pearl pink… And I fell in love with the sea all over again.

The author is a novelist. Her novels include, The Indian Café in London; Radius 200 and The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi

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