There was no sound of any
wind and the ship was not rolling. He jumped up and looked out of
the window. The sea – oh, God! – the sea was
as smooth as
glass, and the great ship was moving through it fast,
regaining the time lost during the night.
Mr. Botibol turned away and sat slowly down on the edge of his
bed. He had no hope now. One of the higher numbers was certain to win after this.
“Oh, my God,” he said out loud. “What shall I do?”
What, for example, would Ethel say? It was simply not possible to
tell her that he had spent almost all of their two years’ savings
on a ticket in a ship’s competition. Nor was it possible to keep
the matter secret. To do that he would have to tell her to stop
writing cheques. And what about the monthly payments on the
television set? Already he could see the anger in the woman’s
eyes, the blue becoming grey and the eyes themselves
as they always did when there was anger in them.
“Oh, my God. What shall I do?”
It was no use pretending that he had the slightest chance now
– not unless the ship started to go backwards.
It was at this moment that an idea came to him, and he jumped up
from his bed, extremely excited, ran over to the window and looked
out again. Well, he thought, why not?
Why ever not? The sea
was calm and he would have no difficulty in swimming until they
picked him up. He had a feeling that someone had done something
like this before, but
that did not prevent him from doing it
again. The ship would have to stop and lower a boat, and the
boat would have to go back perhaps a kilometre to get him, and
then it would have to return to the ship. That would take about an
hour. An hour was about forty-eight kilometres. The delay would
reduce the day’s run by about forty-eight kilometres. That would
do it. ‘Low field’ would be sure to win then – just
so long as
he made certain that someone saw him falling over the side; but
that would be
simple to arrange. And he had better wear
light clothes, something easy to swim in. Sports clothes that was
it. He would dress as if he were going to play deck tennis – just
a shirt and a pair of shorts and tennis shoes. What was the time?
The sooner the better, then. He would have to do it
soon, because the time limit was midday.
Mr. Botibol was both frightened and excited when he stepped out
onto the sundeck in his sports clothes. He looked around
nervously. There was only one other person
in sight, a
woman who was old and fat. She
was leaning over the rail
looking at the sea. She was wearing a heavy coat, and
collar was turned up, so Mr. Botibol couldn’t see her face.
He stood still, examining her carefully from a distance. Yes, he
she would probably do. She would probably call for
help just a quickly as anyone else. But wait one minute, take your
time, William Botibol, take your time. Remember what you told
yourself in your room a few minutes ago when you were changing.
The thought of jumping off a ship into the ocean hundreds of
kilometres from the nearest land had made Mr. Botibol – always a
careful man –
unusually so. He was not yet satisfied that
this woman in front of him was sure to call for help when
he made his jump. In his opinion there were two possible reasons
why she might not. First, she might have bad hearing and bad
eyesight. It was not very likely, but on the other hand it
might be so, and
why take a chance? All he had to do
was to check it by talking to her for a moment. Second, the woman
might be the owner of one of the high numbers in the competition;
if so, she would have a very good financial reason for not wishing
to stop the ship. Mr. Botibol remembered that people had killed
far less than six thousand dollars. It was happening
every day in the newspaper. So why take a chance on that either?
He must check it first, and be sure of his facts. He must find out
about it by a little polite conversation. Then, if the woman
appeared to be a pleasant, kind human being, the thing was easy
and he could jump off the ship without worrying.
Mr. Botibol walked towards the woman and took up a position beside
her, leaning on the rail. “Hello,” he said pleasantly.
She turned and smiled at him, a surprisingly lovely smile, almost
a beautiful smile, although the face itself was very
“Hello,” she answered him.
And that, Mr. Botibol told himself, answers the first question.
Her hearing and eyesight are good. “Tell me,” he said, “what did
you think of the auction last night?”
asked. “Auction? What auction?”
“You know, that silly thing they have after dinner. They sell
numbers that might be equal to the ship’s daily run. I just
wondered what you thought about it.”
She shook her head, and again she smiled, a sweet and
pleasant smile. “I’m very lazy,” she said. “I always go to bed
early. I have my dinner in bed. It’s so
dinner in bed.”
Mr. Botibol smiled back at her and began to walk away. “I must go
and get my exercise now,” he said. “I never miss my exercise in
the morning. It was nice seeing you. Very nice seeing you …”
He took a few more steps and the woman let him go without looking
Everything was now in order. The sea was calm, he was lightly
dressed for swimming, there were almost certainly
fish in this part of the Atlantic, and there was this
pleasant, kind old woman to call for help. It was now only a
question of whether the ship
would be delayed for long enough
to help him win.
Almost certainly it would.
Mr. Botibol moved slowly to a position at the rail about eighteen
metres away from the woman. She wasn’t looking at him now. All the
better. He didn’t want her to watch him as he jumped off. So long
as no one was watching, he would be able to say afterwards that he
had slipped and fallen by accident. He looked over the side of the
ship. It was a long, long
drop. He might easily hurt
himself badly if he
hit the water flat.
He must jump
straight and enter the water feet first. It seemed cold and
deep and grey and it made him
shake with fear just to look
at it. But it was now or never. Be a man, William Botibol, be a
man. All right then … now…
He climbed up onto the wide wooden rail and stood there balancing
for three terrible seconds, then he jumped up and out as far as he
could go, and at the same time he shouted “help!”
Help!” he shouted as he fell. Then he hit the water and went
When the first shout for help sounded, the woman who was leaning
on the rail gave a little jump of surprise. She looked around
quickly and saw –
sailing past her through the air – this
small man dressed in white shorts and tennis shoes, shouting as he
went. For a moment she looked as if she were not quite sure what
she ought to do: throw a
lifebelt, run away and find help,
or simply turn and shout. She stepped back from the rail and
swung round, and for this sort moment she remained still,
tense and undecided, Then almost immediately she seemed to relax,
and she leaned forward far over the rail, looking at the water.
Soon a small round black head appeared in the water, an arm raised
waving, once, twice, and a small
voice was heard calling something that was difficult to
understand. The woman leaned still further over the rail, trying
to keep the little black spot in sight, but soon, so very soon, it
was such a long way away that she couldn’t even be sure that it
was there at all.
After a time, another woman came out on deck. This one was thin
bony and wore glasses. She saw the first woman and
walked over to her.
“So there you are”, she said.
The fat woman turned and looked at her, but said nothing.
“I’ve been searching for you,” the bony one continued. “Searching
all over the ship.”
“It’s very strange,” the fat woman said. “A man jumped off the
deck just now, with his clothes on.”
He said he wanted to get some exercise, and he jumped in and
didn’t even take his clothes off.”
“You’d better come down now,” the bony woman said. Her mouth had
suddenly become firm, her whole face sharp, and she spoke less
kind than before. “And don’t you ever go wandering about on deck
alone like this again. You know you’re meant to wait for me.”
“Yes, Maggie,” the fat woman answered, and again she smiled, a
kind, trusting smile, and took the hand of the other one and
allowed herself to be led away across the deck.
a nice man,” she said. ”He
waved to me.”