66. The clinging
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
He sat on the bridge of the old tugboat and looked down the Thames. The river police made occasional patrols in this direction, but he was quite safe. He was a retired pirate. In his prime, he had carried immigrants and drugs across the Channel and raided gangsters near Canary Wharf. Now he was done with all that. In his old age, he had taken to cannabis. It started as a casual interest. When he had been working he had been careful never to sample the product. It was too risky. It interfered with a man’s ability to make smooth decisions. Now he found that the day did not really start without a joint. He smoked two or three just to get ready. In his mind, pushed to the back, the idea had formed that he had become a drug addict. It was not too bad, though. He did not have the head for weed; he looked out the cabin window and felt the world gently undulate and spin.
Coffee and a small pastry sat on the hand-rest map table that was built into the captain’s chair. This was the other part of the ceremony. The captain knew that man is a ceremonial animal. Coffee, cannabis, and a croissant had become part of him. He did not feel really awake until the ceremony was complete. He broke bread and placed a small gob of croissant in his mouth. He mixed it with the coffee. The combination was, as far as it went, delicious; and it was made more delicious by being the completion of the ceremony.
Above the boat, a pirate flag fluttered in the wind. He made no secret regarding what he was about, and yet it was treated as a mild joke. The captain had moored up in a cheap berth—for London—near Kew Bridge. It was a post-industrial zone, a place that had never had a firm existence. It had been taken over by the city, by industry; and then industry had left. Now it was a place haunted by rats and broken glass and liminal people. This was a place where the dream people lived: the most primitive dreamers of London. The Edwardians and Georgians had overlooked this place, but the Romans had been here. They fought their first battle here. And, during the English Civil War, this was where the Roundheads and Cavaliers first tangled. So it was a strange ancient-new district, a place where dimensions met.
The captain thought that there was treasure buried somewhere here; perhaps it belonged to Caesar, perhaps it belonged to King Charles. He knew it with the sense of a seaman and a pirate. Normal people, people with respectable jobs, cannot develop this sense. It is too buried in politeness and conformism. It is only poets and pirates who understand that this world is much more mysterious than would first appear. The captain had an idea that the treasure was buried on one of the little islets along the Thames. Later that day, occasionally nodding off from the cannabis, he travelled to a good prospect in a little dingy with a spade. He needed no more than that. He left everything else up to his senses.
He dug on the island, under willow trees, with feet crunching on wind-blown crisp packets, until dusk. He found nothing, except deformed metal that might have belonged to an engine or an old factory or anything at all. He threw the spade into the boat and puttered along to the pub. There, with his cronies, he drank and ate and played darts. The whirl went on, but he was thinking of the treasure—as a good pirate captain should. It was out there, tormenting him. His cronies knew it too. The captain returned to his boat, mumbling under his beard that he would find the treasure that night. His companions consoled him. The next morning, the bridge was empty and the ashtray cool and the coffee cup dry.