I’m waiting at the bus stop in a polite little queue with my fellow citizens like I have every morning for the last thousand mornings. No one speaks, they just stare down into their phones and papers and young adult fiction. I’m just gazing down the street at nothing in particular. That’s why I see him first.
The pirate sailing down the road.
Sailing? Maybe rolling is better. He’s on a great mass of garbage cobbled together with duct tape. Egg crates, sheets of metal, and old mattresses set atop discarded skateboards and furniture dollies. A garbage can lid makes a crude ship’s wheel. The mast is a pilfered stop sign with a skull and crossbones spray painted on it.
I quickly look to my future bus mates. “Do you see that?” No one looks up. In my befuddlement I make a mistake and look back to the pirate. We make eye contact.
He beaches his boat directly in front of me. Not to my left, not to my right, but right in front of me. There is no doubt that I am his destination. He’s here for me. One eye is covered with a protective medical eye patch. The other is fixed on me.
He says nothing at first. His swarthy skin looks like it has never spent a moment indoors and doesn’t lament the fact one bit. His tattered clothes reek and greasy black hair sticks out from under the rag on his head.
After some consideration, his mouth slowly opens into a large grin. Several teeth are missing; the ones that are there shine with tinfoil. He decides that I am indeed his man.
“Ye look like a man who can carry his weight. Ye interested in lining those fancy pockets with a bit o’ treasure?”
It’s too early on this mundane morning. My brain refuses to process this. “I … what?”
He launches an impatient wad of spit at the curb. “Arr, treasure ye soft thighed lump! Are ye deaf? I be a pirate and I have me a map and I need me a first mate to help.” He reaches into the back of his pants and pulls out a wad of newspaper and thrusts it towards my face. Incompressible lines and shapes are scribbled over every page. “See, here it is. Now are ye comin’ with me or not?” He motions towards his boat.
Everyone in line hides behind their phones or intently studies the gum on the sidewalk. As far as they’re concerned I no longer exist. I’m a good as shanghaied.
I start to sweat as I make my excuses. “I’ve got to get to work, I’m sorry. There are a million things I have to do. Emails to answer, letters to write, calls to make.”
It’s true. Lots of work to do. Emails. Endless emails. One after the other after the other, cascading into my inbox to the point I expect them to burst from the screen and bury me at my desk in a million digital questions, requests, and comments. Then the phone rings with calls asking if the emails were received. And it keeps ringing until letters fall on my desk asking why the answering machine is full.
The pirate watches and waits. He knows his mark. He has me. His offer can’t be beat. Nothing can withstand the allure of the treasure map. I’m helpless against it.
The pirate extends his filthy hand and I take it, stepping onto the boat. With a shove we’re off, cutting through the asphalt sea toward dangers unknown.
“Welcome aboard the Fruit Bat!” he shouts, passing me a plastic bottle full a mysterious liquid.
“I’m sorry?” I say, before taking a swig and spitting it right back out. It tastes like vodka mixed with cough syrup. “Jesus what is this?”
“Grog!” he says, taking the bottle back and emptying it down this throat in one pour.
“And the fruit bat?”
“She’s my ship o’ course! We been together a long time, her and me. Now let’s get going.”
He grabs a long poll with a plunger duct taped to the end. “What is that for?” I ask.
“Fer moving!” Plunging deep into the street, he moves the ship forward. “Ah, the sea” he sighs over the roar of a passing semi truck.
“Where are we going?” my voice cracks.
He cackles. “Eager fer action are ye? I knew ye was the man fer the job.”
He uncrumples the map and studies it intently. “Arr, here’s where she’ll be. We’ll need ta hitch a ride ta pick up speed.”
From one of the piles of garbage about the boat he pulls out a rope and grappling hook. Before I can react he’s whipping it about his head. With a great hurl he tosses the hook at a passing bus. It makes a terrible screeching sound across the roof before falling to the side. It catches momentarily on a window before losing grip and tearing the mayor’s face off the bus side campaign ad.
The pirate is unperturbed. “The next one” he says to himself, nodding.
Indeed the next bus doesn’t escape us. As soon as it’s hooked the pirate quickly ties the rapidly unspooling rope around the mast. With a great jerk we fly forward. The ship rattles and creaks as junk flies off. It’s hard to tell what is garbage and what is part of the hull.
“Don’t worry!” he yells, sensing my alarm. “She’ll hold together! This isn’t even the dangerous part!”
Without warning he produces box cutting knife and severs the rope. With great fury he wrenches the garbage can lid until we whip around a corner and down another street. Still at top speed, we pull up alongside our moving target.
A flat bed truck filled to the brim with watermelons.
“Neptune’s beard, we got her!” He dances a celebratory jig before turning to me.
“Number two, ye have the ship!” he shouts. “Hold the rudder!” Picking up a sleeping bag, he then he leaps from the Fruit Bat onto the back of the watermelon truck.
I look around in a panic. “What’s a rudder?”
Ignoring my question, he immediately begins tossing watermelons at me. I duck and the first one splatters across the street, causing a causing a pileup behind us.
The pirate stares. “Catch!”
The next watermelon meets the same fate. The pirate can’t believe it. He changes tactics and begins filling the sleeping bag with melons.
But now the driver realizes something is amiss. He looks over and sees me speeding along next to him on our garbage galleon. His mouth hangs agape for a moment before it starts spouting profanities.
“We’re made!” I scream. The pirate is ready. “Hee!” he shouts as leaps from the truck with a full sack of melons.
The truck driver turns red. Rude gestures join the colorful language.
“This looks to be trouble!” says the pirate. “Prepare to broadside!”
He pulls out several cartoons of eggs and gives one to me. “Ready … fire!”
Dozens of eggs smash over the truck. The driver slams on the breaks and we fly forward. A few blocks later, we coast into the safe harbor of a covered parking lot.
“We did it! My god we did it!” I’m overjoyed. But the pirate is sullen.
“Shoulda been able to haul away twice what we did.”
I apologize. I’m new to being a watermelon pirate. Next time I’ll make good. But he doesn’t respond.
Deeper into the lot we go, silent all the while. Eventually an unmarked van pulls up next to us. “Stay here,” the pirate orders me.
The back of the van opens and he takes the melons to someone I can’t see. The transaction is quietly made without me. In a few moments the pirate returns with our haul: a bottle of cheap whiskey and a carton of cigarettes.
We plunge our way out of the parking lot and back onto the street. After a time the pirate beaches on a pavement island between the lanes.
He looks at me and shakes his head. “Here is where you get off.” Confused, I disembark. Before I realize what’s happening, the Fruit Bat pulls away and leaves me behind. I’ve been marooned.
“Wait!” I yell. “I can do better!” But the pirate has latched on to the end of a dump truck and in a moment he’s disappeared into the traffic.
I look around and realize he’s dropped me off in front of my office. I cross the street slowly and head to the door. There are emails to answer, letters to write, and calls to make.