The mulberry, or Morus nigra: three stars for what is usually a three and a half star fruit. I have spoken previously of the joy of street fruits: those ripe fruits of the branches that hang over the fence and protrude slightly onto the street. Even more so is the joy of those fruits when, rather than the branch overhanging, it is our arm that overhangs onto the private property of the fruit owner, when we nervously check the street for witnesses and our heart rates increase as we stuff our mouth with berry upon berry from stained red hands. Such is the joy of the mulberry.
We had been stuck in the doldrums for some time now. The fog had come and blackened the sky, and it had become cold and dark. For the first while — days or weeks, I cannot say — we had used our reserves of herring oil to propel our boat onwards, hoping in vain to bump up against the coast. Then we ran out of oil and the engines died. Without the sun we could not produce any more oil. Henry fashioned a sail out of some canvas upholstery, but the wind was as scarce as the sun and it got us nowhere. We drifted on, completely ignorant of where the tides were taking us.
I looked out over the prow of the boat into the grey fog. Some part of my conscious mind knew that if I reached down far enough, only a metre, I would be able to touch the brine. Yet, all was grey. I forced my breakfast of raw herring down my throat, trying my best to not let it return out to whence it came. The rough scales smarted against my mouth ulcers, and the metallic taste lingered on my tongue after all else had gone. I spat out into the ocean. Man was not made for such food as this.
I went to tend to my plants. We had constructed a makeshift greenhouse using the scraps from an old clear shower curtain which Henry had sewn together into sheets. It was small and served little practical use, but we had managed to germinate a few lime seeds, which had now grown into saplings of ten centimetres’ height. I hope that one day they will bear fruit to feed my eldest nephew. Every morning I wheeled the greenhouse out onto the deck of the boat, where it would absorb what little sunlight shone down. Then at night I brought it back inside, where it was protected from the worst of the environment. After I wheeled the saplings out I would stare at them a while, and sometimes even stroke them. Plants like that. I remember reading once that back in the days of industrial agriculture, the larger farms would often employ professional plant-strokers. It was particularly effective on the tomatoes, they claimed. What do you suppose happened to all the professional plant-strokers? Ubi sunt qui ante nos plantas mulserunt?
I was lifted from my reminiscence on the strokers, as one often is, by events in the outside world. There was a slight clicking sound coming from the other side of the boat, and I walked closer to investigate. There, through the fog, I saw that a great white beast of a bird had come to rest on the railing. It was looking out and flapping its wings, baring all to the ocean. I approached slowly, wary of disturbing it and scaring it away. As I got closer, I saw that it had left a dark red streak of guano on the deck. I recognised that colour from the stained hands of my youth: it was mulberry guano. If this bird had been eating mulberries recently, then we were surely nearer land than we had realised. I pitter-pattered below deck to tell Henry the good news.
Down below, Henry and I formulated a plan. I carefully and quietly dismantled the rigging from Henry’s abortive sail, and cut a good length of rope about five metres long. We were going to ensnare the beast, and this rope would function as a leash of sorts. The beast, naturally, would struggle and try to escape, before ultimately submitting to its fate. Then, we would feed the poor beast a few sickly herrings, and coax it into pulling us, boat and all, towards land.
Cruel as our plan may seem, I assure you that we were not motivated by any malice or spite. To you, dear reader, the circumstances in which you would need to coerce an innocent avian into pulling a boat may seem completely unfathomable. You, in your comfortable houses, with your ready supply of energy and petrol, will hopefully never experience firsthand the extents to which man must sink. And yet, I did it, all for the health of my eldest nephew.