By Anthony Jones
A sail on the horizon! A sail, a sail! Please God let them see us!
“Au secours! Au secours!” we shouted, although our cries were more desperate croaks. We sounded and looked like a murder of crows, our skins blackened by fourteen whole days under the merciless African sun – without any food to speak of and only a couple of barrels of wine to live on. Fifteen skeletal survivors from the one hundred and forty-seven men and women who had been herded onto this floating scaffold of death
Fourteen days since we had been cast adrift, our ship, The Medusa bound for Senegal, but now lying grounded on a sandbar by an incompetent junior officer while her captain entertained his mistress down below.
There were not enough lifeboats; a large raft had been constructed, no more than timbers lashed together and already half awash from the weight it was forced to carry – a problem that eased as the death toll grew. The life boats were supposed to tow us to land, just thirty miles away, but the captain decided we were too much of a burden and cut our raft adrift, throwing a bag of biscuits to us by way of sustenance.
Day by day our number diminished. Many embraced death sooner rather than later by throwing themselves off the raft. By the fourth day, the living were reduced to eating the dead, until after eight days there were only twenty-seven of us left.
What happened to the other twelve? I did mention a murder of crows. We threw them overboard of course. They were too weak to last and were a drain on what remained of our resources – namely the wine. There is a time for sentiment and a time for pragmatism. A pity about the women, but egalite was observed to the greater glory of France.
Not much of an example of European enlightenment to the savages of Senegal, you say? Pah! I spit in your supercilious English eye! You hypocritical Anglais would have rigged an enquiry and buried the matter in the darkest confines of your questionable history! We French have turned this unhappy chapter into one of the greatest paintings in the world – The Raft of the Medusa, by Monsieur Gericault, hanging in the Louvre next to the Mona Lisa.
That’s me in the centre waving my shirt!
Anthony (Tony) Jones is a British expat and member of the Torrevieja Writers Circle. He is also a published author, including of articles about boxing in Boxing News magazine.