Just getting onboard an Indonesian ferry for the three day journey to the Moluccas, once known as the Spice Islands, is a traumatic effort. Especially when one is travelling in economy class with chicken.
From Makassar, Sulawesi’s main port, a city that charm eludes, to the fabled Spice Islands is a three day sailing aboard the Indonesian ferry, the KM Tidar. It is Ramadan and only economy class is available. Economy class never sells out; it purchases on deck passage only. Economy class on an Indonesian ferry is a Malthusian nightmare. My journey promises to be a 19th Century tarring with steerage.
02:45 hours. Six hours past its scheduled departure the KM Tidar steals along side the dock like a sulking adolescent who has neglected her laundry day. An electric charge surges through the congealed mob of several thousand impatient passengers. They paw the ground readying their assault.
I steel myself against whatever mayhem might unfold. I have a prize to shield: a bucket of extra crispy chicken. Twenty succulent pieces of deep fried poultry that will sustain and comfort me; a generous ration of seven pieces for each day — two for breakfast, two for lunch and a banquet for my din din — supplemented with a hearty stock of potato chips and a wide ranging assortment of cookies. Happy victuals for a torn soul.
A ramp propelled by brown shirted porters plow through the mob. They shakily, and twice errantly, align the ramp with the scuttle, a small door accessing the ship’s bowel. A whistle blows and a mash of porters boil over onto the ramp. They are seeking cargo to commission and haul. A porter is tossed off the ramp like a spoilt shred of lettuce. He has barely cracked his skull on the concrete before renewing his determined ascent.
A hue and howl is raised and the eager mob whelms the cordon of fencing, a frail thread of order, and charges forward. A hurly burly obscenity peppered tumult of high propped luggage and rice sacks erupts. Young mothers desperately clinging and protecting their babies are given no quarter. Laggard porters are trampled. A police baton hovers briefly before smacking a head.
My finely honed survival instincts compel me to join in. I can feel little toes under my boot. A woman glares at me. Before she can invoke her retribution she is swept away. Her pink khimar bobs toward the ramp.
My backpack is twisted; the straps pinch my arm pits. Searching fingers trespass into my pant’s front pocket. It is impossible to turn and assign those probing digits to their owner. I struggle to dissuade my digit from unintended probing.
Someone stumbles, the mob falls forward pushing me onto the ramp. I cannot feel the steps. My chicken is jostled; I try to recalibrate the cradling of my bucket; a breast surfaces and minces onto the rim; I tip it back in with my wrist. A drumstick seeing an opportunity pops out and throws itself to calamity.
The line forward stalls. The pressing mass behind me forces the clog. My chicken breast panics and skitters back to the rim, pauses, unsure if this is the right decision, and seeing no other recourse tumbles to its flattening end.
My backpack is pushed up high onto the back of my head forcing my elbows outwards. I can only grip my bucket with my fingertips. An awful truth breaks upon me.
I am outmanoeuvred and shoved hard against an unconvincing railing. My hand instinctively reaches out to check my balance. A critical error. I lose my darlings.
The empty bucket punctuates the crispy poultry’s vertical flight. I am given no respite to grieve. The howling mob carries me upward. A heavy tear wells in my canthus and draws a serpentine line down my anguish chiseled cheek.
The scuttle is reached and I am rudely shoved into the sickly incandescent maw of economy class horror. Now lacking a breast, wings and thighs there is nothing to do but find a space on deck which will be my little piece of hell for the next three days.
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