The ‘Container’ represented the very latest in people-smuggling technology. On the outside it looked like a standard 12x3x2m large shipping container. The interior however was designed to ‘comfortably’ house up to four people, with adequate food, entertainment and toileting facilities to keep those four alive for a maximum of four weeks, provided they were on good terms.
We weren’t, but we only needed to endure each other for as long as it took to get to Port Moresby.
The container was fully air-conditioned, with a small unit on each of the four walls so it didn’t matter where on the ship we were stacked.
Travelling via ‘the Container’ is an all or nothing gamble and your arse is the dice. Ignoring the lack of life jackets and similar survival gear in case the ship sank, we were also completely vulnerable if the authorities boarded our vessel. Like all games of chance, the only degree of skill is how you play the odds. My strategy, for the few times I’ve been desperate enough to travel via container, was to get it on a supertanker owned by a major shipping magnate. The kind that devote a portion of their budget towards greasing the wheels with the authorities just to avoid tedious delays. They only get boarded once a month or so, my smuggling mates say with a wink and a grin.
Kitty was not impressed at all with the idea of spending almost a week crammed into a shipping container with two one-armed cripples, one of whom she would rather punch in the face than look at. Kitty fixed me with a cold stare and said nothing. She turned and walked away to talk to Atom. I bit my tongue and said nothing.
All in all, I had to agree with Tachi. Something that is technically good for you, but bland to the taste and tiring the more of it you take on, sounded exactly like a cold tofu pie.
Fortunately, we had neither pastry, nor tofu amongst our supplies. Meal times were the least monotonous and anti-social times aboard the container. The rest of the time Kitty would shut herself in the bunkroom talking to Atom, while Tachi and I sat in the mess sipping tea and bitching about how much it sucked to have only one arm. I’d at least opened up the container’s massive first-aid kit and finally put my arm in a sling. Tachi could not do the same, he could only wrap up the stump, he didn’t even have enough forearm to put in a sling and pretend it was only broken.
But at least at meal times the four of us came together in the container’s mess and talked while we prepared and enjoyed our food.
Gathering the rations for the trip had been Tachi’s job. He hadn’t had a lot of time but what he came back with was damned impressive. I was so glad I hadn’t sent Kitty, who judging from the floor of her apartment would have picked up the biggest box of instant noodles she could find and a slab of jolt cola.
Tachi had looked over our meagre cooking utensils: a portable gas burner, assorted pots and pans, two bar fridges and a chest freezer. An eyebrow twitched the once in response and he departed.
He came back with a large bag of brown rice, four bags of carrots, eight large broccoli, twelve capsicum of assorted colours and two big bags of frozen peas and corn. For meat he’d bought several packets of frozen chicken and for variety he got a bunch of jars of different sauces.
To round it out he had a couple of loaves of wheat bread, several jars of different sandwich spreads and a couple of breakfast cereal variety packs, 3L bottle of milk and just about any drink you could make with the addition of water.
Today we were using the ‘Cajun jambalaya’ sauce. Tachi fished the jar out of the crate and sighed.
I too sighed, though mine was less disappointed and more annoyed.
Here it comes.
“Obviously without any shrimp or saffron this will only be at best a pale imitation, spitting in the face of all true jambalaya everywhere, but at least it’s palatable.”
I whispered “Shut up Tachi” under my breath and sprayed the wok with oil, before turning the burner on.
Having two working arms meant Kitty had to always be in charge of dicing up the ingredients, which when you’re stir-frying is the majority of the job, Tachi let me do the actual stir-frying (because he was confident I could swish veggies around in a pan without screwing it up) while Tachi had been pre-cooking the rice for the last twenty minutes.
“Here.” Kitty said, not looking me in the eye as she passed me a chopping board covered in diced vegetables. I tipped them into the wok and got to stirring. Once she’d added the chicken we were ready for the sauce.
“Hey Kitty.” I said quietly. “Can you pass me the…”
Tachi cut me off by pouring the contents of the jar over the ingredients. I snapped my head back towards him and stared at the mysteriously open jar of sauce. How he’d achieved that with one hand I wanted to know.
Kitty giggled. “You two look so domestic. Dust just needs a little ‘Kiss the chef’ apron.”
I slid a pair of narrowed eyes at Kitty. “Beg your pardon?”
Kitty folded her arms and pursed her lips. “I’m just saying you look cute together with your boyfriend.”
I looked to Tachi for support. I already had the feeling that I’d put up with her shit long enough simmering inside me and now she was deliberately fucking with me. I scrambled to retain the high ground and keep being the bigger person but also desperately needed to strike back with something. Something just biting enough but not outright childish. At that moment I needed one of Tachi’s suave, tactful put-downs more than I needed to breathe, so I went straight to the source.
Tachi lightly moistened his fingertips with a kiss and tapped them against my cheek.
I clenched my teeth, eyes and last working fist all at the same time.
Tachi failed to hide the smirk on his face, but took a half-step back in case I threw the flaming hot wok contents in his face before bringing the pan down onto his head.
I stayed my hand and did nothing. But if he took Kitty’s side and cracked one more joke at my expense, whatever happened next, was his fault.
Want to read the whole thing now? Buy it here