Seen from the outside, the ship floats on calm, dark waters. The ship seen from afar, far away, by an immobile and inattentive observer. The ship being viewed, but not being seen. For it is difficult not to see it, a mountain of shadows sliding on the horizon, but impossible to capture its essence through this careless and distant look. The ship is on a permanent state of flight, moving away and away, moving farther and farther away. One can only understand the ship by being inside it. Walking from stern to prow on wooden planks, lined up on a straight line, a walking board that groans at every step, and seems to collapse beneath one’s feet. Reaching the small door three feet high, a door that leads to the bowels of the ship. The door opens and what’s inside is madness. Not a scene brought about by this state of mind, or a group of people acting erratically. No. What’s in there is madness itself.
Seen from the inside, the ship is a brain.
Marine vessels are usually guided by human hands, hands positioned inside them, hands that guide them to their destination, which is the destination of men. However, this ship sails alone and does not know where it goes. It’ll get somewhere, for sure. For all ships arrive, even those that are not guided by a human hand. The hands that guide this ship are not the hands of a man, the hands of the man, they are not hands positioned inside it. The hands that guide it are the invisible hands that push it by its hull. They guide it to a destination to which it is not destined. A destination in a strict, but deceptive sense, that is: anywhere it may eventually arrive.
We could say that it is drifting, but this is not exactly true. This is a condition apprehended by the human experience, by the human need for certainty of knowing where one is. By the human need for certainty. By the human need. The ship is nowhere, the ship is somewhere, it is here. The ship was not strayed of itself or the ocean. The most correct would be to say that if we put an individual inside the ship, then it would be adrift.
Not the ship, of course, but the individual.
We leave the ship to follow its destiny. Its destiny, path or course. We leave the ship to follow its destiny and then we leave the ship. Its blackened hull sails the tempestuous blue plain. What extends in front of the ship is the ocean, the point where the ocean turns into a river. At this point, the ship’s course gets confused by the many waterways that revolve around it. It may be enveloped by the force of one or other current, it may spin at the same point for days, until it breaks off these forces and its course coincides with one of many streams. It moves again, following its destiny, which is no longer the same as before. Now it’s going to the mainland.
From afar we can see mountains. Mountains made by human hand, rectangular concrete mountains. From afar, the mechanical neighing of engines, the hallucinating traffic of bodies sliding on the asphalt. The ship is approaching. Ahead of it, the place where the ships rest. The place where human hands put their ships in suspension. Human life continues inside and out of them, but the vessels themselves fall asleep. Men run from side to side, amazed men looking for an explanation of what is happening right now. Regardless, the ship continues to approach the mainland.
Human hands unroll ropes and chains. Inside a tugboat, eight men go up against the ship without a name. It is brought to the dock and placed between two dozen other vessels. They treat it like an ordinary ship, for they do not understand what it is. Amid the other vessels, our ship is a stranger. Its colleagues are titanic steel cargoes parked for maintenance. Vessels that serve the purposes of humankind. Food, transportation, industry and entertainment. Our ship is nothing like that and we can not tell what it is. We can not tell what purpose it serves, if it serves any purpose.
Now there’s a crowd of dock workers around it. Some of them get close to the ship and touch its ancient hull, where are deposited barnacles and crusts. What kind of material is it made of? How long has it been there? How long have it been lost and who could have lost it?
Like everything that exists within a city, water also serves human purposes. The waters in which the ship is parked are natural formations, independent of the will of any living being. However, from there, the water follows distinct courses. The natural course, dictated by the invisible hands, and the human course. The second path causes water to lose control of itself. Its forces are reduced, driven and retrofitted through subterranean tunnels that cater to human needs. Food, transportation, industry and entertainment.
As soon as the ship is parked among the other ships, life begins to proliferate. Plankton and coral are detached from the black hull. From the hidden wood are thrown into the sea microorganisms that live among the barnacles. All of them multiply, spreading through the long water body until they reach the underground tunnels made by humankind. They can not fight the forces that push them in a mysterious direction. Microorganisms have no will, of course, unlike humans. The lives of these little beings come down to following the designs of currents, embarking on journeys that, from their point of view, will always be enigmas. In this way, the journey they are forced to undertake at this moment is nothing more than a banal stage in the collective life of the species. To individuals, however, this is the most important moment of their existence. The moment they set out on a journey that will forever change the way they perceive the world, if microorganisms have a way of perceiving the world.
This is the moment when they are led by water guided by the tunnels, the moment they seep into the world of men, a world that has always been closed to the presence of microorganisms. They infiltrate the world of humans. And their cups, their plates and bathrooms. They infiltrate washing machines, dishwashers and automobiles. They infiltrate the world of humans. And also their bodies. They infiltrate their brains, stomachs and kidneys. They infiltrate at that moment and continue to infiltrate the following days.
The first of them gets tired of living among the horns and sirens. The first of them, of the microorganisms. It gets tired and longs for the days when it floated the waters of an infinite world without walls. The first of them, tired and longing, decides to return to the ocean. And yet, if you no longer inhabit a water body, how will you be able to do that? How to return to the ocean if not by the course of a mighty river? What place is this that it inhabits now? What place is this? It is the place that humans call the interior. The human interior, so dark and so warm. Human and yet, aquatic. If there was no water in the human interior, then by that time the microorganism would already be dead. This is it. If the human interior is also a water body, it means it has course. If it has a course, it is liable to be redirected, just as men themselves had redirected the ocean to their purposes.
The water body inhabited by the microorganism goes against the waters of the river. And the river to the ocean. The human interior opens up and, with relief, the first microorganism breaks free. Others follow its example. Over the next few hours, there are three hundred homesick microorganisms returning home, leaving human interiors behind, scattered in the murky waters of the river. Three hundred human interiors, three hundred water bodies. The next day, there are six hundred more. By the third day, a thousand and two hundred. On the water surface, microorganisms swarm with joy.
Few are the human interiors that did not shelter microorganisms. This is due to the fact that they did not come into contact with the water carried by underground tunnels. Some humans are distrustful of that water, or perhaps distrust the ability of their fellows to tame the forces of that water. Some humans, those who distrust, resort to other means to remain hydrated. Their cups never come into contact with the water in the tunnels.
In the end, the only survivors are the humans who distrust. Still suspicious, they approach the pier. From the platform, they can see the twelve hundred, twenty-four hundred, forty-eight hundred water bodies. Not water bodies, not for them, distrustful humans. For them they are friends, parents, uncles, teachers, co-workers. They do not understand what happened here, still too impressed by the fact itself to seek a probable cause. How could such a thing have happened? A normal day, a sunny day. And then, all of a sudden.
They do not push for any conclusion. It just happened. It happened and it cannot be denied. Nor do they realize what kept them safe, which prevented them from joining their friends, parents, uncles, teachers, co-workers, all those bodies sprawled down there. Nor do they know of the arrival of the microscopic visitors and the nameless ship that approached the pier.
They look around, but they don’t see it.
To the distrustful humans, the ship had never been there.
Matheus Borges (1992) was born in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil. After graduating in film school at Unisinos, he attended the celebrated literary workshop ministered by Luiz Antonio de Assis Brasil. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines, both Brazilian (Subversa, Gueto) and foreign (Waccamaw, Fiction International, Scoundrel Time), as well as anthologies. Twitter/Instagram: @matheusmedeborg