Okhotsk
 35
TO THE SEA OF OKHOTSK


It took time to install the sujiko processing machine on
Cerograska, so I stayed at the hotel for about a week.
Cerograska was still anchored at port and there were no signs
that she was going to leave Petropavlovsk even after I got on
board her. The reason for the delay was because they had no
fuel and they were waiting for it to arrive.
The sunshine coming in from the porthole of my cabin
was brighter than that in Japan. Maybe it was because the air
was clearer. I stayed alone in that cabin with four beds. There
was nothing to do but keep on drinking vodka.
Finally, an oil carrying tramp-ship arrived and we were
able to leave the port. Cerograska sailed straight south by the
Kamchatka Peninsula to reach the far most end, the Cape of
Lopatka, where we made a U-turn to go up the opposite side
of the Peninsula. The clouds started to hang low, and so did
the temperature. The sea gulls that chased the ship seemed to
float still in the cold wind. We had entered the Sea of Okhotsk,
one of the roughest seas in the world. A Russian crew man
told me that "Okhotsk" meant "voluntary" in English. Even
Cossack soldiers, known to be reckless, had to be asked for
volunteers to sail out to Okhotsk, he said.
On the Okhotsk side of the Kamchatka Peninsula, there
used to be many Japanese bases for salmon and crab fisheries.
They were owned by Japanese companies that later became
factory ship companies like Nichiro (which means "Japanese-
Russian" in Japanese). Today, Russians operate their own
fisheries at the same points. Freezing and canning processing
are done on factory ships like Cerograska or Pyotr Ilichov.
I had my meals in the officers' dining room. The waitress
would tell me where to sit. There was a plastic tablecloth on
the table. Spoons, knives and forks were neatly set on it. There
was a large pot of borsch on the middle of the table. It was
free to take from the pot, all the borsch you wanted. After you
took your borsch, you had to be very close to your soup dish
since the ship rolled so much.
The Sea of Okhotsk was also known as the last destination
of typhoons and low atmospheric pressures that had travelled
above the islands of Japan. The time I was around Okhotsk,
there surely were lots of them arriving.
"Paguba."
The captain said a Russian word meaning "bad weather."
It was a chance to ask the captain about the expected red salmon
catch. What Tomen Suisan and other Japanese companies
wanted from the territorial seas of Russia were expensive red
salmon, not cheap pinks. "Nerka," I asked, which was the
Russian word for red salmon. The captain answered nothing
clearly.
Night came and Cerograska anchored 300 miles north from
Cape Lopatka. Due to a typhoon approaching, rain, wind and
waves were becoming rough. The place was a pink salmon
fishing ground but no delivery was expected in such weather.
At 2 o'clock in the morning, when everyone in the ship
was sleeping deeply, something I still don't understand even
now happened. I was turning over in bed as I couldn't get to
sleep. Endlessly, the ship rolled, the rain fell and the wind
blew.
From the hallway, a sound of a woman's voice speaking
calmly came into my ears. Almost unconsciously, I listened
to that voice for a while. Then, it started to sound queer. The
midnight hour seemed too late to talk in the hallway.
Furthermore did I feel strange, since the voice didn't seem
to have a mate.
All of a sudden, the voice turned into a large scream.
The words of the woman were meaningless. She seemed
to be angry about something.
A few minutes seemed to make her tired of screaming.
Then, she started to cry. She hiccuped like a baby but soon,
she got angry again.
I felt from the atmosphere that people were coming out of
their cabins. I heard a man speak a few words to this angry
woman. But his voice was overlapped at once by a scream
containing a complicated mixture of sadness and anger. The
man still kept on trying to talk to the woman. This time, he
did it more gently and softly than before. But it only seemed
to make matters worse and the woman started to scream more
awfully.
The other people in the hallway were also starting to yell
at the woman. Since I didn't understand Russian, I knew not
what they were saying, but they were like a crowd trying to
stop someone who was going to commit suicide by jumping
off a cliff.
I thought I would take a look, so I got off the bed and
slowly opened the door of my cabin. I stuck out my face and
there was a woman encountering about ten other people in the
hallway. The woman was the waitress of the officer's dining
room. There was no way that the waitress, with her gown on,
could have noticed me since she had been turning her back
towards me. But suddenly, she turned and rushed her way
towards my cabin. Her bloodshot eyes and hair standing on
end made my blood run cold. I tried to shut the door but the
waitress, screaming meaningless words, started banging on it
fiercely with her body. I lost my senses. I didn't know what
was happening. All I could do was press the door tightly, so
that the insane waitress wouldn't be able to open it. She kept
on striking the door fiercely, opening the door a little bit with
each strike. I tried hard but couldn't succeed in locking the
door.
In the hallway behind the waitress, people were surrounding
her, shouting things I couldn't understand. They seemed
useless to stop her. The scene was something unusual.
Then, silence came.
I stood still, not freeing myself from pressing against the
door. As I calmed down a little, I started to feel seasick. The
ship turned out to be quiet, and the sound of the rough weather
-- the sound of the rain, wind and waves -- reverted in my
consciousness.
There was a man speaking in a low and soft voice. He
kept talking for a long time.
I felt the people start to return to their cabins.
Timidly, I opened the door again. Most of the people were
breaking up. They were all in their pajamas. The waitress,
with her eyes looking straight ahead, passed in front of me
wordlessly.
I asked the Russians later about this night: what it was all
about.
No one gave me the answers. They just laughed.
In Dostoyevski's The Brothers Karamazov, there is a part
written about a particular woman's sickness derived from
severe work or difficult labour.
Maybe, it was that kind of thing.
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