© Joel Seath (2011)
Ash flakes fall onto the deck of the Zeedraeck, moored at Jayakarta. Floriana’s white attire is streaked grey: bodice, skirts, bonnet. The men do not care to notice. They shout, heaving crates on-board in a race against the elements, against the bowels of the Earth. The crew have heard the rumblings of the volcano for days now. Floriana watches out to sea. Over the vast swell of the horizon, beyond the clutch and might of the Company, an immensity sits in wait to swallow the Dutch East Indies: a leviathan grumbling about its own death.
It is not the darkening of the sky above her that Floriana is in once-pure-white mourning for, nor is it for the beast of buried bellows. On the shore the natives fix their eyes at the sea as they hammer and heave, as they push between the poles which hold up the port-yard houses and walkways. Their hair is thick, the colour of burnt under-Earth. Floriana does not care for them; she cares for her self on the edge of the world.
Five months previously, in the townhouses of Amsterdam, Floriana was a flutterling amongst the Company’s gentlemen. She, with her almond eyes and rice and sugar skin, would bewitch enough to melt a hardened soul. Such exotica as she, a paper bird, was sure to lure the locals of the dark side of the world to distraction. The Company can take what it cares to: by force or by delicate arts alike.
Yet, by India, the crew knew that even Floriana, exotic as she was, rose in the morning as they did, slept, perspired, defecated, vomited overboard and other unseemly acts not befitting myths and magic creatures at all. Floriana allowed two oil-skinned shadows to slip her naked at the Port of Colombo. She traded this, and the fire in her belly, for a parcel of white linen and lace left at her quarters come morning.
The Company men at Jayakarta throw barrels of cinnamon onto gangplanks and roll them into yards already caked grey. Small dogs yap at the heels of the tally-keepers, whose papers crinkle as if the beast is already breathing on them. The locals’ crates of tobacco and tea are winched on-board. It is a frenzy before the world might end. In the distance, the sky rumbles.
On the jetty the ship’s master and the local governor are arguing. Floriana can’t make out their words, but she knows she’ll be involved. When the call comes, in the shape of De Groot, who always ushers her ashore, she acquiesces. Floriana stands before the governor. He listens to something; it is as if he listens to the distant leviathan, yet he listens closely. He turns down his lips, he shakes his head.
Floriana is saddened by the confirmation of her transformation from flutterling to the magickless. The blackened sun is folded inside the white-grey paper bird, who stands in ash flakes on the wooden jetty on the dark side of the world.