'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney.
Jack Sparrow took a careful look around the corner before proceeding. He'd had over a century to imagine- sometimes in nightmares- what the sinking must have been like for those passengers locked in Steerage. This wasn't anything close to the worse stage. Not yet.
The narrow causeway was clogged with luggage, white safety belts, and plain-dressed people exhibiting various degrees of fear. Nobody paid him more than momentary attention as he made his way through, his sharp eyes scanning every woman's face.
A minute later he reached the base of one of the stairways, tightly packed with agitated passengers right up to the padlocked gate. There he finally spotted her; a petite figure in a blue-and-red sari, head drape not entirely covering a spill of glossy black hair. Jack elbowed his way through the anxious crowd, reached to grip her elbow.
The girl turned fast- a little brown cat ready to claw. Then she saw his face. "Mr. Salomon!"
Sparrow remembered to affect an upper-class accent, as befit successful New York City jeweler Abraham Lincoln Salomon. "Miss Salvi, do please come with me."
Keeping a firm but non-bruising grip on her arm, he drew her out of the press, reversing his path through the fear-crowded passageways. She didn't resist, but her alert black eyes stayed fixed on him. No mousey chit who'd obey without question, as he recollected.
When they'd reached the unpeopled causeway, he faced her squarely. "Sunita, listen: they're not going to unlock that gate in time. Staying down here is a death sentence. But if you'll come with me, I can get you out."
"In exchange for what?" He'd made his interest known a long time ago.
"Let's discuss that later, shall we? This ship is going down fast!"
As if to confirm, a loud structural groan sounded through the hall, and the deck tilted under their feet. Around the corner, several people cried out.
Sunita used a second to weigh her options. Practicality won. "I will come."
"Smart girl." Jack hurried her along the rehearsed route: two lefts, a right, then up another, deserted stairway. At the gate, he pulled out his 'universal key' to remove the padlock. He also hastily checked his large pocket watch. The margin was sufficient. "This way!"
The wench seemed to have greater confidence in him. She stepped as fast as the sari allowed, as they climbed another narrow stairway, opened another door and emerged into a wider, carpeted passage. Jack turned them left, passed two doors, halted at the third. The girl freed her arm, glaring at him. "This is your cabin!"
"I need to retrieve a single item. Please remain here- I'll be less than one minute!"
Sparrow jammed in the key, barreled into the stateroom. Resisting the temptation to look around, he pulled a shiny brown suitcase from under the bed, grasped both rims and wrenched it open. He dumped the contents on the floor- there, a flash of orange fabric! He grabbed the item, stuffing it under his jacket as he bolted back to the hall. The suspicious girl was still there, thank the Powers!
"Excellent, Miss Salvi! Now let's go!"
He steered them back to the stairwell and up another floor. They turned into a stark service corridor, where he brought them to a stop and pulled out his watch.
"What are you doing?" the Indian lass demanded.
"Jus' making sure it's the right time, luv." Jack smashed the watch crystal against the wall and threw it straight down the passage.
Three meters ahead, it vanished in midair. A misty splotch appeared in it's place, quickly expanding to the causeway's height and width. Sunita, wide-eyed, backed up a step.
Jack did seize her then, grasping her above both elbows. "No time ta waste, wench!" He charged forward, propelled them both into the brightness. She emitted a piercing scream...
... continuing as they stumbled from the whiteness, into a sunny green-and-tan room. She spun loose to whirl on him, spitting with fury. "You chutiya...!"
Jack had rarely seen anybody's face do such a fast 180, from incensed to dumbfounded. A larger gray-haired matron, with a yellow sari and outspread arms, was rushing towards the girl.
The two women fell into each other's arms, shrieking with shock as much as joy. Which was only to be expected. Sparrow knew from experience that few things equaled the emotional impact of a resurrection. Even an expected one.
The older woman beamed worshipfully at him over her daughter's shoulder. "Shukriyaa, shukriyaa, Shrimaan Sparrow!"
"Koi baat nahin, Shrimati Salvi," Jack replied with a little bow.
Sunita pulled back just a bit, speaking very fast Hindi. Obviously bombarding her Mum with questions. Mrs. Salvi began making equally rapid replies.
"Well. I'll leave you to explain the situation." Sparrow straightened his coat and sauntered towards the bright-painted door. Sunita threw him a far more gracious glance. Jack gave her a grin and wink as he exited.
Murphy, in his usual rumpled wear, was waiting for him in the adjacent kitchen. "Mission accomplished- no snafus!" Jack reported, waving hands reassuringly.
"Very good." Murphy, ignoring the broad gesturing, eyed his Operative's new midriff bulge. "What have you got there?"
Sparrow sighed within. This bloody chutiya didn't miss a thing. He extracted the fabric bundle and handed it over. Murphy, giving a shake to unroll it, examined the item with a curator's eye. Thick but flexible hand-loomed cloth, just the right length and width to use as a shawl. Dyed an uneven reddish-orange, with stripes and diamonds woven in much fluffier dark-brown yarn. He fingered these decorative shapes carefully. "Spun monkey fur, if I'm not mistaken. This is of African origin?"
"My wife's work," Sparrow replied, resisting the urge to rock on his heels. "Her village considered weaving an appropriate occupation fer elders an' invalids. Bein' in the latter category, she was as good as any they had. 'Twas the only item in my luggage I truly regretted losing." He raised his chin. "I established there was sufficient time ta fetch it. Wouldn't of risked it, if there'd been any doubt."
"Jack, whether you had enough time to retrieve it isn't the main concern," Murphy rebuked. "The temporal displacement of objects- even apparently insignificant ones- can have profound effects. I know you're familiar with the concept of the Vital Thread."
"Sever the wrong one an' the entire seam comes apart," Sparrow recited dutifully.
"And it isn't always apparent which threads are which. I was personally involved with an incident where the removal of a seemingly-innocuous goblet set off a cascade of damaging events which we were very hard-pressed to control. It's having effects even into your era."
Jack gave the man credit for conveying authority without any use of vocal theatrics. Murphy simply projected the impression he knew more about a situation than anyone else. Which he undoubtedly did.
"I'm aware, Mr. Murphy. 'Tis why I kept hands off some considerably more valuable objects in that cabin, which could possibly be salvaged someday. But this..." he flicked a thumb at the weaving, "... weren't headed for anything but decomposition at the bottom of the Atlantic. She deserves better."
Murphy regarded his Operative for a long, searching moment. Sparrow returned the scrutiny, as neurally as he could manage. Hoping the man wouldn't force him to beg.
"Don't make a habit of it, Jack."
"I won't." Sparrow knew full well, his employer would consider this as binding as a sworn oath. He wondered if Murphy's People could possibly be Quakers.
Murphy handed the shawl back. Jack managed to take it without snatching. "Thank you."
There was a knock on the door. The senior Salvi stuck her head into the kitchen. "Shri Murphy? Sunita would like to speak with you."
The older man nodded. "This may take a while, Sparrow. If you would please wait here?"
"'Hain't like I've got anywhere ta go, mate."
Murphy followed the woman out. Mrs. Salvi gave Jack another deeply grateful look as the door closed.
Sparrow had a look around the rustic kitchen, located a carved wooden chair and sat. He spread the precious weaving across his lap, stroking it lovingly. "You've no idea how much I've missed you, darlin'."
He'd never known swamp reeds could yield such comfortable fiber, or boiled bark such bright dye, before his longer-than-planned sojourn in southeast Africa. And those hadn't been the only revelations.
Now he lifted a soft fold to his face, inhaled. It still smelled of their hut. Wood smoke, roasted fish, honeycomb... her.
Over a hundred years had passed since he'd spoken her name. Though a grown woman in the eyes of her tribe (as he'd had to constantly remind himself), by the standards of his own culture she'd been a child when she was given in marriage to him. And a scant four months older when she'd died.
He'd never entirely reconciled himself to that. Bad enough for the poor chit to've been born with a dysfunctional heart, making her incapable of any activity more strenuous than light gardening. She'd had the additional ill luck to belong to a culture where such a girl was scorned as a poor marriage risk. Had she died before her menses started, there'd have been less concern. But since she'd had the audacity to survive that long, her own Headman father had bribed a stranger to become her husband, to salvage the family's honor.
Jack, the foreigner who'd happened along at the crucial time, had agreed to the union only in exchange for the offered payment. Nonetheless, he'd done right by the lass. He'd spent those four months living just like the other villagers, doing his fair share of the hunter-gathering and more than his share of raiding bee's nests. He'd treated his child-wife with great tenderness whenever they made love. More uncharacteristically, he'd quickly abandoned any notion of dallying with the prettier native girls- in a community this size it was certain to get back to his missis, and he wouldn't risk making her feel rejected. In a word: he'd made her happy.
She had utilized her loom to express her appreciation. Applying her considerable skills and best materials, she'd woven him the finest garment she was able to: a decorated orange-and-black shawl such as the village men wore on ritual occasions. Jack could still recall the shining pride in her face when she'd presented it to him. And, shortly afterwards, the feel of it around them both, as they'd enthusiastically fallen onto their padded sleeping mat.
Only five days later, he'd been returning to the village with the morning's catch of fish when he hear several women wailing in distress. They'd rushed to meet him, pointing him towards the planted area. He'd found her there, collapsed and motionless between the furrows. Right in the middle of tending crops, her defective heart had finally given out for good.
Jack didn't remember much about the funeral rites. There'd been communal chanting as dried leaves were burned, producing a rusty smoke smelling of marigolds. There'd been placing of hands on the corpse by her relatives, reminding her ghost of their kinship so she wouldn't come back to trouble them. There'd been the shaman shaking leaf bundles as he reminded the assembled not to speak the deceased girl's name for at least one moon-cycle. Even the village's most insolent young men had lowered their eyes and kept their insulting tongues still. Showing her far more regard than they had while she lived.
At sunrise next day, her somber father had handed Jack three uncut diamonds, and gestured for him to leave. The outsider had fulfilled his end of the bargain and received his agreed-upon payment; now it was time for him to go. So Jack packed his few acquisitions, plus provisions, and vacated the village. A few of the residents had eyed him, with no particular feeling, as he'd walked by the huts and through the barricade entrance for the last time. He'd expected no more when he'd struck this accord. But having just spent one-third of a year with these people, it had bothered him that his departure seemed to be a matter of indifference. Only one individual- his late wife's aunt- gave him a goodbye call and respectful head-bob as he'd passed through the gardening area. She always had demonstrated more concern for her disabled niece than anybody else.
Upon reaching the river, he'd turned downstream and hiked beside it for three days, finally reaching a European settlement. There he'd caught a supply barge which took him back to the sea... to his home.
He didn't recall that overland journey very well either. At some point he may have climbed a tree to avoid a hyena pack. His only clear memory was of the noon stop on the first day. He'd sought out the shade of a riverside acacia tree (after checking it for leopards), ingested some strips of dried meat, and settled to wait out the hottest part of the day.
Everything about that interval was as clear as if he'd experienced it yesterday. The muted clatter of flowing water, repeated "Ko-kak, ko-kak" calls of guineafowl, rustlings of a giraffe browsing on the further bank. He remembered unpacking this very shawl, staring at it for a long time. Inhaling it's scent. He remembered tears starting to flow, and being unable to stem them... burying his face into the folds, crying as he hadn't done since he was a small whelp...
His fingers now traced vague blotches on the fabric, where those tears had diluted the dye. He didn't want to discolor this relic any further. But he would make another tribute. Quite a few moon cycles had passed since he'd spoken her name- his way of trying to compensate for the paucity of respect she'd received while alive. He would speak it now.
Jack held the last work of her hands to his lips, whispered into it as tenderly as to a lover:
If he did, after all, add a couple more spots to the cloth, those few more hardly mattered.
Shukriyaa, Shrimaan Sparrow- Thank You, Mr. Sparrow
Koi baat nahin, Shrimati Salvi- Don't mention it, Mrs. Salvi
Shri- respected sir
"Dikeledi" (dee KEH leh dee), a south-African girls' name, is the Tswana word for "tears".