I still remember the day when it happened. It was a Friday, I remember because I had a huge chemistry test I had to study for. It was the most life changing experience I ever had.
I was rushing home from school that day, eager to get my studying over with so I could relax.
“Meena!” a voice yelled. I turned around and saw my best friend Usha. I had known her for so many years, we were practically inseparable. We even had a secret agreement to name our future children after each other.
“Are you coming to the beach later today? Everyones coming!” she blurted out.
“I can’t, I have this huge chemistry test to study for.” I said.
“Aw, come on Meena you’ve been studying alllll semester, you deserve a break” she begged.
“How am I going to go to university if you keep making me fail my tests?” I said jokingly.
“Come on that’s a whole year awayyy.” she whined.
“I don’t know, it sounds pretty close to me.” I said.
“It’ll be fun, and everyone will be there and you can finally relax for once!”
I had to admit, hanging out at the beach sounded way better than studying all night.
“Ok, but you have to explain to my mom what happened when I fail my test” I laughed.
“Yay! See you at 8 o’clock tonight at the beach!” Usha exclaimed.
I went home and studied for about 3 hours, and then got ready to go to the beach. When I made it there, everyone had already arrived. Groups of teenagers gossiped away while enjoying the Canadian heat. Summers here were always really hot, which was something I loved about living in Victoria. Even though my family was from India, I was born here, so the city meant a lot to me.
That day at the beach, I remember Usha whispering to me about how cute she thought a boy named Nikhil was, and how she couldn’t wait to get married.
“What about you Meena?” She asked, “Aren’t you excited to get married?”
“It would take a miracle to find me a husband.” I laughed.
“Don’t worry Meena, your future husband is out there somewhere. He probably got lost on his way to you,” She laughed, “Perhaps in the middle of the ocean”
It was later that day when it happened.
Everyone had left to go home, except for a couple of people. I was walking along the ocean - observing its steady waves. The water crashed along the beach, aligning perfectly with the damp sand. The orange sun reflected its warm rays on the water. It was the perfect weather for a stroll on the beach. While I was observing the water, I noticed something.
It was a strange object bobbing up and down on the waves. I was curious to find out what it was, so I walked into the water, pulling my dress up to stop water from soaking through it. As I walked closer, I could see the object clearly. It was a bottle. It was probably just another beer bottle someone had carelessly thrown away. I was angry. How dare someone just leave their trash in the ocean? Sea animals live there - they could die from accidentally breaking this bottle-The glass could pierce their skin. I angrily made my way deeper into the ocean, reaching for the bottle.
My anger left me when I noticed a piece of paper inside the bottle . I picked it up, observing its features. It was a wine bottle, however it looked odd. The cork had been tied with a piece of plastic, and a nylon string.
I tried to untie the nylon string, but it was difficult. Whoever had tied the string had secured it tightly. No matter how hard I tried it wouldn’t come undone. I paused for a moment, and examined my distorted, green reflection in the glass.
I tried to remove the cork once more, before realizing the sun had already set. Oh no! It was way too late for me to be wandering around at night at the beach. I rushed home, taking the bottle with me.
I returned to studying when I got home that night, and forgot all about the bottle. I left it in my room, under my bed.
I had no idea how influential it would be.
The next day, I got up and got ready for school. I grabbed my bag and a lunch my mom had made for me. It was filled with two delicious oothappams, a bottle of fanta and a muffin to eat on the way to school. I loved Indian food, just as much as I loved other cultures’ dishes. Having been raised in Canada, I had learned to enjoy all food. However, my mother always prepared my food because I was never very good at cooking.
That morning I’d been walking to school, reviewing the things I had studied last night over again in my head. I needed to do well in chemistry, because I was thinking of becoming a pharmacist. I decided on pharmacy because I had always wanted the knowledge of remedies. I wanted to be able to tell someone what could cure their cold, or their ear infection. It wasn't as complex as a doctor, but it would also allow me to help people.
That school day was just like any other school day. I went to my four classes; english, business, math and chemistry. It was in chemistry that I remembered the bottle, when the teacher was teaching a lesson after our test. She told us about heat pressure, and showed us a video on popping open a lid on a bottle. I raised my hand and asked her what you would do if it was a cork instead of a bottle cap, and that’s when the answer became clear to me.
I rushed home to open the bottle. I can’t believe I had overlooked such a simple solution to my problem. All I had to do was heat up the bottle and then take a coat hanger and untwist it so I could use it as a corkscrew. I put the bottle in some hot water while I rummaged through my closet, trying to find a loose coat hanger. I found a blue one and started to unravel and straighten the coat hanger. When it started to look like a long thin line, I began to use it as if it was a corkscrew. I had to admit, it was hard. All those movies I had watched where people picked locks with coat hangers had not helped me at all. I struggled with it, but then the cork unexpectedly popped off. It was a miracle.
"Finally!" I yelled triumphantly.
I took the bottle out of the water and then took out the thin , crumpled paper. I began to wonder if there was anything in this bottle at all. What if all my struggling had gone to waste? What if I had tired myself out for just for an advertisement for wine? I paused for a moment, wondering if the disappointment was worth it. But then again, what did I have to lose? I unrolled the paper as my heart pounded from excitement.
The paper had messy and thin handwriting, and was difficult to read. It had six sentences , with a messy "thank you" written at the end. I read the first sentence over and over again; it said something about a ship called the Tsimtsum.
I couldn’t figure it out, so I skipped over to the next sentence. That part was the most clear, so I could understand it perfectly. It said “Am in Lifeboat.” The next parts took some re-reading, but eventually I got it. It said “Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem. Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.”
Who was Pi? How did he get stuck at sea with a Bengal tiger? I didn’t know much about tigers but I knew being stuck at sea with one wasn’t good news. Was Pi still alive? The concern I had for Pi was surprising, considering I had never met him. Was Pi even a boy? I was eager to learn more, so I researched the name of the ship that had been listed on the note at the library.
The only search results that came up were for a cargo ship with the same name. What would he be doing on ship that didn’t even hold passengers? Maybe this was a prank , and someone had decided that it would be funny to write a fake rescue note. That would explain the tiger part of the note. But a part of me still felt like it was real, despite the odds.
I knew it was gullible of me to believe this note I had found at sea, but I kept that hope anyways. I spent the next few days researching everything I could to help Pi, but I kept getting blank answers.
The closest I got too knowing what happened to Pi was discovering why he was at sea. I had found an article on the Pondicherry Zoo, which was closing down and had sold all their animals off to other zoos. I researched the zoo, and found out that it had been owned by a man named Santosh Patel. The note suddenly sounded more realistic. Could Pi Patel have been his son?
My question was answered, when I searched up Santosh Patel. An article had been written about him and his family, and how they lived alongside the animals in their family owned zoo. Pi was a boy, who had lived in the Pondicherry Zoo. He had been 8 when the article was written. I calculated his age, he had to be 16 by now, which was one year older than me. I wonder what he looked like now.
Pi Patel had a mother, and a brother too. I wondered what had happened to them. The note didn’t make sense, because it had stated to advise his family in Winnipeg, Canada. What family? Did he have relatives living in Winnipeg? Or did his family leave for Canada before him?
I looked through the phonebook, searching for people with his family’s names, his father Santosh, his mother Gina, his brother Ravi. I even looked for just the last name Patel. I called numbers, asking people if they knew a person named Pi. I couldn’t find anything. I felt disappointed. I felt like I had failed Pi. Here Pi was trying to survive at sea, and I couldn’t even find his family for him.
I finally deciphered the first sentence of the message, and found out it said “Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag, sank July 2nd 1977, in Pacific four days out of Manila.” It was the last piece of information I found.
I spent more and more hours at the library everyday, until I had to eventually give up. I couldn’t find anything, and it was taking up too much of my life. I knew it had consumed my life when the people around me started noticing. They would say things like “Meena, why are you always at the library these days?” or “Meena, you’ve been looking for this guy forever, why don’t you just give up?”. If I had to be honest, I was losing hope too.
Pi’s family had probably died alongside with him, which explained their absence from Winnipeg. Pi could be dead right now, considering how long it would take a bottle to reach shore from the pacific ocean to Victoria. How could it possible that this bottle had reached me on August 30th 1977?
I had so many questions, but no one could answer them for me. I didn’t want to give up, but due to the circumstances I was in, I had too. Exams were coming up, and I had to focus on school if I still wanted to become a pharmacist. I rolled up the crumpled note and pushed it back into the bottle, and put it on the table beside my bed.
As much as I tried to forget him, I thought about Pi everyday. I thought about him whenever I saw the bottle--when I woke up each morning, and when I turned off the bedside lamp to go to sleep. I even included Pi in my prayers, hoping that he had been rescued.
It was about 4-5 months later when I finally heard about Pi again. I was watching the news. There was a story about the United states performing Nuclear tests. I was speculating on whether there was going to be a war. That’s when the news story came on. It seemed like a normal news story at first, until a familiar statement crossed the screen. The headline read “Boy found after being stranded in Pacific ocean.”
I turned up the volume, eager to hear more. I thought it was just a coincidence, but it wasn't.
“Good evening folks, today we have a story that will make you believe in miracles, isn’t that right Sherry?” The news man announced.
“You got that right, Kyle!” Sherry said, a little too excitedly.
“A boy by the name of Pi Patel was found on the coast of Mexico this morning, after being lost at sea for 227 days. His life boat had crashed into the coast, and villagers helped wash him up and feed him back to health. He is now currently resting, but he is in perfect health.”
“Wow, that story amazes me everytime!” Sherry replied in amazement.
The news coverage was drowned out by the thoughts racing through my mind. Pi Patel? The Pi Patel from my wine bottle message? Was this some kind of joke? I ran upstairs and grabbed the bottle, pulling the note out hastily. I turned up the volume even more, intensely watching the screen for more confirmation that I wasn't imagining things.
A news reporter was live in Mexico, reporting on the scene.
“Pi had reportedly been on a ship called the Tsimtsum with his family and their zoo animals. They had sold their zoo for a better life in Canada. They were travelling across the Pacific when the ship sank for unknown reasons. He had been at sea for 227 days, living off scraps of fish and dorados. He had used a device called a solar still to catch rain water so he would have water to drink. His family had tragically died along with all the crew members of the ship, but he still continued to push on living. Although he is not well enough to speak right now, he told sources earlier that his love of God and a tiger had kept him going.”
“Did you say a tiger, Fred?” Kyle said laughing.
“You’re right, I did Kyle!” Fred said, “This tiger has not been found yet, sources say it has escaped into the jungle. It was reportedly a bengal tiger from the Pondicherry Zoo.
Happiness surged through my veins. This was my Pi from the message in the bottle! God had answered my prayers! He survived! He made it! I was so proud of him for persevering and getting through it, even though I didn’t even know him. I desperately wanted to talk to him. I wanted to congratulate him, but he was in Mexico and I was in Victoria.
A couple years later, me and Usha both graduated high school and decided to transfer over to the University of Toronto. I decided to study religion and pharmacy, and Usha decided to study to become an english teacher. It was at the University of Toronto when the unthinkable happened.
I was walking in the hallway, when I bumped into a boy.
“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry.” I mumbled, picking up the boys numerous books.
“It’s ok.” He laughed.
I looked up. I had to admit, I was attracted to him. He was handsome, with his nice brown eyes and his cute hairstyle.
It was that meeting, that made us start talking daily. I asked him why he had books about three different religions, and he began to tell me about his childhood. He told me about his meetings with a priest, a common muslim man and a hindu pandit.
After that, we did everything together, we even celebrated Diwali together on Gerrard street. It was my second year of knowing him when he confessed his journey on the ocean, and my eyes lit up instantly.
“Wait!, you’re Pi Patel!, The Pi Patel!” I said excitedly.
“I didn’t know I was a celebrity.” he laughed.
I told him about the bottle, and I showed him the message. I told him about how long I had searched for the information about his family and him and how long I had prayed for him to be safe. It was that conversation where we confessed our feelings for each other.
Shortly after, we got married. It was a hindu wedding with some Canadian details because of our love for Canada. There were white table decorations with a common theme like Canadian weddings , even though I had a pretty red hindu wedding dress with gold accents. I had bridesmaids but I also had indian rituals.
I also had indian food, Pi’s favourites which included , crepe like pizza dishes called oothappams, spicy sauces which we call chutney, idli which were round delicious rice balls and a wrap like bread with sauce called masala dosa with coconut chutney. We even had a white wedding cake with orange accents.
For our honeymoon, we went to Niagara falls. Usha laughed at me when I told her, but being there with Pi was enough to make my honeymoon perfect.
Soon after we had had a son, and named him Nikhil after Usha’s husband and Pi’s best friend. A couple years later we had a daughter as well. I named her after Usha, just like we had promised years before. We bought a dog and named it Tata and shortly after bought a cat as well, which Pi named Mocassin.
Finding that bottle was the best experience of my life.