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The cure

How can the nail on the first mate’s toe suddenly cure the whole crew? I’ll tell you how.

From an extended period on the strict “iron hulk”, the first mate’s fat, yellow right toe (the colour of a nico- tine stain) began digging into his foot. This legendary event was accompanied by sniggering in the toilets and recom- mendations to wash his feet more often and cut his toenails. The officers’ mess made snide comments:

“Grigory Gavrilovich is so busy with the threat of nuclear attacks that he’s had no time to cut his toenails.”

“And he’s got no-one to do it for him.”

“The statutes say that the commander must inspect his subordinates’ feet on a daily basis – before night time for his whole personnel.”

“The commander has totally neglected his first mate. He isn’t supervising his feet. And when a com mander abandons his favourite crew member, then that crew member begins to rot.”

And so it went on. The longer it went on, the louder it got. It didn’t stop at sly smiles. The first mate felt it with his skin – they’re laughing their heads off at him, the bastards. He hobbled around for two more days and then gave himself over to the medics.

The doctors in the navy do things the easy way: they just amputated his nail, simply tore it off. As the foot was left alone, they then tied it to a slipper and let the first mate back out into the wild – off you go!

But only the commander, not the doctors, can release us from our work duties in the navy. The commander didn’t release the first mate.

“Who’re you expecting to take charge of the ship?” he asked him.

The first mate was actually expecting the commander to take charge of the ship, which is why his face darkened: there was nothing for him to do but to stay on board. He was ill in his cabin. From then on, nobody ever received permission for release from the first mate.

“What?” he’d say, when the ship’s doctor asked for his permission to release this person or that from duty.

“What?! He needs rest? At home? Have I understood you correctly? It’s extraordinary! A high temperature? And I suppose you think his wife is an aspirin? You amaze me, doctor! He can be ill here. Tell him that’s what I said. He can be ill onboard the ship. We have all we need here – sanatorium with a dispensary, God dammit. And I’ll dispense it to him for sure. I’ll scrub his gullet, if I have to. What? He has a high fever? So what, doctor? So what?! Are you a doctor or a prick in a coat? Go and cure him. Why are you rushing about, demonstrating your stupidity? Bring your thermometer here. I’ll take his temperature myself. No fucking way! An officer doesn’t just croak like that. I said, he won’t die! What don’t you get? Put him in your surgery, next to yourself. And sit there so he doesn’t run away. And give him tablets. I’ll be checking. And anyway, why have we got ill people? That’s a minus on your work record. Where’s your preventive action in the early stages? Huh? I need him back to normal in three days. On his feet, is that clear? I’m giving you three days, doctor. To get him on his feet again. Even if he needs crutches. Even if you’re supporting him yourself. I forbid you from going on-shore until he’s cured. So there! Bring your pass to me, it’s going in my safe. On the double. People are your responsibility. Get used to it. People. What moral right do you have to leave the ship if your people are not in order? That’s all! Go! And get everyone well!”

So there! From that time on, nobody on the ship was ill. Everyone was healthy, God dammit! And if any one of the officers or warrant officers made so much as a groan, then his boss would tell him immediately, imitating the voice of the first mate:

“Ill? Amazing! Stick this thermometer in your mouth, you turd. You can complain to Kofi Annan if you like. God dammit, don’t be a wimp!”

And the sailors were cured with digging ditches.

Occupational therapy. Basically, a profession-da-fé.

So there!

God dammit!

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