fiction &travel 25 Jun 2009 07:09 pm

Port of Call

As the ferry left _____ harbor, the clouds were beginning to roll in. When the ship finally turned and belched its way out through the tangle of masts, an insubstantial rain had started to fall. The weekenders had scurried to their cabins by then, eager to catch up on sleep that had surely been lost in the last few days.

The upper deck was left to the stragglers and the students. The backpackers were already rolling out their makeshift beds, looking for spaces in between the blue wooden benches that would provide them shelter against the night’s wind. Those who were strolling the deck and peering down the railings looked confused, as if they were not sure if the mist coating their faces was the sea spray or the insubstantial rain. A few others lingered, careful to avoid the spaces the pennywise backpackers had appropriated.

She sat at the edge of one of the blue benches, because she wanted to be as close to the sea wind as possible. She was huddled in a black waterproof jacket with only her head sticking out. Strands of her hair fluttered defiantly against her infrequent attempts to pull them away from her face.

He appeared to have been trying to photograph the harbor as the ferry departed. With darkness rapidly closing in, he sauntered without aim around the deck, looking down and behind at the wake left by the ship’s propellers. When his peripatetic tour landed him near where she was seated, she looked up, flashed a brief smile that didn’t go past her lips. He smiled, looked away and looked back again.

“Did you visit ______ on the island?”

Yes, she said.

“Not a lot of tourists if you went before ten, and you get half price on the bus too”.

She nodded, smiled briefly and looked away.

“How long were you on the island?” Two weeks. “Did you also visit ______?” Yes. “I almost missed the tomb there.”

So had she.

A few minutes passed while he lingered and blinked against the wind. He turned and looked at her twice but she pretended not to notice.

“I just wanted to talk.”

He held her gaze for a few seconds and started watching the wake again.

OK, she said.

He took two steps back from the railing, and sat on the blue bench next to hers. He told her where he was from and how long he had been away. She told him the same. He told her where he was going next and how long he wanted to stay there. She told him about her husband and how he was going to talk to his friend and get her a job just like the one she’d quit before she left.

Just when the sky had turned black and stars had begun to appear, the horizon turned an unnatural yellow. It was the port at another island, and they were going to dock soon. The conversation turned to things they had seen and things they had bought on the island. She told him about a special gift that she’d found for her husband in a village, one that the tourists never went to. He told her the exorbitant price he’d paid for something similar.

When the ship left the dock, the mechanics of the previous island’s departure were repeated, with little variation. A few more sleeping bags sprouted between the blue benches. The night air became colder and she began to shiver. She told him that she was going to get some dinner at the ship’s restaurant and would he care to join. They walked down two levels, took the wrong turn twice, and finally found the restaurant. They ordered club sandwiches. He chose a Japanese beer and she had red wine. It was her last night out on the sea for a long, long time, she told herself, and then she had one more glass.

“Could I take a look at the _______ you got at the village? I’m sure it’s better than the knockoff I got at the port.”

She got up wordlessly and paid both their bills. She remained silent while they went further down a level and took two more wrong turns before reaching her cabin. She rummaged through her backpack and unwrapped the gift. She handed it to him and he turned it around in his hands and tapped it a couple of times. Stepping forward, she took it from his hands, and placed it on the top bunk. Still saying nothing, she put her arms over his shoulders, pushed the back of his head towards her. The kiss, at first tentative, became natural and insistent. While his hands traversed her back and stroked her neck, she closed her eyes and decided to savor the kiss.

***

She could see the dawn through the porthole when she awoke. Black smoke and seagulls were visible too, which meant that they were almost at their destination. Lifting his hard and encircling arm wrapped around her waist, she rose and went to the miniscule bathroom to get ready. When she got out, he was already dressed. He slipped behind her and reached the door when she went to retrieve her gift from the top bunk. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, opened the door and stepped out.

“I really just wanted to talk.”

She nodded understanding and let the door close.

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