The carpeted floor beneath my bare feet pitches gently and I realise the ship has left the placid calm of the harbour, cleared the rocky promontories encircling its entrance, and moved out into open water. The movement is almost imperceptible, a subtle sideways motion which rolls back on itself like the swing of a heavy pendulum.
Out of the cabin windows, through salt-clouded glass, the swell and roil of undulating waves – topped occasionally by a line of frayed surf – can be seen through the evening gloom. Towards the horizon the heavy sky and the restless waves meld into an indistinct mass where sea and sky disappear into a no man’s land of thickening darkness.
Droplets of rain hit the window and trail across the glass like crazed comets, driven by the force of the ship ploughing through an increasingly viscous sea.
Turning back into the cabin, the small halos of light from the lamps glow warmly through the chill of the air conditioning rattling quietly overhead – along pipes threaded throughout the ship like life-giving veins, recycled air pumping through the levels above and below us. Decks with trucks and buses, cars and motorbikes, engine rooms and kitchens, crew accommodations, shops and restaurants and the kennels where our dog is curled, comforted by the hum of engines and lulled by the motion of the vessel into a snortling slumber.
Our cabin is on a corner of the ship, two windows fore and starboard, entered by a discreet door at the junction of two corridors on deck eight. We can hear the muffled public announcements over the tannoy in the corridor – it is not working in our cabin –distorted and incoherent: safety procedures in the event of an emergency; the opening time of the duty free shop; the movies being screened at the ship’s onboard movie theatre; that the ‘Fabulous Al’ will be playing the piano in the Starlight lounge, while the ‘Fabulous Karisma’ will be performing in the the bar lounge; that tonight’s crossing will, hopefully, not be too rough and we will be arriving in port on schedule in the morning.
We have already eaten at the restaurant. A table by the window covered with a starched white linen cloth and napkins, heavy drapes and potted palms – an attempt at fine dining in the most absurd of places. The wait staff nimble and attentive, a united nations of nationalities, eager to please. Perhaps they dreamed of travelling across oceans in glamorous vessels with the rich and famous, instead they ply their skills on the North Sea back and forth between Europe and the big island, hunched and brooding on its western edge. Our fingers link together across the tablecloth as we wait for our food to arrive.
Meal over, eaten while the ship slipped quietly from its berth and crept slowly towards to the harbour mouth, we strolled back to our cabin with its TV and tea making facilities, through the crowded decks of fellow travellers. Past the ball-pit of toddlers eager to hurl themselves into the dunes of coloured balls while weary parents stood and watched, through noisy groups of young boys in uniform, travelling to a soccer tournament, through the bar lounge where Karisma was performing her first set of the evening in a too-short tunic, stray blonde hairs attaching themselves to the sweat on her face as she played the saxophone. Down the endless corridors to our room. We closed the door and sighed.
This is a journey we make as often as we can, from the place and life we live now, to the place we were born, but left a long time and another continent ago. A place that continues to moves our hearts with nostalgia and longing, but to which we will never return. Yet there, on that island, live the people who mean the most to us, the people who have shaped us, know our history, to whom we never have to explain ourselves. Tight bonds, unseen but unbroken over time and distance.
And on this ship, moving between our life left and the one we live now, the transition between the two. Always transition – places, people, time, life. A constant restlessness, adjusting, recalculating, reinventing, accepting. Taking the best and leaving the rest, except we never do; we carry everything with us. The invisible baggage, the faded scars of old griefs etched finely on our hearts, rarely acknowledged, always hidden.
This tired old ship, slightly tawdry, worn at the edges and past its best, is our refuge between the two. A waiting room, a transitioning between one life and another, always a tin box moving somewhere – through the air, on a freeway, on the sea – a place to make the necessary emotional adjustments.
The inadequate cabin kettle finally reaches a boil and my husband makes each of us a mug of tea from the teabags and mugs carried with us. The shiny exotic foil-covered bags supplied by the ferry company lay ignored on their tray, along with the pristine cups and saucers stacked neatly together. Our tea and our mugs are a ritual we take with us.
He walks towards me, stumbling slightly as the ship lurches unexpectedly, our eyes connect as he hands me the mug and we smile.
Whatever life brings – travel, jobs, illness, death, family, children leaving to build their own nests – we create our own rituals, share and understand the transition. The two of us relying on each other, together.