Friday, January 29, 2010

A Watery Hell

The swarming dock was a busy waterfront scene, stock footage from an old MGM movie, the harbor filled with inter-island ferries along with a mass of other shipping; cranes groaning under heavy loads of cargo being lowered onto decks crawling with shouting sailors, while off to the right cars and trucks disgorged from the belly of an enormous ferry leaned on horns and revved engines. People weighted with suitcases, shopping bags and birdcages dodged and scrambled through holes in the traffic to reach the harbor entrance. My ferry was anchored on the far side of the harbor.

By the time I got there it was 9:00 p.m., still daylight, and an hour before sailing. Crowds of people were already onboard, many of them settled in, but the ship so crowded, so crawling with people, I couldn’t find a place to sit. Not an unclaimed seat anywhere on my very big ride to Crete. I wandered the decks for twenty minutes carrying my bags, weaving in and out of other meandering travelers in the same chair-less muddle. All out of options I dropped the bags against a wall and flopped exhausted onto the floor, muttering about my poor choice of buying the cheapest ticket.

Some few minutes passed, my eyes unglazed and focused on a woman just in front of me, lounging all alone on a plump sofa, her bag placed across that portion she wasn’t sitting on. An hour later, the ship underway, the woman’s bag still rested on the seat, while I stared at it from the floor. In the gentlest voice I could muster, I asked the woman if she spoke English. In answer she mumbled something that could have been Lithuanian for all I could tell. A crew member happened along and I asked if he spoke English, would he mind inquiring about the ‘empty’ seat? After an short exchange between the woman and the crewman, I got the translation (of an obvious fabrication) that her daughter would be returning soon from the snack bar. With perfect politeness the man suggested that I might just sit in the daughter’s place until she returned.

The crewman moved on, I began to rise from the floor and the woman, completely unrelenting, made not a move to shift the bag, but continued to ignore me. A moment passed and then I stood, gently lifted her bag off the seat and placed it on the floor near her feet. I sat down in the bag’s place and as I settled into the cushions, the woman, as though I’d sat in her lap rolled her eyes and groaned.

The blatant selfishness shocked me. Wandering numbers of people all about the ship with no place to sit for the next eight hours and here this woman wanted to roost with her suitcase propped up on the cushions beside her. Now I was comfortably propped up on cushions, ignoring the adjacent moans.

2:30 a.m. somewhere in the Aegean. I sat in idle torment, breathing blue air and comparing the ferry and an earlier long-haul bus. I figured the bus ran a close second, that the boat was worse. A nearby concession had been selling cigarettes hand over fist from the moment we weighed anchor and I guessed all of those cigarettes were being smoked in my immediate vicinity. Two chain smoking women behind me chattered like magpies on amphetamine, while all around people tried in vain to sleep. Ten meters down the hall the game arcade was doing turn-away business, belching out the electronic crash and zoom of car races, the roar of soccer matches and the clatter of bowlers throwing 300 point games. A stuck record of unending and repetitive crashes bouncing off the ship’s steel hull. It was like a party gone wrong on the Love Boat, and I was the reluctant guest.

Eventually I figured out why the woman next to me wanted the extra seat—she had hoped to stretch out and sleep on the sofa, getting a bed for the price of a chair. I noticed that a man across the way had managed to hoard a complete sofa for himself and slept there stretched out. My initial thoughts about this night crossing of the Aegean to the island of Crete had been full of romantic notions, and I had arranged to take a ‘deck-seat,’ the cheapest ticket offered. Each upgrade doubled the ticket price, but more than that, I thought it would be memorable to sprawl in a deckchair throughout a night crossing of the ‘wine dark sea’ under the light of the stars. I thought of it as payback for six and a half hours on a rural bus the previous week.

Little did I know. The long hours slowly but mercifully unwound and near sunrise we arrived in Chania, a charming town on the northwest coast of Crete.

1 comment:

  1. you painted a great scene. I can picture it in my mind.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America