To Be So Loved ~ #36

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Serial #36

Shoreleave! The first official day off since I’d come on board. I had 48 whole hours to myself to do whatever I wanted to do. So, What did I want to do…I have to admit that sleep was high up on the list.

We had put into port in the harbor at Bequia. Bequia is a beautiful island, uh, volcanic protuberance, with absolutely wonderful people. Remote…definitely. But, that said, the small harbor had a single restaurant accessible easiest from the sea. The restaurant was called “Charlies”. Stephen and Diana coaxed me into joining them for dinner at Charlies, despite my desire just to sleep my leave away.

‘That’s Charlies.’ Diana pointed from mid-decks. ‘You’ll love it. Trust me.’

I shrugged and followed her down into the Captain’s skiff. We had a packed boat as we whisked across the bay. I was still a bit blown away by being able to sail right up to the front door of the place. There was a small pier with several tie-ups available. It was unlike any restaurant I’d ever seen before.

My first real view was of an open interior painted in bright, fluorescent and psychedelic colors offset by deeply browned ebony wood (heavily lacquered against the salt sea). There were no walls, per se. That seemed to be a general rule of most places along the seaside, I’d learned. But, what struck me the most was the ceiling when we entered.

From the ceiling hung sculptures of comical fish and sea life seemingly running from a chef wielding a very large meat cleaver. I instantly burst into giggles at the scene. Other such scenes were carried out on a ‘pyramid’ leading from the shoreside seating up to the second level bar. All were painted in wild colors with wilder designs. It was a joyful sight, and hilarious.

Stephen and Diana exchanged looks.

‘Squid bait.’ Stephen chortled in his heavy brogue.

‘Seal baby.’ Diana countered.

We all laughed as we found seats overlooking the tied-up skiff and the harbor. Our ship, sitting out in the harbor surrounded by the glow of the moon on the water…now, that’s a sight that stirs up pride and brings a little tear to my eye just at the memory of it. So majestic, grand, proud. Just so damned beautiful!

‘Hey, little squid, if you think the ceiling here is so funny now, wait til you’ve popped back a few shots of tequila.’ Stephen winked.

He was right. Later proved. After a couple of tequila shots chased with some kind of Captain Morgan’s vintage rum, locally brewed and bottled, the ceiling comes to life. To real…all too real. So real, I’d like to both remember and then probably wish to forget the rest of that evening.

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To Be So Loved ~ #35

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Serial #35

If you ever book a Caribbean cruise, make sure that you do so outside of hurricane season. Either that, or be prepared with a ton of Dramamine tablets and Scopalamine patches. It seemed that not a night passed without a good storm to navigate through as well as sick passengers to tend to. My duties kept me running most nights between them. Days were packed with on-shore duties.

Life, like I said before, after that first night of seasickness, I became as one with the sea. I shed my sandals in favor of bare feet. I loved the feel of the wooden deck beneath my feet, although I will admit that it did get mighty hot during the day forcing me to keep moving. I had been issued deck shoes, but even the smallest ones in ships stores were still several sizes too large and created more of a hazard than a help. Until the new shoes the Quartermaster had ordered for me came in, I was granted permission to wear my sandals on duty. What I did off-duty was on me. Secretly, the danger appealed to me, after all, if I slipped into the sea then I could join my beloved, right?

The stormy nights were exhausting, even more so than the days filled with treating the Island Natives as we stopped at each port. Between nights at the helm and days on the Islands, I slept very little, and fitfully at best. When I laid down, my mind would replay the day. Surgeries were frequently a feature, usually accompanied by the patient’s screams. Babies crying was another matinee that always brought me to wakefulness with tears matting my eyes. I would curl and hold my stomach and cry for my beloved and all that he would never get to see. To make it worse, I sometimes felt the fluttering of life that came out of nowhere and froze me in my tracks.

Needless to say, between the sleep deprivation, the nightmares, and the constant work load both on and off the ship, I began to change. My body was gaining strength, physically. I was solid muscle now, being able to lift much more than before. My personality was changing perhaps the most. I was grouchy most of the time, and high-strung the rest. Worst of all, I began to sneak sips of the Sailmaker’s hooch just to calm down enough to do my duties. I was on a downward spiral of an eternal roller coaster with no uphill glide in sight. For the most part, I don’t think anyone really noticed.

The days began to drag one into the other. The same routine- work all day, work half the night, toss and turn for a few hours, repeat. Meanwhile, I was thankful for the absence of morning sickness. My body was slimmer, lean in the extreme. I’d lost so much weight that I’d had to order a new uniform from the Quartermaster who just laughed it off to life at sea.

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Mini Vaca…

Sorry, life intervened and had to take the week off. Am working on #35 as I type this. It’s a point where the story begins to pivot into stormy seas.

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To Be So Loved ~ #34

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Serial #34

The tourist passengers on the ship just can’t seem to get enough of the party scene. I had no real desire to get involved, so when I was off-watch, you could often find me up in the crow’s nest… As Thomas Hardy would say ‘…far above the madding crowd.’ (“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, by Thomas Hardy) While we had spent the day tending to the medical needs of the Natives, the passengers had spent the same time snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, and waiting for the roasted pig to come out of the pit. After a rich, full day for all, the evening brought with it dancing and drinking around a bonfire built on the beach. After which, the party spilled back onto the top deck of the ship.

Between the alcohol and the steel drum music plunking out it’s chaotic rhythm I watched as the passengers acted like idiots. From my higher perch, I could watch it all, still hearing the steel drums and humming along with the music. From here, I could watch and still have the peace and quiet that my soul needed. As I watched the young couples dancing hip to hip, grinding their bodies, and fondling all over each other, I thought of my husband.

Even amid all the excitement and cheer, I felt the heaviness of grief. I hummed with the music, but felt absolutely none of the joy that should go along with it. ‘Don’t worry, be happy, now’ was the farthest thing from my mind. I wasn’t worried, per se, but I sure as hell wasn’t happy, either. My heart ached with a so intense that it was almost as if there were a knife being twisted within. If one’s heart could burst with pain, I was sure that mine had. I felt the tears on my face, warm and wet.

I didn’t want to cry. The tears just came, unstoppable. Hormones. It had to be the hormones. That was all. Hadn’t I cried enough tears in the last few months to fill at least half the ocean that surrounded us? I drew my knees up, burying my face behind them. I was small enough that if I curled up, no one would see me. That meant no one would see me losing it.

I didn’t expect the brush of fabric beside me, or the slight give of the boards beneath me.

‘Nice view.’ Stephen spoke after several minutes.

I looked out, but couldn’t see anything past the blur of tears. ‘Sure.’ I whispered.

‘They’re really crazy down there tonight. I think the barkeep put too much alcohol in the cocktails.’ He motioned towards the undulating sea of passengers below.

‘Sure.’ I whispered.

‘That one better watch out, or he’s going to need you to stitch up his head.’

‘Not my watch.’ I shrugged. ‘By the way, I didn’t ask you to come up here. I came up here to be alone.’

‘I think alone is the last thing you need right now, Lassie.’ He reached out to brush a tear off the end of my nose. ‘Besides, I like it up here, too. Don’t have to watch my back so much.’

I frowned. The music below was getting faster and there was one fool passenger attempting an African jump-up dance. He was really close to the bar, too close. I could already see what was going to happen.

He jumped up. The hand-carved, oaken dragon head didn’t budge. Blood began to flow down the guys head. Yep, idiots in action for sure. I sighed, moving to stand. The whole scene was surreal. The guy was so drunk it was if he didn’t even feel where the dragon’s teeth had embedded themselves in his skull.

‘Damn.’ I cursed, already swinging out from the perch to slip down the ropes. I reached the idiot just as the CMO arrived with her kit. Together, we treated him. Me, I just hoped she didn’t notice the tears.

 

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To Be So Loved ~ #33

IndianGiver1aeb0

Serial #33

In American history it was the British who plied the Natives with beads and shiny baubles. It wasn’t supposed to work the other way around was it?

‘Do not accept any gift, or any food, from a man.’ Stephen spoke in soft tones near my ear. ‘That is, unless you want to become his permanent property.’

He chuckled as my eyes widened.

‘Welcome to the real world, Lassie.’ He winked as he kissed my cheek.

Meanwhile, the Natives were presenting the Captain with bundles of things like shells, plants, etc. I watched as the Captain graciously accepted each item with pure grace and a smile.

‘At the convent, we were told to accept nothing for our services.’ I commented back.

‘It’s different here. Here, there is more involved than just payment for services. These things have barter value for these people. It’s how they get the things they need that their island can’t produce. Captain Marlin is well versed in this. He’ll take the goods to the next island and trade for the things these people need, like medicines and such. He’ll do the same at that island for the next island. It’s how it works in these parts. Captain Marlin has a good reputation and the locals trust him.’

‘I know bartering.’ I noted. And surely, I did.

‘It is alive and well in the world today.’ Stephen smiled.’Just don’t try to do so on your own. If you see something you’d like to trade for, ask the Captain. He’ll trade for you.’

‘Heard, loud and clear. Thanks, Stephen.’

‘Anytime, Lassie.’

I went back to work. I fully understood the process of bartering. I’d been bartering for the necessities of life ALL my life. It was how I’d survived. It was how I’d had food to eat, clothes to wear, even paper and pencils for school. As I watched the Captain continue his trading, I wondered what items he’d be able to trade for that these people would want. They seemed pretty content with what they had, after all.

Later, with the new sails transferred from the sea plane to the ship, it was time to set sail again. The horizon was clear and the sky was a deep blue sprinkled with stars as we raised anchor and set out.

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To Be So Loved ~ #32

 

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Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean – Siboney, Locono, Gallabi/Ineri, Taino.

Even before we could unpack our medical supplies from the row boats, we had Natives waiting in line – well, a circle, really. My eyes scanned the scantily clad people and gulped. Talk about primitive. I’d seen pictures from National Geographic Magazine, but they didn’t compare to the reality. I couldn’t help but feel a small kernel of misgiving deep in my gut.

‘Just remember that a smile is universal.’ Stephen said as he sat a crate on the beach. ‘That frown you got going will scare them away.’

‘I’m not frowning – I’m – I’m thinking.’ I grunted, placing a second crate beside his. ‘I do that.’

‘Not saying that’s a bad thing to do.’ He chuckled. ‘If you ask me, you look scared.’

My eyes met his ever so briefly. How did he know that so easily? How did he always know what I was thinking and feeling? To be totally honest with myself, I was terrified. The spear-welding Natives were jabbering among themselves, tamping their spears in the sand with one hand while gesturing large with the other.

Stephen winked. ‘It’s okay to be a little scared, just try to do it with a smile on your face. Courage is fear put to use.’ He motioned back to the row boat. ‘The sooner we unload and set up, the sooner you can find out that you can work through that fear.’

Consciously, I forced my lips to curl upwards. This wasn’t going to be easy. Especially not with all those looks the island Native’s were giving me. I gulped and went back to the row boat for more supplies.

‘They’re excited to see us again.’ Diana spoke as she joined me. ‘And, Stephen’s right about the smile. Body language speaks so much louder than words. I’ll be beside you, so don’t worry. The Natives know me.’ Diana smiled broadly. ‘Tambu will translate for us, and he used to live the next island over before he joined the crew.’

‘I don’t know how you do it, Diana.’ I spoke with soft words. ‘Aren’t you at all afraid?’

‘I was, years ago. But, I’ve been on the ship for five years, now. These islands are my home.’ She smiled broadly. ‘I care about these people. Trust me, your fear will go away, soon.’ She winked.

What was it with all this winking? Was it an island habit that I hadn’t read about. Sometimes, it was most disconcerting.

‘Why don’t we start with the women and children. We’ll let the men take care of the men unless they ask for us.’ Diana motioned for the women to come closer to line up behind the solitary chair.

Then, as the first woman sat down with a tiny babe on her lap, I couldn’t help but smile. I self-consciously touched my own stomach. Soon, I thought, so very soon.

I soon learned the wisdom of a simple smile that crossed all boundaries of race, culture, or social strata. A smile didn’t need a translator, and put even the most nervous looking patient at ease. Quite the opposite of the stoic look that was encouraged at the convent, so very different. Soon, I found myself relaxing into a routine. By the end of the day, I thought that I had never smiled for so long, or so genuinely in all my living days. We had worked all day, and even as evening was falling around us, we worked by lantern light.

Later, after a feast of roasted pig and the ever-present cocktails and beer, some stayed on the island to camp on the beach while others went back to the ship. All hoped that in the morning a sea plane would come with new sails. By the time we made our next port-of-call, a new mast would be waiting.

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To Be So Loved ~ #31

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Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean – Siboney, Locono, Gallabi/Ineri, Taino.

If I thought there was a culture shock on Grenada, it held nothing to the light of the tiny island wherein we dropped anchor. Our first port-of-call. If it hadn’t been for the small group of spear toting Natives waiting for us on the beach, I would have said the island was deserted. Funny thing about Islanders. They are extremely cautious of people, and may seem unfriendly until they get to know you. It is there way, no doubt born of a lifetime of pirates and the like coming to steal and terrorize them.

‘Are you ready to go ashore, Sister?’ Stephen asked as he sidled up to me.

I looked from him to the Natives and back again.

‘L-I-P’s. Local Indigenous Persons. In this case, the old adage about carrying a big stick applies. These L-I-P’s are peaceful despite their aggressive appearance. They know Captain Marlin well. These people are just as friendly as they look angry. You’ll see.’ Stephen winked. ‘Whatever you do, though, keep your habit on. They aren’t afraid of the Sisters, and respect the office.’

‘I – I don’t even know why I’m still wearing it. I mean… I’m not even sure I’m still a Sister of the Order.’ I reluctantly admitted, brushing my hand down across my stomach. Oh, how quickly my world had changed, was changing even now.

‘Once a Sister, always a Sister in my book.’ He winked again. ‘Same rule of buddies applies here as it did on Grenada. Only here, it’s even more important. No sneaking off, not even to take a whizz. Understood?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. The Captain has assigned me to keep watch over you. I don’t intend to lose you.’

I rolled my eyes at him.

‘No eye-rolling, either, Sister Sarai. I’m deadly serious about this. Here, you’re a hot sticky bun to a starving man… a divine treat they all want a piece of. It’s my job to see that they don’t get even a nibble. As far as they are concerned, you are mine.’

I laughed at him. ‘I belong to no one, haven’t you heard.’

Stephen snorted back. ‘Stubborn as hell, too. I’ll cut to the core… If you want to live to see tomorrow, then you’ll stick to my side like super glue. Do you understand that?’

‘Yes – Sir.’ I mocked a salute. It was his turn to roll his eyes.

‘Sister, I’ve got to teach you how to do a proper salute.’ He shook his head as the Captain walked past us.

‘All aboard that’s going ashore.’ Captain Marlin’s voice called out loud and clear.

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