He shut the heavy door behind him and sat in front of my big table. He fixed his pale blue eyes at me for a few seconds, looked around the four corners of the small room, then looked at me again…
“So, ‘you speak English?” He inquired matter-of-fact
“Yes, I do” and my eyebrows arched, showing my annoyance at such a stupid question
“Did some school?” he again asked sounding quite unsure.
I wanted to sneer at him at his obvious ignorance and impolite.
“University…” I answered instead, filled with sarcasm.
“So, uhmm….you’re under me, right?
“U-huh ….Good…. So, I am…uhmm…the Staff……”
“Uh-huh…Ok, I have to go”
That was our first conversation inside this 4 x 4 room, made of bolted watertight doors and steel walls. This so-called office is the only one in the most upper deck, on the ship’s aft. Outside are the two funnels throwing up gray smokes on the sky while giving blows out loud at an interval. Written on both of them is her name in blue and red. We had a small window laced with a white curtain, with a view of the forward funnel and the flag masts. We had two big desks with two big chairs, and two computers facing each other at a distance of 1 meter. Aside from an extra chair, a whiteboard and two shelves full with plastics and papers, the room is lifeless. The only luxury we had is a radio, which I asked a technician to fix for me, and a fridge, which I begged from the reefer.
It was June 1998, typical of Hongkong’s hot and humid summer. I was twenty-three years old then. He just turned forty-four.
The second time we met in the office, he was already sitting on his big chair while sipping his coffee, with his back on the door.
“Morning” he said as he swirled his chair to face me and put up his mug, signalling a toast. Whitesnake, his favourite band, plays softly on the background.
“Early today, huh?” I asked.
“Gotta’ be, ya know…” he then smiled, showing his tiny dimples, the corners of his eyes folding into tiny lines.
He then changed his place and sat in front of me, scribbled something on his clipboard, rip the paper away, made it into a ball, and threw it at the basket under his desk, few feet behind me.
“Very impressive…” I smiled when he made a basket.
“Really…” he mumbled and laughed, then threw another paper ball.
It was the start of it.
Days passed by in this small room, in this isolated deck where the funnels and its smoke and whistles are my only companions. At night I would go out and stare at the black sea below as it gives way to the old lady pushing hard forward, making big frills of white waves along its rims. She rocks gently on this hot evening, as I asked the heaven above what would come out of it. There I was, first time to be out on the big world alone, and I am already asking myself the greatest question that a man can ask himself…”Why?”
I think of the time that has passed, the stories he has told which made me laugh. He answered all my questions patiently, even if they sounded quite plain. He never regarded me as an idiot, but rather enjoyed dissertating with my theories about life and being human and about the world itself. Although he never tried to be funny, his actions and his ways were the most funny for me that we often found ourselves bursting into tears of laughter at just a mere look at each other. He doesn’t have to tell a wit, he just has to wiggle his hands and his toes and we would both roar.
“Oh, still here? What’ya doin’ in this office in this hour of the night. Ya ‘aint entitled to overtime, ya know, only deckboys…?”
It was already 10 pm. I just came from my evening walk around the deck.
“Just bidding time, have nothing to do in the cabin…” I answered him casually
“This night’s gonna’ rock…” he said in his slang way. “We got storm coming when we enter Taiwan, so I have to secure everything….”
He gave the instructions as I fumbled with the lashes and the ropes. I was still wearing my uniform; a blue pencil-cut skirt, a white blouse and my black shoes. As we moved around the small room, we could feel the warmth coming from our bodies and our heavy breath, which it was causing. He made puns as we tied the equipment and furniture around us, and I enjoyed watching him making fool of himself. After the duty is done, we both sat exhausted on our chairs.
“…How old are you?” He was serious.
“Old enough to travel alone and speak with strangers…why?” Sensing his solemnity, I forced a smile.
“Ain’t ya afraid of being alone up here with me…?”
I answered him no, I wasn’t afraid.
Why should I be afraid when in fact every minute spent with him in that office became a part of many happy, unforgettable memories? Why should I be afraid when it was the only time that I could be myself, when I actually feel easy and at home laughing at our private jokes and life stories….But of course I never said him that. It would be too divulging on my part, too close and too personal…
So there I was, walking again around the deck with the funnels and the flags masts as I embrace the cool wind that seldom visits the summer nights of Hongkong in that year 1998. I stood behind the railings, watching the sea turned to black by this darkness….At midnight, the moon has already gone off someplace else, taking all the stars with him, abandoning the earth. It was a very black night as I disappeared from that tiny office. He whispered, showing his left hand to me……
“I would really like to stay …If I could….”