She felt bogged down; stuck in a boringly predictably rut. It was time for a change – cut loose, set sail and head for the islands! Having taken the decision, she filled a small green canvas back-pack with the barest of essentials and boarded the crowded Metro to Pireaus.
Once in the ferry basin, she scanned the tatty handwritten timetable posted outside the port captain’s office. With two thirds of the day gone, the options were whittled down to a choice between Iraklion, Mykonos and Santorini. The first, Crete’s main port, would entail a wait of six hours and the departure for Santorini would mean hanging about for nearly four. So she hurried to the jetty where the Aegean Princess was berthing, its heavy steel ramp thundering down onto the worn concrete wharf. Thick ropes, flung down from first deck, were caught by swarthy dock hands and coiled around two sturdy bollards.
A seething mass of travellers, baggage and vehicles filled the quayside where officious port police were shouting, gesticulating and blowing shrill whistles in their sweaty efforts to marshall these frenetic groups into some semblance of order. A horde of over-eager passengers, like participants at the start of a marathon, were bulging outwards from the exit to get ashore. Pantechnicons, buses, cars and motorbikes were all revving loudly as they queued on the jetty to embark. Short-tempered drivers, voicing their frustration, added to the cacophony, while the smell of petrol and diesel fumes, accentuated by the late afternoon heat, was unbearable.
She was being jostled by a rowdy throng of colourfully clad holiday makers. Laughing and chattering in many languages, they strained against wooden barriers waiting for the signal to go aboard. Grateful for a broad brimmed hat, she dabbed her flushed face as the crowd began to move nearer the pedestrian stairway alongside a steady stream of traffic driving into the hold. It’s amazing what an efficient master plan is actually at work under this comically chaotic surface. A sort of ‘method in madness’, I suppose. Within twenty minutes of docking, the Aegean Princess was setting a course for the islands.
After several attempts, she finally reached the reception area to find out where her cabin was. Smiling, she handed her travel coupon across the gleaming beech wood counter to a naval officer who frowned at her.
Thees eez not the right ticket! Had she misunderstood his strong accent.
Excuse me, what did you say?
Thees ticket eez for a chair – not a cabeen.
What do you mean. . . I paid for an overnight outside cabin.
Naaw! Thee price for cabeens is feefty-five euros extra.
That can’t be. They told me at the ticket office –
They make meestake.
No they couldn’t have. I’m sorry, but I paid for a cabin and I must get one – with a porthole. You see, I get claustrophobia, and the man said. . .
I dawnt care gwhat he said – you are ghere now. Gwhat I say eez right.
In that case, can I please speak to the purser?
I am the poorser.
You are? What now? Perhaps tears will help! .
I don’t believe this. It’s not fair. I’ve already paid for an outside cabin. Although it was so expensive, I decided to treat myself to one and now I don’t have any more euros. Please can’t you do something to help me?” She sniffed into a tissue while he glared at her.
Naw! I cannot ghelp you
Oh please, sir! She sobbed loudly, wiping her eyes.
Wait gheer. I will speek weeth the Kapitanios.
She sat down on her back-pack while a heated Greek exchange ensued. Maybe they’d relent after all! But the purser’s black walrus moustache bobbed up and down as the handsome captain, with raised voice and much head-shaking, was punctuating his words with a rigid right forefinger. This doesn’t look too promising. She buried her face in the tissue again and blew her nose. The purser’s large bronzed hand touched her shoulder.
It’s OK, mees. Kapitanios Nikos says you may ghave a cabeen.
Oh thank you so much! Has it got a porthole?
A window that can open
Yes, of course! Thank goodness for that – it pays to be so persistent. A young attendant led her through a maze of long corridors two decks above. He stopped outside a cabin and flung the door open on a startled young couple who quickly disentangled themselves.
Wait here while I get another key.
She lay on her side looking at the full moon through the porthole that was never meant to be opened and smiled to herself. So what. . . the air conditioning was working and a cold shower was all one needed in such intense heat. She turned over on the crisp white cotton bed linen and closed her eyes.