It was a sunny summer afternoon when a lovely young girl, in her mid-twenties was driving over a suspension bridge. It overlooked an inlet of English Bay. Her big hazel eyes were covered with brown sun-shades. Her auburn hair was fluttering in the breeze. She looked like a character from a romantic movie. Mrs. Morris, her mother, had sensed her charm many years ago. She named her Joan after her favorite Hollywood actress Joan Fontaine.
As Joan drove towards the dock on the other side of the bridge, she could see a few sailboats in the shallow backwaters. Half-a-dozen big cruise ships were anchored further down the coast in the shimmering waters. The day was warm with a pleasant breeze blowing from the sea-side. The azure skies had shreds of white puffy clouds. The beauty of the surroundings took her breath away. The rugged mountains created a backdrop for a perfect picture.
The reason to visit the harbor was to start her 10-day, cruise to Hawaii, beginning from Vancouver. She had never taken a sea cruise before, just by herself. She took a last-minute impulsive decision. A few of her college friends were in Cancun, partying. Seeing their pictures on Facebook made her feel frustrated with her own situation. She decided to do something new and different to break the monotony of her daily routine that lately seemed hollow and depressing.
Many evenings, after tiring days at the grad school, Joan would find herself crying in her apartment that was still filled with fun memories with her roommate. They used to do everything together. They would make dinner, watch the television, clean up the dishes. And in the midst of the work, they used to chat and joke and time flew by on rosy wings.
Joan still remembers the day, she first met Mark in Chemistry class. At the end of the class, he came to her and introduced himself.“ I am Mark Chimperman,“ he smiled. Joan chuckled inside. She knew that men found her irresistible. She looked at him directly to measure him up. But Mark was different. He had an innocent charm of his own.
At the cafeteria, Mark had walked up to her table with his food tray. After the first bite of the sandwich, he scrunched up his face.“Crap!! I can make better sandwiches any day.“ Joan had thought the same and was surprised when he mouthed her inner thoughts.“ I would have toasted it longer and added some chipotle sauce to it,“ Joan chimed in. Mark looked at her surprised.“Exactly! That would have improved the taste by an order of magnitude…Hahaha..“
They had a lot of common hobbies like cooking, painting, swimming. But most of all, both of them liked to talk. They thrived in each other’s company. They were like pods of the same pea.
In their Senior year, they decided to share an apartment. The first four months were great. Intimacy was inevitable with their physical proximity. Joan allowed Mark to hug her often. She did not even protest when one day Mark kissed her on her lips, in a moment of exuberance. She just wished it would have lasted longer. Even though she dreamed about it for days, she did not bring up the topic directly. Joan was prepared to wait for him to open up to her. She was used to being sought after.
But Mark started to drift away instead of getting closer. He would take off after dinner and return after Joan was fast asleep. Joan sensed something was not quite right. She tried to dress more attractively, talk more intelligently be more caring. Nothing seemed to work.
After many years of friendship, Mark finally confided to her that he was gay. In two weeks, he moved out with another guy.
Joan was shocked and devastated. Her confidence plummeted down. Most of her last two months were spent feeling sorry for herself. She had been moping around and asking a lot of “why”s. The end result of such an exercise was to come face to face with an insurmountable wall of futility. She realized this was just meant to be a dead end. She finally decided to turn back and ask “why not”? She was glad that she did so.
As Joan boarded the ship, she saw the blue letters on the side of the hull. It said, Felicity.She stood on the deck as the cruise liner left the harbor. It cut through the waters at a gentle speed. The white bow parted the emerald waters, spreading the white froth on both sides. On the rear end, it looked like the ship was being chased by a giant fish tail. The deck had a dozen curious passengers like Joan, on board, who were eager to enjoy the view of the receding coastline. The picturesque landscape that was unfolding before Joan‘s eyes filled her heart with inexplicable joy.
The majestic cruise liner was in the middle of the sea by late afternoon. All that anyone could see around them were calm waters. Joan had decided to linger onboard a little longer. She closed her eyes to take a deep breath of fresh air, filling up her lungs. She let the gentle breeze blow through her pretty locks. It seemed like her dream lover was lovingly running his fingers through her hair. The physical sensation was so palpable, she wondered if he really was near her?
She opened her eyes and turned her head to her left. She saw a man in a white uniform walking towards her. The captain’s hat hid his face. As he drew closer, Joan saw an elderly gentleman, short and stout. He smiled at her and kept moving further ahead. The captain of the cruise liner was jolly and sociable. He spent a significant time being courteous to the guests on board. Towards late evening, all the passengers were busy enjoying a delicious dinner. Music and joyful conversations filled the banquet hall.
The captain stopped by and shared a few drinks with the guests. No one seemed the least bit worried about the weather outside or where the ship was headed. Everyone had confidence in the experienced captain to take care of their safe travel.
Protected by Vancouver Islands, the Strait of Georgia seldom faced the turbulent Pacific weather systems. So the last thing anyone expected, was to confront a freak storm in the middle of the night. The captain of the ship had a weak heart. The pressure of handling a monstrous storm took a heavy toll on his heart.
Joan was woken up by a blaring intercom announcement. “ EMERGENCY!! The captain of the ship just suffered a heart attack, a few minutes ago! The rest of the crew is working hard to steer the cruiser liner away from the storm. All passengers please stay calm and cooperate.“ Joan wondered if this was a nightmare.
“This could not be happening. Since when did we have to know how to navigate a ship just because we wanted to have a fun cruise? …..Wait…Does this mean we are all going to die?” Her first reaction was to reject everything around her and withdraw in a shell. She sat on her bed, shivering in fear, as the cruise ship tossed her around like a dice roller.
The towering waves were roaring, lashing against the round portholes. The crashing sounds were, even more, intimidating in the darkness. In that terrifying moment, she quickly realized that she dearly wanted to live. She had to see more of life, however whimsical it was. She ran to the door of her cabin. She was about to scream for help but something stopped her dead on her track.
Panick-stricken passengers were running about the hallway like insane apes, shouting and screaming at the top of their voices. Since the cruise liner was swaying, erratically, in the face of waves, it was hard to keep one’s balance. Some of the passengers were tripping and falling over. They were getting run over by others. It was clear that the situation was getting worse as every minute passed.
Standing at the threshold of disaster, Joan’s could clearly see that reality never felt the need to honor her taken-for-granted assumptions. The rigid rules of society crumbled to dust in the face of this disruption. All travelers shared a similar fate, regardless of their stature or clout. They were mere puppets in the hands of this whimsical force. Their lives were delicately poised on a thin string of hope.
The rhythmic motion of her breath was the only shred of sanity that Joan could hold on to. She felt the air filling up her rib-cage and steadily escaping without her conscious effort. At that instant, her mind stood still in stark contrast to the storm outside.
Aware of the risk ahead, Joan maneuvered her way through the crowd of passengers, slowly and carefully, towards the control room. She fell down many times. Every time she ignored the impact on her physical body and held on to her hope. She took her time to recover and then stood up and proceeded with renewed effort.
The crew was probably doing their utmost to steer the ship to safety. But Joan could not afford to wait to be rescued. She had to help herself, right now or there may not be a tomorrow for her.
When she finally got to the control room, the door was shut. Through the glass door, she tried to observe what was going on. Two sailors were shouting and arguing, with a lot of hand gestures. There was a map, spread out on a table before them. A young inexperienced sailor looking frustrated and confused was trying to make sense of the two other sailors‘ discussions and trying to steer the ship at the same time.
Joan looked at the irony and humor of the situation and laughed inside. It definitely helped her see things in perspective. She a wild idea. She decided to act immediately, while there was still some hope.
Joan knocked on the door and put forth her most charming smile. In the midst of confused conversations, one of the sailors chanced to turn around and see her. A blue-eyed man was distracted by her beauty. He also needed a break from the grueling discussion. He came forward and opened the door to find out if she needed help. Conveniently, Joan pretended to trip at the doorway and fell over the sailor. The embarrassed young man caught her fall and helped her to get back on her feet. Joan took this opportunity to slip inside the cabin.
Joan looked at the various control mechanisms with focussed wonder.“By the way, I am Sid, the Chief Engineer of Felicity. How may I help you ?“ Joan pretended to not hear his question and walked up to the sailor at the steering wheel. She saw that the speedometer fluctuated between 20miles/hr to 21 miles/hr. The sailor was sweating profusely. His arms were strained from the tremendous force that had to be applied. It made his veins on the forearm pop out. Joan spoke out loud,“Hello, I am Joan. Your hands must be tired. How about you take a break. She turned to Sid.“Perhaps you want to drive?“ The brave Engineer could not refuse her open challenge. This also gave him a chance to try out his survival plan that he was trying to convince the First mate for the longest time.
The young sailor was happy to get a break.“Hello Joan, I am Jack the Second mate and this is Andy, the First mate.“ Joan shook hands with them, smiling.
Sid quickly steered the ship, taking a sharp right, aligning it with the direction of the strongest current. The speed jumped up to 25miles/hr in secs and steadily increased. The swaying reduced dramatically and the ship was shooting eastwards very fast. The First mate, Andy, looked excited and tensed. He finally saw the benefit of Sid, the Chief engineer’s strategy. He kept looking at the radar and directed continual adjustments to Sid. The cruise ship kept up the speed and direction and surged ahead in the midst of the storm. In half-an-hour, they were out of the eye of the storm and drifted to calmer waters. Joan was watching the coordinated with awe and interest. She cried out a triumphant,“ YAY!!“
She turned to Jack with a smile, expecting him to join in the rejoicing. To her surprise, he was scratching his head. He looked a little worried. Andy, the first mate was also noticed him.He walked up to him. “What is the matter, Jack?“
“The GPS display has stopped updating. The ship is probably, heading in the direction of the North Pole. We needed to steer to the south-west.“ , replied Jack in a dejected manner.
Joan managed to show a calm outward demeanor, though inwardly she was shocked to hear it.“Hmm, I see the problem, Jack! I suggest restarting the device even though it may take several minutes. It is our best strategy at this point,“ said Joan, thinking aloud. “That is a great idea, Joan. I know how to do it, Jack,“ Andy volunteered, agreeing to her proposal.
Joan looked at Sid, the blue-eyed handsome engineer who was toiling at the steering wheel. “Jack, how about you change positions with Sid,“ she suggested.“ That was an awesome idea to avoid the storm. You get some rest now, Sid!“
Sid joined Andy, who was trying to fix the GPS. It took a while to power it back. Thankfully it started showing the correct position. The ship needed to move further southwest for about another hour to get back on its designated route. At this point, the crew agreed that the ship could be on auto-pilot again. The ship was indeed, out of danger even though all this added a net delay of two hours from the scheduled time.
Everyone in the cabin room felt happy and relieved. The crew thanked Joan for the guidance at the critical juncture. They shook her hand and gave her a hug. Joan felt thankful to know that her life along with so many others will continue to see another day. Her broad smile soon turned into a yawn. She felt tired but she knew that her job was not over. The time delay would entail additional fuel and food provisions for the guests.
She turned to Sid.“We have to plan an additional stopover for fuelling. Do you happen to know where I can find the Hotel Director ?“ She could not rest before checking with him.
After that tiring night, when Joan walked back to her cabin, the early light of dawn was visible on the horizon. It was tempting to wait and watch the sunrise. Joan was not alone on the deck when the reddish-orange disc emerged from the dark waters. There rose a murmur of cheer to mark the beginning of a new day, following a terrifying night.
Joan slept-in till late and missed lunch. There was a loud persistent knock on the door that ultimately succeeded to wake her up from a deep sleep. Sleepy-eyed Joan opened the door and saw Sid. She smiled and thought she was still dreaming.
Sid was standing at her door with a tray of delicious smelling food. Suddenly, Joan realized that it was not a dream and that she was famished. Sid grinned and handed her the tray.“I had to make sure our acting Captain of Felicity was not starving…Hahaha“