Atlantic Ocean, 2 July 2005
We all think we know who we are, until life slaps us in the face just when we least expect it. And then we wonder why. Is it to keep us on our toes, to show us life can be just a random happening, to fulfil that unfathomable Karma assigned to us?
No matter how long and hard I have mulled over these questions, there are no answers. All I know is that I had the greatest happiness on earth and I lost it just when I thought it was truly mine. In a split second I wrecked it all, squandered it for good.
But even assigning blame doesn’t rub out the pain; in the end it only increases it. Luuk, my beloved husband is dying, and I am taking a vacation on a luxury cruise ship on the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles away from his still, white bed, his shallow breath, and the tireless monitors.
Don’t tell me all this is just to escape the inevitable. I know. I loathe myself, sitting here all dressed up at a table with total strangers when I need to be with the one person I love. All this entourage is staged because I cannot really be with him anymore.
I keep wondering whether he still loves me. There is no way he can tell me anymore. And what has that done to my love for him? Will it last forever?
If only the questions would cease to roll in like the waves on the sea shore. I am so tired of them, and still they come. At least they are more bearable here than when I’m at home. I need the distraction. I desperately need nonsense to rattle through my brain so as not to hear my own sombre thoughts.
I blink at the brilliance of the thousand-armed chandelier above our heads, forcing myself to turn my attention outwards, to this ship and to the people on it.
Where did I read that sentence: ‘Let everyone be better than you'?
I am one of fifteen semi-strangers sitting around the oval dinner table, our separate conversations muted slightly by the room’s heavy velvet drapes. To my left lounges Henry Fisher, a retired chemistry professor from Boston, Massachusetts.
As this is already our fourth day aboard the British liner Costa Victoria, Henry has had ample opportunity to regale me with stories about his wife’s childless womb, her rheumatic joints, and the unsavoury details of the illness which had recently transformed him into a widower. Having exhausted these now familiar musings, he is ready to strike a more cheerful note: his publications.
“I must admit, my dear Femmy,” he says, dabbing the corner of his mouth with a linen napkin, “it is a profound surprise to me that the world's leading scientific journals, Scientific American and The Scientist, are still lining up to publish my articles. What with all the young blood and all … What's more, considering today's extremely advanced research techniques, one would think they had better things to do than print my fossilised ramblings.” He chuckles, a wheezy sort of cough I’ve heard repeatedly over the past four days. “Why, just last month …”
Henry's rosy cheeks glow with pride, emphasising a myriad of tiny veins which distract my attention from his voice. Still, I am glad he is doing all the talking. I can confine myself to throwing in a timely 'Aha', 'Is that so?', 'Really?'. I imagine if we continue at this pace, there will be enough favourite-Henry-topics on my plate to take up the next seven days.
So far he has shown little interest in my life. I cherish this anonymous role in which he has placed me, as I prefer to travel unnoticed. I am sure the circles in which I move are different from his, so I feel safe with him. He is a likeable old chap, absolutely harmless and the perfect table companion, under the circumstances.
On my right rocks a plump English teenager who is travelling with her mother and grandmother. The three have similarly shaped figures, possessing little conversation but sufficient appetite to fill their loose-fitting garments. They barely even speak among themselves, apparently preferring to expend their energy scanning the food laid out before us.
I've met this small female ensemble only at meal times, when the young girl in particular shows a single-minded interest in the puddings and ice creams passing under her nose, spooning heaps of them into her mouth while her eyes scan Elle or Cosmopolitan.
I haven't spoken with the ladies since the introductory round on the first day, and we limit ourselves to a brief 'hello' every time we sit down.
Fortunately, Henry makes up for what they lack in dazzling repartee. An irrepressible urge to interrupt Henry's monologue creeps up on me and I decide it's time to side-track him.