August 26, 2012 – Last Stop Hamburg
It’s crowded on the bridge when we ride up the Elbe into Hamburg. We’ve already passed the Rickmers main office. The CFO, at the Captain’s instruction, sounded the horn in greeting as we passed. Three times short, one time long. We all waved. But it’s Saturday and, most likely, no one was at the office to hear. “I’m not there anyway,” the CFO said. He’s enjoying his brief sea adventure with boyish enthusiasm.
Nadezdha and I are standing shoulder to shoulder watching some ducks scramble-swim out of the way as the DALIAN edges close to the dock and the lines are tossed out and tied up.
“The sun’s out!” I exclaim. It’s been cold and cloudy since Belgium.
“Yes, it came with us. It’s out because we’re here,” Nadezdha says with a smile.
We’re friends now.
“Are you staying on ship until you leave Hamburg?” she asks me.
“I think so,” I tell her. “If the captain will let me. If they don’t need my room. It’d be better than getting a hotel.” My train leaves out Monday morning early, two days from now, and I’m not ready to leave the comfort of my cabin, I’m not ready to venture off into a hostel world.
“It’s good,” she says. Then she pays me the greatest compliment. “It’s like you are crew,” she says.
“Maybe tomorrow. Maybe if you go outside, I go with you,” she says.
“That’d be fun,” I tell her.
And it’s more or less arranged.
This night though, I’m going outside with Ian, Francis, Val, an unnamed AB, and Jake. There’s a complimentary transport for seamen here also, like in Antwerp, to and from the Seamen’s Club. Earlier in the day, Ian had asked me if I’d go outside with them and I’d agreed.
For now and until our leaving time, I’m content to hang around the office area and watch the activity while I wait for the immigration officers to come and stamp me into the country. There’s a lot going on. “It’s always like this in Hamburg,” someone tells me.
I take a seat out of the way but with a good vantage point.
When Josko comes in and sees me in that spot he shakes his head. “Just like a spy,” he says. “Always watching.” He perches against the desk and I finally get a chance to ask him how to totally destroy all the world’s water.
“You can’t find something nicer to write about than this?” he asks me.
I have the decency to look sheepish. He tells me that electrolysis is the way to go. I nod. I’d collected a lot of information about electrolysis when I’d done my research bout in Antwerp. Then he’s off to initiate the new second engineer and I’m left to my observations.
Immigration comes and goes. I’m Germany official. I run upstairs and grab my bag.
I’m heading down to the gangway when I realize I’d better find the chief engineer and tell him goodbye. He wasn’t sure if he’d be staying on ship tonight or not. There’s a shortage of rooms with all the inspectors, Hamburg Rickmers guys who always flood the ship when it’s here at home base, the HR lady who is conducting interviews with everyone, new crew coming on and old crew still around. Josko’s flight home to Croatia leaves early in the morning and I don’t know what time I’ll be back tonight, or if he’ll even be here or awake if he is.
It’s the first of the official goodbyes.
I stick my head inside the office on the poop deck level. The captain is there.
“Have you seen Josko?” I ask him.
He hasn’t, but he knows that Josko’s still showing the second engineer last minute helpful things. He calls down to the engine room. “The passenger Amanda is about to go outside and she wanted to tell you goodbye.” He listens for a second then hangs up. “He’s coming up,” he tells me.
“Thank you,” I say. I lean up against the wall and wait.
A few short beats later, the hall door opens and Josko steps in. “Ah,” he says, smiling, “it’s my favorite American spy.”
I grin at him. “Well,” I say. I want to tell him he’s been my best ship friend and that it’s meant a lot to me, but that seems girly and sentimental. Besides, I dislike goodbyes. I prefer see you laters. I think we say, “All the best,” or something along those lines and then we shake hands like gentlemen, like officers. I turn and walk away, wave my hand behind me in a goodbye salute.
The door clicks shut behind me and that’s that.
I leave emotion for my writing and walk down the metal stairs. The complimentary van is idling, waiting for us. Francis is by the podium, there ahead of me. I climb up to the where the gangway is set up. It’s higher than usual to account for the changing tides.
When Ian arrives he tells me to throw down my camera so he can take my picture from below. Jake rushes up to get in the pictures with me.
These are my boys.
We make our way together, a posse, to the van. The driver greets us with genuine friendliness. “Who all do we have here?” he asks.
“Four Filipinos, one Ukrainian, and the princess,” Francis tells him.
I feel like their princess. And, against all that I am, all the tomboyishness I’ve made to be me, this title doesn’t ride me wrong, doesn’t rile me up. It makes me feel special. What’s happened to me? Who am I?
“Are you a ring?” Ian asks me, he leans up from the back seat to touch my shoulder. I turn in my seat to face him.
“Why? What?” I say.
He grins that infectious grin. “Because you are My Precious,” he says.
“Are you Santa Claus?” he continues.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because everywhere you go people are happy and joyful.”
“Do you have an endless supply of these?” I ask him.
“I’m always making thing up to make people laugh,” he says. He gets a serious look. “I just have one thing to ask you. Can you make me a character in your book? I can be—I don’t have to be a good one, I can be the bad character,” he says.
“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “You can be a good guy.” He already is.
At Duckdalben, Francis and I take our computers into the internet room and he goes to pay for our access privileges. He won’t let me pay him back. We sit side by side and check our emails. He shows me pictures of his sisters and his fiancée. I show him pictures of my family. The other guys go to call their families or find some kind of diversion. Eventually we all end up together on the patio. Ian comes out with beers for all of us.
“I don’t actually know,” I say.
“We can find out tonight,” he says.
Val, the Ukrainian, joins us around the start of the second round and he buys us a darker, better German beer. Jake is full of restless energy. He finally alights at the table and I lean across to hand him the second light beer that had come my way before the dark arrived. It’s still full. I can’t drink them all.
“Did you talk with your wife?” I ask Val.
“Yes,” he says. “She said it hailed and much of the garden is ruined.”
“Oh no,” I say. “I’m sorry.” I have a silent moment for the passed away vegetables. But the guys are too full of silliness, fun, and stories for anything serious to stay serious for long.
The sun disappears and the air chills.
“Here, Amanda,” Val says from beside me. He’s taken off his jean jacket and helps me into it. I don’t even try to protest. I can’t turn down his gentlemanliness. I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings. But I watch him carefully to make sure he doesn’t get cold in my stead.
I give Val his jacket back. We part ways at our various floors.
As I step over the threshold, I close the hall door gently behind me.
Not sure who’s sleeping.
It’s late, but Josko’s door is open. I don’t know if the new chief is moving in or if Josko is still around. I look in as I start past, nosy as always, and see a familiar figure.
“Hey,” I say. “You didn’t leave.”
“Hey,” Josko says. He’s standing in the middle of the room and looks a bit bored.
“You want company?” I ask him.
“Yes,” the word is out of his mouth almost before my question is finished.
“Sweet,” I say. “I’ll be right back.” I go dump my bag in my room and then go back and get in my usual chair. Josko’s already got the glasses out and has poured the very last of the Johnny Walker. He’d told the replacement chief, “This one destroyed my bottle of whisky,” when he’d introduced us. Now it’s completely gone.
I’m thinking it’s a good thing we’re out of alcohol and that it’ll be not too late of a night when the captain comes around. “I’ll bring something nice,” he says, and soon returns with a bottle of white wine and some spritzer. “This is how we do it in Romania,” he says. It won’t be an early night after all.
The guys gossip about everything that’s happened. The ship’s drama. The meetings they’ve had all day with the lady from HR. Of the time between when they’ll work together again, the overlapping months between duty and holiday. I sit back and enjoy this last night. This last wild round of drinking. Try to keep up.
The captain drinks the wine like it’s juice. Josko and I go at it a little more slowly. We’re not as big fans of white wine. When we’re near the end of the bottle, the captain looks at us, at Josko, and demands, “What are your intentions?”
At first I’m taken aback by the question, but Josko knows what he means. “I’m done after this,” he says.
“Me too,” I say quickly. Right right, drinking intentions. I can’t hold much else.
While they’re exchanging contact information I go grab my camera. I snap a couple pictures when they’re not posing then the captain takes my camera, tells us to sit together, and says to Josko, “Don’t worry, we won’t show these pictures to your wife.”
When the captain’s drink is gone, he bids Josko goodbye and me goodnight.
I don’t know if it’s the beer, the whisky or the wine that’s gone straight to my head. The room spins and I sit back in my chair for a last time moment with the stories, told and untold, connecting the space between me and my friend.