I’ve been single a long time. I’d like to say it’s not because of my looks; in fact, I know it’s not because of my looks. I’m an attractive woman in my mid-thirties, and I could have just about any young bachelor I want. I see the way men look at me. With my lustrous brown hair and long legs, which retain their youthful tone from regular exercise, it’s no wonder. No, the reason I am still single is because I’m picky, and by nature very reserved. It takes a lot to get to know me, but once you do, I’m a friend for life. That’s why I thought it would be a good thing to go on a cruise. Virtually everyone onboard are strangers, and with no history or emotional baggage to worry about, I thought I would be able to meet some new people, maybe even a man my own age. That was my thinking at least; what happened on the cruise kind of turned everything upside down.
I booked a cruise that would take me around the Mediterranean, and the brochure showed pictures of all the charming little towns and ports that the ship would visit. I was looking forward to visiting all these secluded spots I knew of only through hearsay. It sounded perfect. Additionally, it departed from Barcelona, which is not far from where I live. Nothing unusual happened until the night we boarded. I mean, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this account now – it’s just a cruise for Pete’s sake. See, that night, staff announced that they had taken a large group of refugees on board. I’m pretty liberal, and I think we should help when help is needed, but this was unprecedented. After all, this was a luxury cruise liner. Every passenger paid a pretty penny for this trip. Why would we take on refugees?
Anyway, I didn’t see a single refugee during the first few days of the voyage. Hey, out of sight, out of mind. I was enjoying myself, though the weather could have been better. There were often sudden storms, and one had to be mindful when sunbathing because it could just start raining out of nowhere. But for the most part it was pleasant. I liked the food, and all the curious activities planned for the guests. I even made a few friends. But my pleasure turned to concern on our 5th day out from port. We were making for the French Riviera when the weather took a turn and stayed that way. Great storms assailed us, and the water grew incredibly turbulent. The staff cautioned us to stay in our cabins and hunker down. I think the next thing that happened shocked everyone on the boat pretty bad, for there was an alert voiced over the intercom system that one of the ship’s engines had failed. I soon became ill on account of the ship pitching about, and I heard others through the paper-thin walls vomiting and moaning. The funny thing is, right about this time, I could hear someone having a riotous party. Well, at least someone was enjoying themselves.
Suddenly, the lights in my cabin shut off. I was reaching for my phone when a voice again came over the intercom. They said the ship was in a state of emergency and on lockdown. We were strictly forbidden to leave our cabins. I was starting to panic, and the siren from the hallway only made matters worse, for it made danger that much more apparent.
Then there was a knock on my door, strangely enough. I thought it was probably some official to calm me down and explain matters further. When I cracked the door, the hall was nearly dark, but I could make out a series of dark faces by the ghastly red luminescence of the alarm system. It was a family of refugees.
“Hello? Can I help you with something?”
The father of the family looked at me with a serene, childlike expression before asking if he and his family could take refuge in my cabin until the storm abated. I didn’t know what else to say, so I invited them in as warmly as I could, given the circumstances.
“Sure…come in. Yes, this is terrible. I don’t know what is happening either.”
I soon learned that they were a family from The Gambia, and they had only recently arrived in Spain. Besides the husband and wife, there were two small children, hardly more than toddlers, and a lad of about sixteen, if I had to guess.
I became quick friends with the mother, who had a gentle way about her. We talked at length, trying to block out all the carnage of the storm.
“See miss, we were not welcome in Spain. The authorities told us that we had to leave; that they had no more room for migrants like us.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said to her in return. “I wish people would be more understanding nowadays. Everyone needs a place to live peacefully.”
“Yes, that’s why we smuggled ourselves onto this boat. My husband thought it was better to try our luck in France, or maybe Greece. Maybe there they will be more welcoming…but I don’t know.”
“What else can you do? Really, you can stay here with me until we reach the mainland. Just in case the staff comes snooping about.”
We talked long into the night, while the husband played cards with his children, and the sixteen-year-old shyly looked at me out of the corner of his eye while he pretended to be occupied with his phone. Truth be told, I was embarrassed to meet his eye as well. He was gorgeous, with princely features and a body to match, but I knew I was much too old for him. What could possibly come of such a thing?
I helped prepare bedding for the family to sleep on. Sometime later, when I thought everyone fast asleep, I felt a hand grope for me in the dark. I lay completely still, thinking it must have been my imagination. But no, it was the young boy, and he was sliding into bed with me. I let his hands clumsily explore my body, as I did not know what else to do at the time. I really didn’t want to cause a scene, and I thought if I just feigned sleep, he would eventually leave me alone. His parents were sleeping not three yards away; there was no chance in hell he would try to rape me or do anything unseemly. Right when I was thinking this, he slid his hand under the waistband of my pajamas. I gasped and stifled an urge to scream.
Not five seconds later, the lights in the cabin came back on. They must have gotten the power generator operating again, just in time. I sat up and looked about. The boy was huddled in a corner, looking more terrified than I was.
When I went to report the incident, I could find no one to help me, since everyone was preoccupied with getting the ship righted. A hysterical woman with vague claims about rape was not exactly first on their list of priorities.
Eventually, some two weeks later, the ship made its last port of call. I breathed an inward sigh of relief. Not only would I finally rid myself of the refugee family, who, though pleasant, were all starting to wear on my nerves, but I could finally make an official report concerning my ordeal with the young man, Fernando.
Alas, when I filed the report, the police took me seriously, but they could find no evidence of any refugees having been on board the cruiser. I gave them detailed descriptions, but to no avail; it seemed that the refugee family had hightailed it off the ship as soon as we docked. As they were “stowaways”, the police could find no records of them. I simply had to give up and take it on the chin.
A year later, on a quiet Monday afternoon, I received a letter with a return address from The Gambia. It was a love letter, elegantly written. Never had I read such description of emotion, such poetry.
The next day I booked airline tickets to Banjul, The Gambia. In the letter he described it as an unforgettable night. One for the ages. No longer did I want to report and incriminate young Fernando. The opposite had occurred: where there was once resentment, I now found longing and lust. That night with Fernando, despite all my misgivings, I’d felt alive. I’m writing this as I fly to The Gambia. It is my testament, an ode to our strange, forbidden love.