I felt the warm sun hitting my face, instantly squinting my eyes to see the pavement ahead of me. I looked upwards, a blue sky greeting me, the bright greens trees blowing in the wind. The unmistakable scent of the sea could be smelt from far away, and I knew it wouldn’t be a long walk till we reached the docks.
Harry and I had left the small Inn shortly after packing our suitcases, which we carried now with us as we walked to Tilbury port.
“Oh look! The name of the ferry boat is printed on the ticket.” I told Harry as we walked side by side on the sidewalk of the unfamiliar town. “I’d try to pronounce it but it has a German name.”
“Really?” He asked, inching closer to the ticket which I held in my hand. “That means we aren’t going to be able to speak with anyone on board.”
“I doubt that. I bet there will be Englishmen aboard. But if there aren’t, it will be a good opportunity to start practising our German.” I told him “You bought the dictionary for a reason.”
“True, but how many languages have you learnt using a dictionary as a guide?” Harry waited for my answer, which he didn’t get “My point exactly.”
“Everything will be just fine, you’ll see.”
All of a sudden, we heard the horn of a boat in the distance. Our heads snapped forward, startled by the loud noise.
“We haven’t even reached the docks and we can already hear the boats... How big do you think that one was?” Harry asked, completely in awe.
Eventually, we started to see smoke from the chimneys of the many boats that were at the port. Then, the imposing unfamiliar place came to view. I was in complete awe as I stared at the many boats parked at the docks, some small, some massive, but all had a very special uniqueness that pleased me. What surprised me the most, however, was the biggest of them all, a boat so big that I couldn’t even see the water behind it due to its height. I wondered how such a heavy structure was able to stay afloat, how that much metal wouldn’t simply sink.
“Jesus... This is amazing.” I uttered, not able to look anywhere else except that one boat.
“I think that one is a cruise ship.” Harry pointed, equally overwhelmed “Look, we are going on that ferry. They are loading cars right now.”
It was unmistakable that that one was our ferry since the German words ”Prinz Hamlet ” were printed on the side. I wasn’t disappointed we weren’t sailing on the cruise ship, for our ferry was just as massive. The white mega ferry was indeed a force of the sea, and that was when the butterflies started kicking in.
“Shit.” I muttered to myself “That’s impressive.”
I felt Harry reach for my hand as he beamed a smile of sheer excitement “Now we know for sure there will be English people on board.”
He tugged at my hand, making our way to the entrance of the port. As we got closer, I noticed how busy and crowded it was, both with passengers and cargo being loaded or taken from the ships which transported goods in huge containers of many colours. It felt like I was in a whole new world, a world full of metal and steel, impossibly big machines and ships which looked like buildings lying on their side.
We walked in the direction of our ferry. I noticed there was a queue of people with suitcases standing in front of a metal bridge which connected the ferry to the docks. There were also three men in the same uniform standing in front of the line, checking the tickets of the passengers as they walked over the bridge and onto the ferry.
I took a deep breath, knowing that the seemingly short queue was the only thing that separated me from shallow waters. I had never been to a port before, especially one as big as Tilbury Port. I had never stepped foot on a boat of any kind, much less on a massive ferry German boat. Although I was excited to finally be able to do all that, my involuntary nerves were rising up and I could feel my legs tremble.
“Are you okay Summer?” I heard Harry ask above the noise of the people and the machines and the boats.
“Yeah, just fine,” I answered quickly, taking deep breaths and trying to calm myself down. Up until that point of our journey I didn’t seem to be nervous about actually going to a new place, an unfamiliar place, but by getting on that ferry I knew that things would change drastically, and I just simply couldn’t return at any minute.
“Good afternoon! May I see your tickets please?”
I was so distracted by my own thoughts that I didn’t notice it was our turn to hand in the tickets.
“Oh! Good morning Sir. You can’t imagine how relieved I am to know there are English speakers on board.” I said with honesty, Harry and I handing him our tickets.
He laughed wholeheartedly “Only half of the crew is German, Miss. Language won’t be a problem, I assure you.”
“Oh, thank God, one less thing to stress about!”
The three man who all wore the same sailor uniforms laughed lightly amongst each other, as well as Harry as he extended his arms for me to go first.
Slightly more reassured, I stepped on the catwalk. At first I felt like any wrong step would make me slip due to the slippery metal underneath my feet, but nothing happened, and I just walked. I could feel a slight balancing of the boat, but nothing drastic. It wasn’t going to be that bad after all.
When I stepped both feet on the boat, I felt Harry’s hand reach the small of my back.
“So far so good.” He smiled, looking down at me.
We made our way inside, in awe at the sight in front of us. The main atrium reminded me of a hotel entrance, only smaller. The room was packed full with people, mainly all English, although I was able to distinguish some German accents around nearby.
There was a counter which was located at the left corner of the atrium. There were four women, all dressed the same, just like the men outside. They were handling what looked like keys to the passengers while checking their tickets.
“Hey, I’ll go get the keys to our cabin,” Harry said, handing me his suitcase so he could make his way through the crown of voyagers.
While he did that, I observed everything around me. That environment was so strange to me. I couldn’t see anyone my age in sight, nor small children. The adults made up all the population of that ferry, which I hear from someone’s conversation could hold up to one thousand two hundred passengers. I had never been inside such an enormous construction, which did not only transport people. Even inside, I could hear machines working as some cars were still being loaded onto the ferry into what looked like an enormous garage. I also noticed cargo being lifted by a massive control lever. It was a chaotic sight, and the noise wasn’t helping, but despite all that, I felt more at ease now that I was on the ferry.
“All set.” Harry came back, holding a key with a white key chain. “Let’s go.”
“Do you know where our room is?” I asked him.
“First,” he said “It’s not a room, it’s a cabin. Second, I asked the ladies, it’s on the third floor.”
“Well, sorry if I’m not used to all these weird nautical names.”
I followed Harry since I had no idea how to reach the third floor. I wondered if he actually knew for sure where he was heading, but since he was more confident then I was, I let him take the lead.
I went down a narrow corridor, only wide enough so two people could be walking side by side. At the end of it, there was a double-door elevator. Grown up man and women in their forties or above waited patiently for the elevator to open its doors, using that waiting time to have a good glance at Harry and me.
I tapped Harry’s shoulder “Is it just me or is everyone looking at us?” I whispered in his ear. I have a discreet glance at the people around us, knowing that feeling of being trapped all too well. I was feeling incredibly scrutinised, the whispers and the “glancing-up-and-down’s” indicating that they were judging us, and I knew exactly why. It wasn’t like you saw a young couple on a ship every day on their own.
“My dear sister Mary, I don’t understand what you mean!” Harry made sure he said every word loud and clear for everyone to hear. The irony and brilliance in that statement were just too good. I tried as hard as I could not to burst out laughing which made that moment more hilarious than it should have been. The older women that were once glaring at us and whispering to their husbands and adjusting their hats looked away wide-eyed, which made it impossible to contain my laughter any longer. Luckily the doors of the elevator opened with a high ding, creating a distraction and allowing me to turn around and burst out laughing. Harry’s hand was over his mouth as he screw his eyes shut, apparently managing to control his laughter way better than I was. The couples who were sending us disapproving looks entered the elevator without further due, leaving Harry and me behind, the doors closing silently and taking them away.
“Jesus, that was just-” Harry started, staring at the elevator.
“Ridiculous!” I said, holding my belly as I laughed.
“You bet! But seriously, those people were really getting on my nerves, like fuck off...”
“This was too good!” I said, my laughter decreasing “Too good! But yeah, they should go fuck themselves.”
That statement earned a round of laughter once more before the elevator arrived again. I really appreciated moments like these, when people were obviously judging us but we turned it around and made fun of them instead. I thought to myself, this was how I should have handled the situation at Hudson since the beginning: we might have been a minority, but we should’ve had more fun.
We did not comment on the subject again as the elevator’s doors opened and we stepped on the lateral deck which resembled a corridor with one side with numbered doors and the other with an amazing view of the ocean. As we walked towards our cabin, I couldn’t help but stare at the wide ocean ahead of us, the soft sea breeze giving a calm atmosphere.
The first thing I noticed when entering the cabin labelled “16” was how low the ceiling was. Harry had to duck his head to get past the door frame and when standing up straight he could easily reach the ceiling with his hand. Standing in our way was another small door which I assumed was the bathroom. To our left, there were only two single beds, each touching the walls with a circular window in between them.
“Well, this is rather small,” Harry said, moving out of the way so we could both fit side by side. “Only one window? You have to be kidding me. This is quite claustrophobic... And two beds? The cherry on the top of the cake!”
“At least we don’t need to share a bathroom with anyone else.” I tried to cheer him up but didn’t seem to succeed.
Harry stumbled over his own feet as he made his to one of the beds where he placed his suitcase without care. The sat next to it sulking, his elbows resting on his knees as he rested his cheeks on his closed fists.
“Why are you so annoyed? This is literally the most exciting part of our whole trip and you are annoyed because you didn’t get a bigger room? That’s just ridiculous! Besides, we are going to explore this boat from top to bottom so we won’t stay much time in here anyway.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It’s just-” he chuckled “I bet my mum booked this room because she thought Hansen was coming with me...” He laughed wholehearted “These single beds annoy me.”
Involuntarily, my stomach twisted into knots and my heart fluttered. Although Harry’s statement was incredibly indirect, he did say that he wanted to sleep by my side, with me. It was such a small detail of the room, it didn’t even cross my mind that we would be sleeping in separate beds when entering the room, yet it was the thing he was most disappointed about.
“I like sleeping with you too.” Was the only thing that occurred me to say. “Let’s check out this place, I’m dying to discover its secrets!”
With that I took Harry’s hands and helped him get up from the bed, dragging him out of the room, the slight breeze of the still unmoving vessel and the smell of the sea dancing around us, accompanied by our soft laughter.