On the street Luke and I took a seat on a park bench a few streets over from Christof’s house and began to work on opening the box. It wasn’t anything fancy, just an undecorated wooden container with a small keyhole on one side. A gentle rattle didn’t give away the contents and in the end we smashed it. I found two letters inside it, one addressed to me and the other to a Capt. Breel. I opened the letter and gasped at its contents. He had not forgotten his promise. After much time spent rebuffing all other chefs Josef had set out find me, leaving his young wife behind to redecorate their house. He was to begin his search in The Gulf with the Imam’s people, but the date stood out on a knife edge as I read it. It was two weeks after Luke and I had deserted our farm. I knew right then that he was dead. At the end of the letter a postscript informed me that should I be reading this letter and should I still require the use of one of his ships then I need only present the second letter to Captain Breel at the docks. He had taken over the running of Chirstof’s business in Joseph’s absence and had agreed to provide passage to anywhere I wanted upon my presentation of said letter.
I was dumbstruck, sitting there beside Luke on the bench I just handed him the letter and stared off into the distance. I can remember the squirrels and the magpies in the trees. I remember the rustling of leafs in the gusting autumnal wind. But I remember little else of what I thought then. I think I was still coming to terms with the probability of Josef’s death and also that Luke and I still had our ticket out of the country. And how Christof was yet another soul lost to my cause. It was a very bitter happiness.
Luke riled me from my waking slumber and brought us both to the docks. Along the way, we walked past homes filled with the glowing joy of familial stability. I pondered all those splendid emotions lost to me since I was a young boy. With no children, no wife, no parents, and just one living sibling, the world of those who slept each night under the same roof as those they loved felt as if it were barred from me forever. It was a shrill feeling that I can still taste in the back my mouth when I think of it. Before I knew it Luke tapped my shoulder and I looked up at the huge gates to the docks. They had a great looming presence, like some biblical monstrosity. Just beyond them the gruff scent of ocean came at us with a vengeance and helped my come around to myself as we approached a dockworker and asked where Captain Breel could be found. He chuckled a single ‘hmmf’ to himself and then pointed out to sea. Of course, we asked when he was expected back, fearing weeks or months, but, as if by fate, he was due back that evening from a fishing trip on his boat, The Faraway Lady. We could have kissed that grizzled stinking man, I didn’t, but I could have. Luke and I scuttled along the docks and found Captain Breel’s office, outside of which we sat and waited out the day. We watched ships come and go and reminisced on the Bay of Ferns and those few days in the shack in the slums. We watched the chop throw vessels large and small as if they were play things. And we watched the sun as it hinted, then suggested, then implied and then insisted and dropped behind the far off – bringing dusk, and Captain Breel.
Breel looked familiar, like every image a person has of a seaman. He was rough but not without a tan and a handsome bread. He walked hard and straight and had hands like shovels. He was a man’s man, even though he spoke in an almost unbelievable high pitched voice – he squeaked at us when we stood and shook his filthy hand. Despite his outward hardness though, he was not without his refinement, once inside his office he removed his thick coat and sat and together we drank single malt before he even knew our names.
A polite and gentlemanly discourse ensued and then I handed him the letter. Before he even opened it he took up a pair reading glasses, propped them on nose, glanced through them at the envelope and then stared as me over the rip of his spectacles. He held that glare for a few moments, no doubt attempting to ascertain our authenticity and intentions. They were a tense few moments but our bleak honesty convinced the Breel and he took off his glasses and placed the letter on the desk in front of him, without opening it. Standing, he lifted his glass and walked to the rear of the small office and stood by the window with his back to us. And there he stayed. Apparent and aimless in his glare, he looked out at whatever lay beyond. Then, another few uncomfortable moments later, he spoke,
“Where to, gentlemen?”
His feminine timbre belying his sturdy appearance almost made me laugh, but the seriousness of the situation held my tongue for me. A discussion ensued in which we explained only that we needed to get to a populated place far from The Gulf and from the Bay of Ferns and from our homeland. In reply Captain Breel groped his bread and continued to glare away from us toward nothing in particular.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey