When one ferry after a dozen is finally ready for us to board, I watch Helen guide Luca to a seat at the centre of the lower deck, where there is the least chance of acquiring motion sickness. I make to follow them, however Sam grabs me, making my hand tingle, and near-begs with glazed pupils: “please – please can you come to the top with me?” Then he explains bashfully. “I want to see everything.”
Perhaps it is my surprise and strange sense of pride at his having spoken so assertively to me that makes me smile and say, “show me.”
I severely underestimated the strength in those frail arms; I am hauled, tripping, up the stairs to the top deck of the boat. The fact that the floor is rocking unflinchingly from side to side does not help my balance, but I manage to seat myself on a shiny, smooth sheet of red plastic without any great disaster.
Sam is leaning forth inside his identical bowl, focus flitting from deck – to beach – to sea – and back again. Simultaneously, with well-refined coordination, he is wriggling his little button nose around, nostrils assaulted by the riot of emotional smells – my own the strongest: a gripping anticipation for the boat to begin its course towards our fate.
It is on this boat that I realise a phobia of mine.
On the whole it cruises smoothly, froth cascading from the helm to the rear down below. The sky is crispy-clear and cloudless, with a wind capable of cupping your jaw but not pummelling it, combing your hair yet not yanking. There is that one terrifying time though, when a rogue wave trips the vessel into a motion most closely resembling a wheelie, metal slapping the vast volume of fluid beneath it.
In that wet and shivery moment, I cannot help but freak out a little – well a lot, thanks to the virus. “Oh my fuck – don’t look at me!” I order an equally dripping Sam fiercely. I have ripped off my jacket to inspect the damage, leaving me in a now transparent white t-shirt.
Samuel is frozen on the edge of his seat, as if he had been when the torrent hit, torn between clinging to the bolts where its legs meet the floor and fleeing. Sluggishly, cautiously, as though his face is the first to thaw, a grin creeps its way around his mouth, entwining it. Then his thin lips begin to peel apart, revealing miniature off-white jags and boulders, so small I am convinced that they are milk teeth. I have my arms crossed across my torso as Sam laughs, a sound first reminiscent of the cawing seabirds surfing the ocean and then the spluttering of the boat’s engine as it picks up pace again, a thunderous orchestra piece.
“Oh, shut up!” I tell him. This is so embarrassing. “I feel so self-conscious.” If it weren’t for the wetness, I’m pretty sure that something would’ve caught on fire, what with the hot flush that’s just beginning to subside.
“Ah, sorry. “ Sam apologises, suddenly solemn. “I understand. I get self-conscious too. Very.”
What? Did I say that out loud? I open my mouth to comment but am distracted by a teetering Helen, swaying atop a step in the middle of the staircase. She is pale and dizzy, moisture gleaming on her forehead as though the water smashed the windows on the bottom floor and she too got soaked. These factors alone, without the urgent beckoning gesture of the head, would have been enough to make me come running.