‘It’s doomed. It’s doomed,’ repeated her yiayia over and over under her breath but loud enough for Elena to catch. ‘Doomed…like the journey of Odysseus…oh Lord be with us and keep us safe.’ She pulled her black head scarf around her and crossed herself.
‘Stop it,’ said Evangelia. ‘You’re going to scare the children. Enough. This is hard enough as it is without you and your superstitions.’
Elena repeated the name of the ship, painted in black letters on its side, Mesabia, Mesabia, Mesabia inside her head over and over again. This calmed her and she decided, despite her yiayia’s rambling, it was a lucky name. It was soft and gentle, an angel on water, she told herself just as much to convince herself as any.
‘Look at all the cars driving onto the ship,’ exclaimed Andreas.
‘And all those people already on board,’ said Elena as they filled the promenade deck, some shouting across the port and others waving scarves and sun hats in an effort to stand out from the milling crowds as they tried to attract their families left standing on solid Cyprus ground.
‘One, two, three, four decks,’ counted Elena out loud as she stared in awe at the huge rusty chains and worn cables dangling down the ship’s sides, clanking as they pulled on a wooden beam near the ship’s bow.
She bit on her lower lip and forced back the sudden urge to cry. She clasped her hands together and wrung them in and out of each other. Her heart was thumping in her ears and she wondered whether anyone else could hear it but no-one was giving her the slightest bit of attention, thank goodness. She stared ahead of her at the melee of white shirts and coloured summer dresses, the formal suits worn by some of the men and the pretty scarves worn by the women fluttering in the sea breeze.
Elena was wearing a yellow skirt and white blouse with butterflies on. The blouse stuck to her back as the sweat soaked through. It had been a parting gift from her classmates, chosen by her teacher. She had cried with delight when she opened the brown parcel tied with pink ribbon as she had been worrying about what to travel in.
They edged their way forward, the floating vessel looming above them, the sun beating down on Elena’s head. The noises around her were unfamiliar. Chains clanged and scraped and sailors yelled instructions to each other. Cranes moved around like giant iron arms as they lifted and then lowered huge containers and bulging mail bags to the men working on the ship, their engines sending a monotonous, thundering growl across the air. There was a constant hub-bub of talking as passengers were ticked off a list and walked along the wooden gangway, waving and shouting back at those left on the port side.
As Elena and her family neared the head of the queue there was a delay with the family in front of them. The man from the ship seemed calm but he had the same curt manner the Principal at school. Elena peered at his white uniform; all he’s missing are the wings and halo of an angel, she thought. She fixed her stare on the pretty gold stitching of the trim on the cuffs of his jacket and the shiny buttons glistening gold.
Elena fidgeted hopping from one foot to the other.
‘Stop it Elena!’ said her mother.
‘Why are they talking so long?’ asked Andreas, his fingers in his mouth again.
‘There’s a problem with their paperwork,’ said yiayia. ‘Have you checked ours Evangelia? Are you sure you’ve got everything?’
‘Yes, I have,’ said Evangelia but she took out the envelope from her handbag all the same and peered into the top of it, fingering through the folds of papers in it.
‘Please stand to the side. You will not be travelling today,’ said the Purser to the family of seven. There were raised voices and some swearing and scuffling between the Purser and the man who appeared to be the father. The woman, she assumed the mother, cried as the children stood huddled close by; pale white, speechless.
Elena noticed her mother’s face instantly colour. Elena knew she was panicking.
The Purser, who appeared calm given the continued barrage of raised voices around him, refocused on Evangelia.
‘Passenger names please.’
‘Surname Ellinas. Evangelia, Andreas, Elena. Surname Stefanides. Elena,’ said Evangelia, as yiayia held onto her arm.
‘Can I see your papers please?’
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