Just off the Maldives, South Asia
When it comes to temporary jobs, dish washer on a cruise ship isn’t ideal. Rough seas cause broken stemware, moist air ensures nothing ever dries completely, and even the desserts smell like fish. But for me, these are small prices to pay for a few weeks at sea. I keep to myself in the ship’s hull (is that the bottom part? Is that what it’s called? The hull? In any case, I’m in the bottom part).
We are a skeleton crew this month, chartered at our cheapest rate to ferry a coterie of senior citizens around the islands. Our Captain is Smitty, a grizzled if competent sailor with decades of experience. Our Cruise Director is pimpled Kevin (though he just goes by Kevin), a third generation employee of the cruise line who has nepotism to thank for his high ranking and genetics to thank for his pizza face. Eduardo is our cook and tells me jokes only suitable for the sea. For instance, did you hear about the woman who fell overboard? Well I can’t repeat it here. Our group of seniors is tended by Idara, a name she tells me means “Joy” in her native Nigeria. I ask her if Idara could also be translated to mean, “Beautiful woman on boat.” She doesn’t respond, but instead ask if I have dishes to wash.
Tonight, I am wrist deep in suds and leftover scrambled egg (every dinner on this cruise is soft), when I hear feet pounding down the hallway to our small kitchen. My watch tells me it’s midnight, and by the speed of the footfalls, I know this can’t be a passenger approaching. Sure enough, Idara rounds the corner, closing a silk robe around her negligee-clad form.
“Have you seen the residents?” She is breathless and looks frantically in cabinets, as if an old man might be nestled among the cutlery.
“Which ones?” I ask, trying to recall whether it was Esther or Agnes who came down a few hours ago to complain of her bread being too spicy.
“All of them,” she hisses. “I just walked to the lavatory and all the cabin doors were open and nobody’s inside of them! They’re gone! They’re all gone!”
I toss my dish towel aside and together we run up from the hull. She grabs my hand to pull me along more quickly and I truly wish it hadn’t been coated in eggy soap remnants. Sure enough, room after room is abandoned.
“Where’s Pimpled Kevin’s cabin?” I ask.
“Port side,” she says, “And I think it’s just Kevin.”
We race the length of the eerily abandoned ship to the cabin designated for Cruise Director. I pound on the locked door. “We’ve got trouble, boss.”
“Uh, just a second!” Kevin says, far too quickly, and I hear thrashing around.
I cut my eyes to Idara, who regards me quizzically. “He’s not asleep,” I whisper to her. Indeed, the room sounds active. Tired of waiting, I brace and shoulder the door, which gives out almost instantly. Kevin freezes as he pulls on very comfortable looking boxer briefs. In the unmade king-size bed, Eduardo lounges nude and looks up from a magazine.
“TR! Is there something wrong in the kitchen?” Eduardo yawns.
“I..no,” I stammer. Collecting myself, I tactfully look away as Kevin continues to dress and Eduardo continues to read. “We have a problem. We can’t find the passengers.”
“Can’t find them!” Kevin’s acne’d blush of shame turns into the bumpy terrain of rage. “Where are they?”
“I don’t know, love” says Idara, soothingly. “We can’t find them.”
All of a sudden, I realize that no one’s checked on Smitty or confirmed that the ship has continued to run on course. “Follow me!” I yell. Eduardo is sluggish in a post-coital way, and I toss him a pair of impossibly soft bamboo underwear, grab his arm to pull him up and out of bed. “Live your truth,” I whisper to him.
“Kevin is not very good at sex having, but I am very bored on this boat,” he whispers back. I make a note to discuss further at a more opportune time. The four of us run to the captain’s quarters. Kevin arrives first and stops short.
Smitty is bound and gagged, and Esther (or is it Agnes?) is steering our ship. Her fellow passengers surround her and cheer with her every wide turn. Kevin stomps his foot indignantly. “What is the meaning of this?” he asks in what should be a threatening tone, but his voice shakes with fear.
Esther/Agnes grins and I can see that she’s switched up upper and lower denture plates. “We’re tired of playing by your rules! This is our ship now! Fall in line, or else!” In the corner of my eye, I see an old man advancing with a club and some rope. He raises his arm and, before I can act, everything goes black.
I awake to find myself, Eduardo, Just Kevin, and Idara tied to chairs, our backs to each other. “Could this be in the end, Comrades?” I whisper.
“Don’t be so sure of this,” Eduardo says, and I see his hand straining at his ties, his fingertips just reaching the zipper of the patented pocket on his silver Flight Underwear. Understanding dawns just as he withdraws a pocketknife and begins to saw himself free. Luckily, I too am in Flights, and reach my matches just as his hands are freed. Matches lit, I ignite the rope around my hands and quickly free myself. I silently untie Idara, who grins with gratitude as she wriggles free. From his Flights, Kevin withdraws a medicated cotton pad that he runs over his face once Eduardo frees him. Thankfully, he will have clearer skin in time for our counter-attack. Together, as quietly as we can, we strategize…Post script: The old people fell asleep and a freed Smitty steered us to a nearby police station, where the newly incarcerated passengers complained bitterly about the food.