There seem to be more bars on the ship than I can count. I sit here at the one by the pools. The poolside with the hot- baths. One large, one small. I face the touchy-feely couple in the small one: skin wrinkled with the heat of the water, faces an excited red with the icy winds blowing, and bodies extended and relaxed. It’s easy to see they don’t care for much else except how the skin feels soaked in the bubbling warm water. Their own. Each others.
I order a whiskey. The barman looks surprised. “Its not the weather for a whiskey, also not the time. Cruises are about fun drinks and striped towels at the pools.” Smiling, I look up at him, the large collection of liquor of every kind and at fellow-cruisers, comfortably ensconced in chairs that demand relaxation.
So many levels, so many levels of entertainment on each of them. The 9th Deck is the highest and also the coldest, but it’s the one with a celebratory mood. The music plays songs from the 80’s and 90’s and there’s a spontaneous breaking into song and dance.
Smokers have claimed their corner of the deck already, outside of the gusts that will blow the flickering cigarettes out. Do smokers have a hidden code that unites? Does smoking a cigarette amount to smoking a peace pipe? Those cigarettes definitely have special powers; they instantly create homogeneous groups out of total strangers.
Cruisers with pizzas, ice creams and hotdogs walk in and out across a pile of blankets that sit on a counter looking sure, as if to say- Not today perhaps, but you’ll be reaching out for us soon. I’m cold already.
I stretch my legs out, sitting on the silver barstool with whale-tail seats. My thigh-high brown boots are almost new, bought especially for these seven days.
The zipper on the left one has caught a bit of denim in it, right above the infinity tattoo on my thigh. I try pry it loose, but its still there, pretty much the story of my life.
The barman smiles as he throws up a flaming bottle in the air, catching it in time to pour out a golden spirit. He jokes constantly, but as I will discover later, he pays absolute attention to remembering what each guest likes. The service crew is almost all either Indonesian, Balinese or Filipino. Gentle, dedicated and hard working.
Everyone on the way down smiles at each other. A carefully tuxedo’d couple in their fifties hold hands and smile at each other and me, facing the mirrored wall. I think to myself: Mountains of food, drink and deserts of every imaginable variety seem to have softened humanity.
I hurry to three levels below mine and walk rapidly to the aft side of the ship. I’m lost! This is a maze of too big, too beautiful, too much.
Someone gives me directions. I find myself walking across a bar and a piano room, filled with people playing Trivia. Surprise! It would be fun to stop and play.
I bump into the tuxedo’d couple again. The woman is clinging to him, body language almost screaming Stay away, you women of the world. This man is mine!
I think I’m lost again.
This time I read the signs carefully- Aft, Forward, Center. I pass the ballroom where we’ll go for the Captain’s Dinner. I’m going only because I want to wear the saree I’ve carried with me.
And then, suddenly, I see the right numbers- Evens on one side, Odds on the other. There it is, the suite I’ve been searching for.
I knock on the door. It has a guilty tuktuk sound. A click and it is open, one step in, it clicks shut.
We just stand there voiceless- kissing, touching, hugging, clinging, barely making it to the bed. My heart is a desperate wail. This is all we’ve got. Seven days, that’s it. One day almost over. All that we have is six days of anonymity and each other.
This is all we’ve got. Two weeks from today I will be home, wearing the bridal lehnga my fiance’s sister chose for me, marrying a stranger my parents chose for me, living a life my culture chose for me.
Months of planning, and however much we both try to pretend otherwise, we both know this is all we have.
I step over the white sheets, across the toweled creature the housekeeping has created.
The Do Not Disturb sign blinks a bright neon green.