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Extract from the novel The Below by Kira Malko Друк

From The Below by Kira Malko

Translated from the Ukrainian by Oleksandra Gordynchuk and Hanna Leliv

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On a cruise ship, everything under the fourth deck is called The Below, and everything over it—The Above. The fourth deck is like a ground floor in a hotel. It is the first deck above the waterline and the only one where you can cross the ship from its bow to its stern. It runs through the vessel like an axis, dividing it into two separate worlds.

Below the fourth deck arethe laundry rooms, utility blocks, and the cabins of ordinary crew members—those who do not belong to the noble class of officers. The Below is safely hidden from an outsider’s eyes—it is underwater, without illuminators; the doors leading there are inconspicuous and locked to the passengers. Behind those doors, below the fourth deck are mysteries, intricate affairs, true feelings free from any codes of conduct, mistakes and doubtful achievements, love and hatred, secrets and confessions, dirty laundry and honorable motives. And the engine. Everything that moves the ship is in The Below.


Everything above the fourth deck is not only available to everyone—it’s showcased. The Above is an arena, a stage, a ring—the passengers’ playground. It is where the farce called “the impeccable service and the happiness of being a crew member” is played out. It is where the money is earned to be safely kept in The Below.

For the ship crew, everything begins on the fourth deck and everything ends there, too. Everything is an employment contract. The main gangways, entrances and exits, are on the fourth deck, as well. Those are dividing another two separate worlds: the inner and the outerones. This division unites the passengers and the crew.

Through one of those gangways, confused new joiners—that’s how newbies are called—board the ship for the first time. In a while, through the same door, they leave, this time as sailors.

A time span from a newbie to a sailor is like an incubation period, and you never know what is going to come out of it in the end. A butterfly from a caterpillar or the other way around. It’s even impossible to tell how long it’ll take and if a newbie will survive till the end of a contract or if they will run away early.

Overall, it doesn’t matter how much time passes between the first and the last step through the gangway—at the exit a different person appears, broken or, quite the opposite, stronger than before. You can leave the ship only to come back in two months, after your vacation ends, or you can run away for good, leaving all those gangways behind. You can escape in six months or in several days.

Newbies signing a contract for the first time get a lot of warnings—the company goes out of its way to make sure they know what they’re getting themselves into. But, having spent some time on board, they discover things, not mentioned in that contract or at the trainings; something they were not ready to face or might not be able to handle. All these entrances and exits through the gangways; all that world—or worlds—where the ocean waves wash up a coming-of-age crew member. The Below and The Above, with all their striking dissonance and incredible integrity that makes you crazy. The people they have to talk to and everything that comes with it. Long weeks without day-offs and those pitiful hours when they’re allowed to get some rest. The alcohol that they gulp down, and all the consequences of it. The rules that the ship is stuffed with. The rules for the passengers, the rules for the crew, written and unwritten. All the things going on aboard push them to break those rules. There’re tons of them—so many that it seems they were put all in one place just for someone to break them.

What happens on a ship, stays on a ship, they say. Or, at least, it’s supposed to.

Part I


She stands in front of a cruise liner at the Port of Honolulu. A warm breeze scatters her unruly hair, and it gets into her parched mouth. The sun, piercing her sunglasses, blinds her eyes, swollen from crying all night long, and burns her hands and neck. It was only yesterday that this neck, wrapped in a scarf, was barely warm from the March sun on the other side of the planet. Or was it the day before? This enormous difference between the time zones confused her perception of reality. Her reality. Now her neck is decorated with a circlet of Hawaiian flowers. Almost all of them wilted. She got this garland at the airport the day before from a bus driver meeting new joiners who were about to start their jobs in Honolulu—her and a few more bodies delivered there by numerous airlines from different corners of the world. She smoothes her hair nervously and pulls at her half-dead flower necklace. Lei—that’s how they call it here. “Why the hell did I put this wilted garbage on?” she asks herself, not expecting an answer.

She has never been this far from home. She has never seen such a huge ship. Over three hundred meters long, nineteen decks, thirty-one hundred passengers, and twelve hundred crew members. This is what was forever pressed into her brain during the trainings, like the multiplication table. Huge, white, depressingly glossy machinery studded with tiny windows and balconies was the reality she found herself in. The gigantic sharp bow hangs high, but at the same time so low and heavy that its thick shadow squeezes her temples, pressing her to the ground, and makes her want to crouch, hunch her back and crawl—as far from there as possible.

Something is hiding there, inside it. Something is lying there in wait. Half-baked, creased like paper scraps, questions of “How long will I hold?” and “Do I need this? Do I need this now?” are flashing chaotically like red lights in that part of her brain that is not blocked by fear.

She has always thought she could distinguish right from wrong, and knew what she wanted. And she did until she grew up. At sixteen, she wouldn’t let anyone tell her what to do. At twenty-two, she knew everything and could tell anyone what they should do. Now that she turned twenty-five, she’d give up anything she owns—her old laptop and her worn-out converses—to someone who would tell her what she should do.

But, my dear, you should’ve fixed that at least forty-eight hours ago before your flight departed from the Boryspil Airport.

She feels an urge to turn around and run away but instead she drags herself along with other newcomers. That morning, they picked them all up at their hotels and brought them to the port. Except for her, all men. And it seems that they have done this before. So she follows them and their huge, posh Carltons, Louis Vuittons, Moshinos, and God-knows-what-else, lugging her old and beaten Derby suitcase. Sailors—seafarers—are allowed to bring twice as many pieces of baggage on the airplane as the regular passengers. The cruise company that hires you provides a special letter for that purpose. And in that letter, they called you, my dear, a sailor, long before you set foot on the deck. So it’s too late to run away. Or, rather, too rude.

With every step forward, her desire to run away grows stronger and stronger. Instead, she approaches a tall, suntanned officer in a snow-white uniform; he greets her with his perfect snow-white smile, and she gives him her documents—her own documents, with her own hand! In return, the man hands out a thick envelope and a one-liter water bottle. The officer wishes her the best of luck in her new job, speaking with an accent—either Spanish or Italian—and she follows her would-be colleagues up the gangway to the deck. She can’t see who leads their group, showing the way to her and to a dozen of guys all lugging their suitcases.

Once they find themselves in the ship’s belly, their guide stops and quickly looks them over. Now she also has a chance to take a proper look at him. A middle-aged man, in a green jacket and a tie. Luis is his name. On his badge, right below it, it’s written in bold—this time in a smaller font: Head Waiter, Mexico. He looks more like a gun or drug dealer from the movies than a head waiter. He probably keeps a gun under his jacket. He darts glances with his huge black eyes, staring lustfully at her, even though he addresses the entire group. Go to your cabins, he tells the guys, and come back in an hour. He told exactly where they should come, but she didn’t catch the name of the place.

The guide leads her somewhere along the endless twisting corridors. They climb down a deck or two taking narrow spiral stairs and find themselves in an enormous laundry room with huge washing machines and small Filipinos. Small as in petite, not juvenile. They sort bed linen, towels, and other rags, toss all of that into the jaws of the laundry machines, take clean things out of other jaws and put them under a super long press. It’s hot and stuffy in there. Sugary pop music pouring out of the invisible speakers sweetens it all up a bit.

The biggest, or the most massive of the Filipinos, sits at the only table in the room in front of the only computer. “Capo, do you have small sizes for this mamacita?”, Luis asks him, although his badge says not capo, but some unfamiliar combination of familiar letters. Capo silently looks her over, goes somewhere, comes back with an armful of rags and unloads it all onto her— several sets of uniform in different styles, bed linen, and two towels.

They go up to that deck where she left her suitcase. On their way, they come across people of various skin colors and in several different uniforms. “So, my place or yours?” Luis asks taking her suitcase. “Let’s do yours, it should be cozier,” he adds, and when she doesn’t reply, he leads her somewhere.

Again, all these endless mazes, doors, bends and climbs down the spiral stairs. Finally, he stops in front of blue doors that look exactly the same as another dozens of doors in that corridor. “Here’s your casa granda”, Luis opens the door with a card key and gives it to her. “Put all this inside, I’ll wait here. And don’t beg me to come in, we don’t know each other well enough yet”.

He gives her a saucy wink, but all she can squeeze out of herself is “thank you”. She slips past him into the cabin, and the door shuts—making a quick, loud, rude ‘bang’—right before Luis’ face.

She takes a look around her new home. “How long would I handle it?”, still flashes somewhere at the back of her mind. A tiny room, two cubic meters tops. A double-bunk bed. The lower one is closed with thick dark-brown curtains. The same ones hang above the upper bunk, but those are open, so she can see a high white mattress with a pillow lying around. Apparently, that one is hers. She tosses all the stuff that Filipinos dumped on her in the laundry room onto her bunk and casually pokes her finger into the mattress. It feels firm—a good one.

Besides her bed, there’s a small table with two drawers and a shelf with a plasma TV on a leg. A small fridge under the table. To the left from it, there is a wardrobe with two doors. Both of them with mirrors. On the right door, a makeshift drying rack hangs right on the mirror—a pair of thin-wire hangers fastened together and attached to two bolts. And huge yellow lacy panties, XL size, drying on that rack. “So that’s what she’s like, my cabinmate”, a thought flashes through her mind.

Opposite the wardrobe, there’s a tiny sink with a vanity cabinet above it.There’s another door between the wardrobe and the sink. It leads to the bathroom. Very compact. She already saw a room like that when traveling around Norway with her friends. They spent a night on a Hurtigruten ship getting from Alesund to Bergen. Of course, they booked the cheapest cabin—they always travel cheap, hitch-hiking and couch-surfing wherever and whenever possible. Hurtigruten doesn’t have a couch-surfing option, so they had to pay. Their cabin had a bathroom like that.

When she comes out, at last, Luis ushers her again along the endless intestines of corridors, telling her something that she stops paying attention to right away. Too many words, too many people around. Too many sorts of people. Such a huge ship, and so crowded inside.

Luis leads the way. All she can think of is the gun concealed under the drug dealer’s jacket that just has to fall out. A huge muzzle would drop down at her feet at any moment, she’d notice it, and he’d have to kill her.

She is unable to drag her gaze away from his jacket until she finds herself in a lunchroom. Luis calls it something like a “crew mess”, rolling his r’s. As far as she can recall from the trainings, crew mess is a cafeteria for crew members, for its working class.

She’s not hungry at all, but Luis insists that she should at least nibble at something, for God only knows when she’d get another break. She thinks about a gun under his jacket and decides not to argue.

The crew mess is organized like a buffet. There’s plenty of food: veggies, soups, cheese, grains, meat, something weird, desserts, fruit, something weird again, juice from a dispenser, coffee from a coffeemaker. Also, there is a huge soda vending machine, but you have to pay a dollar for a cup of it. The room has small, round illuminators. She feels like it’s been forever since she last saw real windows and the sun. The ship is still anchored at the Honolulu port. On the other side of a small round window, the Hawaiian sun, indifferent to everything and everyone, shines bright; happy Hawaiian people stroll along the promenade, huge Hawaiian flowers blooming everywhere—same ones as in her wilted lei, only alive.

She helps herself to some weird stuff and a slice of cheese. While she eats, Luis sits beside her and chats away with some crew members in Spanish, shouting across the half-empty cafeteria. They are all in different uniforms, but they speak the same language and sit at the same table.

She eats everything on her plate although the food is not tasty. Actually, she didn’t feel it if it was tasty or not. She just stuffed herself with it, because she was taught that food is not to be wasted.

They go somewhere again, finding themselves this time in a spacious, empty restaurant. Breakfast is over, there’s still plenty of time until dinner, so it’s closed to the passengers. All the guys who arrived earlier that morning, gathered around an oval table. She’s the only female and the only newbie.

There’re dozens of tables in the restaurants—it must get quite busy here when it’s open. The passengers eat, drink, laugh, stand up and sit down, come and go. The waiters run around, fulfilling their demands and anticipating their wishes. “Always be a step ahead”, they drilled them in the trainings—that’s the key to an impeccable service. But now it is deserted, quiet and peaceful. Feels like home, almost. Probably because of the carpet floor, the wood paneling on the walls, the paintings in heavy frames, the small wall lamps, and the thin translucent curtains letting inside the condescending glimpses of the indifferent sun.

Sitting at the head of the table, Luis starts to drone on about safety instructions and other stuff—she doesn’t pay much attention, so it’s in one ear and out the other. Too much information. His carefree—or indifferent—voice puts her to sleep. Probably, Luis himself, too. He clearly repeats all this for the thousandth time. Most likely, the guys listen to it for the umpteenth time. That’s the protocol. When everyone starts to doze off, Luis suddenly speaks up, asking for questions, and this wakes them all from their slumber. They all are silent. They all got it. Or maybe they didn’t, but who cares. So Luis gets up and leaves the restaurant, disappearing through the revolving door.

She doesn’t want him to go, to leave her here. His saucy glances and even his gun under his jacket somehow grew on her. But he’s gone, leaving her alone with the guys she doesn’t know, in this cozy restaurant, taking a large share of its coziness away with him.

Soon after Luis leaves, two gentlemen come in. One of them introduces himself as a maître d’, and the other one as a supervisor. She keeps staring at the revolving door that just swallowed Luis and feels like on that day, many years ago, when her mom brought her to a preschool for the first time and left her with a teacher. She was crying desperately, watching her mother leave her with a woman she didn’t know. She never imagined she’d feel that terror once more. But here we are again. But, truth be told, now she is twenty-five, and she’s not with a kind teacher, but with two stern men who have no idea about the suffering of a three-year-old girl coming anew. And her mom is much further away now.

The maître d’ looks like a mole. Tiny black eyes, a long face, a small mouth. His badge screams Switzerland, the name of his home country shining proudly just below his name. How strange, she thinks to herself, she was always sure that if the Swiss do work, they do so only in their homeland, or, say, in Germany or France, but not for a foreign company thousands of miles away from their Alpine meadows. Her memories from Switzerland are about clean sidewalks, spotless streets, fragrant free public restrooms, and people, quite satisfied with their lives, and also about other once who went on a strike for some reason—out of boredom, probably; about bears, not a single hobo in the street, and the rain. Well, the Einstein Museum and Kunstmuseum Bern are also in her memories, of course.

The mole of maître d’ talks for a short while, pronouncing r in the French style, more like g. He’s probably from one of the western cantons. Or, maybe, it’s just his image. Maybe that’s how he amuses himself—by working on a cruise ship. Who knows. His entire speech boils down to “Wel’come on boagggd” and a wish to make a ton of money and find a girlfriend or a boyfriend, depending on their tastes and preferences. She wants to stand up and announce, right there and then, that she, personally, couldn’t care less about it all. She no longer needs it. She wants to go home because she’d already found everything he’d just mentioned there. Or, at least, half of it. But she just sits still, frozen, choking back a loud scream.

After the maître d’s speech, the other man, the one introduced as a supervisor, says something to the guys and they go about their business. Then he turns to her and tells her to put on her casual uniform and come up to the sixteenth deck in two hours, and he would teach her the ropes.

She is having a hard time finding her cabin. She just can’t remember the way. At first, she tries to find it by herself, wandering along the mazes with blue doors—identical, only numbers are different—but, but the logic of their numbering escapes her. Then she gives up and, stopping the first guy she meets—a Serbian probably—in his tracks, she asks him how to get to the cabin number 3253. This number stares at her from the envelope they gave her—she still holds it in her hand.If only they gave her a map, too. It takes that guy—definitely a Serbian—only two minutes to show her the way to her cabin.


The ship rarely stays at ports during the night. At times, it doesn’t happen even once over the entire contract. But Polina is in luck—they are staying overnight in Cabo San Lucas.

Large ships don’t dock at the shore, so they anchor at some distance from it, and they use motorboats called tenders to get to the land. During the day, tenders run every fifteen minutes, like shuttle buses. The first one is at 6AM, the last one—at 1AM. Evening tenders bring passengers, tired from hanging out on land, to the ship, so that they can have some free food and then rest, and exhausted, hungry crew members—to the shore so that they can spend money on getting drunk and even more exhausted.

Polina is in a hurry to make it toto the last tender, because she finished her work at eleven, as always, and took her usual long time to get ready. Phrases like “to doll up” or “to make oneself look presentable” gained a new meaning to her, and now the list of procedures that describe those actions consists of just one item—taking a shower. However, she spends more time there that an average crew member.

She barely catches the last tender. Ashore, Vanya and Mila are already waiting for her. Mila is from Zhytomyr; she has yellowish hair, big blue eyes, plush lips, a master’s degree in Economics, and a working experience in accounting. She and Polina met back on her first day, rolling napkins together. Mila arrived at the ship two weeks earlier than Polina, also a first-timer.

Polina gets out of the empty tender into the darkness of a nighttime port and watches her shuttle quickly disappear into the black abyss. The outline of her nineteen-deck home flickers far away. It’s pitch-dark here. The place is deserted and eerily quiet. She is standing alone on the shore of a Mexican port. Her valuables include fifty dollars and her own body. She already starts thinking which of these two would interest hot local muchachos first, when blessed, albeit annoyed, Mila’s voice comes from the darkness. She says that Vanya and she have been waiting there for an hour and out of boredom walkedall around the waterfront twice.Polina reaches into her bag and pulls out a bunch of grapes she took from the cafeteria on her way to the tender. Snatching out the treat from her hands, Mila gives her a peck on her cheek.

Eating grapes, they leave the shore behind and walk inland. The city seems to be asleep, but as soon as they turn around the corner they dive right into the real nighttime Cabo. Flickering bar signs, tempting discounts, crowds of people wandering from pub to pub, laughter, shouts of ¡Hola!, exciting music, and juicy Mexican curse words most of which Polina mastered when talking with her colleagues. Here it is, the nighttime Cabo. All this attracts and excites her.

They bump into Fortu. Fortu—Fortunato for those he isn’t friends with—is a Portuguese barman. He has thick salt-and-pepper hair, even though he looks on the right side of forty, big black eyes, long lashes, snow-white teeth, and unambiguous intentions regarding Mila. He certainly has kids on all continents and a hefty capital in Portugal, given the fact that he’s been working on ships for ten years. His bar is not far from Polina’s, and every time he passes by he makes a funny face and says something cocky to her.This mismatch between his behavior and his smart looks is quite funny. He calls Polina babalina. When Vanya told her that it was a word for ‘dummy’, she was mad at Fortu, but then began calling him babalu—the male variation of this term—and they reached an understanding.

Fortu has been hanging out downtown with five girls from the cruise ship spa salon. They have no idea why he went out with them. He might not know it himself. But when he sees Mila, he instantly finds a reason to dump the girls. Polina, Vanya, and Fortu are happy about it, but it looks like Mila is not. She just grimly ignores his noble courtship.

Fortublendsin their night promenade that quickly turns into a bright kaleidoscope of bars, margaritas, tequila shots, clubs, faces of her colleagues that seem to be everywhere—it looks like the entire crew decided not to waste this opportunity and spend the night on land. Music punches from every restaurant and bar. Multiple rhythms and voices overlap, mix, get shaken in a blender and served in glasses rimmed with salt. The music flows and amplifies with every shot, and you can’t tell anymore if it’s inside you or around you. The night turns into slides flashing before your eyes that are just about to cry tequila tears—tears of joy, tears of sorrow, tears of exhaustion.

A nightclub. Someone treats her to a drink. A crowd. Bodies move around, tremble and vibrate. Air, humid from sweat, alcohol fumes, excitement. No oxygen. A lot of bodies. Someone’s lips. Polina feels them glide on hers but can’t see whom they belong to. That someone leads her somewhere. They find themselves in a corner near the bar, and she feels the kisses again. Her hand touches that someone’s hair, long and thick. No stubble. Smooth, silky skin, and soft warm lips. Polina has never seen that girl who was now kissing her. Is she from another ship? A local, maybe? Who cares. Everything fades, turns around and round, and disappears.

Her lips get burned with a crazy hot sauce. Her vision sharpens again, and she sees Mila, Vanya, and Fortu. They munch on their tacos. She has one in her hand, too.

The next slide—a crowded bar, less music, more shouts. Hot Mexican guys playing table soccer like crazy. Polina squeezes past them, jumps right into the game, lets in couple of goals, makes none, and in a few minutes is pushed aside. Someone walks her to the bar counter and orders a margarita for her to keep her occupied. One more margarita, one more tequila shot.

The next slide—a coffee shop, a table with the three of them—Mila, Fortu and she.

“Where is Vanya?”, she asks.

“We lost him in one of the clubs”, Fortusays. After he failed to seduce Polina, Vanya tried to seduce one of the waitresses. He slurred “youcan go anywhere youwant I stayhere”, and then “Have you seen howshelooked at me?”, turned around and disappeared into the crowd of bodies jerking in and out of rhythm with the music, and the three of them went to look for a quieter place.

Fortu and Mila sit next to each other, Polina is across from them. Fortu tries to talk to Mila, Mila doesn’t want to talk to Fortu, she tries to talk to Polina in Ukrainian, but Polina doesn’t want to talk to anybody. She gulps down her second espresso in one shot and announces to everyone present, even to people at other tables who couldn’t care less about it, that she is going to look for Vanya. Polina would go to look for the Atlantis just to get rid of those two. But she and Fortu say that wouldn’t let her go alone and catch her outside.

They find Vanya in the fourth bar they walk into at random. Pulling at his Corona, he’s yapping something into barman’s ear, waving a slice of lime. They rescue the barman and, dragging Vanya outside, decide to move to some other place.

Some other place turns out to be a beach. They decide to swim, but they realize that no one has their swimsuits with them. Polina did take hers but decides not to stand out and goes into the water just like the rest of them—naked.

Under the veil of night, they run intothe water and swim in different directions. Polina swims without stopping until she loses her breath. The ship seems to be not that far away. How huge it is! It amazes and fascinates her. It is not like she saw it for the first time at all. It is not frightening now. It’s beautiful. A pointed shoe that flickers with thousands of lights against the starry Mexican sky. A huge lighting bug. It stands there, waiting for her. It wouldn’t take long now. The night almost faded away.

She lays on her back, dissolving in warm waves. Here he is, the ocean. They met properly, at last, the way they were supposed to. He’s around her, he’s everywhere, and she is in him, on him, under him. She looks at him, looks into him, feels his gentle touch, his taste and smell. Salty, scentless. He wraps her with his infinity, and she seems infinite to herself. She dissolves and stretches out, growing larger and more important, almost majestic. She is here and now. She is everywhere and forever. The ocean and the sky become one; they flow into each other. The secrets of the ocean become stars in the sky. The stars fall, turning into the ocean’s treasures. She flows into the sky along with the ocean, along with all margaritas, tequilas, Coronas, and God knows what else that she poured into herself that night.

Polina is wrapped in the sky. She lays on the ocean. She is completely naked, except for the sky, the only one who sees her and covers her with itself. The sky is on her, the small star lights burning her skin, the sky pressing her into the ocean. The stars have never been so close. She lays on the surface of the Pacific Ocean, she has nothing on her, she has nothing of her own and she has nothing inside her. Or she has something unbearably light inside. She is empty and full of something at the same time. Something beautiful. Something nice. This blissful lightness of being. Maybe, she is plankton? She would like to lay like this forever—on this ocean and under this sky—shining in this darkness.

She barely breathes. Does she breathe at all? Does she blink?She watches her left foot bobbing up and down in the water. By itself. She watches an ink blot of her tattoo sinking into the dark blot of an ocean and then coming to surface, again and again. An abyss beneath her, an abyss above her. She’s helpless—and powerful. Here and now, she can do anything.

Something touches her leg, and she’s immediately pulled out of her nirvana. She falls right into the water that gets into her mouth, her nose, her eyes. She emerges and tries to clear her throat. It turns out that it wasVanya’s love-hungry body that touched her. His love-hungry arm, to be precise. She hopes it was his arm.

His behavior is really weird that night, not typical at all. He just yammers some nonsense in his sugary voice. How romantic, he says. The ocean, the stars, Polina and him, both naked.

All this seems romantic to her, as well. All but him and her, naked, so close to each other. She swims to the shore as fast as she can and lays down on the sand, trying to catch her breath. In a few minutes,Vanya gets washed ashore. She slides down into the water, so that the waves cover her. He lays down very close to her, but without touching. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees his thingy, sticking out of the water like a beacon. A surprised “wow” flashes through her mind.

Fortu and Mila are swimming not far from them, but far from each other.

Vanya asks why she spoils such a good moment. Usually, Polina answers questions like that by saying that she doesn’t deserve him (the one who is asking) and that girls from the spa salon are much better. Now she tries to pitch a similar line, spitting out water and sand. But she hears something different that surprises even herself. Completely different words. She didn’t even know that she had them, those words. But she hears herself, as if from a distance, saying that she is in love. So, she spoils this moment for a reason—because she loves someone. And that someone is not Vanya.

He stares at her as if she said something like “postmodern existential absurdity.” She herself considers this option more believable. But no, she didn’t say that. She says again that she loves someone—to make sure that it is really what she’s saying. His staregradually gets clear, focused and directed somewhere past her. He stands up, not covering himself, hanging over her with his instrument, still ready for action, stands like that for some time, and then turns around, dives in and swims toward deep water.

It turns out that the sky got much lighter while she was laying face down. Now she can see where it meets the ocean—it’s a pink-yellow-green-bluish line. And the shoe-like ship wobbles on the water against that line, wrapped in the morning mist.

Mila and FortuMila and Fortu are sitting on the sand—they have already gotten out of the water and put on their clothes. When they see Polina paddling in the water, trying to leave the depth of the sea and make it to the beach, they stare at her, expecting perhaps a spectacular dressing-up show. Pausing for a second, Polina then spreads her fingers onto the two poles of her body and walks out of water like that, slowly and steadily. At least, she made Fortu forget about his annoying courtship for a moment. Mila would definitely appreciate that.

Vanya gets out of water once Polina is fully dressed. He doesn’t try to cover himself up.

An impressed “wow” escapes Mila’s lips, and she nods to Polina approvingly. She probably thinks that they pulled it off right there, in the water, and that Polina is a lucky one.

Several sleepy cleaners come to the beach. Streets are still silent and empty, only huge green leaves and bright flowers, also huge, peeking out from fences. Polina deliberately lets them hit her face. She likes how these large flowers slap her forehead, her eyes, her cheeks, making her face wet with dew. A small white ball of Moon hangs very far above the bald,sun-scorched hills with houses built into them, yellowish in the morning sun. There’s a word Pedregal sitting on one of them, like that famous Hollywood sign. Polina has no idea what it means but she still takes a picture of it for some reason.

They walk the early morning streets of Cabo, scattering sand and the remnants of their energy before a long working day. Fortu, still full of hope, keeps blowing smoke at Mila, while Vanya and Polina are plodding behind them, silent.She takes pictures of the streets and the shadows, his and hers. She wants coffee, but all the cafes are already—or still—closed.

When they almost reach the seafront, Polina glances at her watch but sees only her bare wrist, with no watch on it. I’ll meet you onboard, she shouts, and turns back. Vanya catches up with her, and they walk back in silence, stepping on the shadows of palm trees, huge flowers, and cacti cut out by the morning sun and thrown out right under their feet.

There is nothing special about this watch except for the person who gave it to her. It’s not even her style, but since that someone put it on, she hasn’t taken it off. Until now. A small Tissot on a thin metal strap. She just can’t lose it. It still has some fingerprints, dear to her heart. It used to be on that someone’s wrist. “I won’t leave this port until I find it”, she thinks to herself, not sharing this thought with Vanya who’s trudging along beside her.

They reach the beach and find the place where they must’ve camped at night. She falls to her knees and crawls around, digging sand. It’s wet and cold. She buries her arms up to her wrists in it, digs around, making piles. Nothing. It’s so small, that watch. She used to wear massive watches, with thick straps. A one like that would have been easier to find. Polina has many watches, but this one is her dearest.

Suddenly, her fingers feel something. She tries to pull it out, but it seems too large. A toe. She raises her head. Vanya looks down at her from a faraway distance of his height, the watch swings in his arm while Polina is squeezing his toe. They look like a giant and an ant. When did he find the watch? Did she lose it in the first place?

She stands up, shakes the sand off and is about to take what belongs to her from Vanya’s hands when he suddenly breaks into a run. “What a child”, she thinks and runs after him. He runs into the water, making a swing with the watch like he is going to throw it into the ocean. Polina jumps on his back and tries to take her treasure away.Vanya’s on the larger side. Not fat, but tall and broad-shouldered. She hangs on him like a flag on a pole. She crawls on his shoulders, covers his eyes, nose, and mouth, and then he gives up.

Polina runs along the shoreline, stops, puts the watch on its rightful place on her wrist, and sits down on the sand to catch her breath. A colorful line on the horizon became smoky-beige. The lights on the ship no longer flicker. Now it looks more like an object from an impressionist painting—it seems it’s about to dissolve in the morning mist, its outline smudgy. “Impression, sunrise”—almost.

Everything is asleep: the ship, the yachts floating on the water near the shore, the seagulls. It feels like they should stay silent or at least whisper, not to blow away this serenity, weightless and soft as a feather.

The first tender leaves from the shore toward the ship. Two hours until she has to begin her day’s work.

She hears a shutter clicking. She turns around and takesa picture of Vanya with her camera as he takes a picture of her with his. She comes close to him, grabs his hat, puts it on her head, and runs along the shoreline. He clicks a couple of times and catches up with her. They scurry across the beach like crazy, laughing, pulling at each other’s clothes, wriggle out of each other’s arms, and she doesn’t know what happened to her fatigue that overcame her just a moment ago when she was still sitting on the sand. She is grateful to him for not ruining this morning and for not letting her ruin it completely.


That morning, it was the last time she and Vanya were properly together. He doesn’t bring her pizzas, espressos, burgers, and his endless speeches on anything and everything to her bar anymore. No more cheese-and-wine evenings in his cabin, no more doing laundry together, and no more meetings at a pub or an internet-café.

Sometimes, they still watch movies together in his cabin. But always in presence of his neighbor Victor, with the accent on the first syllable. Not like Hugo, but like Chernomyrdin, for example. Because Vitya is not from France, he is from Mykolaiv, and because he complains about how he always means the best, but, well, you know the rest. NowVityano longer has to vanish for those few hours that Polina spends in their cabin like he did before. Now Vanya is not trying to get rid of his cabinmate, because he knows he wouldn’t get what he hoped for earlier. Now Vanya doesn’t serve her romantic dinners on a life jacket and pillows. Now Vanya and Vitya meet Polina just in their underwear, that kind that fitstightly and show everything through. How quickly all this shyness and niceties disappear when they stop expectingsome benefits. Now Polina is just a buddy not worth the trouble.

They lay together on his upper bunk—he in his underwear, she in her pajamas, watching a silly movie to the accompaniment of Vitya’s rhythmical breathing. They usually use a garbage bag full of popcorn as a pillow—this is how Vanya prepares for their dates now. Polina hates popcorn. They both lay there thinking what’s the point ofit all.

They never discussed what she’s told him that morning. What she told him was that she loved another person. She also mentioned that person’s name. She told him everything. They didn’t speak about it anymore. Evidently, he doesn’t need more information; she probably sounded convincing enough. He doesn’t ask any questions; they don’t talk much now.Before that, he could yammer away for hours, but now he can go without speaking a word to her for days. She became something not quite useless, but not really useful either—like that third pillow that he’d put everywhere until it ended up at the foot of the bed: if she disappears one day, he wouldn’t even notice.

Polina had no idea that he was into her that much. It’s only now that she realizes that, seeing how deeply he despises her. He has always been around, without asking if she wanted it or not. And she didn’t say anything because she didn’t care and because he hasn’t asked.

Now she knows what she needed him for. She needed him so that she could admit to him something she couldn’t admit to herself. So, that what it all was about—she is in love.

Did she name this feeling before? She can’t remember it now. But at that moment this word escaped her lips so easily and naturally. It’s just Vanya was the first one who asked why she was unavailable, why she spoiled everything.

Polina is happy about that discovery. A burden off her mind. That’s a pity that it happened only now. All those weeks on the ship she was sad. She wrote long letters, drank a lot, and dreamed about going back—she dreamed about it every moment, even when she went ashore in the ports. Or about having it—whatever she left back home—right there, by her side. Now it has a name. Love. So that’s why when her plane was about to take off, she was ready to jump out of it, that’s why she’s been crying her eyes out all her way to Honolulu with stopovers in Amsterdam and SanFrancisco. That’s why she has been weeping all night long at her hotel in Honolulu, too. And on her first nights aboard. It wasn’t stress, fatigue or fear. As it turned out, it was love. She ran thousands of kilometers away from something she couldn’t understand there—only to understand it here. To call it by its name. To make a final diagnosis. She tried to numb this feeling with loud music, to drown it in alcohol. It would pass, she thought. Until Vanya asked her.

Her name is A.