Safety at Sea

Picture Credits: DDP

June, 2015

Sarah woke to green plowing seas outside their balcony, rather than the bustle of the port of Kusadasi, Turkey, as she had expected. She climbed back into the soft king-sized bed with Adam, her husband of four days, and watched the shifting rainbow water patterns on the ceiling of their cabin, felt the vibration of the engines and the gentle movement of the ship. 

“For some reason,” she said, “we aren’t in port yet.”

“Good,” said Adam drowsily, draping an arm across her waist, and reaching up under her sexy new nightgown. Sarah turned toward him, her senses blooming awake, with a sharp pull of desire. She touched her lips to his, first gently, then with more urgency. They pulled closer, feeling the exquisite joy of being skin to skin.

Later, as she floated, wrapped in Adam’s arms on a cloud of pleasure, a bell sounded over the ship-wide intercom. She swam with difficulty back to consciousness. 

“Attention passengers,” came the Scottish brogue they had come to know so well that week. “This is your captain, Martin Stewart. I would like to make you aware of an occurrence last evening. At about four o’clock we saw people in a small craft on our starboard side, waving, in obvious distress. We turned back. We took them on board and they are presently in our infirmary receiving medical attention. There are six men and one woman. We will take them to safety in the port of Kusadasi, and you will be free to go on with your excursions to Ephesus, delayed only by an hour or so.”

Their captain hesitated, then continued. “Safety at sea in is our first priority in the navigation service so you must understand that this was required.” 

This was required. He said it with a clipped finality. The intercom clicked off. 

Curiosity and excitement filled Sarah. They had migrants on board!

Both her parents and Adam’s had been alarmed about all the Syrian refugees risking their lives to escape the Syrian Civil War and get to western Europe, and tried to dissuade them from honeymooning in the Greek Isles. 

“It’s not safe,” Sarah’s mother had insisted during one phone call. “All the news reports have said that the Greek Isles are inundated. And those people are desperate!” 

But Sarah had always yearned to see the Greek Isles. She’d never even been on a cruise. Besides, they could face sudden death in the U.S. by simply driving down their own city’s streets. Was it so much more dangerous on the other side of the world? And would it hurt them so much to see people whose circumstances were less favorable than theirs, to learn first-hand how lucky they were? 

Sarah burrowed deeper into the silky sheets and let herself drift. She envisioned the migrants sitting in the captain’s quarters, freshly showered, and wearing white fluffy robes, eating their fill from the midnight buffet and being serenaded by the dining room pianist playing show tunes. She let the movement of the boat rock her back to sleep, but ended up having fitful dreams about the minister and rabbi having a polite debate about forgiveness only minutes before jointly marrying her and Adam. Then she woke to real memories of her parents’ equally polite but hesitant acceptance of their whirlwind courtship and marriage. 

“What about your children?” her mother finally asked.

Children seemed so amorphous, so far in the future. Surely all of that could be worked out later. Surely everything was insignificant compared to Sarah and Adam’s desire for each other.

Sarah was drawn to the boisterous warmth of Adam’s family; they welcomed her with open arms. She loved the rituals and holidays, the emphasis on family. Then at the last minute, one of Adam’s orthodox cousins refused to come to the wedding, citing the impossibility of consuming non-kosher food. 

“What, are they only coming to eat?” Adam complained, insisting that religion wasn’t important to him. It was important to Sarah, though; she prayed regularly and enjoyed going to the Methodist church, feeling God’s forgiveness as the music washed over her, and being inspired by the minister’s sermons to try to be kind and live a better life. Adam probably wouldn’t care if she continued to go. In all honesty, they had never discussed it. 

They met, fell into bed on the third date, and knew within a few weeks that they wanted to be married.  Adam claimed that he knew the first night he met her. 

In the end, everyone came, except the cousins who kept kosher. At first Sarah had enjoyed choosing which wedding traditions to keep –such as a chuppah and a wine glass to honor Adam’s family. She’d taken pleasure in having the “Lord bless you and keep you, may He make his face to shine upon you, may he be gracious unto you, and give you peace” prayer shared by both Judaism and Christianity. But then the minister had used the wrong prayer, the one used only by Christians, and Sarah wasn’t sure if it was on purpose or not, but there in the middle of her own wedding she found herself gritting her teeth and nearly strangling her bouquet. By the time it was over, she’d been just as relieved as Adam and wished they’d eloped or just gotten married in some vineyard by a friend with a newly minted officiant’s license from the Universal Church of Whatever. 

“Attention passengers.” Captain Stewart’s deep Scottish voice cut into her thoughts. Sarah opened her eyes. “We have learned that the Turkish authorities will not accept these individuals, as they were picked up in Greek waters. So we will turn around and go to the Greek island of Samos a few miles from here where we will deliver them to the proper authorities. This will result in a delay of your excursions of about three hours, but be assured we will allow extra time for you to return to the ship at the end of the day. Thank you for your patience and understanding.” 

So Turkey would not accept the migrants. Those poor souls must be feeling such panic and fear. Then, she had a more selfish thought:  Would their Ephesus tour guide wait for them? It was one of the places she’d most wanted to see. One of her well-traveled friends had told her the ruins were magnificent. An entire ancient city, painstakingly uncovered and preserved to a level that overshadowed Pompeii. Would she give up seeing it in exchange for the migrants’ freedom? 

Sarah climbed out of bed, slipped on the new bathrobe that matched the sexy nightgown, and made her way out onto the narrow balcony to see if she could see anything. Once outside, the whistling wind caught her hair and sleeves. She gazed at the shifting sapphire water below, and the faint emerald line on the horizon that must be the coast of Turkey. 

“We’ll just miss a few hours of those ruins in Turkey, right?” Adam, awake now, propped himself on an elbow in bed. 

“Just those ruins? That’s one of the things I wanted to see the most!”

“Hell, you see one pile of rocks, you’ve seen them all,” Adam, grinning, shrugged into a T-shirt and joined her on the balcony. 

“Adam! You’re teasing me, right?”

“Yes,” he said, putting his arm around her. Then, “No. I really do hate ruins. Do you care if I just stay on the ship and catch some rays?” 

Sarah glared at him. “You’d let me go ashore in Turkey by myself?” 

“You wouldn’t be by yourself. There would be three thousand people from our ship with you.” 

She stuck her tongue out at him, then changed the subject. “Imagine what it would be like to be in a tiny overcrowded boat out there in all that water,” she said. That heaving, bottomless water. “Being so desperate to get to a new country.”

Adam leaned against the railing. “My great-grandfather was illegal. He came over with his younger brother Max hiding in the engine room of a cargo ship. He was about fourteen.”

Sarah turned to look at Adam. She loved the deep blue of his eyes. He was the only one in his family who had them. “Really?” 

“Yeah, it was just after 1900 sometime, I’m not sure exactly, during the Russian pogroms in Latvia. My great-grandfather was the oldest of seven boys, and they were kidnapping Jewish boys and making them march at the front of the Russian army. So his parents sent their two oldest sons to America.”

“They sent the boys by themselves. To a new continent.” 

“Yeah. They gave some guy money to bring them food but the guy took the money and spent it on booze and never brought them anything to eat. So, they were hiding in the engine room for something like three days. They licked the condensation off the engine room pipes to survive.”

“Oh, those poor boys. So, what happened?”

“My great-grandfather used his shoestring to scratch a note on a piece of paper they found, and dropped it down when someone walked by below. The guy picked up the note, then wadded it up and threw it down, and he realized the guy couldn’t read!” 

“Oh, no.”

“Right, and so then they had to wait hours until finally another guy came and found the note and brought them some grapefruit juice. And then he smuggled them off the ship when they landed, and they eventually found their way to New Jersey.”

“That’s an amazing story.” Sarah thought Adam’s family had a much more difficult and interesting past than her own, with her mother’s grandfather immigrating legally from Italy, and her father’s great-grandfather coming over from Wales after the slate mines closed. She brushed a lock of hair off his forehead and leaned back against him, admiring Adam’s family all the more.

Adam shrugged. “Probably a lot of people have stories like that.” 

An hour later, Sarah stood on the balcony as their ship dropped an anchor the size of a minivan a quarter mile out from the small, anvil-shaped port at Samos. A smoky-looking mountain rose in the near distance. Many of these islands did not have ports deep enough for the cruise ships and visitors had to take tenders from ship to shore. Since they hadn’t originally planned to go to Samos, Sarah had looked it up in the book on the Greek Isles she’d bought for the trip. 

“You’ll be fascinated to know that Samos was the home of Aesop,” she told Adam, who was sitting in the easy chair watching the cruise channel on TV. 

“As in the fable of the tortoise and the hare?” Adam’s eyes didn’t leave the screen. 

“Yes. And it says here he was a slave. I never knew that.”

“Me, either.”

A tender with the blue and white Greek flag flapping bravely in the wind began to putter out toward them from the port. Greek soldiers in their blue hats and gray uniforms stood on the dock. 

She and Adam stood on the balcony, gently buffeted by the constant ocean breeze, and watched the dogged approach of the tender as the brilliant sun sparkled on the azure, nearly translucent water. 

The tender tied up by the forward door and, while Sarah and Adam and dozens of other passengers watched from thirteen floors of stacked balconies, the white-clad cruise crew escorted the migrants onto the tender. The migrants did not wear the fluffy robes of Sarah’s imagination, but bright orange life vests, and an assortment of hoodies, jeans, and camouflage cargo pants. The one woman wore a light purple hijab. Several carried backpacks, while one simply carried a black trash bag, stuffed full. One of the men wore red low-top Converse sneakers. The people were talking and gesticulating, but because of the wind it was impossible to hear them. 

As the tender pulled away from the ship, some of the people on the balconies began to applaud, as if they were witnessing something good and right. 

Sarah clapped, too, but then saw that Adam wasn’t. 

“Our giant cruise ship gave these migrants a ride for a few hours,” said Adam. “Sure, we’re a bunch of heroes.” 

Sarah’s cheeks burned at the thought of having applauded when Adam disapproved of it. Yet a desire to defend herself arose. 

“I was admiring the bravery of the migrants,” she said. “And some of the cruise ships don’t even pick them up. They sail right by. Or sail over them. At least Captain Stewart picked them up. And helped them. Like that guy helped your great-grandfather.”

Adam didn’t answer. They watched in silence as the tender carried the exhausted, huddled people toward shore, where Greek soldiers waited. The migrants nearly fell out of the tender onto the cement dock in their joy and eagerness. 

Then Sarah felt the deep rumble as the captain began to raise the anchor and the faint vibration as the massive engines re-engaged. In a matter of moments, the port of Samos began to slide away.  

A few hours later Sarah and Adam disembarked at the port of Kusadasi and found their guide, a handsome, impeccably dressed, dark-haired young Turk holding a placard saying “Sarah.” 

“I am Emir.” He did not smile. He shook Adam’s hand first, then Sarah’s. 

“I’m sorry we’re so late,” Sarah said. “I assume the staff told you what happened?”

“Yes.” He gave her an annoyed look. “Please to come along to the car.”

Sarah felt uncomfortable; already she knew Adam didn’t want to be here. And now clearly their guide was displeased by their tardiness. This did not bode well for the day. Sarah and Adam hurried so as not to lose the back of Emir’s fine leather jacket in the crowd of tourists as he walked briskly toward the street, clogged with cars and minibuses cutting from lane to lane, blowing horns. He introduced Ali, the driver of a shiny black car, and they hopped into the back seat and scooted off through the busy, meandering streets, ripe with the smells of gas, leather and kebabs. 

 “The city of Ephesus used to be on the coast of the Aegean, but because of silt accumulation, after centuries, there was no water access, and the city was abandoned. So now water is two miles away,” Emir explained as they wound through Kusadasi. On the outskirts of town, he pointed to massive columns along the road. “These were part of the aqueduct that was built by the Romans, one of the most advanced of the modern world.” 

When they arrived at the ruins, Sarah could see a long road lined with tall, imposing stone edifices. 

“Ephesus was originally a Greek city founded ten centuries B.C.  Over the centuries it has been conquered by Alexander the Great, later the Romans, destroyed by the Goths, later by an earthquake, and finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks.” Ali stopped the car and Emir jumped out. “See you in three hours, Ali.” Emir slapped the top of the car. 

“Ok.” Ali zipped away as soon as they climbed out. 

“We will enter here,” said Emir, pointing to the gleaming white stone road. “Please to be careful of your steps. The ruins of Ephesus were discovered in 1874 by John Wood, a British archeologist.” Emir led them down the long street, stopping to show them the Temple of Hadrian, the terraced homes on the slopes of the hill that were occupied by wealthy Romans, and the famous Library of Celsus, with its regal columns. The blazing sun bore down on them and the white stones gleamed. Sarah could not shake the feeling that Emir was rushing them. They walked farther down the street, where Emir pointed out a row of what looked like very public stone toilet seats. 

“What would you think these are?” he asked.

“They look like toilets,” Adam said.

“This is correct. These were toilets for the men. They would sometimes have their slaves sit on the toilets to warm them before they sat there.”

“What about the women?” 

“Behind a tree,” said Emir, with a quick grin. 

Sarah drew in her breath. It was thousands of years ago, but still. 

As they made their way farther along the street, Emir pointed out ancient stone food stalls that were, he said, “the Roman equivalent of McDonald’s.” 

At the bottom of the hill, they took a turn and came to a field edged on two sides by the remains of what seemed to be merchants’ stalls. 

“This is the Jewish section of Ephesus, where the merchants had their stalls. Ephesus was considered a socially advanced city, where strangers were allowed to integrate.”

“Nice of them,” Adam said with a dry chuckle. 

“The apostle Paul lived in Ephesus for three years,” Emir went on. “He originally was a member of the synagogue, but later moved his teachings to a church.” 

“Oh – I remember — the letters to the Ephesians in the Bible.” Sarah vaguely remembered studying Ephesians in a college course. 

“Yes,” said Emir. 

She glanced at Adam but he had a blank look. Oh right — Ephesians was in the New Testament. She searched her memory from her class. “I think Paul wrote the letters to the Ephesians from prison in Jerusalem. In the letters Paul said that Jesus’ teachings brought down the walls dividing people and promoted peace.” 

Adam shrugged. Sarah realized that she believed this and Adam didn’t. A cold sweat broke out on the back of her neck. 

 “Paul had converted many citizens of Ephesus to Christianity,” said Emir. “And it was hurting the business of the artisans who sold the silver statues of Artemis. There was a kind of riot, and he had to leave town. I am Muslim so I do not know any more about Paul.” He headed down the road toward the next group of ruins.

“Religion!” said Adam, as he and Sarah followed Emir.  “Every war ever fought was caused by religion.”

“That’s not true!” Sarah said. “I think people use religion as an excuse for wars, but they’re really caused by greed.” 

“All religion does is divide people!” Adam shot back, veering away from her. 

“Well, religion was made up by mankind, so of course it’s not perfect, because people aren’t perfect,” Sarah said. Sweat was now running down her temples and ribcage as she walked. “But don’t you believe that God is still God?” She heard a new shrillness in her own voice. 

“I don’t believe in God.” Adam walked ahead of her and caught up with Emir. 

Sarah stood in the dusty road. He’d told her religion wasn’t important to him. He’d never said he didn’t believe in God. Cold shock jolted the center of her chest. 

There suddenly seemed to be a chasm between them, when just this morning she had never felt so close to a person. 

She caught up with Emir and Adam at the foot of an enormous ancient open-air theatre. She suddenly felt very tired. 

“It seated twenty-five thousand,” said Emir. “Do you have any questions at this point? Since we were delayed, I will give you only the highlights of the rest of the site.” 

Sarah felt a rise of indignation. “The delay was no fault of our own,” she said. 

Emir immediately became very animated, gesturing with his hands. “The captain should never have picked up those migrants! It is up to the captains, they make the decision, and they think they are doing something good, but now see how it affects everyone! I had another tour later today which I must reschedule. It affects my livelihood. We have thousands of migrants in our country. Turkey is completely overrun. They cannot work, they cannot contribute to our society. They are nothing but a drain. It’s an affront to law-abiding citizens of Turkey!”

Sarah and Adam both stared at Emir with open mouths. 

“Some people in the U.S. feel the same about immigrants,” said Adam.

“I hadn’t thought about how the delay affected you, or how the migrants affect the citizens of Turkey,” Sarah admitted to Emir. “But still, those people needed help.”

“Outsiders do not understand our situation here.” Emir turned abruptly and walked toward an open area he described as the agora, or marketplace. As she and Adam followed Emir, Sarah found herself wanting Adam to take her hand, but he didn’t. In a robotic, hurried voice Emir pointed out the ruins of the temple of St. John, and then the scanty remains of what was once the Temple of Artemis, once considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  “Artemis was the goddess of chastity, the moon, and the hunt. This temple was thought to be originally four times the size of the Parthenon,” he ended. 

It was clear to Sarah that Emir had made up his mind to truncate their tour and there wasn’t going to be anything she could do about it. She glanced at Adam and saw that he was bored, anyway; as far as Adam was concerned, the shorter the tour, the better. 

“Now, do you want to go to the house of the Virgin Mary?” Emir said. “It will take approximately one hour. It is on top of that hill.” He pointed to a small mountain in the distance, then glanced at his watch. 

“No,” said Adam.

“Yes!” said Sarah. 

Emir glanced at Adam and then at Sarah with exasperation. 

“Yes, I do,” Sarah said. “I read about it. There’s a wishing wall there, Adam, where people write down their prayers and wishes for the Virgin Mary. I wanted to do that.”

Adam and Emir shared a look. 

“We’ll never be here again!” Sarah said with desperation in her voice. 

Not far from Ephesus, at the peak of a small mountain, stood the House of the Virgin Mary. Sarah had read that it had possibly been built for Mary by the apostle John. The small stone house had been converted into a one-room chapel with a stone altar, a statue of Mary, and a Turkish rug on the floor. Sarah had read that Mary lived here from the time of Jesus’ death until the time of her assumption, sometime, possibly, between 43 A.D. and 50 A.D. Three popes had visited this chapel. 

Sarah stood inside the dark, candle-lit chapel for a few minutes, quietly admiring the gentle, gracious statue of Mary. She’d left Emir and Adam outside waiting, Emir focusing on his cell phone, Adam drumming his fingers on the picnic table. Now she watched as an elderly man and wife, holding hands, went to the altar and lit a candle. The tiny flame leapt toward the shadowed ceiling. Sarah didn’t light a candle; she wasn’t sure but wondered if one had to be Catholic to light one. One of her Catholic friends said she lit a candle for her mother in every chapel and cathedral she visited. Sarah watched the way the elderly couple moved together in synchronous harmony, and wondered how long they had been married and for whom they were lighting their candle. It seemed so clear that they shared a faith. 

She gazed at the statue of the virgin for long moments, trying to absorb peace and love from her. At last, reluctantly, she turned to go. 

Outside, Adam and Emir rose to their feet as she exited the chapel. Adam looked at his watch. But Sarah still hadn’t made her wish at the wishing wall. The stone wall, seven feet tall, was covered with thousands of scribbled paper prayers. The white papers had been wedged in between the stones and had clung there through sun and wind and rain, blooming like a profusion of fluffy white flowers covering every inch of the surface. Sarah stood still and drew in her breath, taking in the yearning and nearly holy beauty of it. She carefully framed a picture with her phone because the image was one she didn’t ever want to forget. 

In a small alcove in the wall were pencils and papers. She held up an extra paper for Adam. “Make a wish, Adam,” she called. 

He shook his head. 

She watched the elderly couple together wedge their wishes into a chink in the wall, their gnarled fingers touching, and then she scribbled her own.  

About Lisa Kline

Lisa Williams Kline is the author of two novels for adults, Between the Sky and the Sea (Dragonblade), and Ladies’ Day (CamCat Books), as well as an essay collection entitled The Ruby Mirror (The Bridge) and a short story collection entitled Take Me (Main Street Rag). Her stories and essays have appeared in Literary Mama, Skirt, Sasee, Carolina Woman, moonShine review, The Press 53 Awards Anthology, Sand Hills Literary Magazine, and Idol Talk, among others. She is also the author of ten novels and a novella for young readers. She attended Duke University and received her MAC from UNC-Chapel Hill in Radio, Television and Motion Pictures, and her MFA from Queens University. She lives in Davidson with her veterinarian husband, a cat who can open doors, and a sweet chihuahua who has played Bruiser Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical. She and her husband treasure frequent visits with their grown daughters and their husbands. IG: @lisawilliamskline FB: lisa.kline.566

Lisa Williams Kline is the author of two novels for adults, Between the Sky and the Sea (Dragonblade), and Ladies’ Day (CamCat Books), as well as an essay collection entitled The Ruby Mirror (The Bridge) and a short story collection entitled Take Me (Main Street Rag). Her stories and essays have appeared in Literary Mama, Skirt, Sasee, Carolina Woman, moonShine review, The Press 53 Awards Anthology, Sand Hills Literary Magazine, and Idol Talk, among others. She is also the author of ten novels and a novella for young readers. She attended Duke University and received her MAC from UNC-Chapel Hill in Radio, Television and Motion Pictures, and her MFA from Queens University. She lives in Davidson with her veterinarian husband, a cat who can open doors, and a sweet chihuahua who has played Bruiser Woods in Legally Blonde: The Musical. She and her husband treasure frequent visits with their grown daughters and their husbands. IG: @lisawilliamskline FB: lisa.kline.566

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