Something was rotting inside the office. It hit X like a tree branch the second he stepped inside. This was his last interview for the week. The call never came from those other places X tried his luck.

The usual questions: what experience he had, why did he leave his last job, etc. X knew what to say to get the manager on board. The past year he sharpened his communication skills avoiding confrontation and smoothing things over with a velvety promise. Since moving to the bay area he'd quickly learned that no matter what law that state enforced people would find a way to understand one another. The villagers were friendly to those they had come to accept but X was still seen as a newcomer. He'd planned on changing that fast. What better way to blend in than to get a job as a fisherman?

"These waters are treacherous. It's not easy, let me tell you. Are you sure you can handle it?"

"I need this job, sir. I've worked on smaller boats for the past six months or so. One time a storm caught our boat just as we were near the docks. It crashed on the rocks, and the men almost drowned."

"Is that why you left? Nearly drowning would make me get a job as a priest or something. I told you we lose men overboard every year."

"It was a small fishing company. To tell you the truth it was the only fishing company and after the incident, there was an investigation about work safety, and… they went bankrupt."

The manager nodded and clasped his meaty hands.

"Alright kid, you got the job. At first, you'll be in processing working half a shift. If you can handle it you'll get the full twelve hours. By the end of the voyage, you'll be on deck working the crane."

"Thank you sir for the opportunity. I won't let you down."

"Just don't lose your fingers and stay clear of ropes. Welcome aboard kid."

The manager grabbed two whisky glasses from his bookcase. X respectfully declined, he never touches the stuff. The boss man chuckled and bet X he'd start in his second week on the seafood processing ship. 

"Don't forget to bring something to pass the time. You might need it…"

There was something different in his tone and X picked up on it immediately. The manager knew how hard isolation was on the mind. But the smell finally got to him and without a second thought, the young man shook his hand and stormed out of the office. For the past couple of years, X had an odor problem. He didn't mind the smell of fish or onions or any other objective foul-smelling substance. The problem was X couldn't stand the smell of other people. The young man's stomach turned when he was close to anyone. It didn't matter if it was a flowery smell from a young lady's perfume, the old spice his grandpa wore, or an unwashed ditch digger. The natural skin odors from humans, that was his problem. X wasn't bothered by his scent and he never had someone walk up to him and tell him he stinks.

One of the great mysteries of our world, he chuckled. Days flew by in the small fishing town. Aboard the ship X settled in the processing area where fish were gutted and packaged. As expected he was oblivious to the smell. The only thing that got to him was the constant racket of the conveyor belt. Even with noise-canceling headphones, his teeth vibrated. After six hours he had the day off to shower, eat at the cafeteria and enjoy an evening of television or board games. 

X ate alone, taking care not to sit close to anyone at mealtime. He socialized and blended in. The young man had mastered this skill. He even made a few friends. They played cards and gambled. X wasn't much of a drinking buddy. He stuck to soda while the others enjoyed whatever alcohol was in stock. The crew viewed him as the quiet type. Oftentimes sailors would spot him up on deck at sunset staring at the sea or gazing up at the night sky when the weather was nice. They thought the young man was a romantic, an artist of some sort. People who work as fishermen tend to keep to themselves. Except for his two buddies, X was never pestered about his life, hobbies, girlfriend… None of that stuff mattered. Out on the sea, everyone worked hard to feed their family or raise money to move to the city for a better life.

X was a natural when it came to sailing. In the last month of his voyage across the Pacific he worked on deck lifting heavy nets and their bounty. Atop the crane, he would gaze at the waves hypnotized wishing he could have chosen the time of his birth. X felt this century will forever be strange to him. He read books of pirates and adventure, of a time when cities and towns were built with wood and rock. X wished he would go to bed at night and wake up the next day in the seventeenth century. He studied to be a history teacher but the strange illness that plagued him would have never allowed it. The smell of other human beings sent chills down his arms. X romanticized living in a time of war and famine and he knew it. Oddly enough he didn't leave out his illness in his fantasy. It followed him ever since he was born. It was familiar, something to go back to. X often wondered if something that he lived through as a child triggered the problem. He pondered the possibility of rejecting his adoptive parents when his birth mother abandoned him on the hospital steps. Perhaps he missed her smell so much that he developed this strange disease. 

X watched the sunset on the horizon. Just one more week aboard the ship. The young man drifted once again into his renaissance fantasies oblivious to the dark abyss that lurked below.

November 06, 2022 17:23

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