A Yearning for Bananas
"Michael! … MICHAEL! …STOP! "
I jerked back the blowlamp with a curse that my Ma, God rest her, would've clipped my ear for. My workmate pushed up his welding mask.
“Jesus, Mary and all the Saints, you nearly torched your own leg, y' eejit!” he shouted through the biting, salty gusts. He shook his head and ran his big hand over his salt and pepper chin. "What the divvel were you playing at, lad? A welder can’t get distracted - especially strung from a shipside at this height! Wake UP, lad, or you won't be seeing Christmas, never mind 1912!"
"Thanks, Seamus." I clutched the rough ropes and turned off the hissing blowlamp. I'd have crossed myself, but the cradle was swaying fit to bring breakfast back.
He was right, of course. But I couldn't help but glance back across the dock again … and sigh. Against the shipyard, sky and buildings - all equally grey and grimy - the brightly painted crates being unloaded were little square nuggets of beautiful. Colours that would never be used in the front parlour, even - exotic and thrilling and vivid against the Guinness-coloured arms of the men lugging them. The sight gripped me with a fascination I was embarrassed to admit to. What was it like where they came from? Anything but grey, I’d wager. They’d told me one time about the trees and birds and wildlife and music, and my mind had been in half a trance over it for days. Ever since then I kept thinking, what if -
"MICHAEL! … Daydreaming again, is it? Get your head straight, lad!" Seamus’ frowned, but his expression softened as he followed my gaze.
"Ah, c'mon - lunchtime." Seamus called. “Help me winch us into the shelter of the prow.” I put down my mask and pulled my cap down over my ears, dulling the sounds of the riveters and distant carols.
Brown paper hid a brown, buttered crust, a brown boiled egg and a dull, brown russet apple.
“Here we go again…” I heard myself sigh.
Seamus was oblivious, reading a flapping newspaper and muttering about unionism and Home Rule - I was tired of the hearing about it.
"I was thinking … I might emigrate, Seamus." I ventured. "Now my apprenticeship's finished. Don't be letting on to the gaffer yet, though, eh? ... I might see if I can get passage with the darkies - lugging can't be too hard if they're singing half the day like they do."
"Shows what you know, lad." he mumbled through a mouthful of pie. "They work far longer hours than us for far less pay, poor blighters... And them's hymns they're singing - I think it keeps ‘em sane, God bless 'em. … Anyway, what's wrong with a nice, steady life here?"
"Oh Seamus, it’s ok, I suppose... But you should hear the stories! Kingston, New Orleans, New York, they all sound so grand... exciting and sunny and bursting with life, and …and colour! Even their food – have you seen the exotic fruit? ... I really like those peculiar, curvy yellow ones..."
"Aye, bananas! They're like... … like little slices of sunshine!"
As if to emphasise the point, it started to rain.
A shrill whistle brought me back from my daydream. A girl's voice was calling through the dockside hubbub.
"DA! …You forgot your tobacco, Da! … Lower a pail and I'll send it up!"
It was Seamus' daughter Kathleen, looking a real picture in the Sunday best ribbons that she usually saved for Mass - their vivid green as gloriously pretty as the long, burnished copper curls they held.
She waved up at us, smiling that beautiful, sunny smile. But knowing how fiercely protective of his only daughter Seamus was, I didn't dare wave back or answer.
But to my surprise, he tapped my boot with his own.
"Well? ..." He chewed on his empty pipe and squinted at me with a half-smile.
"Go on and wave back, lad! ... Or did you think I didn't know it was you as bought her those ribbons?"
My lungs felt like they were fighting each other for a moment, and maybe it was the sway of the cradle, but my stomach threw itself into the fray too.
Seamus hauled up the pail and loaded his pipe bowl, addressing it more than me.
"...Well, I did know, and any decent man who spends a week's wages on Mrs Shaughnessy's overpriced fripperies on the quiet like that is worth a dinner invite in my book, so you can thank our gossiping gasbag grocer for it."
He took a slurp of his tea and we waved Kathleen off. She smiled up at me… and for a moment I lost track of where I was. The shock that her Da might let me court her made me grin like a fool.
"So, Michael, you’ll join us? ... Sunday? After Mass? Nothing fancy, mind, though herself'll be making a cake most likely... What do you say? Oh, and maybe …” He waved his pipe at me and gave me an odd look. “Maybe think twice about haring off on a boat? ... Eh?"
“I will, Seamus, I will… thanks…” I blushed. Of the few reasons I had to stay, the lovely Kathleen could be one of them. And I think he knew it.
“I think I’ll be getting myself down to the barber’s later on.” I murmured, rubbing my burning cheeks.
"You won't be going anywhere but the Gaffer's hut for an earful if you don't sort that thing out" Seamus pointed. "Mind you fit it right - he'll swing for you if you put it on the wrong way round!"
I stared up at the five-foot-high painted letter hanging from the approaching hoist – I’ve never been too good with letters and spelling and such – thank the Lord Seamus noticed. We heaved it into place and watched the riveters fix it down.
“That’s one big “C" there.” Seamus smiled. “But it’ll look tiny from the quayside when she goes.”
I nodded. I don’t think I’ll be too sad to see her off without me now…
God bless you and all that sail in you, Titanic.
-- END --
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Really enjoyed this, nice one
Clap'n. thank the Lord Seamus noticed. >>>> "-- thank the lord -- ? or maybe "--thank the Lord, Seamus noticed." Course Lord Seamus works if the narrator is going to pursue the lady. Hope they don't honeymoon on the ship he was work on. Cheers.