It was the night of the storm. The squally rain was beating against the windows with such ferocity that the curtains on the inside were blowing about. Flashes of lightning lit up the black sky momentarily and these were followed by rolling thunder in the distance. The wind blew against the house howling and screaming like a creature in agony. My heart was grateful for the warm log fire.
As I sat listening to the violent battle going on outside the tragic events of the previous winter came back to mind. Exactly one year ago I had travelled down to Portsmouth at the beginning of the month for an important training fortnight organised for the heads of department in our region. The company had an office block beside the old Railway Station where the seminars took place. Our sleeping accommodation was in a middle-of-the-road family run hotel close to the docks on the other side of town. The company had paid for bed and breakfast but nearly everybody went out for dinner.
On the third evening I was too tired to go out. I thought perhaps I would check out the hotel kitchen to see what they had to offer. I was just making my way across to the restaurant when to my enormous surprise I spotted a friend seated on a high stool at the bar. What a coincidence? He had not seen me. He was gulping his whiskey as he stared at his reflection in the bar mirror in front of him.
‘Vipi Blue!’ I said in greeting. He turned quickly on hearing his name.
‘Woolie? Wacha! What are you doing here?’ He asked. He grabbed my right hand in both of his. His eyes were red, and it was not due to the Jameson.
‘Could ask you the same, I guess. We are both far from home. It’s been ages bwana. When did you come down here?’
‘I’ve been here all day, mzee. I am in mourning.’ He signalled to the barman who asked me what I was drinking.
‘What are you talking about, Blue? Kwani who has died like?’ I asked him. I was getting a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Blue is a real friend – almost definitely my best friend. We are like one. We think alike and act alike and share so many things in common that some acquaintances have mistaken us for brothers. It does not help that we look so much alike. In the crazy world of insurance you learn very early to seek a mentor and role model. Blue appointed himself as my mentor many years ago and he taught me everything that I know. If there is any single aspect about the insurance industry that Blue does not know – it is not worth knowing. I have learned much and achieved wonderful success in the this industry thanks to my association with Blue.
My buddy was the most successful salesman in the south-east region in his day. A charismatic, skilled and extremely charming salesman he had earned himself a small fortune when decided to retire and try his hand at life coaching. He was doing very well at this too.
We decided to leave the bar area and find a quiet table where we could talk. The flat screen tv on the wall opposite was tuned to a 24-hour news channel. The volume had been turned down. Blue was watching the news intently now. There were pictures of a large ferry that had capsized in the high seas. The caption read ’20 passengers still missing.’
Blue took up the story. The ferry from Broadmoor Island had set off on its six hour crossing with 8 cars, 2 lorries and 25 passengers and crew just after midnight. A sudden violent storm had whipped up midway through the crossing and despite the crews’ efforts the ferry had gone down in the high seas. No survivors had been found so far.
Blue had come to Portsmouth to meet a passenger coming over from the island on this ferry which should have docked just after 06.00 am. News of the tragedy had spread in the dock area long before it was picked up by the news wires. He could not believe his ears. The ferry bearing his love and all his hopes for the future had gone down. It could not be possible. The news was simply unbearable.
I needed to know more. So I asked Blue: Who was this lady? How long had they been together? What was she doing at Broadmoor Island.
It was in a voice heavy with sorrow that Blue explained how he had met this beautiful young lady online. Blue of course was single. She told him that she was single too but was under the care and guardianship of her ‘benefactor’ She said that she would explain it all to him when they finally met. All she would say was that he was controlling and very jealous. They had spoken at length and made real plans for the future. Blue had found his soul mate. I asked what the ‘benefactor’ business was all about. Blue said that the way she explained it he was someone who had once helped and supported her in the past and was now holding it against her. Some kind of emotional blackmail. He did not want her to leave, ever! They all lived in a big manor house on the Island. The benefactor, his wife and kids, Blue’s lady friend and a host of domestic staff who worked and lived in the manor. Blue looked at me with a pained expression and said how in life we only got one shot at being truly happy. He felt inside himself that this was a chance of a lifetime.
It had been proposed between the two of them that the lady would steal away from the manor the very first moonless night so that she could make her way down to the harbour under the cover of darkness. She would have previously purchased a ticket for the ferry crossing. Blue would be waiting for her in Portsmouth harbour and upon her arrival they would make their way to London where they would lie low before setting off for Kenya to start a new life together. Blue told me with tearful eyes that they had been hatching these plans on emails and phone calls over the past seven months.
We talked through the night in my hotel room. Blue’s lady had called him just before 11:00pm on the previous night to say that she was just about to leave the manor house. It was all systems go. That was the last he had heard from her. On hearing the bad news he had tried calling her cell-phone. It went unanswered. He tried it again and again until eventually a message came through saying that the subscriber was not available. Blue knew better. The phone must be at the bottom of the sea, he figured. He deleted her number from his phone. I know how to retrieve deleted numbers and unseen by Blue I copied it onto my phone.
I cancelled my training sessions in the morning and went back to London with Blue. He was in a bad way. We stayed at his flat. He was slowly coming to terms with the grieving process. One morning I asked him what he was going to do. He replied that he was still going to to relocate to Kenya. It had been his plan for the past seven months. The reality of his loss had sank in now and he felt that it was the right thing to do.
Blue stopped watching the news on tv or reading newspapers He said that he wanted to move on. He felt that the secondary emotions that he experienced whenever the news was on were not helping him.
It was Sunday. Blue was flying home today. At the airport we checked him in early so that we could have plenty of time at the bar. We sat and ordered our drinks. As I made a swift visit to the gents, I stopped to look at a newspaper on the stand. There was a picture of the ill-fated ferry on the front page. I read the report. My heart was pounding inside my chest and I thought it would burst open. Sea rescue and police had reported that they had now recovered the remains of all the victims of the ferry tragedy. There had been a single female who was a member of the crew. All the other passengers aboard the ferry that night had been male. Everything screamed to me that Blue’s lady had missed the ferry. But how does one explain the fact that he had not heard from her? I was weighing all this in my mind when Blue walked into the gents.
‘Chief, they’ve put out the last call, I better split.’ He looked really excited. I was not going to spoil that.
‘Look Blue, wewe nenda salama we’ll chat when you touch down.’
I watched as my friend went through departures. He did not look back once. When he was safely out of sight I whipped out my phone and dialled a number, It rang three times before it was answered by a young lady whose voice Blue would almost certainly have recognised.
‘Oga, Is that ma broda Harry-O?’ I asked.
‘I think you have the wrong number.’ Came the response.
‘I guess I have. Sorry.’ I hung up, deleted the number and went to look for my car.