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The Crossing (From my new book to be published Dec 2022)

The Crossing

Michael Barrington

As the ship pulled away from the pier, the people on the dockside seemed to shrink in size until they were swallowed up in the mist, as if some giant had cast his cloak over them. Joe pulled his threadbare jacket closer around himself and clasped his elbows as if the gesture would create some warmth, then picked up the small sack containing all his belongings. A shiver went through him as the biting wind cut through his clothing, forcing him to take shelter in a crowded, smoky saloon below the main deck. Once the ship hit the open seas having passed the Dublin North Wall break water, it immediately began to roll from side to side then from stem to stern as the waves and wind increased. It had begun its ten-hour laborious journey to Liverpool.

The scene looked like a medieval painting of hell without the flames. Bodies occupied every inch of space, men, women, and children squeezed together, sitting, standing, sprawling, kneeling, lying. Some unable to get through the heaving mass of people to the WCs, puked where they were sitting or wretched in corners. People were moaning, their cries mingling with those of a hundred babies, while others stricken with the ordeal of sailing and fearing for their lives, were praying the rosary out loud. The smell of unwashed bodies, packed like sardines, vomit, and spilt beer was overpowering and with most of the portholes closed, the thick fug from smoldering cigarettes, made his eyes water and burn. But it was this or being frozen on the top deck now sprayed with foam, together with the risk of falling overboard.

He had never been on a ship before and was feeling so nauseous he wondered how he would last the journey. Having arisen at dawn the previous day to take a coach to Galway, then train to Dublin, he had already been on the road for more than twenty-four hours. And since the ship had to wait for the tide, which delayed its leaving port, it meant he would spend another night without sleep. Clutching his sack, he wedged himself between the edge of a wooden seat and the steel wall dripping with condensation but close to a half open port hole and tried to breathe in some fresh air.

What had started out as an exciting adventure was quickly changing into a miserable, depressing and physically demanding challenge. But he was determined not to give in to his sadness. It had been hard leaving his mother and his brother James; he knew he would miss them. He feared for her especially, knowing that she had to stay, and he felt guilty. She would have to continue living with a man who was a physically abusive alcoholic. Had she not been a catholic, she would have left him long ago. But the words divorce, or separation did not exist in the catholic dictionary. So, she was imprisoned in an impossible situation. It was on his dream list that once he had made sufficient money, he would bring her over to live with him in England.

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