“We are not!” Little Hue was trying to catch her breath. She had packed too many clothes, even though she hadn’t packed more than one outfit for every three days, along with some warmer clothes and the mandatory swimsuit. There was still enough space at the top of her backpack to shove in some treasures she anticipated she would collect along the way.
Hue and her husband, Chris, liked to travel light. For instance, when the pair spent a month traveling through Turkey, Israel and Jordan with nothing but a backpack each, they were questioned at length by the immigration officers in Israel as to why they didn’t have more luggage.
As was routine, the morning of departure was spent arguing. Chris was a stressy traveller. So much so, he would barely get any sleep the night before they were to set off. It didn’t matter how they were travelling, be it by plane, boat or car; he still worried.
Chris was more than prompt. It would please him if ever they were to depart ahead of any pre-arranged schedule. The majority of the time, however, he felt as if Hue were causing him anxiety deliberately by taking her time and staying relaxed. It would be normal for him to advise her that the plane, train or ferry was departing a half an hour earlier than it really was just to keep his stress levels down.
Hue would play along and pretend to not know his game. She was prompt through her many years of travel and had never missed a plane. She was a cool character and the type of person one would want around in a crisis; she was not one to panic.
“We have plenty of time, Chris!” She emphatically encouraged her husband, doing her best to keep up with him. With every step he took, she had to take two. For some reason her husband was irritated with her that morning. Hue felt punished.
If Chris had carried her backpack for her and left her with just the food bag to carry, she could have moved faster and he would have been helping himself. But after ten years of marriage, Hue was used to the routine. It was his passive-aggressive way, and she had her defenses up, determined not to let him master her.
Hue did not complain. She ignored him as much as possible and pushed on to reach the ferry terminal. It looked so far away. “Why couldn’t we just get a cab there?” she finally moaned. Was she not even worth a cab fare for pity’s sake?
“I did! I said so! But you don’t listen!” she continued her complaint.
Chris didn’t want to hear it. Passing through the tired, filthy streets of Algeciras, Hue noticed the locals exchanging looks as they witnessed the struggling couple; the strangers could sense their stress and tension, even though they couldn’t understand English.
Her long dark hair had fallen into her face as the wind swept it. She didn’t have a free hand to brush it away, and she didn’t dare pause to pull it away from her face. Besides, the wind would surely only blow it right back over her eyes anyway. She sighed and then drew a deep breath struggling to see each step.
The weight of her pack on her back was crushing her lungs. The fast movement of her tired legs was taking its toll. Her dark brown eyes began to sag. Sleep deprivation and the stress of traveling were beginning to beat her. With the air struggling to move out of her lungs, she was unable to speak. The complaints withered with her breath.
What a relief! Silence after all! With his eyes fixed on the ferry terminal Chris picked up his pace as if Hue could match him. He had no idea she was suffering. “Here! Here is where we cross the street. I can see the terminal entrance,” he said pointing to the place not far off. Marching on with determination with the goal in sight, Chris didn’t turn around. He just expected Hue to be right behind him.
She could not speak or respond, but she didn’t panic; she only glared bitterly at him as she kept chiding herself, “Why? Why do I put myself through this? I keep promising myself I won’t travel with that insensitive, clueless man again!” Coaching herself, she thought, “I must press on a few more steps. I’ll take my inhaler when I set my bag down... I will be fine. I will be fine. Deep, slow breaths…” Hue focused on long, smooth exhales to blow out the carbon dioxide that was trapped in her lungs. She moved steadily, but not quickly. It wasn’t until Chris had purchased their tickets, put them safely in his black pouch and headed up the stairs that he paid any attention to the condition of his tiny, fragile wife. Now that he had their tickets in hand, knew the time of the next ferry departure and had no reason to rush, he began to relax. What he needed next was a coffee.
Hue was such a strong woman; this made it difficult for her husband to ever consider her weak, ill or suffering. It was too hard to imagine. On the overhead walkway toward the departure lounge, for the first time Chris attentive to her labored breathing. His heart sank. Her steps were so slow, her face so long.
Damage had been done though, and she couldn’t walk quickly. Sucking on her inhaler, she stopped briefly. Chris paused beside her. Watching her, he said, “Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t breathe?” His empathy changed to frustration as he heard the whistle of air as she exhaled.
Again, Hue was too weak to answer; she simply gazed at him.
Still moving across the walkway to the cold, empty, marble waiting lounge, Hue was focusing on breathing, waiting for her lungs to recover. She took a seat as soon as she could. Chris sat down beside her trying to avoid any sense of guilt that he was feeling, wondering how much of her troubles he was to blame for. Burying his head in the sand, he quickly thought of something else.
Hue focused on the dark contour of the mysterious Rif Mountains of Morocco that rolled out across the way. She became lost in her thoughts. “Will we really be in those mountains in a few hours? Will we make it to Chefchaouen before dusk? Did my ancestors really run away from Spain and hide away in those mountains?” She was romanticizing it all, trying to guess what the town might look like.
The Moroccans called it the “Blue City” when they spoke of it. It was one of their treasured jewels and every one of them knew of it. Ever since Hue had learned of her Jewish lineage and had been told of the town, she longed to visit it. Her last trip to Morocco was a failed attempt, landing her in the artist town of Asilah. Hoping to have success this time in reaching the Blue City, she expectantly sat in the big, marble departure lounge.
There was no one else around. As time passed, she kept wondering if they were in the right lounge. The marble holding area was massive. To her left, Hue could see seven check-in windows that were all vacant. Just above her head was a departure screen. To her right was the open seating area with row after row of empty seats. The security checkpoint was just beyond this. Again, no one was there. Even the security belts were shut off.
Except for one male and one female janitor, no one was visible. Looking confused, Chris shrugged and stepped up to the male janitor that had just finished mopping the floor. In his best Spanish, the tall Brit attempted to ask the man if this was the correct departure area for passengers waiting to board the FRS ferry. The old, Spanish man nodded indifferently and kept on with his work.
Unsatisfied, Chris stepped over to the woman mopping the hallway to the lounge. She pointed to the security station and said a police officer would be there shortly to perform the security checks. The two workers spoke back and forth for a few minutes and then headed down the empty hall.
After ten minutes, still no one appeared. Hue had decided, though, that it wasn’t yet time to stress. She let out a deep sigh. Her eyes hadn’t stopped wandering the room for the sight of someone since they first entered. “This is Spain. Nothing to worry about just yet,” she told herself. “If no one comes twenty minutes before the ferry is set to depart, then I will begin to worry.”
During this time, no words were exchanged between the couple. They stood absorbed in the silence of the cold, sterile room. Chris took a place near the window where he kept a good eye on the ship. It was still in dock.
On a sign at the check-in desk for the ferry, it was noted that boarding would close ten minutes before the boat was set to depart. Much time had passed as they sat there fidgeting. The cut off time was only five minutes away.
On this rare occasion, Hue was starting to get worried. There was still no one at security and no one at check-in. What was going on? “Is this a sign of things to come?” moaned Chris with his backpack at his feet and his red fleece jumper tied around his waist.
All kinds of doubts were beginning to shower her. Would the boat be delayed? Was there something wrong? Could there be another terminal for departure? Why weren’t there any other people about? Where was the security man? Would they be the only foot passengers on the ferry? Should they have paid a steeper tariff and ferried out of Tarifa instead? Would there be any rental car companies at the terminal in Morocco?