The wind swept up and buffeted me out of balance momentarily. Ignoring the unwelcome warning, I scurried into the ferry in front of me, the hem of my skirt fluttering ferociously.
The ferry was noiseless, and it hushed my fluttering skirt the moment I stepped into the ferry. Except for the low hum and the motor’s off-beat drum, which for the uninitiated, would sound like a big deal, the ferry seemed like an informal office filled with tourists from all over, their excitement cloaked in silent anticipation.
The winds whistled and the IJ rippled. The ferry moved forward cutting through water.
People were chattering, some were aimlessly looking around, and a couple was kissing. A cyclist dressed in a white jersey and netted shorts was impatiently looking to the other end of the river, his hands gripping the handlebar and his eyes facing ahead as if a sprint race was about to begin and a hard stare would make him reach Noord Amsterdam faster!
A teenager was fidgeting with his straight but overgrown burgundy mane that now reached his shoulders. He pretended to trim its ends with his index and middle finger forming a V to snip it up. Instantly, he pulled his hair back into a tight bun and stood purposely facing the door.
My roving eyes spotted the star.
He was seated on one of the worn-out wooden benches, its ochre paint peeling off from the sides. The bench looked like it grew old by the minute, very much like its subject. His silver hair gleamed like a beam that shone sharp from a full moon, its craters making patterns and designs on its canvas. His head was bent over his walking stick. His right hand exposed nerves that swirled like snakelets and traveled across his forearm and towards his chest, stifling him like an invasive skin creeper. But he seemed to be at total ease.
The folds of skin on his neck hung low. He wore a bright blue neck-scarf with yellow polka dots on them. His head was still bent over his walking stick. As if just woken up rudely from a deep slumber, he straightened himself up, cleared his throat and looked around. His eyes fell on me. His blue eyes reflected grey — the greyness of the sea, and of his age. His yellow socks bore tiny leaves that flew like little birds over a water body, and his deep brown brogues shone a twinkle. His white shirt was ironed crisp. The fold told me the story of effort. His burnt sienna orange pants reminded me of the country we were in — the orange of Holland.
He would have been well over ninety, crouching his weight over his walking stick like that. He smiled politely. I walked up to him. ‘Hello.’ I bent to his height and smiled at him. He smiled back and said ‘Hello. Are you a tourist here?’.
I said, ‘why, yes! How about you?’
‘I’ve been living here for the last three years, and I’m prepared to take off any moment, for I have a long way to go’ he said, and gestured a flight taking off with his left hand, while his right hand tightly clutched his intricately carved wooden walking stick.
He smiled yet again. The insides of my heart melted like strawberry gelato liquifying in Indonesian sun on a summer’s noon. I smiled back. A teardrop shrouded my eyesight.
‘Lovely! Where to next?’ I asked.
‘Brazil.’ I wanted to extend my arm, shake his hand or go a step further and hug him tight, for he reminded me of my grandfather. I was formulating questions in my head when the ferry came to an abrupt end — thwarting our conversation. I eventually forgot what I was going to ask.
We had to disembark.
I had to get on with my holiday, and this travel expert — his home.
After I got out, I couldn't help but look back to check on him. He was right there — his small frame ambling along the sidewalk, the upwind hitting him, his yellow socks still peering from under the hemline of his pants, his scarf dancing to the tunes of the wind. He walking stick was his companion.
I walked straight ahead, the tears in my eyes flowing faster than normal, carried by the ruthless speed of the wind hitting my face.
Would I ever reach a point in my life where I'm rich enough, patient enough or excited enough for everything that's to come? I have a long way to go too.