Limassol, Cyprus. Where Will Your Love Story Find You?
Music: Corazón Espinado, Carlos Santana
Movie: Genius: Einstein (Season 1)
Book: Killing Pythagoras, Marcos Chicot
In the middle of the eastern Mediterranean, lies an island divided between Greece and Turkey. Cyprus was populated by a thriving civilisation as far back as the Neolithic era. Greeks, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Persians, a certain young Macedonian king who set to rule the entire known world, Romans, Arabs, Turks and post-colonialist Brits conquered or occupied it throughout millennia.
Cyprus is today a place where the marks left by history are still present and beautifully preserved. A place where different nationalities have learnt to live in relative peace with one another. It is not even that odd anymore that you need to show a passport to cross a border in the middle of the street in the capital city.
The most straightforward access to the island is by plane. Larnaca Airport is located in the south-eastern corner of the island and Paphos Airport in the south-western one.
Apparently, the island’s current name derives from a metal (copper) exploited locally from times immemorial. In ancient times, the island was called Ledra.
This is all I know about Cyprus before the ship docks in Limassol, south of the island, courtesy of my Greek friend on board. Kostas knows I appreciate a bit of history and makes sure to share his opinion about the divided population on the island. My other friend on board, a Turk, will give me his view on Cyprus later.
Sixty-three nationalities are working onboard this cruise ship. Any differences, including the Greek-Turkish-Cypriot partition, set aside when we meet and chat about everything and anything. We all know strife, conquest and dominion, regardless of the era it happened to our respective nations.
I’m happy to see a new place today. The marvel of working on a cruise ship! Every morning I wake up in a different country, I see something new or return to a place I had seen before and yearn to revisit. I can never get tired of it!
Kostas has some time off and offers to join me onto land. I’m grateful for the company, more so because he’d been here countless times and knows his way around the city.
The ship docks close to a gorgeous marina berthing exquisite yachts. I got into the habit of seeing and not watching, although it is flashy.
There is a short shuttle transfer to the city. We make it out of the port area in minutes. The modern city raises in the distance, with tower buildings aligned along the sea-line. Limassol lies in between the azure waters of the Mediterranean and arid peaks on the horizon.
Not far from where the shuttle drops us off, we pass Limassol Castle, which I cannot visit on this occasion given my friend’s limited free time.
Little gems in the shape of colourful houses with blue shutters line up the narrow cobbled streets. Some are well-preserved, others in great need of TLC. Not surprisingly, many have a few tables at the front: local taverns owned by the people who live in the flats above.
At each turn, I can spot in the background orthodox church belfries or slim mosque minarets towering over the city and piercing the blue heavens above.
The sun shines differently in Cyprus, with added mellowness. Even the light seems different. More… idle!
It’s boiling, but the stroll around the old district of Limassol is enjoyable. I chose not to go on a tour today and instead spend the day wandering through the city. Kostas agrees with me that this little corner of the world has its undeniable charm.
The colourful alley in the old town where we stop for lunch is incredibly intimate. An old man with grey hair and walrus moustache approaches us jovially and hands out the menus. While we check the food choice, the man says his wife can cook whatever we want as long as it is a traditional dish.
Both Kostas and I are asking for Greek hovoli coffee, slowly made on heated sand. It’s heavenly!
Returning the menu, I ask the nice man if we could have whatever his family is having for lunch. His eyes sparkle; his tanned face brightens up at once. His moustache elongates towards his large ears, his smile showing a missing tooth at the front. “Leave it to me!” he says all but running back inside the house.
Kostas tells me that I just made the old man’s day. And that he loves that I like Greek coffee!
Digressing, later that day, when I met my other friend on the way back to my cabin, he asked me if I had a proper Turkish kahvesi coffee made on heated sand. I replied yes, of course, how could have I missed the opportunity while in Cyprus!
I understand nationalism. It is alright to have roots, to belong. But in this century we are moving too much and can choose to live anywhere on this great planet. ‘We were here first’ and ‘we did this’ and ‘we did that’ makes no sense anymore. After populating this planet for about four million years, who exactly out of eight billion people is rightful owner to any patch of land, anywhere? Oh, no more digressing, it’s too hot for philosophy today!
The little tavern’s owner returns with a few dishes filled with foods that would alert one’s taste buds instantly. My eyes being bigger than my stomach, I greedily assess the offer and jump straight to the fried halloumi cheese. To me, it tastes better than grilled chicken breast!
I devour all the grilled veggies with hummus (Kostas is not a great fan). We share a small pot of skordalia sauce (very garlicky!) with pitta bread and wolf down a helping of moussaka each. To this day, I wonder where it all fitted and how I managed to keep it down! But it was heavenly! I even had to decline dessert, something that never happens to me!
Between the two of us, Kostas and I wipe clean all the plates on the table.
The owner of the taverna grabs a chair and seats with us. We are his only customers. He brought a carafe of a local golden wine which he is now pouring in three glasses. The time flies amid Q&A about Cyprus, partition and integration, old and new, food, traditions, cost of living and life on the island in general which the older man happily obliges.
When we ask for the check, the man says ‘don’t bother’ and that it was his pleasure to share this afternoon with us. We shake hands, and he takes the empty plates back to the kitchen. Still, Kostas and I decide to leave twenty Euro each under the little flower vase that decorates the table before leaving.
We take a different route back. Clothing stores, taverns, art galleries, jewellery and souvenir shops line up this quaint little old district of Limassol, vibrant and boasting with life under the lethargic mid-day sun.
The shuttle bus is half full. Kostas and I take two adjacent seats at the back and pass the time chatting as we do.
Slowly, crew members and passengers returning to the ship fill the bus. I don’t take much notice of the commotion. With the corner of my eye though, I catch a tall contour moving along the aisle.
My head turns in slow motion, and our eyes lock for an eternity. Just saying; of course, it wasn’t this long; it only felt so. The humming of voices on the bus fade away. The faces blur. The only one I can see is his.
Olive complexion, full lips and straight nose, shaggy chestnut curls dangling in his face as he slides down on the narrow aisle. He is dressed as if he doesn’t give a damn about appearances and walks like an Olympian god on the catwalk! His hazelnut-greenish eyes and the perceptive piercing stare pin me down and entrance me all the while.
I thought that he was going to stop and ask me something. He didn’t.
The spell breaks. The flow of times returns to a standard pace as he passes by and takes the seat behind me.
I take notice of Kostas talking but can’t hear what he is saying. My lust imbued instinct tells me that I have to speak to this guy, if not now, definitely later. Of course, there is a good chance we won’t even meet at all on the gigantic cruise ship that carries close to four thousand people on board. This would be tragic! I get annoyed that such menial thoughts bother me when just a backrest separates us.
What the heck? I go for whatever I want whenever I want it! I half turn to say hello to the guy. Just then, a stunning Mexican young woman slips next to him, taking the window seat. I curse my slowness in reaction and turn back irritated, eavesdropping on their conversation. She is a chatter-box, but he keeps quiet.
Suddenly, he pokes around the backrest and asks if I know the ship’s departure time this evening. I turn a little startled and find my face five centimetres away from his nose.
I mentally thank Kostas for answering the question and allowing me to drown quietly in the hazelnut-greenish bottomless pool that started to swirl at the intense heat of the stare.
He smiles a sexy pair of dimples (I drown a bit deeper while fighting for a lungful of air) and says he is Ignacio.
I reply a tad out of breath: You surely are! My answer perplexes him, so I explain his name’s etymology as coming from the Latin ignis, meaning fire. And so it begins!
How long is a second? A scientific explanation would have something to do with some radiation of some numbered caesium atom, something I vaguely recall from a physics class at high school. Too bad I was reading a philosophy book rather than paying attention to the lesson. How could have I known back then that I would have to find the meaning of this equation now!
I can definitely redefine a second, though. It is precisely as long as it took me to fall. Desperately! Or the instant a massive atomic detonation of hormones in my brains released lava of serotonin. That, in its turn, rendered me so stupid as to believe he was the god Adonis staring at me in the darn narrow aisle of the bus! Estoy perdida!
One second, that’s all it takes to go through all stages from flying to landing directly on a paralysed soul phase! There is no fight, only surrender.
My solid defence wall is shattered. I knew immediately that it would cost me a lot to walk out of this messy pile of shards and see the light of day again, but I could not help it!
The soul floats when one is in love. I feel like I’m drowning!
Oh, but people call it falling for a reason. I feel as if I fell from a treetop right on my head. Only that I survived the fall, and I was not in pain but in love! I don’t know which is worse!
I’m in the middle of my six-month contract. Why do I need to go through all the trouble of falling now when I know he will get off the ship at the end of the cruise and I’ll stay behind to lick my wounds for three endless months?
We spend the entire duration of the short transfer getting acquainted. Ignacio introduces his sister, Lupe, the gorgeous Mexican whom Kostas is ogling shamelessly.
Back on the pier, we walk to the ship together. I make sure to tell him where to find me on this enormous boat. I am working in a beautiful double-decked glass conservatory for the duration of this contract, which serves as the flower shop on board.
I go straight to my cabin and spend the afternoon in a comatose state of prostration, allowing my paralysed soul to sulk all it needs. I wish I could stay like this longer, but I have to open the flower shop at five as the ship sails, so I get ready for work.
I drag myself up to deck twelve, stop by the conservatory and lean on the handrail to watch the ship departing. I am not the only one up here; many passengers and some crew members among them enjoy the moment.
The salty breeze is messing with my hair, limiting my peripheral view.
As my senses are already paralysed, I fail to notice his presence. The first thing I feel is the electric bolt blazing through my veins. Then, I see his hand placed on mine that’s resting on the polished wooden rail. His body follows, and our sides glue together, all the effects of my earlier cold shower gone in an instant. The second redefined!
I am wearing my uniform; he is a passenger. Crew member-passenger closeness is not allowed on board, as per my work contract. I so ignore the bloody rule and don’t give a damn that other officers walk by throwing questioning looks!
The world behind me ceases to exist. A metallic handrail it’s the only thing that separates me from the blue void.
I look Ignacio in the eyes and say that it didn’t take him long to find me. He complains that I am late! He had come straight up here only to see that the flower shop would open in two hours! He was sure he would find me here waiting for him!
Bloody hell! This cruise ends in ten days, and I’ve already wasted two hours! I say that out loud. He’s rolling with laughter, and a sense of peace replaces my inner tumult.
It suddenly feels as if I had known him for a considerable time. He says out loud the same thing, and it is my turn to guffaw. Then, we launch in a dialogue that will not stop for ten days straight.
I find out that he is five years my junior, lives in Leon, Mexico and is cruising with his extended family (mother, father, sister plus uncle and aunt and their teenage children).
He asks me how come I speak such good Spanish. I answer I do because I studied it methodically for two entire weeks. A silence follows, then he says that it sounds like something I would do.
He is freshly out of college on studying physics at a university in the USA. I tell him that it sounds like something he would do—a young man with a clear purpose. Someone straightforward to talk to. And boy, do we talk!
He tells me that he tried to have a half-decent conversation with lots of girls, fellow cruisers during the first three days of the cruise. But the incessant chattering about the incredible baloney world they lived in got him bored and depressed in less than five minutes of acquaintance.
He then tells me he is glad that I was on that shuttle bus and asks me why I didn’t turn to talk to him. Wasn’t that locked gaze enough impulse?
I explain that the gorgeous Mexican who claimed the seat next to him threw cold water over my intention. He roars with laughter. He is so going to tell this to his teenage sister!
Three hours later, my hand is still covered by his, and I realise that I never opened the flower shop! And that we were the last people on deck twelve, lost in conversation and enveloped in the crimson canvas of the light-giving star implacably drowning in the Mediterranean.
He says that he should find his family; they must be wondering if he made it back on board before the ship sailed away. He is joking, his sister knows for a fact that he is back. They are on the second dining seating; the family is probably walking to the restaurant as we speak.
I suggest we meet later to grab a pizza at the buffet on deck eleven, which is open late evenings as an alternative for those passengers who don’t want to eat in the dining room. And for officers, such as myself, who are allowed to walk and use the public areas. Another of the onboard rules. Of a thousand crew members, only about two hundred have this privilege.
My hand freezes the second his palm left it in the intensifying breeze of the evening. The curse of one second is following me! I nearly asked him to cover my hand again—the loss stings.
I chastise myself mentally: when he’s out of this ship at the end of the cruise, that will be a loss! You’re playing with fire! And my wicked alter ego smirks devilishly in my hardly conscious mind: I am! Why else would he be ignis?
It is getting dark and considerably cooler as I walk to the buffet, one floor below the flower shop, at the other end of the ship. Ignacio would take longer to get down to the restaurant on deck five and back upstairs.
There’s a short line at the buffet, people pushing their trays in light conversation. Absentmindedly, I pick a plastic platter and ask for my regular four-cheese when a soft voice from behind asks the attendant to make that two.
‘What the hell? Are you teleporting yourself around this ship?’ No, his sister was coming up to where she knew he was and they met halfway, sparing him the rest of the distance and an explanation to the family.
Time travel, time’s non-linearity, the Earth’s electromagnetic field or the gravitational effect on light waves plus which pizza base is better are just as many exciting topics the bookworm and the intended physicist will debate while munching on our pizzas.
It is almost midnight when we walk out of the now deserted buffet with the promise to meet tomorrow evening again.
The ship will dock in Egypt in the morning, and I had already applied to escort one of the shore excursions to the Pyramids. He will also be gone for the day with his family on a different tour to Cairo. We might cross paths in the Sahara but will meet back on the ship in the evening.
Before I ask him to look for me at the flower shop, he says he’ll be there ahead of the opening time, waiting. And asks me not to make it a two-hour wait again!
The next ten days pass in a haze. We spend together every moment I don’t work, and he is not on tours. On formal nights, dressed up to the nines, we go to the theatre to see the production shows with his extended family. I get to meet them all; cool people enjoying their time onboard and ostensibly content to see Ignacio happy in my presence.
His father gives me a more attentive look than the women who are warm and chatty. He doesn’t say anything, though. They’re all laid-back. I work on the ship; they are cruising. I get close with one of them and lovely Lupe, who tries her best to leave us be – happy days!
Happy indeed! I push aside the thought that this will be over soon and enjoy the moment. Carpe diem!
My friends onboard complain that I don’t show up in the crew bar anymore. Those who work in public areas see me in his presence all the time. I introduce Ignacio to some of them. Kostas stops by every time we meet in open lounges and joins us for a drink and chat, especially when Lupe is around!
Ignacio ignores any other girl who tries to attract his attention, and man, there are stacks of them!
The two of us are a constant presence together. Given the semi-regimental regime onboard, I try to stick to the rules, if only for the sake of keeping a job I like.
I report to the hotel manager directly; I introduce Ignacio and his family to him before he has a reason (aka ‘onboard gossip’) to call me to his office for explanations, so I’m safe.
That means the fire that ignited between us will burn to ashes in the most platonic way possible between two adults attracted to one another the way the two of us are. It’s another thing we talk about. That’s all we do, talk about everything. It does not change what I feel, and I see that it applies to him, too. It is not easy to accept the situation, but we know better than to ruin it.
Days feel like months when so intense and filled with pleasant moments. I get to know so many things about him, about the things that interest him. He’s also asking me lots about my upbringing, culture, interests or life on cruise ships. He even wants to know how long it will take to replace him with a more feasible man when this cruise is over!
Big or small, deeply metaphysical or mundane, no subject bores us, and we’re never short of ideas to discuss.
We talk about how the ants walk following precise mathematical patterns and the Fibonacci sequence. The next minute the conversation naturally veers to old civilisations of Europe and how we feel strangely familiar in some places we’ve never been before, but we know from a different existence.
I am a history and philosophy lover, albeit none were my university subject. He loves science. But we are both infected by the same bug: curiosity.
Time flies quicker when you’re enjoying yourself so much. The unavoidable last day of the cruise arrives too soon.
Work gets busier for me as I have to prepare and email the end of cruise report and send a stock order. Ignacio goes on one last tour with his family.
We meet again in the evening. It’s the last formal night of the fortnight cruise, so we’re dressed to impress again. The thing is, he could wear a hemp sack and still look like a god! I don’t give a damn about appearance but do I get a little vain for the night.
We choose to see a movie after dinner, so we head to the cinema on deck three. Ten minutes into the film we get so bored we decided to ditch it and go to the club instead.
The club is already packed with the youngest demographic of this particular cruise. A few male officers in white uniforms and female colleagues in sparkly evening dresses are dancing or sipping from a glass, with no worries in the world.
We do the same for a while, but we’re quieter than usual. Not because we can’t find something to talk about but because we know this is it!
The music is banging loudly, and the strobe is blinding us. Before midnight, we decide to go out on the open deck for a little serenity.
We promise to keep in touch. We’d already exchanged emails and phone numbers. We rewind the past ten days, from the second we met on the shuttle bus until now, wondered by the staggering amount of memories we’ve created in such a short time.
In truth, any relationship onboard goes at a different pace than one on land. It’s way more intense. It is also a lot harder to say goodbye.
Even his family get emotional when we meet later. Lupe hands me a crumpled piece of paper with her contact details scribbled down. We hug and promise to stay in touch. And hope to meet again.
I leave them all in a bar and escape before it gets too hard to breathe. Back in my cabin, I throw the heels and the glad rags in a messy heap to the floor and drop half dead in the shower, crouching under the relentless splash. Cold drops and hot tears become one, for a long time. Down the drain goes my will to live!
Later, the phone rings. It’s Ignacio. He wants to give me something.
I am not allowed to walk in public areas in civilian clothes, and the passengers are not allowed in crew areas, so we meet midway, on the staircase that separates the two worlds.
He brought me something. I don’t have a gift to offer, so I hug him. He hugs me back. Really tight! I bury my face in his curls, he buries his nose in my neck, and that’s the closest we’ve got this entire time physically.
I can’t let go! Streams of lead are coursing through my veins instead of the electric bolts of fire ten days ago. Grey, cumbersome and poisonous reminiscent of how life felt in that moment!
That it took me the rest of my contract on board the Millennium to get over him is an understatement! I was so severely stricken that I probably never fully recovered from this fall.
He started his university studies. I got a couple of months break before re-joining life on board for yet another six-month contract. Months and years passed. Somehow along the way, the emails became sparse, and we lost contact.
Diligent ants defined by the Golden Ratio continue to walk with mathematical precision. Half a world apart, I’m happy, and I hope so is he. And most likely the sun shines over Limassol with the same intensity it did the day we met. With any luck, it will bring together many other people that are meant to meet. Fate must have a plan to lure the oblivious ones under the bright, languid and hope-giving light of Limassol’s sun.
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