Going Public, or, Your First Day
‘Just a bit further,’ your father says to me, as we near the gangway. ‘Up you go.’
I feel like a large cow being herded into the sale ring. I’m jostled by strangers, impatient to get into the ferry and settled – into the cafe queue for a fish’n’chip lunch, to the bar for a pint, or out onto the top deck for a quick smoke. They all want to go faster than I can shuffle.
I clutch at his hand as I trip on the uneven surface, and a yelp escapes my tightly pressed lips. He’s there, his arm around me, holding me up; I lean on its support and make it up the last few steps into the ferry’s foyer.
‘Where do you want to sit?’ he asks me. For heaven’s sake, if ever I needed him to be decisive it’s now. I don’t care where – I won’t be sitting, for a start. I lurch, decisively, towards the observation lounge. Perhaps I can find a corner where I won’t be too obvious.
The walk to the back of the ferry seems endless, but at last I make it. There’s a whole section of couch seating free on the starboard side and I make for it. He’s behind me as I lean against the wall and stare out the window at the water beginning to slip past. He asks me something, but the sense of it is lost in the sudden blare of the safety announcement. I look round at him and he mouths a question. ‘Want a coffee?’ I shake my head and he sets off to get himself one.
The trip to the mainland is only forty minutes. I do it so often it’s almost like catching the bus to the supermarket. This time isn’t so different, really. It’ll be over in no time, and then it’s only a few minutes taxi ride to my destination. No time at all.
My feeble attempts to reassure myself are hijacked by a wave of dizziness and pain. My knees tremble and I clutch at the seat back as, bizarrely, a torrent of water deluges the cushions. The truth begins to dawn and I turn to see your father standing open-mouthed, clutching a mug of coffee and a packet of crisps as right here, right now, in front of everyone, you make your appearance.