The Excelsior was a marvelous machine. It was one of the biggest boats in the business and would carry passengers all over the globe. Each summer, the ship would do a completely different schedule: sometimes it would be sent to the Caribbean, some other times it would be sent to a very unique trip to Alaska or even Antarctica. Captain Jones had been at the helm since the ship had been operating and he never liked to be too far away from it. He was an older man now, with grown children and no wife so he could actually just live for his boat. Every morning he would do a tour of the ship, check every single section and even ask some of the passengers for suggestions, complains and any other issue they would like to communicate. He was always listening.
The latest trip of the Excelsior had been through the Pacific, linking the US with Hawaii and then on to Japan. It was a very long trip and everyone in the crew was happy the journey was over. They could all go back home and be with their families but Jones remained in Tokyo, very close to the place were the Excelsior was under maintenance. Even in those days, he would go to the harbor and look at the ship for at least an hour. It was as if the cruise ship was his baby and he needed to know where it was and how it was doing every single second of the day. He didn’t do much else in Tokyo. His children had encouraged him, over the phone, to visit as many places as he could and to try new kinds of food but every ounce of adventure Jones had in his body was only related to the sea.
When he was told that the ship’s maintenance would last more than scheduled, he got very worried and insisted on talking to the chief of the team that was doing the repairs. The man accepted to talk to him because he saw how much he cared about the ship and realized it was best if he knew. The boat’s engines had to be repaired as they appeared to be over strained by so many journeys. The hull also had to be reinforced due to the many voyages the ship had taken to cold waters were there was ice. The captain asked what he feared most: how long would it all take. The chief of the repairs told him that at least a year, if they were really fast.
The company then intervened and asked Jones to join other liners. He wouldn’t be captain in the next journey but they would try to find something for him to administrate as well as he had done with the Excelsior. But he was adamant that his job was to be a captain and that his ship was the one docked in Japan. They tried to convince him to take another ship but it was almost impossible. So the solution they found was to propose to him to take his vacations and come back when the ship was ready. Jones had not gone into a vacation for several years and being sixty-two years old, he knew there was not much more time to be a captain. So he accepted the vacations and demanded from the company to be notified about the Excelsior’s progress.
Once he realized he was free to do whatever he wanted, he realized he had no idea about being free from duty. He had always being such a dedicated person but only regarding his job. There was nothing else he actually did that well and he needed a distraction for at least a year. He tried to get a job in another cruise line company but apparently they all knew about the Excelsior and about his love for the ship. And they were right; he wasn’t going to be at the helm of any other liner until his ship was out of repairs. He even tried getting into fishing companies but it wasn’t the same.
He finally realized he had to take the vacation period seriously and decided to call one of his sons and ask him if he could stay with him for a couple of months. At first, his son was reluctant, telling him he had to ask his wife and children and that the house they lived in was too small. Jones knew for a fact that wasn’t true as his son was a lawyer for a large company and made tons of money, enough for a large house where his own father could spent a couple of months as he waited for his big baby to be ready. Some days later, his son called him back and told him he could come right away. Jones bought a ticket to Germany and went there immediately. During the plane trip to his son’s home, he realized he hadn’t ben in an airplane for several years.
His son Robert picked him up at the airport and did a nice job welcoming his father into his house. They had prepared fruit punch and the children were all hugs and questions about Jones’s trips around the world. That first night, they went to bed late because of him. The following days were not as nice as that evening as the children were at school, Robert in his office and his wife would come and go many times during the day, despite not having an actual job. For a time, Jones thought the women was having an affair but he soon realized the real thing happening was alcohol. The woman reeked of it.
The children’s interest started to decrease as their grandpa was seen more as an invader than as a nice guest. As he was always there, they were no longer interested in him. So Jones decided to take longs walks, at exactly the same time his son’s wife decide to take her alcohol fueled lunches with her girlfriends. He walked many kilometers in a day, checking out the stores in the way and the architecture. But he felt a little bit choked. He tried to sit down to get some air but that wasn’t it. After some more walks, he realized his body missed the ocean and its air. The city were his son lived was inland and there was not even a lake to go to. And the truth was that Jones felt alone everyday, as he had never felt before.
So he decided, after only one month, to call his daughter Julie that happened to live in Panama as an artist. That country was surrounded by water and there was the canal where he could see large ships, something he loved. He had being then in his journeys many times but he had never touched the land. So he announced his decision and told the family he would leave them in a couple of days. They didn’t say much but it was obvious they were not very sad about his departure. They didn’t even take him to the airport and it was then when he realized he had never been close to his son. It wasn’t because of him that he was who he was. But that was ok. Jones didn’t want to ruin the last years of his life only to be liked as if he was a twelve year old. He just packed and moved on to the next adventure, as he always did.
When he got to Panama, his daughter greeted him with a nice dinner and lots of kisses and laughs. She had always been a cheerful girl and had always been close to him, being the only one that called him at all during his journeys. It wasn’t something often but he loved when she did. She had married a photographer but then divorced him because he cheated on her so much. During dinner, he told her father that she had found out about so many women and some men that it had become unbearable. So she divorced and decided to pursue her passion of sculpting and she was doing very well for herself, doing works for many prestigious clients are the world.
Jones stayed there for about four months. He loved the weather, which was very humid and very hot. He loved to walk around even if the city wasn’t made for it and, mostly, he loved to see the boats making line to enter the canal. His favorite thing was to go to one of the locks of the canal and check out every single boat that passed through. That easily became his favorite pastime and the people that worked there grow accustomed to his presence. He just wanted to be in a boat soon and the next best thing was to be there, watching every single one of them that passed through the country. It was kind of sad but he knew he had to be patient and just wait for the time he would be able to go back to Japan.
One day, he thought about visiting his third child. His son Marco lived in New York and they hadn’t talked in several years. That was because his son had left home after high school due to Jones’s stubbornness. But it was right then when the company called and they told Jones the Excelsior was much worse than they had anticipated. The ship had not being properly repaired in the past and now it was beyond anything they could do. They would only lose money if they keep up the work so it had been decided it was going to be decommissioned. Jones was speechless and did not say a word for the next full day.
The following day he bought a ticket to Japan and told his daughter he was leaving to say goodbye to his ship but then they got into a fight because Julie thought the best thing to do was for him to go to New York and make amends with Marco. But his father was, once again, stubborn and putting his job first, as he had always did. She decided to let him do what he wanted and took him to the airport where they bid farewell. Jones thought about his daughter’s remarks but his life, and he was honest about this, had never been his family but that damn ship. That was the awful truth.