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The Ferry Ride.
Two Strangers, who had met only hours before, travel on a ferry—Russia 1885.
“Sergey,” Kristina whispered as the two of us stood under the solitary streetlight in the heavily falling rain. Why are you whispering? I thought. It was half eleven, and we were alone; who are we disturbing? I turned to face Kristina and, in doing so, stepped on a twig; ‘Whoosh, as the twig snapped, a great owl alighted from its post on top of the streetlight and fled to a safer perch. Kristina screamed and clutched onto me. Her warm, sweet breath caressing my face, her grip on my arm set my pulse beating. “Oh, I got such a fright,” she exclaimed. “What was that?” “It was an owl, sitting on top of the lamp. I saw it when we arrived.” I explained.
“I was going to ask you if the ferry will be in time to get us across the river. I shouldn’t like to arrive late for mass.” She stated appealingly. In response, I looked over the landing ramp across the inky black river. The moon was dancing among the clouds, shedding stages of its beams on the river, revealing white top waves whipped up by the wind. “I see a little lantern swaying above the river; that would be the ferry making its way across,” I responded slowly. “What’s that squeaking sound I can hear, Sergey? Her voice was shaky as she looked around nervously. “That’s the pulley cable swaying against the anchor beam.”
“What? Could you explain that in laywoman’s terms, please?” There was a twist of humor in Kristina’s voice. “Of course, forgive me. Do you see that cable attached to the pole up there?” “Yesss, I think so.” “that cable goes over the river, and it is attached to a similar beam on the far bank. There is a three-wheel slide suspended on the cable. Linked to these is a rope dropping down onto the ferry. The ferryman pulls this rope, and the ferry board moves forward.
Despite the feel of cold rain on our faces and wind whistling in our ears, it seemed Kristina was gaining some zeal. “What is a ferry board?” “It’s the part that floats on the water, like a raft. “We are going to travel on a raft?” Kristina was shocked. “It’s alright, Kristina; It does have rails on the sides and a bench to sit on.” “Oh, if only I had known, I wouldn’t have asked you to take me to this Christmas Mass.
Water splashing against its side, the ferry loomed onto the ramp from the dark river, the little lantern swaying in the wind. Kristina didn’t need to comment on the elderly, wheezing, and bent over Ferry-man. Terror flashing on her face said it all.
His breath gathered, the Ferry-Man began, with well-spaced strides, pulling the rope. On shaky legs, trying to accustom myself to the rocking of the ferry, I offered to assist the man. His words were lost as he grunted into the howling wind and spray. I sat down, and Kristina gripped my arm. “I’m afraid.” she was shouting above the wind; I looked into her face, my eyes burning from the rain. “Oh Sergey, I’m going to be sick, hand over her mouth and leaning over the rail, a foul-smelling fountain spewed from her mouth. She clung to the rails while I held her around the waist. She continued retching for a few minutes with nothing emitting from her mouth. Face as white as a sheet, she looked at me: “Sergey, I need some water; all I can taste is bile.” “Kristina, we’ll dock in a few minutes. I’ll find water for you.”
Strains of an organ filled the night as gratefully I found a handpump. “Come, Kristina, drink,” she eagerly slurped the water from her hands. “Thank you, Sergeys. I feel better now.” As we entered the church, a warm, strong waft of teak wood and incense blew into my nostrils, a pleasant change from the bitter cold rainy night outside.
Settling into a tight space in the pew, a sudden boom from the organ and the choir with high-pitched voices jarred us as they began, “Asperges me Domine…” “What language is that, Kristina?” I leaned toward her. “It’s a Gregorian chant in Latin. A psalm of King David, “Cleanse me o’ Lord…” “Oh, interesting.” Once the service ended, people began celebrating and thoroughly enjoying their Christmas feast.
At the insistence of the Ferry-Man, we returned to the ferry. Clouds had cleared, the wind dropped, and a full moon proudly shone down on us from a cobalt sky. Kristina’s hand slid into mine as we sat, our bodies touching. Overwhelmed by a deep longing in me, I turned and kissed Kristina on her cheek. Her eyes glistening with tears as she whispered, “Thank you for coming with me, Sergey.” Edging slowly towards each other, we kissed on the lips. Deep and long.
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