Day by day more of my thoughts are lost to me. I’ve now lost count of the numbers of the days gone by but I am sure that it’s been more than a month since I woke up alone, with what felt like the mother of all hangovers.
Sue and I were on what was supposed to have been the cruise of a lifetime. I guess you could certainly say it lived up to this expectations in one respect.
We’d flown to Venice to board the ship, setting sail in the early evening as the sun went down over the backdrop of the city. It felt like the perfect start to our last holiday together. Three months before sure had been diagnosed ‘terminal’.
After ten days cruising round the Mediterranean we broke free of Europe through the straits of Gibraltar, and that was the last time we saw land.
Our last stop before setting out across the Atlantic was some small port on the Mediterranean in North Africa, a jumping off point to visit some new archaeological site.
According to the guide on board the site was exceptional for the skeletons found there which suggested a whole new pattern of evolution for mankind. Frankly I thought it was probably just some money spinning gimmick thought up by the local tourist board to drag some money into the country’s failing economy. The cruise company were just as keen to lighten our wallets providing what seemed to me to be quickly cobbled together tours.
As soon as Sue found out about the site she was keen to sign up for the tour. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with it. There was no way I was going to stop Sue going though.
On the morning of the tour we arrived in port and off Sue went. She teamed up with an old couple from Lancashire who were just as excited as she was by all the hype. We’d met them at dinner on the first night and shared a table with them since. They were seasoned travellers, and this was their fourth or fifth cruise if I remember correctly. Simon was a retired engineer, and a bit of a fusspot in my opinion. Maggie, a retired teacher was a bit of a wildcard, always up for fun and light as a feather on her feet around the dance-floor, although I hasten to add never with Simon.
As the ship Docked in the little port buses pulled up alongside for the special expedition. Saying goodbye for the day to Sue I kissed her on the cheek and chided Sion and Maggie to take care of her. They had no idea of our true situation, but had caught on enough to realise Sue was not as robust s she was keen to pretend.
The ship gradually emptied of almost all the passengers. It seemed this archaeological site was quite a draw. I elected to sit by the pool and read one of the books I had brought for the journey. Settling down on one of the sun-beds I whipped off my t-shirt and applied a high factor sun-cream, before lying back to enjoy the sun and a few hours with Stephen King. I’d grabbed his latest novel from the airport before we flew, and although I was only a few pages in I was gripped. There were a few others around the deck doing similar leisurely things.
After a leisurely lunch I returned to the cabin and took a customary siesta. I knew Sue and the others were due back at around half past five so had plenty of time to myself still. In no time I fell into a deep sleep only to be startled awake what felt like a short while later by Sue crashing into the cabin with her stories of the excursion. She was so hyped up on the experience that I had to grab her wrists to get her to sit down a moment to tell me about it more clearly.
According to Sue’s story of events when they got to the site Maggie refused point blank to get off the coach, telling all and sundry that she could feel a malevolent presence and that it wouldn’t be safe. Sue thought this amusing, especially as Maggie had been one of the ones that were the most keen to see the site.
The tour guide eventually persuaded Maggie to get off, but she wouldn’t join the tour. She simply sat in one of the small cafe-huts that had grown up around the site and waited all day for the tour to be over. Sue’s words were tumbling over themselves as she tried to recount the story of the tour around the site. I’d never seen her so excited, and yet all at once anxious, before. It was obvious she had had an exceptional day. At the time I felt thee was something different about her but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Hindsight being the incredible thing that it is allows me to put a whole different spin on her behaviour now.
Although dinner was a few hours away Sue insisted we get ready and stop off in the buffet restaurant first for a snack. She claimed that there had been no food available all day and that she was ravenous. I was so pleased to see her spirits soaring that I quickly complied and we took the stairs the five flights up to the buffet. Entering the restaurant it was clear Sue wasn’t the only one who had returned hungry from the day’s excursion. The place was really busy with other guests snacking before dinner. Having had lunch I declined Sue’s offer to get me a plate too, so was surprised when she came back with one of the dinner plates loaded with pizza and a variety of cold cuts. Since her diagnosis her appetite had dropped off considerably. It was a comfort to see her tucking in again, although a little disconcerting too. Looking round the restaurant I could see others with similarly laden plates. Being used to the incredible gluttony of some guests on the cruise I simply assumed that they too had missed out on lunch and were here to get their money’s worth now.
After Sue had had her fill and cleaned away the whole plateful of food we went down to the bar near the main dining hall. I had my usual pre-dinner martini whilst Sue went for an alcohol-free cocktail. This was another out of character action. She usually enjoyed a good drink but said at the time that having just eaten a good plateful she wasn’t in the mood for alcohol. She had indeed had a good plateful of food and I wasn’t sure she’d be ready for dinner when the time came, but as soon as the restaurant opened for the second sitting she was at the door and at our table long before anyone else. Simon was right behind her, with Maggie and I bringing up the rear.
Up until that evening Sue had only had the minimal two courses, but that night she dived straight in and chose an item from each of the seven courses, and even started in on the bread rolls before any of the dishes were served. Simon seemed equally hungry attacking the breadbasket along with Sue while we waited for the first dishes to be served. Maggie and I watched on in an amused silence. Strangely neither Sue nor Simon wanted wine that night and stuck to the water while Maggie and I shared a bottle of Rioja.
Looking back Sue’s behaviour, and that of Simon’s at dinner should have alerted me that something was amiss, but at the time I was so happy to see her full of energy and with an amazing appetite that I missed the signs. If only I’d known then what I know now, but then again what could I have done at the time?