I have always been so fascinated by the sea.
My home, in Scotland, overlooked Port Glasgow. 1841. I grew up with the salty scent of the ocean, the sounds of the gentle crashes of the waves and the beguiling bustling of each new ship’s crew as they offloaded and onloaded their cargo. I would watch from the window of my parent’s room, sitting and staring from dawn till dusk, soaking in the sun and the smell of fish from the small open gap of the window and I would hear the distant sound of sea shanties as they drifted far out to sea. As the years moved on it became a pattern of mine to sit at that window, studying the ships as they came to our shore. I patiently sat there until I could see the first ship dawn on the horizon, just peacefully sitting there like a small toy-like ship silhouetted by the sun. Before long it would grow bigger and bigger until docked at our shore the people pilling off its deck had become larger than the ship on the horizon. It towered with great magnitude and magnificence over the cowering houses; the masts so high it looked to someone as small as me, like it touched the skies. But too soon the ship, following its protocol, would be loaded up with new supplies and new passengers as the same Captain and crew would sail the boat away with ghostly elegance back onto the horizon.
It was wishful thinking to believe that one day I could be onboard one of those ships – vessels that travelled across oceans and seas on missions that would bring treasures to new lands. I had never been one to be routed to the ground, I naturally adapt to new surroundings. But it mattered not, as my parents never wanted me to get too close to the water, which you may think is odd having chosen to live beside Port Glasgow. Maybe it was just a parental care or maybe it was the fear of how powerful and uncertain the waters are, fear brought on by the shipwrecks and once joy-filled boats that now lay dormant at the bottom of the deep dark ocean that was printed on the front pages of the papers. No one is gripped by good news in the same way that they are with bad news, and I know that these images aided in bringing the fear to my parent’s about a dream I so badly wanted to achieve.
But maybe, just maybe… it was because this love for the ocean was unusual for someone like me, and both my parents knew that.
When I was old enough I decided to venture out. I spent hours, instead, at the docks watching the ships up close. The fish that swam beneath me, as I sat on the wall, splashed around aimlessly mocking me with their ability to travel far and wide within the boundaries of the ocean. Many a time I had been tempted by their smug grins to swoop down and snatch one up, but when I had tried I toppled myself nearly into the water and was saved the embarrassment when a fisherman had managed to grab me by the collar of my neck and pull me back up.
“You’ll need more than that laddie if you want to catch a fish!” He laughed patting me on the head and walked away humming to himself.
Up close the ships were much more impressive in size and strength. A strong smell of wood amalgamated with the salt and rust. When the ships were tied to the dock and the planks thumped down on the ground I’d wait, like an eager puppy at the bottom of the ship’s plank as it wobbled precariously under the weight of the crew and cargo. It wasn’t the safest place to perch myself as I would find myself under people’s feet and having nearly tripped someone up I was often shunted to the side after that. My regular appearances became noticeable to the locals who walked by and the locals who collected goods from the ships. I often received a “hello” from people who I didn’t always recognise, and several others would come over to sit and chat with me. I wouldn’t be surprised if to some extent many of these people were a little disconcerted with the amount of time I spent loitering around the docks rather than with my family or otherwise occupying my time with leisure activities or work. There was some truth to that. I was coming to that age where I couldn’t allow myself to waste so much time sitting at the edge of the water.
My love for the ocean was unusual for someone like me, and most of the locals knew that too.
I hinted to my parents over the next few days that I wanted out - to travel the seas - but each time the subject popped up over mealtimes I had my dinner shoved under my nose and the topic was brushed under the carpet. It became very clear very quickly that my parents weren’t going to cave in. So with my insightful knowledge of the port’s schedules I was going to take myself right to the bridge. When the ships docked and the crew were on shore I would sneak myself onboard the ship in the hopes that the crew would sail away without noticing my presence, find me halfway through their travels and have no choice but to put me to work. At least, that was the plan.
But it never happened. Ship after ship I was caught and tossed off by the scruff of my collar, “stowaway onboard!” followed most captures. Weren’t sailors supposed to be particularly superstitious? Here I was thinking I could bring these sailors a bit of luck, extra help on deck, use some of my innate abilities and passion for the sea. No. Without fail I was tossed onto the shore like a sack of bad fortune. With a monthly rotation I thought I had plenty of different captains to please before the ones I had originally tried to charm came back around.
It didn’t take long for word to spread and when word reached my parents I was grounded to the house and kept away from the docks. I decided to use the time I was confined to my home to hone my skills as a sailor, and I trained day and night – not that my parents knew what I was up to. As I sat, back at the window of my parent’s room, watching the ships in the distance sailing away until the end of the month when next they’d return with riches and stories, I told myself that soon enough, that was going to be me. I was prepared for their arrival.
My love for the ocean was unusual for someone like me, and even I knew that these dreams of travelling the seas were farfetched.
My grounding lifted, the ships returned, I sat back on the wall looking down at the fish. They no longer mocked me with their beady eyes but instead swam very close to the ocean floor. The silhouette of the ship poised on the horizon grew nearer and nearer and with it came the familiar smell of rusty, salty wood. It crashed waves up against the wall, ropes hurled off the deck as the mighty sky high ship docked once more. But I didn’t go up to this ship. Nor the next. Nor the one after that. The crew, heavy boxes and crates weighing them and the plank down, all they’d see me as was an inconvenience. I had grown a sixth sense to those type of people.
And then I saw him. A mighty man with a rusty beard, chest puffed out as he soaked in the air around him. He marched off his ship with a subtle bounce in his step, tilting his captain’s hat to people who passed by and stopped to chat to those who had purchased his goods. My heart lifted me up off the ground. He was the one. I had to and I knew if I didn’t I would miss my chance forever. I felt myself cantering along the path, one which had never before felt so long, the cold air for the first time was warm on my face. I stopped in front of him. He towered over me; his broad shadow did not intimidate me but rather felt comforting as he looked back down at me. His smile was followed by a small hearty chuckle and as I smiled back I didn’t have to say anything for him to understand what I wanted to say.
“Are you sure m’lad? The sea is no place to be taken lightly.” My insides purred with excitement.
I was never meant for the land. I was born for the sea, and I know deep down that both my parents knew that too and knew that one day they’d have to let me go. I have always been meant for more than where I came from.
I have been travelling the seas now for five years. I have an important role on my Captain’s ship. You see, when I amn’t busy with maintaining the food storage, I keep the ropes in check and, above all, I help with preventing diseases that come from the carriers of the plague, the creatures believed to be the vector of the black death.
I have always been so fascinated by the sea, which is unusual for someone like me.
For I am a ship’s cat.