What lies ahead at the other side of this trip across the sea? Who knows when the horizon remains invisible and your senses have been paralyzed.
I pass the rows of fishing rods leaning relaxed against the rails; their tips idly threatening to pierce the clouds. The morning stretches out before me and along the edges of the sky. After buying a token back to Tsim Sha Tsui I drop it into the slot and pass through the turnstile. Walking into the terminal I stop short of joining the mass of waiting boarders. The gates open and I shuffle obediently onboard with no choice but to be carried along by the congregation. I find a seat towards the front by the window, pulling in my knees to allow a young woman to pass. She flashes me an evanescent smile before sitting down beside me. Her eyes are immediately drawn to the water, waiting beyond the glass. Her white dress is striped horizontally with bright colours of green, purple, red, yellow, blue. The ferry engine starts up and the sound of churning water and power dulls the senses of those on board. They sit back in their hard seats; some gazing, some talking, some lost in thought. All are connected however through their shared and undivided opinion; this time is no longer their own. They have offered up these few minutes to the ferryman, released control of their direction. Until they awake setting foot upon the opposite shore their purposes, each and every one, lie dormant. They have become in every sense a passenger.
I remain seated, patient in the knowledge that wanting to escape quickly is nothing like being able to.
I open my book and attempt to read. The gentle lurch of the boat somehow creeps into frame and I lose my place. As I try to find the last word I’m suddenly struck by how similar I am to the child I’d seen earlier that day. He’d walked along passing the fishing rods, their gossamer lines tickling the waves and all the while his eyes had been glued, unblinking, to his smartphone. Even when his mother had called his name he had only followed the sound; his eyes a separate entity concerned only with the drama playing out between his clicking fingers.
I make a note of my progress and let the pages fall shut. Turning my attention to the skyline outside of the carriage I find myself bearing witness to the most mundane and natural beauty. The failing light of the pink sun has crept over the bone-white towers of cloud above the bay and, like a rosy dye soaking into tissue, has bled along the edges of those soft monuments. The effect is short-lived. Short-lived but one person has seen it.
The ferry shudders uncomfortably, like a shiver in the cold as it bumps against the wall of the terminal. The gangplank is lowered and one by one the passengers silently shuffle off into wakefulness once more. I remain seated, patient in the knowledge that wanting to escape quickly is nothing like being able to. The young woman turns to face me and her blonde hair twirls about her head. Her face is drained of the vigour it had held upon our departure. Now worn and pitted, her expression is one of age and experience. Still the same smile plays about her lips as she slips past me and joins the throng exiting the ferry. My book feels unusually heavy as I stand and follow the woman across the gangplank. Time to wake up.
We had stayed on the island for as long as we could. The last call had rung out signalling the final chance for departure and we had taken it. Once the choice had been made there was no going back. Once the journey has begun it must end.
The boat has plunged us all into darkness. The roar of the engine and the crash of the waves combine themselves into something tangible; a thick mist of sound which swell around us. I lean out over the rail. The sea lies black beneath me, waves fluttering across it like a breeze across a thin veil. It feels as though we are suspended on a delicate membrane of some opaque material, underneath which exists only space and more space to fall through. The prow of the boat parts the surface like a great curtain. Peeled aside, the edges cling fast to the hull before falling open in the wake. Whatever secret lay behind them remains obscured by the churned, white froth.
I pull myself back inside away from the continuous assault of the wind. The horizon is altogether invisible. The boundless sky is simply black static filled with petrified stacks of coalsmoke cloud. Two oil tankers pass silently by, their silhouettes blacker than the night surrounding them.
A gust of wind steals into the cabin and buries itself in the bones of the passengers. She clutches at my arm; each of her fingertips trembling momentarily against my skin. The chill is something more than physical. Floating here, in between places it’s easy to forget what has been done and what there is yet to do. Like ink taken from the well but not put to paper, it’s only a matter of time before you continue to do as expected. In that brief moment it’s possible to think; to realise you haven’t been thinking at all.
Ahead, the city rises over the dark brink into view. At this distance, the lights of the streets and buildings blend indistinguishably. Reds, oranges, yellows and whites with no boundaries frame the dark landscape beneath. The city is on fire. A burning of life and purpose hung in the starless void around it. Soon, we will re-enter and burn ourselves once more. From this ink drop perspective it’s too easy to imagine the flames growing hotter and hotter; hot enough to burn us away to nothing.