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  • Writer's pictureLeon de Leeuw

The ship to Silistra

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

The ship was set to leave the port of Vidin at 8:45. On this misty day, it would take a lot longer to get to Silistra. They had to leave in a bit. Dimo lit a cigarette and looked at his shoes and jeans that were black from shovelling coal. He wasn’t a rich man and had no wish to be. Shovelling coal was all there was to do. Oddly satisfying. There was nothing much to life for Dimo. He was a quiet man and that’s what he enjoyed. “Quit standing there you useless whimp!” he heard from the other side of the ship. It was his father, Jane, whom he had crossed the Danube with for years on end. Ever from being a small boy, Dimo didn’t care much for making friends and instead loved to come with his father. All along the river they delivered freights. Even through the Second Balkan War, which had only just passed. It was a hectic period. Traumatic at times, but Dimo and his father had come to terms with it after some years. During the Siege of Vidin by the Serbians, in 1913, Dimo and Jane listened to the offshore radio, just to be updated on the latest news from their hometown. The father and his son had been through a lot together.

Jane yelled once more to command his son back down to the engine room. As soon as Dimo got into the room, sweat was dripping down his face. “Not a job for the faint of heart”, he thought. He started shovelling, and then some more. It would be just about ten more minutes until he’d be replaced by the next guy. The heat was just unbearable. Dimo had prepared a pot of tea, which was boiling at this point. He took it off the steaming engine and his replacement entered. He’d be suffering for the next fifteen minutes. What a workout. Dimo left the engine room and wiped the sweat off his face. He got to the bridge, where his father was steering the ship. They were moving in the direction of Lom. Dimo poured Jane some tea. It was piping hot. He put down the pot and they both enjoyed the view together. “Have you seen these damned rats on board, son?” “I have, father, I got bit in the toe by one just last week. I screamed like a little girl, it hurt so much! I was undressing in the shower room, picked up my towel from the floor and there it was. I had no time to even jump, it bit me right in the big toe. The little fucker!..” “You have my permission to take them all down, I don’t want these disease spreaders on board of my ship.” “I’ll take care of it, father..” said Dimo.

It was time to get back down to the engine room. Dimo took the pot of tea, entered the room and replaced his buddy. He put the pot back on the engine, put a cloth in front of his mouth face and started shovelling. He had developed a muscular body because of all the hard work. When he was on land, the ladies really did notice him. His broad shoulders and strong back that he could arch in all directions. He could lift up anyone after years of doing the same work. It was just his lungs that were suffering, because of all the coal dust in this little room. Dimo was coughing loudly nearly all day. At night he’d wake up short of breath. It was all that kept the ladies from spending the night with him. “Drink some juice or tea already, or just quit the smoking if you can’t handle it!” is what they would say. Dimo thought his lung problems came from working with coal but there was no way to stop anyhow. “Well get out you spoiled broad!” he’d scream at any woman even mentioning his persistent cough. He felt kind of proud of it, just like of the anchor tattooed on his arm. He had never crossed a sea or an ocean but still felt like a man destined to live on the water. It was just his lungs that hurt him. And his big toe because of the monstrous little rat. The lack of women sticking around didn’t seem to bother him.

There was just Karmen that he somehow felt attracted to. She worked on the ship as well. As a mechanic to be precise. Karmen was a woman with even bigger shoulders than himself. Still, he couldn’t help but look at her when she passed. She didn’t seem to be much into Dimo, maybe that was part of why he became even more attracted to her. Enough with the thoughts. Fifteen minutes had passed and his replacement came in. Dimo took the tea, went to the bridge and poured his father a cup. “What do you think of Karmen, dad?” “Do you think she’s an attractive lady?” “Yes, son, I do think she is. But she’d wipe the floor with you..” replied Jane. “That’s not what I’m asking, dad.” “Well then what are you saying? It’s about time you found a woman to spend some quality time with. God knows how long you’ve been sleeping with your stuffed animals. You haven’t even thrown them out today have you?” “I didn’t ask for your rude comments, dad.. If you want me to go out and meet someone, you telling me how screwed up my life is will not make it any better!” said Dimo. “You can do whatever you want. Make your move. Perhaps she likes you too. I doubt it. And I don’t want to see you sleeping around on my ship. This is where you work. I rather see you kill these rats downstairs, with your bare hands for all I care..” Dimo was angry with his father and took the pot back down to the engine room. They had stopped in Ruse to deliver some piles of wood. They’d be on the way to Silistra in just a few hours.

The engine was shut off and the crew had some time to smoke and relax. Dimo decided to get down into the ship. He took a shovel from the engine room and took away all dirty cloths and towels from the hallway near the bathroom. He saw a rat sprint away into the corner. It was fast but Dimo had a big shovel and smashed it over the head. The rat was dead immediately. He looked the rat in the eyes. “Was it you that bit my big toe you rat bastard?” He continued to move boxes and piles of clothes from the floor. One rat escaped, ran into a boiler room. Another one slammed onto the head by Dimo. He walked into the next room, a storage room for coal. The walls were all black. The place probably swarmed with rats. He didn’t see any, after all the place was pitch dark. There was just some light peeking through the wall. Dimo walked upto the wall but slipped on a piece of coal, smacking his jawbone on an old furnace standing in the corner of the room. A loud scream followed. “I’d be damned if this coal ends up killing me some day!” he hissed under his breath. Dimo checked if all his teeth were still in place. He stayed on his knees and could just peek through the hole in the wall. He looked closely and saw the broad shoulders of Karmen. She was undressing. Probably changing clothes and going into Ruse, maybe to the market or so.. Dimo couldn’t help but looking. The strong back, those hips, the arms.. She would probably knock his teeth out if she knew she was being stared at. Suddenly, a sharp pain went through Dimo’s leg. A loud scream. “By the grace of the dear lord, a rat! Again! The pain was so intense his whole body went numb. Dimo was screaming with no end, stood up and smacked the coals with his shovel.

“Need a light, buddy?” he heard a woman’s voice say from the door. The light went on. The silhouette of a big woman. It was Karmen. “Fooling around in here, you rat boy? Looking at me undressing I gather?” She picked up a piece of coal and threw it as hard as she could. It hit Dimo in the stomach. He gasped for air and went back down on his knees again. He nearly lost it. He was in so much pain. The rat and now the woman.. She got close, picked him up by the shoulders and he stood back upright. She kissed him right on the mouth. Dimo kissed her back. They embraced each other tightly. He looked behind Karmen’s shoulder and saw the rat, far behind a bag of coal. He didn’t think much of it, the bite didn’t hurt anymore.

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