Chapter One: Bumper Boats
There’s a reason why people say they are “at sea” when they are lost or confused or don’t know what’s going on. It’s not because life on a boat is inherently baffling — although I felt that way often enough. It’s because being in the middle of the ocean, with nothing to look at but your own ship and the horizon, is like being in limbo. It’s neither here nor there, you have no frame of reference other than a GPS-generated blip on a screen. What was like before there was even that? How many ancient sailors had gone mad from the sheer unknowableness of their place in the world?
We were safe in the harbour of Pago Pago in American Samoa as I ruminated on these thoughts. I could see the town ashore, the lights of other boats at anchor. I knew where I was, literally at least. But I still felt at sea in many ways.
I’d been aboard the Byte Bucket for half of a nine-month term, minding the servers carefully housed in the hold of the ship that were run by my employer, Really Remote Desktop. They ran the boat and paid for the crew to sail it around the world, keeping the location of their clients’ data safe from the prying eyes of hackers, competitors and governments. It was a strange gig, one that my professors at university told me was a coup for a co-op student to be offered, so I’d taken the job against my own better judgment. Most of the time, my profs had been right.
Today, though, I wished I’d turned it down. I couldn’t stop thinking about my family back in Canada, preparing for my grandmother’s funeral without me. Not only was I not there, helping them, grieving with them, I hadn’t even known she’d died until days after it happened. I hadn’t known because I was out sailing, having fun on a boat in the tropics with my friends.
At least, that’s how it felt.
“It’s your job, Devi.” Everyone kept telling me this — my dad, my other crew members. Even Mat, the captain of the Bucket, who had agreed to stick around in Pago Pago longer than she’d planned so I could talk to my family on the phone, told me not to feel guilty.
“It’s part of the boat life,” she’d said. “Hell, missing one thing so you can do another thing is part of everyone’s life.” I knew she was right, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the joy I’d felt in finally literally learning the ropes as we’d gone out for a fun sail and the crew had helped me learn the basics of sailing. I wondered what I’d been doing when Grandma passed away. Had I been laughing?
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