A poet – I look for them when we’re in port – once told me, “I see a malaise on your soul, little warrior.” But I’m only a cabin-boy, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m not young enough anymore to be called by childish names. Still, malaise is a beautiful, difficult word. It sounds like something the captain or our doctor would use, but the sense of it is clear enough: sometimes, when I’m running a message, or scrubbing the deck, or tidying a cabin, I know I’m doing these things only because I have to. There is no want in me to do them, to sing and joke in the mess, to talk with others at our bunks before sleep.
I watch the doctor: he moves from action to action as if a fire burns within him. I know that’s something I’m missing; no fire burns inside of me. I think that’s what the poet meant: everything the doctor does he does as though a life depends on it, and no lives depend on me.
Our ship’s lone guest sometimes reminds me of the poet, the doctor’s fire, and myself.
He sits at the bow with his walking stick and a white mask he always wears. Sometimes the captain is with him, but the masked man doesn’t speak much, and the captain has been standing with him less and less.
Our guest also doesn’t speak to me, but he lets me sit beside him. I think that, like me, there is no fire in him, no heat. It’s not the here and now – not the ship or its people – that call to him: he watches, always watches, outward, towards the sea.
He watches the blue of the horizon.