Web Design by

Tammy Campbell

of El Paso Texas

8. London Calling

We were escorted to a waiting shuttle and arrived at the Queens Hotel in London checked into and were escorted to our rooms with only a few of our personal effects as our luggage remained in our cars waiting to be offloaded from the train and driven to our hotel sometime later in the evening.


We freshened up and arrived at of course the bar for a drink while waiting for our table in yet another dark room though this one  darker than most. Our meals arrived as father was summoned to the valet to take possession of our vehicles and distributed our room keys to the bellmen and pointed to this bag and that to be loaded on this luggage caddy or that cart. He tipped the bellman supervisor and the valet with instructions where to park our Range Rovers. I joined him while he was waving his arms this way and that way imploring him to return to our table as his food was going to get cold. He looked at me and said: “Why isn’t your mother here?” and then playfully put his arm around my head and rubbed my hair with his knuckles and said: “you’ve arrived my child as you have received your first nouggie!” And with that my father and I returned to our table with his re-heated dinner arriving shortly thereafter.


I prodded my father: “What do you mean I have arrived after rubbing my head so hard I though my hair would fall out and by the way it still hurts.” He replied: “I saw it on Saturday Night Live from a show taped many years ago.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and said: “What! You’ve been watching video tapes of comedy shows from America while we lived in Syria?” He replied: “Can you count?” I said: “Yes of course I can count.” He made the sign of the Cross while looking up to heaven and then pointed to the sky like American Athletes do when they score a goal in soccer, hit a home run in baseball or score a touchdown in football and said: “thank you lord, there’s hope for her yet.” Then he said: “So how many people are at this table?” and I replied: “Five!” He replied in Spanish: “Bueno” and said: “do you know why there aren’t more people here tonight?”


I replied in confounded perplexity: “What are you talking about?” He started to laugh and said: “Do you know where babies come from?” Even in the blackness of the room where we were seated I felt myself turning fifty shades of embarrassment but persisted and said: “Of course, I know where babies come from” to which he said: “Well after three children your mother and I decided to stop practicing Vatican Roulette and put a television in our room instead and watch video on Saturday nights in lieu of you know doing it. It’s turned into a very effective form of birth control. Didn’t you notice that our English skills have improved so dramatically over the last few years?”


I couldn’t leave the table soon enough. My own Father had conveyed that unspoken reality that we really didn’t come from the stork but that my own parents engaged in sexual intercourse. No child should ever be subjected to such an in your face reality especially while in transit through a foreign country with no place to hide except a dank hotel room on a rainy English night. But what really made me angry is that my Father was totally immersed in western culture watching American television on video tapes and later on CD in the privacy of our own home smuggled there under the penalty of detention, possible torture and even death within the Police State of Syria and never bothered to share the same with me.


My Father had my dinner sent to my room. We had traveled all day and had exhausted our now dwindling supply of junk food I was most appreciative of the sandwich, chunky fries and large Coca Cola.


I was awakened early in the morning before dawn by the front desk and then while still seated upright in bed by my mother who said in Arabic: “set your stuff outside the door for the bellmen and meet us out front in ten.” This was no problem for me as I had never bothered to unpack so I washed my face, brushed my teeth and hair and pulled on some faded blue jeans and my new London T-Shirt purchased in the hotel gift shop.


To complete my look and add some warmth I put one arm then the other through my black leather vest placed my feet in my new blue fleece lined moccasins purchased for me by my father from the Texans in Paris.


I loaded my baggage neatly on the cart left outside my door, grabbed my purse and binoculars and headed towards the elevator. As it opened the bellman appeared and I pointed to my stuff and tipped him in pounds from the change I received from the gift shop who had graciously converted some of my Euros into Sterling so I could keep some coinage and paper money from each of the countries outside and within the Euro Zone for my scrap book and diary from this unbelievable summer.


I arrived outside where our Rovers were now idling under the hotel canopy. I climbed in the back seat of the second car. My father rapped on the window with his keys and made a steering wheel motion with both hands and said: “No my daughter you’re driving.” I climbed out of the back seat into the damp early morning fog and slowly walked to the driver’s side of the now warmed up cab. I checked my phone for the time and it said 4:00AM. I thought to myself what the heck; no wonder I’m so tired.


Just then our luggage arrived and was inspected by my father and then loaded by the bellman through the open rear doors now fully extended skyward as my mother walked up with a three pack of coffee’s to go. I thanked her and climbed into the driver’s seat checking all instrumentation and mirrors as if a pilot. I set the satellite radio on scan and almost immediately flagged a local London Classic Rock Station. I looked over at my brothers each still wearing their pajamas and sleeping comfortably on pillows underneath carefully placed blankets in the back seat and turned the stereo volume down a touch as I eased out onto the street and followed my father down some one way sides streets and then onto the wrong side of the road ever so briefly as we entered the highway heading east due south.


We exited the highway with little traffic so early this morning and then entered a restricted area where after my father produced the necessary paperwork at the check point we were waved through and proceeded to follow my father to the edge of the asphalt now a path and roadway constructed of wood planks and emerging from the fog on our right side I realized we were driving adjacent to a huge ship that appeared to be like ten stories tall.


We gathered up our carry-on luggage and gathered at a ramp near the middle of the ship.


We walked up the plank extending from the cargo hold and of course I was assigned the job too clear both of our cars of all of our personal effects with about seven additional return trips from the cars to the waiting cargo elevator destined for somewhere near the top of the ship of course. I piled all of our stuff into the elevator and rode up to the preset deck. The door opened to an immaculate hallway adorned with recessed lighting and live plants everywhere.


I pushed the halt button on the elevator and pulled my first load onto a confiscated desert cart and wheeled it all the way to the front of the ship where I was handed a card key by an Officer in a Naval Uniform. My Father was chatting with the officer and upon my arrival instructed the boys to the left and me to the right and my mother straight ahead.

 I dropped my stuff in my new room now assisted by several other Navy Men who placed my bags in a neat row and hung my clothes in the closet. I attempted to tip them but they politely refused and left as quickly as they arrived. They proceeded to retrieve the rest of our luggage and personal effects from the elevator and offered the same move in courtesies to my parents and brothers.


I walked into the hallway and pushed the door open to my parent’s suite and couldn’t believe that the entire front wall was glass and though we couldn’t see anything due to the still opaque fog now at sunrise; I have never seen anything like this in my life as their front suite window was at least 20 feet tall. My brothers joined us and shortly thereafter my mother and father arrived with a large carafe of orange juice, assorted rolls and pastries and a coke for me! We prayed then ate breakfast and chit chatted for a while with all of us except my father remaining in awe about our latest adventure. A Giant Cruise Ship with destination still unknown really?


Just then a series of alarms rang out and then a voice could be heard through the intercom speakers up and down the hallway saying this is your Captain please prepare for departure and then we could hear through the open channel each department checking in with the deck stating that the ship was soon to be untethered from the dock

followed by the engine room then the medical team then the bridge and then a series of sharp blast from a horn and with that our whole family climbed some stairs where we were escorted outside to the sun deck to watch our first boat ride departing from the dock where we looked down where our now missing cars were parked and the dock that that soon disappeared into the foggy morning as the ship slowly pulled away from the port and began to sound an intermittent fog horn.


Apparently we were in a slightly inland port but heading out to the English Channel and the same body of water that we drove under yesterday. I hugged my father and said: “Where are the rest of the passengers?” He said: “You’re looking at them, oh there are a few more people rooming down the hall from us but this is it” I said: “Father should we thank God for bringing us all the way here from Syria?” He looked at me and said: “That’s a great idea! Everyone turn around and face England and extend your right arm; Gabrielle, your other right.” Then we prayed a prayer of Thanksgiving for safe travel and enjoyed a group hug as we made our way into the open sea on this majestic ship.


My mother was still hungry and ordered lunch and we ate on the deck this brisk English  July morning as our family by the Grace of Almighty God remaining intact and now moving away from Europe; a continent I only dreamed of visiting as a child and now was probably leaving behind after a whirlwind tour of a handful of countries.


Fatigue from the seemingly non stop starts and on our trip with no discernible destination and no place to call home in the meantime finally caught up with me and I excused myself to return to my cabin to shower, shave my legs and under my arms and collapse on my bed for a long nap as I knew that upon sailing out to the open sea and heading west and south that we weren’t heading like the Vikings to Iceland but to either North or South America.


I must have slept for most of the day and I awoke to my phone and my mother instructing me to meet in the main room in half an hour with instructions about which floor to arrive via the elevator and then directing me to walk through the casino and turn left just past the showroom as we were going to join the Captain for dinner this evening and finally she said: “dress nicely” before hanging up.


I thought to myself what is she talking about? I’ve been living out of suitcases for months how do I dress nicely? Oh; the leather ensemble my parents {father} bought for me in Istanbul! Yes, that’s it; leather wears like iron without needing one.


I rode the elevator down and as the door opened I walked through the empty casino.  I felt a cool breeze blow forth from behind me and I felt a tingling spooky feeling which became even more acute as I walked past the showroom. I wanted to investigate by looking into the orchestra pit but dared not as I feared being even later on this obviously special occasion and not to disappoint my parents by arriving later than I already was by  wading through some unknown spiritual energy. I surmised that my new invisible friend would probably remain onboard for the duration of the trip so we had at least another chance or two to become acquainted.


I reached for the crucifix around my neck and felt instantly calm knowing that Jesus confronted the seven demons torturing Mary Magdalene and expelled them after demanding their names and then commanding them by name in exorcising them from her. Thereafter Mary Magdalene remained a devoted follower of Jesus for the rest of his life not abandoning him at the cross like her male counterparts and she was selected by Our Father in Heaven to be the first to converse with Christ on Resurrection Sunday. [42]


I pushed through the dining room doors where my family was seated at table in the center of an elegant spacious hall of at least one hundred tables each adorned with white linen cloths and full table service. Several men in uniform were enjoying a laugh served up by my father and his self-deprecating wit with his joke as he played the bit of Rodney Dangerfield by tugging at his nonexistent tie and said: “My wife and I were happy for twenty years and then we met.” As I approached the officers stood up and introduced themselves to me with the last one being the Captain who referred to himself as John Paul.


One of his crew interrupted: “Sir aren’t you forgetting the Jones, you know John Paul Jones.” He looked directly into my eyes and replied for all to hear. “I get that a lot and although it’s my Christian name I prefer the similarity to the Holy Father more than an American Revolutionary and my alleged distant relative two centuries prior.”


I was instantly smitten and replied: “Well at least you have the best of both worlds as your namesake engaged in his fight for freedom on water which in our dreams represents spirituality and being drawn closer to God and of course the Holy Father represents the Vicar of Christ who walked on water. So I know that I can rest assured that we are in good capable hands on this voyage to where I know not” as I eyeballed my Father.


The Captain invited me to sit next to him and asked in earnest: “You don’t know our next port of call?” I replied:  “No” and then before the Captain could inform me my father interrupted and said:  “Well my precious Daughter; ask the question!” I realized that this was a set up but decided to play along since everyone was in such a jovial mood and I could sense that my father had been waiting for this moment since my birth.