It was pitch black in my cabin on the second deck, well below the water line on our tiny ship. I was sound asleep, when SUDDENLY THERE WAS POUNDING ON MY DOOR!
I clambered out of my bunk and looked through the peep hole. What time was it, anyway?
Naron's magnified head showed him looking around from side to side. "Open up!!" he pleaded, and the pounding resumed.
He was my next door neighbor, so at least I wasn't being woken up for a random drug test. Naron was the personal trainer on board, and a very handsome one at that. But all ship personal trainers are drop dead gorgeous, and I'm sure that's no accident. Those elderly cruising widows need incentive to visit the gym and spend their money on the programs. Naron knew he was the eye candy of the crew, and enjoyed all the female benefits that came with that -- so he didn't interest me much. Even though he might have been the shiniest tool in the shed...he certainly wasn't the sharpest -- and I suspected it wasn't just because of the language barrier. But during the few times we hung out, he was light hearted and fun to talk to.
"OPEN UP!" he repeated.
"Because I have to give you something!!"
Why now? Why bang down my door? He knew entertainment staff worked nights and slept late. Why wake me up?
I cracked the door. "Good mor--"
"Here," he shoved an old water bottle stealthily into my hands, while looking nervously around the corner in case he got caught.
The bottle rattled softly and I retreated just inside my door to flip on the light. Naron stood watch in the hall.
"Wha--??" my voice trailed off in wonder. The bottle had a slit down the side that stayed closed if you squeezed the ends together. He used that to slip inside a vivid lime green and black, large and very much alive, swallowtail butterfly! She flapped her wings in incessant frustration. She must've been exhausted.
"Where did you get this?" I asked in wonder.
"I caught it!" he declared proudly, in his thick Eastern European accent.
We were in Vietnam, where the butterflies were so elusive, they never let you get closer than ten feet before darting out of reach. Yet there were millions of them everywhere, in all colors and sizes, drifting about the breeze like an army of fairies. It was magical and made the Vietnamese jungles enchanting.
"It was on the crew deck last night, and I caught it!" he boasted.
And somehow found a water bottle, and cut it to make a container -- genius move, I thought.
"So you...kept it all night?" I asked.
"Ya! I knew I'd never be awake when you were done with the show, so I saved it for the morning!"
I was moderately stunned. That was a lot of effort to go through to hand me a butterfly, when dead ones were for sale in picture frames on the streets. I never would've guessed he had it in him.
"But how did you know I was trying to get a closer look at..."
"You told me, when we went to the beach!"
"Oh... Thank you!"
"I have to start my shift," he said, beginning to walk away.
"What should I do with it?!" I suddenly found myself illegally holding wildlife on an internationally seafaring vessel.
"Whatever you want, it's yours now," he said as he disappeared down the corridor.
Does this mean something...romantic? I wondered.
The butterfly was tiring from distress in captivity, and we had set sail from her home in Halong Bay several hours ago. She would need all the strength she had left to get back to land, and the longer I waited, the worse were her chances.
I climbed up to the crew sun deck with my phone to photograph and release her. Our vessel had already established a decent speed, which overwhelmed the butterfly as I untwisted the bottle to set her free. But that was her only chance of survival. Poor baby, her dilemma broke my heart.
Months passed. My ship went as far south as Christchurch, New Zealand, and turned back for another round in Southeast Asia. My lodging got upgraded to an officer cabin on Deck 3. I'd met and fallen for my concert pianist (read about him here). And now, at this particular time, we were docked in Phucket, Thailand, overnight, and the crew devoured all the tourism activities we could possibly squeeze in. We spent the day at a tiger sanctuary, ate dinner at an unbelievable Brazilian steakhouse (don't worry, we'd eaten our fill of Thai food in Bangkok), then went to see a Ping Pong Show. Not the greatest entertainment I've ever seen, but when in Rome...
Most taxi drivers were done for the night, and there were about 20 of us crew trying to get home after the Ping Pong experience. A shuttle van finally came to take us to the ship, and we decided to pile everyone inside even though there weren't enough seats, rather than risk leaving anyone behind.
I ended up in the back corner of the van, leaning against the window, smushed under our very own heartthrob, Naron. But everyone was smushed into everyone else, it simply couldn't be helped. It was like a human trafficking operation.
Naron was a bit toasty, and evidently enjoyed the cramped quarters with a group of mostly co-eds. He made room for my head under his shoulder, with his arm around my torso, in an almost protective way, and reveled in the status it gave him that no other crew ever got from me.
A dozen or so miles later, we were back at the gangway, unloading as we each handed the driver a wad of Thailand Baht.
I made a B-line for my cabin, eager to message my concert pianist, since in his time zone he'd just be waking up. I dashed into my hall, quietly closed the door, and pulled out my iPad.
"Good morning darling, how was your night out?" he texted.
"Interesting...but fun! We went to a Ping Pong Show..."
"Once seen, that can't be unseen."
And there was a knock on my door. Was I in trouble? Had I forgotten something? Was I loud? I tip-toed to the peep hole and saw Naron's profile.
Maybe I dropped something in the van... I pondered as I opened the door.
Naron pushed the door wide open as soon as it unlatched, took my face in his hands, and moved in for a passionate kiss as he backed me into my desk.
Before his mouth hit its mark, I exclaimed, "Woah, woah, WOAH!"
My hands pushed his chest away as I said, "You know I'm seeing the pianist, right?"
Naron's eyes opened wide, and he backed off in shock. I suspect most women don't turn down a surprise visit from him in the night, but I would've rather talked to my pianist than do anything with anyone else in the world. Naron removed his hands and sat down awkwardly in my chair. I perched tensely on the bed.
"Sorry," he began. "I guess I thought that..."
I squinted at him, not knowing what I could've done to lead him on. He switched gears.
"I'm tired of fake relationships," he started again. "Women getting involved with you, then backing out when they learn personal trainers don't make much money..."
My iPad dinged urgently with messages from my lover: "Darling, are you still there?"
"...or when they start thinking about having an international relationship, and realize they don't want to move to Hungary..."
"Sorry baby, you'll never believe what's happening..." I texted my man back slyly, while still paying attention to Naron.
"...I just wish women would start liking me for ME instead of just for being a hunky guy..."
"Is he still there!?" my pianist asked.
"...of course I like sex, but I need friendship with that too. And love, just like everybody else..."
"Yes! He's drunk and rambling on. I have to figure out how to get rid of him. Maybe the Ping Pong Show got him a little aroused?" I replied.
"...I didn't know you were committed..."
Yeah, uh huh, because that's always stopped sailors from hooking up before, I mused sarcastically.
"...but I can tell you are a different sort of girl who's not like that..."
"Did you invite him in?" my man pressed. I could tell he was wondering whether he should be upset.
Dammit Naron, if you jeopardize my chance for this relationship to succeed, all because you feel like barging in as if you have the right.... I was getting anxious.
"...but I'm so sorry, I never would've done this if I'd known you were still seeing that guy..."
"Hell no! He pushed his way in! I don't even know how he knows where my new cabin is!" I texted back.
"...is it serious?"
I stared at Naron blankly before I realized he'd asked a question.
"Uh...yeah. Pretty much. We plan for me to visit at the end of this contract. So we're taking it one day at a time," I answered. Committed or not, you don't just push yourself uninvited into someone's cabin all willy nilly... I fumed quietly.
"OK. Well best of luck to you. He's a lucky guy." Naron sighed.
He got up to leave. I gave him a brief and tense hug goodnight and sent the body builder on his way.
What the F***?? He has never made a move on me before, with the exception of catching that butterfly -- which was a pretty good move, honestly. But then nothing more from him, and then that whole banging all the casino chicks thing... What was that all about? Or was it really about nothing and he actually is dumb enough to think that'd get him laid?
"He's finally gone!" I messaged my love.
"Thank God. Sleep well darling, wish I was in bed with you. I'm going to hit the gym. Miss you heaps," he signed off.
"And I you, baby."
Naron and I remained friends. He treated me with a new level of respect after that incident, and he never tried to pull another move again.