Another gem from Alan Roberts, student of one of my creative writing classes. His last post here: http://bit.ly/20Gvbh6 where he battles with the self service supermarket check-out
We’d booked on MSC Lirica to cruise for almost a month from Dubai to Japan. We embarked the ship at Dubai port on 5th April and that afternoon set sail for India and the beautiful coast of Goa. That first day we explored the fairly large ship and spied a nice Café bar on Deck 6. The second day was spent sunning ourselves on the upper deck before deciding, in the late afternoon, to make for the Café area. The Indonesian man in charge of the bar we thought we recognised from a previous voyage with MSC and remarkably he appeared to recognise us. He waved and smiled a welcome before despatching a waiter to take our order. Betty ordered her usual latte whilst I, having weaned myself off cow’s milk some months previous, blithely ordered a soya milk hot chocolate. Order taken, cruise card proffered, we sat back to await delivery.
Several minutes elapsed whilst behind the café’s counter there appeared to be some debate taking place. Moments later the waiter and the Indonesian bar manager approached our seating area with the waiter holding only Betty’s cup of latte which he ceremoniously placed on its MSC inscribed coaster. The Indonesian manager became most apologetic saying that he could not provide my hot chocolate as none of the café bars were provided with soya milk. However, he had a possible remedy. He sat alongside, nicely patting my arm.
“They (I assumed he referred to the Catering Section management) do not supply the café’s with soya so,” he hesitated for a short moment, “if you go to the restaurant you can ask the Maître’d to give you a carton of soya and then bring it back and I will make you the hot chocolate you want.”
He nodded and smiled as he concluded his prepared speech. I rose and took the stairs down to deck 5 and made my way to the restaurant at the rear of the ship. Apart from two waiters who were preparing the evening dinner tables, the restaurant was empty. I asked one of the waiters if the Maître’d was about. He shook his head and simply said,
“Five o’clock,” before moving to another table.
I followed and asked, “May I speak with the Maître’d?”
He didn’t lift his head but merely said, once again, “Five o’clock”.
I tried vainly to explain why I was there but his grasp of the English language was even worse than mine of whatever his native tongue was. He just repeated,
“Five o’clock,” before moving further away.
As it was just after four I had no inclination to wait for the Maitre’d to arrive by which time Betty would have finished her latte, given up waiting for me and gone elsewhere.
I had a thought (always dangerous in such circumstances) to go to the buffet on deck 11 and ask there for a carton of soya; so off I set taking the lift to the upper deck area. One side of the buffet area was full of passengers having more than their fair share of the afternoon tea selection. The waiters were fully occupied and so I moved to the other side where just a few people were sat. I approached one of the waiters and explained why I was there and what I wanted. He looked blankly at me before walking off. I tried the second waiter, this time with a little more success. He said he was unable to give me a carton of soya but I should ask a supervisor who, he said, were the waiters who had sleeves on their white jackets and he pointed in the direction of a young Chinese girl. I thanked him and approached the supervisor. I carefully explained to her why I was there and what I wanted. She seemed to listen intently but then brusquely replied,
I took her response to indicate the buffet didn’t have soya and so asked where I might get soya milk.
“Here”, she almost shouted.
Somewhat confused, I carefully asked, “Might I have one to take to the café bar on deck 6?” She looked at me as though I had just walked through a garden of dog shit.
“No carton, only cup”, she almost wailed.
I then tried to explain that it would prove difficult to walk with a cup of soya from the buffet on deck 11, down either the lift or the stairs to reach the café on deck 6 without spilling some of the contents on my way. She frowned incomprehension. I tried to demonstrate walking with an imaginary cup full of soya milk and wobbling a bit and pretending some of it spilt onto the floor. She now looked at me as though I was completely mad. I asked again, very nicely I thought,
“Do you have cartons of soya there?” pointing into the buffet kitchen area. She nodded. I tried further, “Can I take one to the café bar on deck 6?”
Instantly her browed furrowed and now seemed to consider me completely thick. She barked,
“No carton, only cup”.
Having learnt over the years that when defeat stares you in the face you should give up gracefully and go along with whatever is being offered, so I said,
“May I have a cup of soya?”
“Hot?” she asked.
I nodded. She disappeared into the kitchen and a moment later reappeared behind the serving counter, leaned down and took a carton from what I assumed to be a fridge.
“Is that a carton of soya?” I gently asked.
“May I take that back to deck 6?”
“No, no carton, only cup I tol’ you”, said with an emphasis between each part of the sentence.
She poured the soya into an MSC mug, replaced the soya packet into the fridge and again disappeared into the kitchen. Within a moment she reappeared without the cup to ask,
Totally defeated, I meekly nodded and she disappeared back into the kitchen before re-emerging with a cup of hot soya chocolate which, with a very false smile, she slid across the counter.
“Thanks,” I mumbled and walked off to find deck 6. An hour had passed since I’d left Betty and there was a great deal of mirth as I walked towards the café bar with the steaming mug of soya chocolate and then related what had happened.
The cafe bars never did receive any soya milk and for the remainder of the cruise the Chinese supervisor was simply referred to as, “Only cup!”
© Alan A Roberts May 2016.