It was the red shoes that did it for me, for my husband the overpowering waft of perfume. The whole cruise for us was to be governed by these two things. It would have been uneventful and enjoyable but for this one passenger
Even as we boarded the coach that was to take us to the ship, we had no inkling of what was to come.
We usually took a taxi from the hotel to the docks but for some obscure reason, my husband had decided that we should go by coach. Much to our chagrin we had found ourselves deposited at a regular bus stop by a very unenthusiastic hotel porter, who minded very much having to carry our over large suitcases across a busy road, for what he considered a paltry tip. I foolishly questioned my husband as to his reasons for this inconvenience – why stand on a cold January day at a bus stop when a taxi was so easy to call? My question was met with an angry glare, and he had muttered something about having a change, after all, he’d had to make all the arrangements, I had no right to complain and how was he to know that the coach would not stop at the hotel.
So began our holiday, the wait for the coach seemed interminable until finally it appeared and we climbed gratefully on, sinking into the very first seats at the front clasping our hand luggage and numerous other items close to our bosoms, at least we were on our way. The seat across from us was empty, so we decided to deposit our extra bags on it thus giving us more space, as we moved off there was a shout from another passenger. ‘Stop the coach – there’s a lady running and waving!’
We were just leaving the station so the driver was able to stop and wait for the late comer, sitting in the front seat I was able to observe her breathless arrival, she was, to put it mildly unmissable. Her high-heeled red shoes were no help to her as she manoeuvred her bulky form up the steep steps, they were caught inextricably in the grid catapulting her straight into my husband’s lap. His startled gasp of ‘Oh my God’ did not impress the floundering lady, other help came from nearby passengers one was able to release her heels from the grid, and another assisted me in extricating her long painted nails from my husband’s cashmere jumper. When at last she was safely ensconced in a seat on the other side of the aisle and one seat back we all sat down to relax.
Before long my husband began coughing and sneezing, I became concerned and queried as to whether he might be starting a cold. ‘No no,’ he spluttered it’s that woman, her perfume or something, I can’t stand it,’ and with that he sneezed loudly once more. I looked around to see if he had disturbed anyone, all seemed well, and our disruptive passenger appeared to be asleep, while my companion continued to cough and splutter muttering about being allergic to her beastly perfume.
All was peaceful for a while until the rattling started, I turned to see what it was, she was looking into our bags on the seat in front, pulling out first one thing then another, I sat back quickly knowing my husband’s reaction should he see her, too late he was already alerted.
‘I don’t believe it,’ he exploded ‘she’s reading my paper.’
‘SSH,’ I said other people will hear you.’
It had all been so embarrassing, he got up hastily and removed our bags from her clutches then stood there holding out his hand for his paper, she looked up and gave him a wide smile – her bright red lipstick seemed to be smeared from one end of her face to the other. Her voice when it came wasn’t apologetic, and she seemed indifferent to his furious glare.
‘Oh is this yours,’ she said, then handed back his crumpled newspaper. I decided to remain silent as he cursed and swore under his breath, vowing to avoid her at all costs in future and we weren’t on the ship yet.
We went through all the motions wordlessly from then on until we were settled in our very splendid cabin.
‘Vanilla!’ He suddenly shouted. ‘I’m allergic to it, we must avoid that woman at all costs.’
We caught a glimpse of her during the fire drill she was tripping over people’s feet in those awful shoes causing all sorts of bother, we kept our distance.
Relaxing on deck was our favourite pastime, people-watching and reading, after our obligatory walk around the deck as was recommended on the daily notice sheet. One morning we were surprised to find our way barred by a deck lounger placed right across the boards, a huge mound upon it covered with towels. We went to investigate, it was ‘Vanilla’ snoring away oblivious to all, we had decided to call her that to enable us to make a quick getaway by calling out ‘Vanilla’ as a warning. It was then that the mound moved, my husband’s reaction was immediate
‘Let’s go!’ In panic tugging at my arm he turned to go back the other way, in so doing he tripped and fell over a pair of fancy shoes.
He was hobbling painfully as we made our way to the medical centre, where we were dismayed to learn that he would have to spend the rest of the cruise in a wheelchair as a badly sprained ankle would not heal quickly.
He was happy enough to be left on deck while I walked or took a swim as long as she was nowhere in sight, we passed the days pleasantly enough with assistance from the crew when needed.
We often observed her from a distance always causing some problem. It being a Christmas cruise I decided to join the newly formed choir for the carol service, ‘Vanilla ‘was there in full voice. Incredibly so in fact, she towered above us all in her stilt-like shoes, yes these were bright yellow with bows, she blocked mine and others view of the conductress, and she out sang us all.
Something must have been said as at the following practice she was not present, people asked where she was but most hoped she would not put in an appearance. We heard later that she had been spoken to, and she said she would not sing with the choir again. I felt sorry for her even a little sad, especially when on deck I would pass by on my walks where she lay on her lounger, she was always singing softly to herself, and I would try to see what colour shoes she was wearing that day.
Often while waiting to go out on excursions she would arrive late always breathless, if there were no seats available she would wait for someone to get up to collect their tickets then she would pounce on their chair before they could return, this practice was frowned on and caused many murmurings amongst the other passengers.
Always the wafting aroma of ‘Vanilla’ surrounded her, and she was always alone. I did try to speak to her once, but she turned away.
Every passenger was questioned on arrival at Southampton, but none could throw any light on her disappearance, it was a complete mystery.
My husband and I stood saddened as a Crew member squeezed passed us as we disembarked, he was carrying a huge polythene bag of fancy shoes.