A Face in the Crowd

10 Feb

029

On The Coral, he cleaned the deck polished brass and mahogany, checked the rigging and waved her on her way like a proud father as she bobbed, bright red on the choppy River Mersey.

It was on one such occasion in early February, after watching The Coral until she was a tiny dot on the churning waves of the Irish Sea, that he turned, shivering towards the bustle of the Pier Head.  It was early morning and Liverpool was already wide awake. The City was booming.  Hotels and guest houses were full with travelers passing through and every inch of land was claimed for development.  Magnificent buildings dwarfed the people who flooded in their masses to find sanctuary at the gateway to a future that Liverpool had become.  A magnet for artists, writers, architects, merchants and tradesmen, it had been named ‘the centre of the universe’, and as Billy stood at the riverside that gusty February morning, he inhaled the pure excitement of the City and now that he belonged to a boat, and Captain Featherstone’s crew, he felt he was part of it all and not a mere onlooker.

 He watched for a while as the centre of the universe milled around him, and considered approaching the Captain of ‘The Liverpool Lady’ which was in dock and bound for America.  It was his ambition to join a big ship one day, but the time was not right.  Cathy and Alfie needed him.

It was in that moment, as his thoughts drifted to his brother and sister that he saw the face.  It emerged from the crowd, passed him and was gone.  It was his father’s face. The one he had searched for as a small child while his mother lay dying, the one he had dreamed about during the hopeless years in the workhouse. It was thinner, greyer, but it was the same face! 

‘Dad!’ He called. ‘Dad!’ But his father had gone. The crew of a Russian merchant ship had disembarked and swamped the Pier, and Billy’s dad was lost again.

‘Well if it’s not Billy Cattell! Sure me da said I’d find you around her, so he did. You’re lookin’ well Billy.’

It took a few moments for Billy to recognize the flame haired girl standing before him. He had seen Colleen only once, in the workhouse chapel on Christmas day, and then she was wearing the drab workhouse uniform.  Here she was now flaunting a green velvet bonnet and cape, with a smile as broad as the River Mersey across her freckle strewn face.  It was the smile that reminded him.

‘Colleen?’

‘That’s me, so it is.  I’m after lookin’ for you. Me da sent me, Billy.  Gertie the nurse sent him a note from Ellen in the itch ward to say that your da’s here and he has a ticket to America, so he has.’

‘Gertie?’

‘Yes Gertie, to be sure.’

‘And Ellen in the itch ward?’

‘Yes Ellen. She’s a friend of your da, or was. She says your da hangs out at the Crown on Lime Street, , and you’ve to meet me da there tonight.’

Billy was mesmerized by the vision that was Colleen and her lively Irish lilt.  The message was secondary to the seed which had embedded itself at the core of his being. And there he stood at the centre of the universe, belonging to a little red ship called The Coral, knowing his dad was alive and not far away, but most significantly of all, he had fallen in love with Colleen.

 

 

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