Life is about second chances. You should’ve kissed the girl; you kissed her when you shouldn’t have. You hurt someone; they hurt you. You left something unsaid; you said too much. These are not moments that set an indefinite precedent. There are no do-overs, yes, but there is a tomorrow, and there’s a next day, and in these days lie opportunities for redemption, correction, change, in which you tackle, in the present, with the context of what happened before. So that when you walk in a room and look at the sea of faces they can look into your eyes or you can look into theirs and there is a connection there, that we will not be defined by our past mistakes, but on the possibility of the future.
When I, as Antonio, looked into the eyes of Doc, as Sanjay, I saw that possibility of redemption. And no, not the kissing kind.
It was my second day in a row in the role of the “crew-member” Antonio for Naval boarding exercises, and I was determined to do better than the first day. The first day, Sanjay and I weren’t able to distract the Naval boarding members as much as I would have liked. For one, that was my first time acting as a crew member. Also, Sanjay pretended like he didn’t understand any English. If we wanted to confuse the Americans and trick them, we both needed to be able to use the full power of our English proficiency.
The night before the second day, I, as Colin, showed Sanjay, as Doc, the blog post I wrote about our first pairing as crew members, and he was excited.
“Now we have history,” Doc said, in a Jamaican accent, the country from where he was born, and with a slight lisp. “Everything we do from here on can build from this.”
I nodded. Doc was right. The next time we played Antonio and Sanjay we would get it right. Our roles were the same as before, except now we were from the town of Norfolk, Sapphire, and Sanjay could also speak English.
I found that I quite enjoyed playing a crewmember. For the first handful of exercises, I was an observer, and it didn’t take. For one, I didn’t understand what I was observing. This is my first time participating in Naval boarding exercises. Also, I like being actively involved. An observer is a purely passive role. I’ve felt passive for too long. Passive is how I felt my job in the Navy, sitting on a plane for twelve hours at a time, logging message traffic. Too much time to get lost in my own thoughts rather using them constructively. As a Naval Reservist completing my annual required two weeks of active duty, it felt like history was repeating itself. It’s how I began to feel, out at sea, as an observer on this tugboat. The distance from land not the same as time, but a physical manifestation of separation, the time spent thinking about how I have been lost in my thoughts before.
The first day, Sanjay and I were on the bow of the ship, but this time we were on the bridge, upon the Americans request. Sanjay and I were playing cards when the Americans entered the bridge, guns drawn.
“Stand up,” the one American said to us, and who we would later called “Grade School.” None of the Americans told us their names, not even nicknames, so Sanjay and I quickly gave names to each of the Americans, based on something they said, or some applicable physical characteristic.
“Is no problem,” I said, standing. “We were just playing the Blackjack 21.” I said, pointing to the cards. “Is not racist name. That’s just what it’s called.”
Grade School laughed.
“Up against the wall, both of you,” he said, trying to keep from breaking. Sanjay and I stood against the wall. Grade School had another American search me, who I would later call Liberator. Liberator also didn’t tell me his name either, but he wore standard issue headphones whose brand would become his namesake.
Liberator had me put my hands on my head, spread my legs, and searched my pockets. He found my Sapphire passport, a roll of money, and a zip lock bag with small green flakes in it.
“Why do you need all this money?” he said, holding up the money to me.
“Is not a lot of money,” I said. “Enough money for pack of cigarettes, maybe.”
“What about this?” he said, holding up the baggie.
“It’s just the oregano, my man,” I said. “When I eat the pasta, I put some of that one there. Is no problem.”
“We’ll see about that,” he said.
Grade School had the other Americans take Sanjay and I from the window where we were sitting and into the main part of the bridge. Liberator had me sit in the port chair. Another American I would later call Maverick had Sanjay standing in the starboard chair. The Master of the boat, who was played by the real Master of the boat, sat in the middle in his Captain’s chair.
The Americans were trying to assess the situation, and Maverick was trying to talk into his headphones to the other Americans, so I did my best to disrupt them.
“Hey Sanjay!” I yelled across the room.
“Eh?” said Sanjay. Grade School and Maverick were on either side of him.
“I said, ‘Sanjay!’”
“Antonio. Antonio my friend!” Sanjay responded.
Liberator did his best to control me.
“What are you carrying on board?” Liberator asked.
“Just the glacial water, my man.” I said.
“Yeah, my man. The atmosphere is shit, so the all the icebergs melt into water, and we steal that water and sell it to you Americans. I don’t understand it, but I get the money, so it is good.”
“How long have you known Sanjay?” Liberator asked.
“My whole life,” I said. “He is my best friend. We didn’t always have the same deployment schedule, but one time he had sex with my wife, so now every time he come with me so I can keep an eye on him.”
“Sanjay!” I yelled. “You are a cheating bastard!”
Sanjay smiled. “Don’t test me, Antonio.” He said pointing at me, and gesturing to come in my direction. Grade School and Maverick put their hands to lightly tap his chest. Sanjay put one hand to his chest and pointed at me.
“I’m going to need you to calm down, Antonio,” Liberator said to me.
“Is no problem,” I said, putting my hands up. “I have no problem with you, only Sanjay. Sometimes we fight, but that’s what friends do. They fight. And we only use our fists. Not the guns like you.”
“I thought the Americans were my friends, my man,” I said. “But you come on board with the guns now.”
“The weapons are only for your protection and for my own protection,” Liberator said.
“Clever words,” I said.
I thought about what I should do next. I wanted to escalate things with Sanjay, but he was far away. Also, I wanted to get any information I could from Liberator about his ship. I tried to trick him. I knew their ship wasn’t the Mahan, but I pretended like it was.
“You are from the Mahan,” I said to him.
“Your ship, it’s the Mahan. I know this.”
“That’s not important.”
“Hey Sanjay!” I yelled across the room. “They are from the Mahan. The USS Mahan.”
“The Mahan?!” Sanjay said, excited. “I love the Mahan!”
“Yes!” I said. “That’s what he told me,” I said, pointing at Liberator. I wanted him or one of the other Americans to correct me and tell me the name of their actual ship, but they didn’t fall for it.
I sat in the chair for a little more. I looked across the way at their destroyer.
“Big ship,” I said, to Liberator.
“It’s not bad.”
“You have what, 1000 people on that ship?” I knew it was much less. I was using a similar tactic as before.
“We don’t have that many.”
“Hey,” I said, to the Master, who, up to this point, was silent. “They have 1000 people on their ship,” I said.
“Oh really?” the Master said. He was an older man with a pot belly and gym shorts. “Many guns, too.”
“1000 people for 1000 guns. Can you believe it? This is what Liberator tells me. Isn’t that right, my man?” I asked, turning my head in the direction of Liberator.
Again, Liberator wasn’t taking the bait. He looked away from me. “Something like that, yeah.”
“Yes,” I said again, to the Master. “This is what he tells me. Americans have so many things. It’s hard to believe.”
“What was your last port?” Liberator asked.
“We come from the Norfolk,” I said.
“Where are you going next?” he asked.
“Morehead City. You come with us? We drink the alcohol and meet the women. Is that where you are headed next?” I asked.
“That’s not important.”
“Well, where are you from, my man. Your ship, it’s from Norfolk?”
“It’s not important.”
“Oh, so I answer your questions, but you won’t answer mine. I see how it is, my man.”
Liberator didn’t respond.
“Hey Sanjay!” I yelled across the room.
Sanjay responded. “Antonio, my friend.”
“The Americans asking you a lot of questions?”
“Of course,” he said.
“Are they answering any of your questions?” I asked.
“No, they won’t do this,” he said.
I nodded. I leaned over to Liberator and talked low. “This I know: Sanjay is a real bastard,” I said. Liberator tried to stifle a smile.
Just then I saw Sanjay stand up from his chair and begin to argue with some of the Americans. He wanted to use the bathroom. They wouldn’t let him.
“I thought you were my friend,” Sanjay said to them.
I stood up from my chair, too. Liberator didn’t stop me.
“You have to let him go,” I said. “His prostrate is bigger than grapefruit. His diet is shit. He eats nothing but goat meat and drinks the alcohol. He will piss all over if you don’t let him.”
Sanjay pointed his arms at me to concur with my point.
“Hey, Liberator,” I said. “You see this?”
“I see it.”
Sanjay continued to admonish the Americans for not being his friend. I decided to mix it up. It was clear none of the boarding members were going to give us any information. They had probably been briefed to not even talk to us. The previous day, Sanjay and I had gotten into a fight over Donald Trump, so I decided to bring up the topic again. Putting my hands on the boarding members would have been too hostile, but for another native citizen of Sapphire, I thought it was appropriate.
“Hey Sanjay!” I yelled.
Sanjay stopped his arguing to look at me.
“You tell them about Donald Trump?” I asked. Sanjay smiled. He saw where I was going with this.
“Antonio, my friend. Of course. I love Donald Trump!” he said putting his hands in the air.
I directed my attention to Liberator. “This is his problem.” I looked back at Sanjay. “No!” I yelled at Sanjay. “Trump is terrible. He had the big hair and the big balls, but he is a terrible person.”
“Don’t talk bad about Trump!” Sanjay said back to me.
“He is not good person,” I said. “He will burn American down, and we will never meet the American women!”
By this time I had stood up from my chair. Liberator had his hands on me. The other Americans had their arms on Sanjay. It was now or never. I ran across the room with the intention of trying to reach Sanjay. Sanjay came at me when I did so. The Master of the ship and his chair was in the way, so I reached over him in an effort to punch Sanjay. Liberator grabbed me with both of his hands around my chest and pulled me back to the port side. The Americans grabbed Sanjay and pulled him to the starboard. Liberator put me back in my chair and threatened to cuff me. I wasn’t sure why didn’t already. At that point they brought Sanjay from inside the bridge and put him outside behind it. I couldn’t see him from where I was sitting in my chair.
“Where is Sanjay?” I kept asking for the next two hours of the exercise.
“He’s in the bathroom,” Liberator said to me.
“That’s because I give him the Ex-Lax,” I said. “That’s what he gets for having the sex with my wife.”
“Also, he is lazy. Laziest man I know. In the bathroom instead of on bridge doing work. But he is my friend, too. We fight in my country all the time. This is just the cultural thing.”
Liberator didn’t respond.
For the rest of the exercise, I tried to engage Liberator and the rest of the Americans the best I could, but I couldn’t extract any solid info from them. The closest I got was when I told Liberator I would sell him a laptop used for navigation because I knew they only used paper maps on their ships. He responded by telling me they had radar. A small win, but still a win.
Later, I would tell him that Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the most popular show in my country.
“He is from the Philadelphia,” I said. “Have you ever been to this place?”
“Yeah, I’ve been to Philly,” Liberator said.
“That’s where you’re from?” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said.
I was close.
I kept up this line of thought, talking in circles, doing anything I could to just talk and try to get Liberator to talk to me and tell me something. I talked about the movie Waterworld. I talked about how I was going to start a taxi company in Sapphire called Guber, like Uber, and which would give away free Goobers to every passenger. I talked about my favorite pastime in Sappire of fishing with dolphins with dynamite. Real fireworks. None of that fake stuff. And I talked more about Sanjay.
“Tell me this,” I said to Liberator. “Who do you think is the Fresh Prince, me or Sanjay?”
Liberator hesitated to respond. I didn’t know if he would. “You,” he said, finally.
“This is where you are wrong,” I said. “I tricked you, so not exactly fair. I want you to think I think Fresh Prince is cool, so this is also who I want to be. No, no. I am Carlton. Everyone thinks Fresh Prince is bomb diggity? But Carlton is the cool one. He works hard. He will be a very successful man. Fresh Prince only lives for the moment. He does not even think about his future.”
After the exercise was complete, I found Doc, and we talked about how the exercise went, and laughed about all the things we did better, or differently, from the day before. We agreed that we both liked being crew members. We had breathed life into Antonio and Sanjay, and by proxy, had done so for ourselves. At the very end of the exercise, we simulated that we needed to abandon ship. I ran outside and found Sanjay. We hugged each other and then yelled at the Americans that the ship was sinking and they had to let us leave. The Americans held up their weapons at us and told us to stay back. They went down the ladderwell back to the fan tail. We followed them. Again we tried to leave with them. Again they pointed their weapons at us and told us to stay back. They said we had to use our own life rafts. They said we could manage on our own.