“Stupid,” Ben concludes, arms folded and scowling at the battered Ship at their starboard side.
Billy doesn’t like it, either. He glances at his Captain. “I’m worried they won’t make it. Maybe we should offer one more time?”
“No. This is their decision,” James replies. “We have repeatedly offered to tow them to port for repairs, but if they insist that they do not need the help, we cannot force them to accept it.”
Ben snorts loudly. “Stupid!”
James recognizes their Deckhand’s stark opinions behind that one word. The fact that Ben had not moved since their exchange with the other Ship means that this situation is bothering him. Immensely, if no surprise to James. To a Deckhand like Ben, it is inconceivable that a crippled Ship in need of help to stay afloat would not accept that help when it is offered.
The irony was that a Ship on the verge of sinking often didn’t have a Crew healthy enough to make decisions towards the long-term survival of their Ship. James recalls only too well the sorry state all of them had been in at the time when their own Ship had almost fallen apart, but Ben, with a Deckhand’s non-existent horizon, doesn’t remember any of that.
“No point reminding him,” Billy says lightly in response to James’s musings. “He’ll have forgotten again in minutes. If we want him to understand what just happened with that other Ship, we’ll have to tell him in a way that makes sense to him.”
James huffed irritably. “I did, didn’t? That Ship needed help, we offered, they refused. End of story. That is usually how he prefers us to explain complex situations.”
Billy opens his mouth to reply, but then claps his Captain on the shoulder. “Not untrue,” he giggles, “but a bit short. Even for Ben.” He grins at James’s obvious dismay. “Don’t worry about it, Captain. I got this.”
He heads over to where Ben is glaring at the battered Ship that stays behind while their own vessel makes speed. “Strange, huh? A Ship in such bad shape refusing help. You’d think they would leap at a chance to hitch a ride to a safe haven, right?”
Ben only grunts in agreement.
“So why didn’t they? I can show you. Look here.”
Billy turns up his left palm up and imagines a human figure, a sailor roughly ten-inch tall, standing on his hand. The moment he does, the small sailor appears as he envisioned, animated as if alive but slightly translucent. Ben scrutinizes the image as Billy begins to tell a story.
“This sailor here was once in a big battle,” the figure begins fighting, “where he got injured.”
On Billy’s hand, the small sailor grabs his bleeding leg and cries in soundless pain.
“The bullet is lodged in the wound, but it hurts too much, so the sailor leaves it. His leg doesn’t stop hurting, but the wound heals. No more blood, the wound scars over, the pain grows bearable. Until his mates see nothing of the injury but a slight limp when he walks. The bullet is still in his leg, so the sailor is in a lot of pain. Only, no one else sees the wound anymore, and soon everyone else has forgotten that he has a gammy leg.”
The small sailor demonstrates everything Billy while describes it. Ben watches the figure closely, even mimicking the motions to fully comprehend what Billy is telling him.
“Then this fellow comes along.” Billy turns up his other hand and conjures the image of another seaman. “He lays eyes on our poor sailor and says ‘I see you’re in pain’. The sailor ignores him. ‘It’s nothing’ he says. But the new fellow tells him ‘It’s your leg, isn’t it? I’ve seen that before. You’ve got something inside it that hurts, don’t you?’.”
The silent conversation plays out between the figures in Billy’s palms. The sailor in his left hand turns his back on the other figure, but acts nervous.
“He’s scared,” says Ben, but his increasing frown betrays that he doesn’t know why.
“Our sailor is scared because he has grown used to other people ignoring his pain. His leg hurts all the time, but no one cares. And because the pain won’t go and because no one cares that he is in pain, the sailor has grown used to ignoring his own suffering. But now there is this new fellow who does see, and who says out loud ‘I see you are in pain’.”
“Unfamiliar,” Ben muses.
Billy nods while in his hands, the small sailor huddle into himself and put his little arms over his head, trying to hide from the other figure. But in his attempts, the small sailor stumbles and falls. Tiny tears show the sailor’s pain. Billy moved his hands closer together, so the new fellow could offer the fallen sailor a helping hand.
“The fellow says ‘I see you are in worse pain now. Shall I help you?’. But the sailor has not had any help for so long, that he doesn’t want it now.” In Billy’s hands, the sailor tries to stand up, stumbles again, yet pushes the other figure’s help away.
With a heavy heart, Billy lets the scene play out. “When you are so used to being in pain as our sailor here,” he says with a commiserate sigh, “you forget what it feels like to not be in pain. When you have believed for so long that nobody cares you’re in pain, you no longer allow yourself to care. Ignoring the pain is the only way you know how to handle it. Then someone seeing your pain and offering to help you relieve it? That is just too strange, too weird to understand. That can’t be true, can it? It certainly doesn’t feel true…”
“Oh!” Ben cries with sudden enthusiasm. “I see. Help is unfamiliar, so unsafe. Unsafe, so he flees flee. Refuses help. Yes?”
Billy bit his lip. “Yes.”
Between them, the sailor keeps fighting his would-be helper. Finally the fellow has no choice but to step back. Close to tears himself, Billy watches the figure he created fade into sunlight. In his other hand, the crippled sailor sits hunched, alone, and in pain.
Curious, Ben tries touching the small figure. It shivers, as if it doesn’t want his attention, either. Yet Billy can’t dissolve the image as he did the other. If only there was a way to help. Maybe if he could help this little figure, he could help…
A calloused hand under his stirs him from his daydream. “You didn’t want to give up on that Ship,” Ben says with extra effort to speak a full sentence.
“No,” Billy whispers hoarsely. “James was right to call it. They would never have accepted our help. But I truly wish they had.”
Yet Ben shakes his head. “That Ship was too hurt. Too scared to accept help.” He folds his hands around Billy’s and gently closes their combined fingers around the small huddled figure. “Thank you for showing me,” he says, just as the sailor’s image vanishes.