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The Self Employed Housewife - A Seaman's Wife's story Ch 3
The Self Employed Housewife
The harbor of Durban
Just as she thought, although the tanker was berthed alongside the harbor wall, there was no gangway yet. She paid the taxi driver and hoped that she wouldn't have to hang about with her two toddlers too long. Lots of sailors were looking at her from the top deck below the bridge. Some were whistling. She wondered if they knew that she was the first officer’s wife.
“Daddy” Sascia called out waving.
Jeroen was about to slip away from her grip, when she saw someone waving back from high up on the bridge.
“Stay close to mommy, both of you. See these cranes; it’s far too dangerous to run around them. We’ll wait until Daddy comes off the ship.”
“But mommy, look!”
The gangway was now coming down and several men in uniform went aboard. She knew they were officials. She held onto both kids with a firm grip but walked closer to see how secure the gangway was. She was not about to let them run up by themselves.
Jan had no idea what she had accomplished during the time he was gone, and he didn’t even know where they lived. Suddenly Jeroen got loose and started running up the gangway. Then she saw why. Jan had appeared at the top and was coming down. Thank goodness.
“Well well, you are both packed for a hiking trip I see.” He picked Jeroen up into his arms and ruffled Sascia’s two short ponytails. He then looked her over with an approving glance and told her to follow him. Jan would never show any affection in public. What did she expect, a romantic embrace?
The first officer’s cabin.
The smell of oil fumes penetrated everything, even inside. His cabin was a lot larger than her Dad’s cabin had been on his Dutch coaster in Holland. Her own mother had hated the sea and often warned her never to marry a seaman, but she had clearly romanticized it.
There were lots of men around, some in uniform or overalls.
Jan introduced her to the captain, who seemed nice, older than Jan by at least ten years. She was twenty five, Jan thirty three.
“Your husband never told me that he had such a beautiful family waiting for him.”
He made a fuss over Sascia, who suddenly became shy. Jeroen had taken his dad’s cap out of his ruck sack and beamed with pride that he had looked after it.
When they were finally on their own Jan kissed her. Both children tried to talk to him, telling him all about the big wooden crate, and that she had made furniture. When they finally calmed down she asked him how his first trip on a tanker had been.
Jan was not a big talker but she knew that he was not all that happy. He did not make friends easily. Not like the captain, who clearly had more social skills.
Living without modern comforts.
Jan phoned for a taxi from the newly installed land-line on board. If only they had a phone at home, instead of having to walk for at least 30 minutes with 2 small kids to get to the nearest phone booth in Malvern.
“Daddy wait till you see where we live.” Sascia's voice was full of happiness and she couldn’t sit still. Jan was sitting in the front of the taxi and both children were hanging onto the backrest of his seat. They would not sit down. There were no seat-belts in the back so she hoped the taxi driver would not have to stop suddenly.
“Yes I'm keen to see it.” Jan replied while preparing his pipe.
They were both smokers but she could not light a cigarette in the taxi. Hairpin bends in the road, if taken too fast would make her nauseous.
Jeroen had been sick many times in taxi rides, but thank goodness they were never long trips and lately he was getting better.
When they arrived at Palm Springs, the name of their townhouse complex, the children pointed out their friends’ homes.
Jan paid for the taxi and took his suitcase from the trunk. The Indian taxi driver gave him his phone number and said he would be glad to take them anywhere fast.
Funny how men always seemed to get better service than women, wondering if his offer also applied to her when Jan was not there?
The driver calling Jan ‘boss’ was really funny. It must have something to do with their culture.
She wished she had the nerve to make a booking to take them to the owners of the Beetle over the weekend, but she had to tackle Jan first. Spending money on big items had always been a struggle for Jan. He liked having money in the bank.
“I'm impressed duifje.” Jan commented, using her pet name. He was truly impressed with what she had done with the wood of the crate.
She had made a two-seater couch in deckchair style frames but wider and one single chair. A heavy floral fabric made up the seat, not all that comfortable because she had not realized that sitting straight up instead of more at an angle, like deckchairs, which was causing the edge of the wooden frame to restrict the circulation to people’s legs.
She had added a planter box all along the back of the frame to keep the two-seater couch from scooting across the floor. It looked good with plants in them; creating a divider feeling. She had used green spirit dye to color the wood after sandpapering it down. After all, wood from a container crate was certainly not the best.
Sascia quickly removed all her dollies and teddy bears to make place for daddy to sit in the single chair.
The children gave him no rest. She was almost jealous.
The newspaper with the big red marking around the advert was casually lying on the kitchen table. Her intention was to serve dinner (spaghetti, the children’s favorite), hoping that he might glance at the paper. He did pick it up, looked at it but put it down without any comment. She knew it.
Having Daddy around
“How long are you home for?”
“A week. What's with all the leather straps?”
Jeroen jumped off his chair and came back with an unsold bag that she had made.
“You have been busy.”
She explained what she had been doing now that she had him for herself since the children were in the bath upstairs getting ready for bed. Jan was impressed but all he wanted to do was to get into bed with her.
She was far more interested in having an adult conversation, since her English was not all that fluent as yet. She knew that people had difficulty understanding her because she often used the wrong words. Her Afrikaans neighbour could understand her when she spoke Dutch to the children, but she tried to avoid her due to her husband’s flirting.
In the evening after the children had gone to bed, she would often dye the belts in the garage. He started to visit her, but she disliked him for being a real creep. She tried not to be blatantly rude, but he never got the hint. She wondered if she should tell Corrie and Pamela how angry she felt about this man’s behaviour. They often joined her in the garage while she was working. Both their husbands had good jobs and transport.
Debbie her other neighbour, was Dutch, but she only saw her when her husband was away for a few days. Her two boys played with Sascia and Jeroen but they were rough and not well behaved. They were not the kind of people she would ever befriend back home, but she craved adult company and talking in her own language .
Had the romance gone out of their marriage?
“Can't you clean up tomorrow? Come to bed woman.”
“First let’s talk about the advert. I know you saw it.”
“What about it?” he replied, smoking his pipe.
“We need to buy a car for me to be able to get around.”
“You managed so far. Why spend money that we could save for a deposit on a house.”
“Have you any idea how isolated I am? Every time I need to buy groceries, or make a phone call, I need to walk for half an hour with the children.”
“Well so what.”
He banged his pipe clean at the sink, which she hated. That reminded her of the huge ashtray that was stored in the crate. Where was it?
She was getting nowhere. All he wanted to do was have sex and go to sleep. As if that was an order.
Jan carried his suitcase upstairs and called out to the children in the bath, who were waiting for him to read a story. She was disappointed at his lack of understanding. He was not happy working on the tanker, but the reason why was unclear. His comment about wearing a uniform and the formality on the ship between the officers and crew members sucked. He wasn’t used to it so he said. She sensed there was more, but he suddenly clammed up.
She lit a cigarette and cut out the advert, determined to pursue her plan of action when Jan came downstairs after he had put the children to bed. She had been looking forward to having a Dutch conversation about all that had happened during the last three months while he was at sea. Secretly she had hoped that his communication skills would improve, but all he was interested in was having sex instead of being a friend first.
What had she learned from her parent’s relationship?
“I’ve run the bath, are you joining me?” Jan called hanging over the balustrade.
She shook her head, and Jan came down and sat on the stairs while she heard the bathwater running. His long legs were resting two steps lower.
“This weekend we could take a taxi and have a look at it.” She suggested. That would be in two day’s time. She would have to phone first to see if the Beetle was still available, or buy a new weekend newspaper.
“I’m not buying a car. The rent is already higher than I anticipated, and to use our savings for a car – forget it.”
She was angry at his insensitivity. He had no idea what it was like for her, and he clearly did not care.
“If that is the case I will use the money that is left in our savings and buy return airline tickets back to Holland for me and the children” There it was. She had said it.
“Yes I would.”
“Oh come on, let’s talk about it tomorrow. I'm tired and all I want to do is have a bath, get the stink of the oil tanker off me and you know the rest.”
She knew she had lost her argument for now. How had her mother managed her dad? She had better get him in a better mood. She knew how, so she followed him upstairs.
- The Self Employed Housewife (Ch 4)
How is it for a husband, not to be home to see his children growing up? Not to be there to support their mother? Does a seaman have to come to terms with missing out?