I love Agony Uncle Bar Tenders. And on my recent cruise, I was lucky to bond with one such person. Paul was a larger than life Jamaican who'd been working the cruise ship circuit for 12 long years.Startlingly white teeth and a belly laugh made him a genial Father Confessor to countless lost souls nursing that last drink at 2 a.m before lurching off to their staterooms and calling it a night over choppy, alien waters - inviting by day, menacing at night.
My friend Judith and I discovered Paul just before the Cosmopolitan Club Bar on Deck 14 closed on the second night of our much anticipated cruise. We were sailing off the coast of Mallorca, and feeling really depressed about Michael Jackson's death. There was no getting away from MJ. His images were on every channel as tributes poured in from across the globe. We ordered a glass each of Pinot and cried into it . Paul who had been watching us with some amusement ( was our mascara running??) asked chattily what the matter was. Judith said, " We are feeling really, really sad that Michael Jackson is dead." Paul continued to polish a Cognac snifter as he replied philosophically, " Oh.... but he died a long, long time ago. A man who does not know who he is.... is dead already." We were stunned by his reaction and gulped down the vino very quickly. It was such an astute observation. Impressed by Paul's sagacity, we felt encouraged enough to discuss more personal matters. We both had young daughters giving us a hard time ( boy friend issues). After listening to us patiently, Paul asked, " Do you have a dog?" I joked, " I have something better - a gun." Paul shook his head, " That's no good, ma'am. A gun sleeps when you sleep. But a dog continues to work." By this time Judith and I had become Paul's bhakts - loyal devotees. "Oh Master.... tell us more," we begged. Paul strategised like a true professional. How the hell did this man know so much about life?? He smiled, "My mother gave birth to eleven kids I grew up in a tough and poor neighbourhood. I've seen it all... drugs, murders, robbing, drunks..."
We were his slaves by then. But the bar had to close. And we had to get back to those naughty daughters. They were sleeping like angels when we lurched into the cabin. One of them had the nerve to open an eye and demand cheekily, " Oooh.... seen the time?? So where were you ladies? Painting the town red?" I had neither the gun nor the dog to defend me. I sheepishly went to bed. Paul's laughter echoed in my ears. I want to start a fan club for him. Or at least name a cocktail in his honour. Jamaican rum with nariel paani. It's my way of saying, 'Thank you,' to an absolute gentleman who didn't move a muscle as two , slightly tipsy women poured out their silly little tales of teenage horror stories to him.Bless you, Paul!