It was my first winter cruise. I was a waiter on the Allegra, most of the passengers well-to-do people who spent part of the winter cruising in the warm waters of the Pacific, from Puerto Escondido to Singapore and back, including stops in Australia and New Zealand. That winter we stopped along the South American coast too, from Guayaquil to Santiago, and then to Hawaii via Easter Island. Often, the passengers did not bother to go ashore – just stayed on deck and looked at the pier and drank and made faces.
Ed and Wilma Hibbert avoided the others. They were in their mid to late seventies, from Seattle. Always dined alone, did not socialize, Ed very attentive to Wilma, who seemed the frail type. I heard whispers. “Snobs”, “Stuffed shirts”, “Pompous”, “Cold”. They must have heard them too.
Wilma fell ill at Callao, stayed in her suite, and was taken to a hospital in Lima, where she died. Ed Hibbert left the Allegra but did not vacate his suite. His table was empty until Honolulu, where he rejoined the ship.
And then the invitations began, one widow after another inviting him to dinner, to drinks, to the fancy-dress ball. They were not amateurs but persistent and alluring seducers.
Amazingly, Ed obliged. He seemed to welcome the attention, not like a bereaved spouse at all but like the most discriminating bachelor. The same women who had made demeaning remarks now praised him and competed for his affection. And I had the feeling that in obliging them, dallying with them, without committing himself, he was having his revenge, perhaps revenge on his wife too.
He was on two more cruises, same routine, didn’t remarry.
From ‘Long Story Short’, in the new collection Mr Bones.
Paul Theroux’s many books include the travel classic The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), Picture Palace, which won the 1978 Whitbread Literary Award; The Mosquito Coast, which was the 1981 Yorkshire Post Novel of the Year, joint winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was made into a feature film by Peter Weir starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren and River Phoenix; Riding the Iron Rooster, which won the 1988 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; and The Pillars of Hercules, shortlisted for the 1996 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. Mr Bones is published by Hamish Hamilton, and most of his backlist is in Penguin. Read more.
Author portrait © William Furniss