It was a cold, winter night. The sky was covered with a thick, dark canopy of clouds. From a patch in the never-ending sky, peeped a silver, full moon. Fog hung low over the harbour. The ocean glimmered silver and amber because of the reflection of the dim harbour lights. Everything looked faded and vague in the thick fog which covered the ocean and ground.
“Hurry up, Dave. It’s already 11 p.m.; we’re going to be late. We need to find a hotel. Drive faster! We will freeze out here!” Katherine complained.
It was the weekend and four teenagers, Katherine, Dave, Esther and Greg had decided to take a road trip to a nearby town and spend the weekend there. They had one year left until college and because they had all been selected to different colleges, they wanted to spend as much time together as they could.
“I’m trying. The hotel is just around the corner,” Dave assured them. At that very moment, the car stopped. Katherine looked panicked.
“Don’t worry, I’ll check that,” Dave said and got out of the car. He opened the hood of the car. “The engine has heated up too much. We need to take a break”.
“But we have to get to the hotel” Katherine protested.
“Come on, Kat. Don’t be such a party-pooper. The reason why we are taking this trip is because we wanted to explore some new place and have some fun,” Esther insisted.
“Yeah, Kat. Look there’s the harbour. I can get some sweet pictures for my photography portfolio. It wouldn’t hurt to look around. You could sketch something,” Greg said as he took out his camera from its case.
“Okay, fine. But if something bad happens, for the record I already warned you,” Katherine said as she got out of the car.
The cold, night air blew in their faces making their faces flushed and red. They started walking towards the harbour. Amber streetlights lit their way as they walked down the road. There were abandoned buildings on each side of the road. This part of the town was abandoned as it was very old and the people who lived here had migrated into a different part of the town. The residents decided to let the buildings stay because they wanted something by which they could remember the good old days.
They soon reached the harbour. It was made out of wooden planks and rusted iron nails. The wood screeched beneath their weight as they walked towards the edge.
“Whoa…” Esther exclaimed, captivated by the hollow, unadulterated, pure beauty of what was ahead of her.
“See I told you it would be worth it,” Greg said as he started taking pictures with his camera. Katherine decided to sit on a conveniently placed bench and sketch out the fine view. They spent some time talking and working. “I have finished it. It’s just a rough sketch right now, I will fair it out at home,” she said.
Suddenly, they heard a loud thud. Esther said, “Did you hear that?”
“Yes,” they all replied.
They turned around and saw a woman, clad in a black dress, staring at the ocean.
“Hello, my dears,” she said, smiling. “What brings you here on such a cold night?”
She had curly, raven coloured hair, a porcelain face and deep blue eyes. Something about her seemed soft and fragile.
“We’re just hanging around. Checking this place out, taking pictures and stuff,” Dave replied.
“Do you like it so far?” she asked, her smile never leaving her face.
“I think so, I mean it’s quiet and peaceful,” Esther replied.
“I’m glad you do,” the lady replied.
“What brings you here?” Katherine asked.
“It’s a long story. My husband left with his ship a few months ago. I haven’t heard from him since. I like to come here at night and look at the ocean, waiting for him to come back. I am sure he will come back soon…” the lady said with hope and promise in her voice.
“Wow, sounds romantic!” Esther said.
“It would be if he comes back,” the lady replied, smiling as she stared out into the open ocean.
“So, you just sit here and wait?” Dave asked.
“Yes, I do. I have been waiting ever since he left. Waiting for something just increases the value of it. Honestly sometimes I think the wait is better than the outcome,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Greg asked.
“It means that I don’t know what lies ahead. He might come home well or he might be ill. He could’ve deserted me, too. I don’t know what’s coming. Sometimes, ignorance is better than knowledge. As they say, ignorance is bliss,” she replied, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.
“It’s somewhat true,” Katherine replied. The lady turned to look at Katherine.
“Besides, the waiting is romantic. It’s filled with hope and promise, that’s all one needs, right?” she asked.
“Maybe,” Katherine replied. It was then that the wind started blowing furiously.
“We should get going, nice to meet you, Mrs …?” Dave said.
“Arianna Joel,” the lady said with a smile which would remain engraved in their minds.
When they got back to the car, the engine roared to life without a hitch. They soon reached the hotel and took refuge in the warmth and comfort of the insides. Katherine took the liberty to ask the manager about the lady.
“Um… do you know that lady who hangs out around the harbour? It was some Arianna Joel waiting for her sailor husband?” Katherine asked the hotel manager.
His face turned chalk white, he looked shaken and scared. When he recovered, he replied, “So, you saw the Lady of the Harbour. I thought it was something my mother had cooked up to scare me at night.”
“What do you mean?” Katherine asked and everyone else turned to look at them.
“Fifty years ago, this harbour was alive and swarming with ships. Arianna was married to Henry Joel. They had both settled in this town after running away and marrying for love. Arianna was rich, she used her fortune to buy her husband a ship and get a place in this town. Her husband had to go on a voyage for trade. Arianna was very sad when he left; she used to wait all night by at the harbour. Under the moonlight, she used to stare at the ocean until she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore and slept, listening to the sound of the rising and falling ocean waves. She had spent a month waiting when she heard the awful news. Her husband’s ship had been taken by the storm and had sunk. Her husband was dead.
After that for some time Arianna grieved and mourned. She used to lie awake all night at the harbour, still staring at the ocean waves, her tears mixing with the ocean. Eventually, she forgot that her husband was dead. Like in the first few months after her husband’s departure, she used to wait at the harbour. She died, waiting in that very harbour, having frozen to death. It is said that her hope lived on even after her death.
She still sits there, waiting every night for her husband’s return. Her hopes are still alive and her ghost keeps on waiting for that someday when he will return…”
Everyone was shocked and moved at the same time.
“I know we just probably met a ghost but I don’t feel scared,” Esther said.
“Ghosts were people after all…” Greg added.
Everyone remained silent, not knowing what to say. The story was still beating with every beat of their heart.
Months after the trip, when Katherine finally finished the painting, it looked like this:
There was the ocean ahead, glimmering and shining. It was full of millions of possibilities.
There was the moon smiling brightly down at everyone.
The harbour with its lights lit up looked like it was saying ‘hi’ to the moon.
Then in the middle of everything, there was The Lady of The Harbour and her husband. Both of them were sitting with their hands enveloped in each others’, staring out into the open sea. The ship could be seen peering from the seams of the picture.