The breeze felt fresh and invigorating. Martin leaned on the ferry rails and inhaled the salty air. The smell took him back to the windy shores of Brittany, to his childhood, to his grandfather. Martin felt a presence and opened his eyes. His boss, Giuseppe, was standing next to him.
Giuseppe: Nice way to go to work.
Martin: The best! Such a shame no one is sailing. These waters are perfect.
Giuseppe: You know how to sail?
Martin: A little bit. As a kid, my grandfather used to take me on his sailboat.
Giuseppe: Ah, family.
Martin’s cultural affinity and genuine generosity had won him Giuseppe’s blessing. His responsibilities became more interesting, and he noticed the difference among the staff. Giuseppe’s assistant, Betty, greeted him like family. The marines in high-security areas seemed nicer and made his life easier. He liked it.
On Sunday morning, Martin was having breakfast at home when the phone rang:
Giuseppe: Good morning, Martin! What are you doing today?
Martin: Good morning, sir, nothing in particular.
Giuseppe: Good! We’re going sailing.
Giuseppe: Yes. Be at the harbor at noon.
Martin: Eeeh, okay.
Giuseppe: Some friends are joining us. You’ll be our captain.
Martin: But...I’m not a captain!
Giuseppe: Today you are. Oh! And bring that smoked venison if you still have some. See you at noon.
Martin hung up and looked out the window. It was a bright blue summer sky. The American flag on his neighbor’s yard was waving, and there were no clouds. A good day to sail, he thought. He finished his breakfast, packed some snacks, and dressed up for the day. He wished he had a sailor’s cap.
The road was busy for a Sunday morning. A dozen sailboats and a few small yachts lined up in the marina. Martin pulled in the parking spot a quarter before noon. He saw Giuseppe on the quay, smoking a cigar.
Martin: Good day, sir.
Giuseppe: Good day, Martin.
Martin: Which one is it?
Giuseppe pointed his cigar to a tiny ship, more like a raft with a sail. Martin smiled. It reminded him of the first sailboat he sailed by himself, when he was eight years-old. He said nothing. Giuseppe puffed on his cigar and nodded.
Four marines howled at them from the parking lot. Martin recognized them from the power plant. They carried two large coolers. Giuseppe introduced Martin as the boat captain, and led the five men along the quay. He passed the tiny ship and stopped in front of a brand new 8-meter sailboat. Giuseppe turned to his men and said, "Welcome to Bella Ciao!"
Martin’s jaw dropped. The sailboat was splendid. Everything was new and shiny, from the wood on the deck to the ropes on the rails. There were no traces of rust, dirt, or damage. Bella Ciao looked like an exhibition boat taken out of a museum.
Martin walked from stem to stern, admiring the ship from all angles. It had an engine, a spacious cabin, and a spacious deck covered in marine lumber. He caressed the boat, like a blind man feeling a familiar face. It had been 15 years since he last sailed, and Bella Ciao was the most beautiful ship he ever stood on. Martin felt the chills.
The marines used the coolers as extra benches on the deck. Giuseppe took a seat, and Martin turned on the engine. He raised the anchor and maneuvered out of the harbor with slow and careful precision. Once out in the water, he hoisted the mainsail. Bella Ciao unfolded its majestic wings, and cruised on the Chesapeake Bay.
The marines opened the cooler and passed the beers. Giuseppe uncorked a white Chardonnay and Martin fetched two wine glasses from the cabin. By the time Martin had his first sip, the marines were finishing their second beer. They cheered to their boss, to their captain, and to freedom.
The marines took turns swimming and singing. Giuseppe was enjoying the show. He clapped, sang, and tried to teach them the lyrics to Bella Ciao. Only one marine managed—he was Italian American. The others clapped and accompanied the chorus, "Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao Ciao Ciao", adding hand mimicks to the rhythm.
By late afternoon, there was no more froth offshore. An hour later, the wind had dropped to nothing. Giuseppe’s cigar smoke rose vertically. Martin took down the sails and turned on the engine. As they gained speed, Giuseppe challenged the marines to keep their balance on the deck. The drunkest one staggered before the challenge even started. He fell back to the water in a loud splash and burst of laughter.
On the way back, Martin spotted a small sailboat still on the water. He suspected trouble and steered towards it. As they got closer, they saw two silhouettes waving their arms in distress, crying for help. Giuseppe recognized Betty, his assistant, and her husband. They were on a tiny sailboat with no engine, no wind, and no way to get back to the harbor. They were relieved and grateful to see them.
The marines wasted no time. They knotted the small boat to Bella Ciao’s stern and Martin towed them behind. Giuseppe popped a second bottle and cheered to their captain, "Martin the savior". He commanded the marines to sing louder than the engine, and the happy company headed to harbor in loud, drunken euphoria.
Bella Ciao entered the marina in a ruckus of marine songs. Martin berthed it along the dock and turned off the engine. Once the whirring tuned down, they heard Betty’s high-pitched screams. Martin looked back...too late. He shouted, "HOOOOOO...".
Betty’s boat hit them in a loud, powerful crash, bursting Bella Ciao’s stern into a thousand splinters. Bella Ciao's bow lifted from the surface, and its mast tilted backward. Two marines jumped out to bring Betty and her husband to safety. The two others evacuated Bella Ciao's crew and luggage. The collision embedded the two boats in an ugly, broken shape. Waters began leaking in.
No one got hurt, but the boats were ruined. Standing on the quay, Martin held his head in shock. In his joy, he had forgotten about the towing. Giuseppe stood by his side in silence. Martin looked down.
Martin: I’m sorry, sir. It is my fault.
Giuseppe: You’re lucky it is not my boat.
Martin: What can I do?
Giuseppe: If it were my boat, I would have you work for free until you pay every cent back!
Giuseppe: But it's not my boat...So, no need to worry. It's covered by the insurance.
Martin's face lightened with hope.
Giuseppe: You rescued Betty and her husband, and nobody is hurt; that’s what matters.
Martin’s eyes filled up with tears. He ground his teeth to keep it together. Everyone was safe on the quay. The four marines lined up next to them and stood to attention. Giuseppe made a final salute to the sinking ship. The five men did the same. Then, clearing his throat, he sang in a deep sorrowful voice.
"E questo è il fiore,
O bella ciao, bella ciao, Bella ciao, ciao, ciao.
E questo è il fiore,
Morto per la libertàaaaaaa."