Posted on a heavy teak door down by the dock was a freshly printed sign: “Calling all sailors, calling all captains! Build your boats, design your ships. Enter your craft at this year’s race across the bay!”
Only a few boys noticed it at first, but news spread quickly. Murmurs turned into exclamations and, soon, there weren’t many who hadn’t heard. The young ones were the most exuberant. Each year they had the chance to build a model ship with their fathers or their friends, and then challenge each other to see whose ship sailed the best. Quickly, the dock became emptier than it had been all summer. The usual scores of children were all at home, building away.
One, however, was not at home. He was kicking rocks off the dock and into the water. Though he seemed to prefer knocking the bigger rocks, he didn’t seem to care much for the splash. Before each hit the water, he would move on to the next.
“Murphy!” called a woman’s voice. “Time for supper, dear.” Without looking up he turned to follow the voice.
At home he barely picked at his plate, not that it was uncommon for him to do so. Still, his mother knew something was wrong. “Sweetie, what’s got you down?”
Murphy’s eyes scanned from left to right and back again, slowly. He was calculating what to say and how much to let out. He didn’t want to upset her again. “It’s just…” he began. “It’s just, I don’t have anyone to build with.” Last year the other kids tantalized him for not racing. The fact that he had no father did not deter them from burying him in jibes. They were, as usual, relentless.
His mother knew not to press him. She also knew that he did not have many friends, if any at all. It saddened her greatly but she did not know how to help him. “I’m sorry Murph,” she started. “I would help you, but you know I’m no good with building things. Plus, I have to work a lot this week.” She left out the reason why, which was that they were a month behind on rent. He didn’t need to know that though.
“It’s alright Mom.” And for the first time all night, he looked at her. Their eyes held each other in an embrace that was more comforting than a physical one. She knew in her heart that he understood her; he knew the sorrow she felt for his loneliness. Everything was okay, even though it wasn’t.
“Good mornin’ Mrs. K!” he said with a rye but hearty smile. “Awful chilly ain’t it?” At that moment a sharp gust of chilly sea breeze blew across the storefront.
“I told you, Eddie,” she retorted, “to call me Phoebe!” Her coat flared up in the wind, causing her to lose balance slightly. Eddie helped steady her while relieving her of the two heavy bags she toted. Out of breath, she managed to gasp, “Thank you!”
Eddie held the bags as Murphy’s mother unlocked the shop. She didn’t own the market but she was almost always inside. Even though the long days exhausted her, she knew the importance of her job and the money she earned. Every little bit helped.
Inside was much warmer, sheltered from the crisp wind. Eddie deposited the brown bags behind the counter as Phoebe turned the window sign so it would read ‘Open’ to passersby. Then, she began to boil water for tea. Occasionally customers would buy a cup, but mostly it was for Eddie and herself. Once steeped and poured, the hot liquid warmed her from the inside out, relieving her of a few worries in addition to her chill.
Eddie, on the other hand, enjoyed the tea simply for its flavor. Phoebe was amazed how unaffected by the cold he was, despite the fact that he always seemed to be outside. Eddie was friendly to everyone in town but nobody knew much about him. He had no family that anyone knew of, and no one knew where he spent his nights, yet no one thought to ask. Most shops and cafés allowed him merchandise and meal free of charge, but he often earned more than he was given by helping out in whatever way he could. He was perhaps the most trusted man in town.
After he had assisted Phoebe in opening up shop, he said his thanks for the tea, and farewell. Phoebe appreciated his help and laughed as he headed out. She had known Eddie for years and still did not know much about him. Nevertheless, he was a good friend.
“Hey guys, do you think No-Show will show his face this year?”
“Who? You mean Murph?”
“Nah, I betcha he won’t. He ain’t got no one to build with.”
“What happened to his dad again?”
“You never heard? He took off or somethin’.”
“That ain’t true, I heard he died.”
“That ain’t true.”
“It don’t matter anyhow. He ain’t gonna race. He can’t.”
The boys waved at Eddie as he strolled past the dock but didn’t bother to stop their chatter. He heard the whole conversation.
He doubled back to the market and poked his head in the door. There were only a few shoppers. “Mrs. K!”
Without looking Phoebe knew the source of the holler. Nobody called her Mrs. K but Eddie. She never let on that she actually liked being called that. It reminded her of Mr. K.
“Make sure Murph is home tomorrow afternoon. You can tell him when he comes in for lunch.” And with that, he was back out the door.
She was slightly puzzled, not that he knew her son’s routine of coming in for lunch, but as to what he wanted to meet with him about. It didn’t bother her though; she shrugged it off and continued working.
“I’m not entering,” Murphy moped.
Eddie gave him a stern look, “Of course you are!” which then turned to a wide grin. His weathered face was oddly comforting, and his characteristic smile only added authenticity. Murphy, as did his mother, considered him a great friend.
Eddie then proceeded in giving Murph a pep talk, and they began to build their ship. Eddie had scrounged up a whole load of wooden scraps and a variety of cloth and canvas to drape the sails. They worked for several hours, sometimes in dialogue, sometimes in silence, and occasionally in loud laughter.
A few days later, they had a finished product. “It looks pathetic,” Murphy stated.
“She has character.” Eddie corrected. “Now, she needs a name.”
Murph chuckled and scoffed, “What’s the point? We don’t stand a chance tomorrow.”
“Oh you of little faith!” Eddie paused for a moment. He knew exactly what he was going to say next. He just had to say it the right way.
“Do you remember your father’s funeral? I know you were young then.” Eddie was one of many at the service. Murphy’s father was one of the most respected men in town, and his death had been tragic.
“I don’t remember much. Just that the reverend spoke and everybody cried. I did too, but I didn’t really understand.” His eyes changed and Eddie could tell he was thinking back.
Eddie continued, “Well, the reverend shared one of your father’s favorite quotes. I’m sure you’ve heard your mother say it too. It’s something Jesus Christ said to his disciples.” He saw Murph’s gaze shift again, and their eyes met. “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Murphy remained stoic. His countenance was rigid. But his eyes grew soft. It was as if he realized something; something that he had never before found. His father’s memory, his mother’s joy, and his friend’s honesty converged in a single flash. The glimmer of that flash appeared in his eyes.
“That’s called hope,” Eddie chimed.
Murphy looked up and smiled, wider than he had in a very long time. “I know what we’re going to name her.”
“You decided to show up, huh Murph?”
“Shouldn’t have bothered.”
“Wasting your time!”
The ridicule continued, but Murphy was unwavering this time. Altogether, the ship he held, the friend walking beside him, and the hope he carried snugly in his back pocket all bolstered his step and his mood.
“What kind of a name is Mustard Seed?”
“A stupid one!” someone answered.
Murph looked up at Eddie and they both shook their heads.
The other boys continued mocking Murphy and his ship. None of their fathers bothered to step in. Eddie had started to but Murphy told him not to worry about it.
All of the ships had been placed in the water, about fifteen in all. Most of them were intricate and grand. Standing next to them, Murphy’s was a dwarf. In addition to being smaller, she was designed differently. That was intentional though.
His ship had sails, but they were oddly angled. Almost horizontal, as opposed to the vertical sails of the other ships. His masts were taller but thinner, and they were adorned with awkward looking twigs that appeared to swivel. The other boys had dainty crow’s nests perched atop their masts, as would a fancy ship in a bottle. Most of the ships had lengthy keels and wide hulls. Murph’s ship was long as well, but narrow. All of the boys made snide remarks about the unconventional looking Mustard Seed.
It didn’t bother Murphy one bit.
The gun sounded and the racers unhanded their crafts. The initial gust of wind was low and swift, rolling across the surface of the bay. It filled sails as if Poseidon himself had blown his breath into them. All but Murphy’s sails.
He peered over his shoulder at Eddie who simply nodded once at his young friend. The other boys laughed at his motionless craft but Eddie’s nod had rebuilt his confidence. Eddie knew the bay and its wind better than anyone.
As soon as Murphy looked back at his ship, a giant gust of wind roared through. Except, this time, it tore upward. The other ships floundered, their sails confused by where the wind was coming from. They scattered, turning every which way. Murph’s ship, however, responded to the wind exactly as Eddie had promised. He knew the peculiar nature of the bay’s wind, and he knew it would blow predominantly upward.
Murphy looked on in wonder, but also in sheer joy, as Mustard Seed rode the wind. Her sails filled fuller than any of the others. Her unusual yards brilliantly spun her topsails. She was like nothing ever seen before.
Jaws dropped as everyone looked at Murphy. Murph looked at Eddie, and then back at them.
He smiled a wry and hearty grin: “Our ship doesn’t float; she flies.”