Return to Home Page Return to Home Page
Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 2

Next Page Next Page
I was curious about the stowaway’s plight and wanted, I believed, to be helpful, but there was also a seductive element of secrecy. Secrecy and deviousness are part of the required credentials of being in the British dip-lomatic corps, or any diplomatic corps: spying, without violence, join naturally. Yet I also felt personally exposed: I’d just left a failed love affair, was headed on a new assignment to a country I knew nothing about, and was suddenly loose at sea; like the stowaway, I felt a terrible loss. This was in mid-August of 1952, not so long after the end of the war – World War II, I should explain, since there are always wars, aren’t there? Europe was still crawling with what were officially called ‘displaced persons,’ thousands of individuals and their astonishing variety of nationalities, dislocated by the latest signing of treaties, the redrawing of national boundaries, rejected, expelled, awaiting repatriation, sometimes gaining it, often not. Many still waited in camps hoping to be accepted in others’ homeland, since their own did not.I stood up to stretch and immediately saw another strange sight. A woman, standing alone at the rear of the deck, removed one of her spike-heeled shoes, unscrewed the heel and – or so it seemed – screwed it back on more tightly. With its unscuffed sole, the shoe was obviously new; and noticeably cherished because of the way she caressed the shoe’s smooth, pale blue leather. Mentally, words came for my notebook: “Italian, I’d wager – Sicilian. But why the Slavic cheekbones? A fetish for shoes, leftover privation from the war?” In any case, the shoes didn’t suit her; they accentuated her shortness, and she was too old to fling back a foot against her bottom as she suddenly leaned over a side railing closer to me. Her name was Ilona.I met her that first night by happenstance at the bar, along with her Egyptian husband, Gamal. A few others joined us and we became close, largely because of the stranger hiding in a lifeboat on an upper deck. On deck that afternoon I was again struck, this time by the striking profile of a young woman I guessed to be in her early twenties. She stood at the railing, facing the receding coastline and ripped open a cablegram the deck steward had handed her. “She tears it up crossly -- surely a departing message from a lover,” I noted for my notebook. “Distinctly American -- self-confident, proud, used to having things go her way. Her shoulders straighten defiantly as she flings the bits of paper into the sea.” I sympathized with the girl’s wounded defiance. I was still smarting over Hilda’s parting note, still nestled in my breast pocket. She’d tacked the note to my bungalow door the morning I left Dakar: