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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 11

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If I stayed aboard, I’d have uninterrupted time to question my stowaway, I thought, noting the possessive ‘my.’ Besides, I’d visited the pyramids during my student days. Then suddenly I wanted to go with them. As I reached into my back pocket I discovered that my passport was missing. Of course it was missing; I’d changed trousers. I rushed to my cabin, ransacked every pocket to no avail, and then ran up to the boat deck, where it must have fallen when I lost my balance during my late visit with Schmidt. It wasn’t there. It must have blown into the sea. By the time I reported my lost passport to the purser, carefully explaining that it probably had blown overboard, Janet and the others had disembarked. I could have obtained a day’s pass from the purser. But I didn’t. I remained on the ship because of a cadaverous stowaway who suspi-ciously expected that our destination was South America, where high Nazi officials had been given asylum, specifically in Argentina. If I reported him to the cynical communist crew sloppily running the ship, they’d lock him up, haul him back to France, and what might happen to him there filled me with a fierce anxiety I couldn’t explain to myself. Over the years this same feverish disquiet occasionally came over me. Hilda, observing my distress, once called it a “secret complex. It makes you both odd and mysterious, Roger.” To squelch the churning fear at the pit of my stomach, a terrible hopelessness, I sometimes took on risks, just as I was now, with my stowaway. Of one thing I was certain: Turning Schmidt in was out of the question. What was far less clear was my baseless loyalty to him. I asked the sullen deck steward, tipping him generously, to bring me some breakfast near the ship’s stern where I had first seen Schmidt hoist himself inside his lifeboat. The sun was already broiling; Schmidt was surely stifling, his wounded foot festering and he was probably faint from hunger again. Let him wait, I thought, let his foot wait. An hour more would weaken his will, and I would not allow him to pry me with questions. I settled into my chair, bit into a croissant and sipped my coffee. The deck stewards, and most of the crew had left, and probably all the passengers. The truth was that Schmidt, all frail, five foot eight inches of him, fasci-nated me. More precisely, his precarious statelessness obsessed me. He had no provable, acceptable past, no guaranteed passage