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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 12

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anywhere, only his shrewd, desperate wits, not to mention his still mysterious origins. If Jewish, he might have settled in Israel by now. Hadn’t he said he’d wanted to go there? Hilda had said to me once, “I don’t know why I’m confessing this to you, darling. Maybe it’s because you listen so attentively.” This was particularly true whenever I traveled aboard trains, buses or ships; strangers willingly revealed to me their secrets. I was never an entirely passive listener, usually ingesting their confessions whole, though often it took years for me to absorb the stories that had provided relief, even expiation to the teller. Schmidt was different: I was already hooked, and I still knew nothing. The next day, the sun shone over a calm sea, the deck filled with passengers and I couldn’t visit Schmidt, a name that stuck throughout. The following morning we docked early at Port Said. I slept through breakfast, even through the clanging noises of our ship beginning to unload cargo. I hurriedly dressed and met my small group already assembled on deck, planning a day’s excursion to the pyramids. Gamal and Ilona stood by themselves, arguing. He was spending the day in Cairo, leaving Ilona to fend for herself. She wore a pair of bright red espadrille. Janet, seeing me, strolled over. “I hope you’re coming, Roger.” 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 suspiciously expected that our destination was South America, where high Nazi officials had been given asylum, specifically in