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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 18

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I thought of Schmidt and his infuriating patchwork of truths and non-truths. But everyone around the table was playing the same game. My anxieties about Schmidt seemed insubstantial; out of necessity, he had thrown away all boundaries. Nothing about him was certain. Solange addressed the lot of us. “We are like rowers who advance backwards.” She smiled sweetly at me, adding, “Montaigne.” Again for my notebook, I thought: “She knows she’s more than a little mad – an appealing and convenient shield.” Her steel-plated financier of a husband, now that I knew who he was, whose picture I’d seen countless times in European newspapers, probably adored her, never attributing her allusiveness to himself. All wars demand different weapons, like Ilona’s shoes in which she’d perhaps hidden precious stones. I raised my glass to Solange and she returned the compliment. Gamal left the table abruptly, evidently irritated with our conversation. While the others exchanged glances, I took the opportunity to wrap some meat and bread in my napkin for my secret companion upstairs, as well as an uno-pened bottle of wine, stuffing it all into my rucksack beneath the table. I also planned to give him the leather sandals I was wearing. After dinner I explained to the purser that my passport must have slipped out of my hip pocket on deck somewhere and that, until it was found I’d need a pass to get off at our next stop, Djibouti. I still thought Schmidt had my passport. If he was caught and they found it on him, they’d believe my story. His plight kept gnawing at me. In every experience of pleasure I was having – the wind on my face, the daytime peacefulness of the sea, my freedom to move, eat, stroll around, drink at the bar, read books, sleep in my bunk – I saw him: Caged in a lifeboat, without papers. What could he do but grab at an idea of freedom, an eventual destination. Who he was – an Israeli, a Nazi? How immense the difference – only he knew. I decided to forego a drink in the bar, possibly a dance on deck with Janet. The coast was clear, and the lifeboat deck looked empty. From there I would still be able to see the others below.Schmidt’s large frightened eyes already peeked out from the canvas. He was gulping air. “New rules, Schmidt. Only verifiable facts. No facts, no food. Do you understand?” “Was?” “Die Warheit – the truth, Schmidt. Jesus!”