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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 20

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railing, the dark sea’s horizon tipped dizzily, the sea itself hauntingly silent. I thought of groping my way down to my cabin, but was unable to move. “Schlecht Englander. . .,” he said, in a kind, altogether new, tone. Poor Englishman. In my raw state it felt like pity. ”Damnit it, Schmidt, you’re on your own.” Feebly, I stood up, feeling the fool for opening up, for over playing the Good Samaritan. My too personal confession, one I’d never made to anyone before, still spun confusingly in my mind. Schmidt grabbed my shoulder. “Schlimazel,” he muttered softly, or some such word that meant nothing to me at the time. I managed to return to my cabin, still having difficulty breathing, more doubtful with each breath over my motives regarding Schmidt. I decided to talk to the ship’s captain in the morning. But the captain was conferring with the purser, whose assistant was preoccupied with last minute requests from passengers debarking for a few hours in Djibouti. My own pass in hand, I joined our group, which soon, under a broiling sun, stepped off the gangplank onto Djibouti’s sullen, dusty streets. “Hell on earth,” Janet murmured. Typically, none of the unhelpful crew had warned us not to leave the ship. Only Jules, our jaded bartender, had said something about it being the last day of Ramadan, adding, with his characteristic, misanthropic shrug, “Nothing to see, rien alors. Et les Arabes? C’est l’ordure, M’sieur.” I suppose we got off for the feel of solid ground, a break in our monoto-nous routine, and I, having been assigned to similar English posts, was curious about a remote French colony bordering the Red Sea. Besides, I wanted to spend some time with Janet. The six of us – Jacques, Janet and her mother Solange, Ilona, Gamal and myself – had taken only a few steps along the stifling main street before we were showered with the angry glares of a group of gaunt, bare-footed men in grimy galabyas, and a few straggly boys tagging along. For my notebook, I silently noted: “Ravenously hungry, not just for food; these men are volcanically angry.” There was no wind, but the desert sand slipped into our eyes, ears and nostrils anyway. We were already visibly wilting.