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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 23

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“Stop doing that! It’s stupid what you do,” Jacques said loudly. He shoved the beggars toward the stairs with his legs, grabbing a few bills that some of them had not yet hidden inside their ragged shirts. Then, in a tight ball, they scrambled away from him toward the stairs. “They have nothing! What is the matter with you, Jacques?” Janet said. “You think you help with your paltry dollars?” Jacques stood rigidly under the single yellow light bulb. Gamal said, “They’re lepers, poor buggers. They’re dying." “Allez!” Jacques yelled, and the beggars scrambled up the stairs and through the door. “So they don’t deserve a square meal?” Obviously shaken, Janet walked defiantly toward Jacques. Her cheeks were flushed, her shoulders rigid with fear. Jagged streaks of brilliant sunlight suddenly shone down the stairs. About a dozen of the surly turbaned men we had seen outside now stood there, blocking the entrance. Jacques drew his pistol and went toward them, as if he’d shoot the first man who took a step down. It’s possible that I misread Jacques, sensing not so much an absence of pity in him, but rather, a cold lack of interest – these people were beyond the pale. I’d seen the same callous disinterest in the eyes of British soldiers quelling native riots for independence in Accra. “This isn’t necessary, Jacques,” I said, going over to him. “They’re not doing anything.” “Allez, allez. . .ça va,” Fabrice moved from the bar, climbed up a few steps, speaking softly, motioning to the men to leave. Not one of them moved. “Nour partons,” I called up to the men firmly, telling Janet and the others to follow me up the steps. Again none of men above moved. A loud explosion from behind shattered the quiet. Idiotically, Jacques had fired a single shot, aimed at the ceiling above the bar. Bits of plaster rained onto the floor. More turbaned heads peered down from the entrance. The men muscled together in a knot, sullenly refusing to budge as we, one by one, reached them. Their anger was palpable; we could have ignited it easily, by accident, as we, in single file, inched our way out. My heart was pounding.