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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 25

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Why hadn’t I turned him in? I remembered Hilda’s comment: “You’re a closet coward, darling, hiding from God knows what.” I lay on my bunk, shivering, strenuously hoping Schmidt had escaped into French Somalia. Not because he might be treated kindly there if caught, but if his goal was Israel, he was not too far away. Gamal thought that possibility ludicrous, certain that the man he’d seen was not a Jew. Schmidt himself had thought the ship was bound for South America. To stop shaking I pulled a coverlet over me and remembered thinking that the curled hairs on Schmidt’s forearm resembled letters or tattooed numbers. Now I wasn’t sure I’d seen anything. At breakfast the next morning rumors about the stowaway flew from table to table: He’d been caught while jumping ship. . .no, he’d escaped. He was a Russian deserter, an Albanian refugee, an Eastern Polish Jew. Jacques arrived late, and announced that the captured man was in the ship’s brig. I was sure he knew quite a bit more than he let on because he left the table twice and returned each time more tight lipped than before. Janet clicked her water glass, demanding our attention, and announced that the purser had told her the stowaway was an escaped Nazi. “What does the purser know? Maybe he’s a Czech Jew, wouldn’t you agree, Roger?” Gamal said, winking at me? Finally, from Ilona: “He’s just one little speck – displaced, misplaced, lost.” She seemed distraught – I suspected that Gamal had received more disconcerting cablegrams that morning. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the purser, asking me to join him in his office. Because they’d found my passport on Schmidt or in his lifeboat? Fortunately I’d reported its loss, so I had my alibi. “I don’t believe you reported the loss of your rucksack, Mr. Barnes.” The purser held it toward me, as if it contained a contagious piece of human flesh. “Is that mine? Let me see.” “We found it in one of the lifeboats. Stored under the seat.”