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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 27

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“It’s all about loss, Janet, always.” Tears welled up and she hurried away. I should have gone after her – “You’re young, Janet, beautiful and strong,” – but I couldn’t. From then on, until we reached Saigon, I kept to myself, avoiding glimpses of Jacques and Janet playing out their drama of love, separation, anguish. “A thirteen-day romance, for God’s sake,” I wrote irritably in my notebook, “Yet somehow wrenching.” Around noon the following day I stood starboard on an upper deck. Our ship was carefully maneuvering its way through Saigon’s murky delta. I’d deliberately ignored orders to stay below and now sporadic gunshots cracked from the lush thick jungle as we very slowly cruised past. happened to glance sideways and – incredibly – there was Schmidt! Plastered against the bulkhead, sticking out like a balloon in his bright blue pris-on garb! He had not been treated gently; there were nasty bruises on his head and neck. On his feet were my sandals, one of them cut to accommodate a compress over his wounded foot. His terrified eyes begged me not to give him away, so I quickly turned my head. When I casually glanced back he had slipped out of sight. I found him crouched behind a mound of coiled ropes. “You’ll be seen here,” I said, squatting next to him. He was trembling uncontrollably. I wondered if he had just escaped and if anyone knew. “Ich muss. . .” he mumbled, jutting his chin toward the railing. Was his faintly guttural accent Yiddish, and how could I tell anyway? I grabbed an arm to get a better view of the markings I thought I’d seen on his wrists, but his violent twitching made seeing impossible. “Schmidt, do you have family in Israel? Are you a Jew?” He looked at me as if I was crazy, said nothing, and I realized – how long it had taken me to see this? – That I didn’t care what he was. The terrified man wanted to jump overboard, a mighty gamble, knowing what a perfect target he was. He didn’t have a chance and I was rooting for him, insanely, with all my will. A shrill whistle rippled through the steaming air above us. We both froze. A voice over the loudspeaker ordered all passengers below, a final call. Schmidt darted for the railing. I yanked him back, ripped off