Children of Liberty(3)

By: Paullina Simons

“How far do you think we are?” she asked.

He pointed. It was like pointing at the wheel he was holding. “The docks are less than a kilometer away. What, you can’t see?”

When she ran to tell her brother and mother they were almost at land, they didn’t believe her. They were right not to, for the ship took another two hours to reach the shore. She could have swum faster! She was going out of her mind with impatience and boredom.

“Where’s the fire?” Salvo demanded. “Where are you planning to rush off to? What do you think will happen when you walk ashore? What, you think your whole life is going to change the minute you step off this boat?”

Gina had thought so a week earlier, somewhere near Iceland. But into his imperious expression, she said, “Don’t be so negative, Salvo. No nice American girl is going to want you when you get like this.”

“Who said I want an American girl?” He swore, then quickly apologized to Mimoo. He was usually such a good sport about things. Nothing could get Salvo down for long. His good looks and cheerful disposition assured him of finding comfort when he needed it. This late afternoon, they stood shoulder to shoulder at the masthead, watching the dockhands tie up the boat. Though she was four years younger and a girl, they were nearly the same height, Gina and Salvo. Gina was actually taller. No one could figure out where she got the height; her parents and brothers were not tall. Look, the villagers would say. Two piccolo brothers and a di altezza sister. Oh, that’s because we have different fathers, Gina would reply dryly. Salvo would smack her upside the head when he heard her say this. Think what you’re saying about our mother, he would scold, crossing himself and her at her impudence.

Chapter Two


MIMOO disembarked on Gina’s arm. Salvo pushed their three trunks on a dolly, bobbing down the plank. Gina was wobbly herself from being so long at sea.

They passed through the health control tent before they were allowed to step foot onto solid ground. No leaky eyes, no unexplained rashes, no single women traveling alone, all papers in order. Slowly they dragged their steamer trunks behind them.

“I don’t feel so good,” Mimoo said. “Where are we?”

Gina looked around for a sign. “Some place called the Long Wharf. Or Freedom Docks,” she said pointing. Her hair was hidden in a respectable bun as Mimoo had ordered.

“You’re just excited, Mimoo,” Salvo said. “Sit. Get your bearings.”

“You are a fool, Salvatore,” his mother said.

“I am not!”

Mimoo was a stout, solid woman dressed from her gray head to flat toe in widow’s black. “I haven’t kept anything down for six weeks. I am not remotely excited.”

They all sat down for a rest on a low wall near the water. So many people had left the boat before them that all the benches by the waterside had been taken by other families. The mother prayed, the brother and sister wiped their brows, glanced at each other. Where to now? Where to get some water? It was loud and chaotic; a swarm of seagulls flapped overhead, anticipating food.

“Señora! Señor! Señorita!” A sturdy male voice sounded to the right of them. Turning toward the tenor they were confronted with two young men, beaming and American, the taller one carrying a jug of water and bread, the other one a wicker basket with shiny red apples and half-moon oddities with thick yellow skin.

“Señora!” the shorter, friendlier of the two exclaimed again. He took off his skimmer hat and bowed to them, turning to face Gina. When he straightened out, he smiled widely at her, his brown eyes locked in. He seemed like the most genial of young men. He was open of face, effusive, extroverted. “You look tired and thirsty, please, let us help you, we have water.” Putting down his basket, he deftly grabbed the jug from his mate and poured water into a small metal cup, handing it to the sitting Mimoo. “Here, drink, señora. We have a little bread. Harry, offer them some. Would you like to try a banana?” He lifted his basket to show Gina. “They’re an extraordinary delicacy from the southern Americas, soon to be available all over the world.” Gina wanted the apple, but it would have been messy to eat. She didn’t want juice running down her chin as she was trying to look lady-like. Salvo, not caring about his chin juices, grabbed the apple. No one eyed the bananas with anything but rank distrust.

“I’m Ben Shaw,” the amiable man said to her. “Absolutely delighted to make your acquaintance.” He smiled.

The quiet taller boy stepped forward. “Would you like some bread? Or just the water?” He was rumple-haired and wiry, but wore a smart suit with a vest and tie, though the starched white shirt was coming loose from the trousers and the silk tie was askew. One of his gold cufflinks was about to fall off. Gina’s father would’ve liked him—he wasn’t boisterous. He had clever, serious eyes. Gina decided he was shy, which she found instantly appealing. He watched her calmly, not friendly, but not unfriendly either. She smiled at him—nothing timid about her—showing him her white Italian teeth, her gleaming unsubdued eyes, her flushed face. “I’ll take some bread, please,” she said in English. “Hello.” She stuck out her hand. “I’m Gina.”