Continued from October 11, 2016
Rosalia sensed she was not the only steerage passage who was tiring of the boring days in the belly of the ship. By day seven she was certain she’d not survive the inadequate ventilation that was made worse by the vomit of those who were seasick, the the reek of unwashed bodies whose only hope of a “shower” were the waves that washed over the deck, and the odors of too few toilets.
And she was lonely.
She missed her sister, her mother, her best friend. With nothing else to occupy her mind, doubts began to flood her thoughts. Hard as she tried, she could no
keep images of her home in Poland out of her head. Middle-of-the-night snoring, coughing, mumbling made deep sleep a hopeless goal.
Rosalia comforted herself with memories of how she and Katarzyna would ease each other’s night terrors during thunder storms by holding hands and singing.
Sleep was almost upon her when the girl in the next bunkbed cried out, then whimpered. A few seconds later brought another scream.
Their bunks were close, so close that Rosalia could easily stroke the girl’s arm. “Hush,” she said. “You’re having a nightmare.”
The girl sat up with a start and stared at Rosalia. It was obvious that she didn’t know where she was.
“You’re on a ship. We’re on our way to America,” Rosalia said.
After a few minutes the girl exchanged her sobs for hiccups..
“Dziękuję,” she said. The Polish word for ‘thank you’ reassured Rosalia that here was a potential friend. “I’m Joasia. Who are you?”
“I’m Rosalia. I’m from a small village outside of Krakow.” Embarrassed by the tears that filled her eyes as she thought about her family’s tiny farm, Rosalia faked a cough.
“You miss home too?” Joasia said.
“More than I thought I would. What is your home like? What made you decide to leave?”
Once more tears filled Joasia’s eyes.
“You’ve heard of the Łódź insurrection?”
Rosalia paled and silently nodded. “Of course. You mean your papa was killed in that?”
She needed to response to know the answer. The two young women sat on the bunk bed, hugging each other and rocking to the incessant thrumming of the ship’s engines. sense of privacy. They talked through the rest of the night, comparing favorite foods, holiday stories, friends’ foibles. It was clear come dawn that fatigue was not a reason to sleep. Each had found what she needed the most right now…a friend.