I stared at the ship motionless. Brightly lit, it rested on the surface of the Tajo. not far from the embankment. Although I had been in Lisbon for a week, I still could not get used to the carefree lights of this city. In the countries where I came from, the cities lay black at night like coal mines, and the light of a lantern in the dark was more dangerous than the plague in the Middle Ages. I came from Europe of the twentieth century.
The ship was a passenger ship. There was loading. I knew that he should sail tomorrow night. In the sharp light of naked electric lights on board, meat, vegetables, fish, canned goods were served; workers dragged their luggage, and the crane lifted lightly and noiselessly, as if weightless, bales and boxes. The ship was on the road, like Noah’s Ark.
Well, it really was the ark. Each ship that left Europe in these months of 1942 was an ark. America rose above Ararat, and the flood was growing every day. He had long ago flooded Germany and Austria, deep at the bottom lay Prague and Poland; drowned Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo and Paris; in the fetid streams the cities of Italy were choking; it was impossible to be saved already in Spain. The coast of Portugal was the last refuge of fugitives for whom justice, freedom and tolerance meant more than the motherland and life, the One who can not reach the blessed land of America, was waiting for death. He was doomed to bleed in the wilds of refusals to entry and exit visas,
Today after lunch I went to the casino “Estoril” with the hope of winning. I still had a decent suit, and they let me in. It was the last, desperate attempt to bribe fate. Permission to stay in Portugal from me and Ruth expired in a few days. We did not have any visas. The ship that stood on the Tagus was the last one, with which we were still in France expected to get to New York, but the seats on it were sold out in a few months, and we had neither permission to enter America nor money; the ticket cost over three hundred dollars. I tried to get money the only possible way here – in a casino. Even if I won, getting on the ship could be a miracle. But during the flight and danger, in despair, you just start to believe in a miracle: otherwise you can not survive…
But I did not get anything out of sixty-two dollars that we had, I lost fifty-six.
At this late hour the embankment was deserted. Soon, however, I noticed a man who walked aimlessly back and forth, then suddenly stopped and began, like me, to peer at the steamer. I decided that he, too, was one of the crashed and did not deserve attention. Then I felt that he was watching me.
Fear of the police never leaves an emigrant. Even in a dream. Even when he has nothing to fear. So I immediately turned and with a bored look of a man who does not feel any fear, slowly moved away from the embankment.
Soon I heard footsteps behind me. I walked the same way, slowly. I was only tormented by the thought of telling Ruth if I was arrested. At the end of the embankment there were houses, as if written out by pastels, like big butterflies, asleep in the night. There, in the alleys, it’s easy to disappear, get lost. But it’s still too far to go. If I run, they can shoot me.
The man was walking beside him now. He was a little below me.
– Are you German? he asked in German.
Without slowing down, I shook my head.
I did not answer, I looked at the pastel houses. They approached, but very slowly. I knew that there are Portuguese police officers who speak German well.
“I’m not a policeman,” the man said.
I did not believe him. He was in civilian clothes, but many times in Europe I was caught by gendarmes in civilian clothes. True, I now had documents. And not bad. They were made in Paris by a professor of mathematics from Prague. And yet it was a fake.
“I saw how you looked at the ship,” the man said. “So I thought…”
I looked at him with an indifferent glance. He did not look like a policeman. However, the last gendarme who grabbed me in Bordeaux looked so pitiful that it was more like Lazarus, who spent three days in the grave. He proved to be the most ruthless and arrested me, although he knew that the German troops would be in Bordeaux in a day. And I would have died if the prison director had not relented and let me out two hours later.