by Janet Mason
Tina looked at the image in front of her and wished she still had her camera.
She was walking along the deepwater port looking into the hold of a ship that had backed up to the cement pier. She could see both levels. Initially she assumed that first class was on the top and that steerage was down below. Then she noticed that the people below were almost all women and children. They looked like immigrants from Europe wrapped in their drab shawls and holding their squalling infants. None of them looked up.
On the top level, in what looked like first class, men in their bowler hats waited for the sailors to open the gang plank that in a few minutes would be secured on the dock. To the left a man with a banded panama hat bent forward over the rope railing. He looked like he was lighting a pipe or cigar. He was going to smoke while he waited. The top of his white straw hat against the brim formed a circle within a circle.
Between the two levels of steerage and first class, a plank ran diagonally through the scene. Behind the plank, a wide metal chimney came up from the floor of the ship bottom in steerage behind a woman huddled with two children. The effect of the line of the chimney cutting behind the plank made a triangular space in the upper part of the ship where the men and their bowler hats stood. To the right, the plank and the chimney framed the women and children in the bottom of the boat. The horizontal line of the second floor and the stairs on the low right leading to the second floor of the ship further divided the image into another triangular space.
Tina recognized that the scene in front of her was as cubist as a Picasso or Braque. It was as mesmerizing as Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.” It was the perfect image. The women in steerage, with shawls wrapped around their heads and shoulders, looked like they were from the old world. Even the young ones stooped slightly. They were probably Germans — maybe from Bavaria. The men too – in their dark caps and bowler hats – looked German. They were European immigrants who had come to Mexico to flee persecution, to be with family (for there were so many Germans living here), to find work. Tina grimaced. If they were coming to find work, they were in for a surprise.
Maybe instead they would find the Mexican Communist Party – like she had, like Diego and Frida had, like everyone Tina was fleeing. She wouldn’t miss them though – Frida and Diego. She wanted to put them as far out of her mind as possible. She would miss the Party. It had become her life. She never thought about leaving her beloved Mexico, her sunny country filled with romance and tropical fruits.
But then she had met Peggy and she convinced Tina to return with her to Europe. So Tina sold her camera and bought her passage on the RMS Alcantara.
Peggy was right. Tina would find more opportunities for her photography in Europe. But she would miss the land, the people, the Mexican Communist Party. She would miss Frida. No! Frida was the reason she was leaving. The thought made her look away from the scene she had been hungering for. It wouldn’t be right anyway. The men in the caps and bowler hats looked indifferent. They were just waiting to come to a new country. They wouldn’t care if they were photographed. But the women were different. Most had shawls wrapped around their heads but not all. One had her fuzzy head exposed. They probably had been at sea for weeks — and Tina knew how women felt about fixing their hair. Plus, they had children with them. The women would most likely not want to be photographed.
Tina ran down the walkway and reached the gangplank at the end of the dock to the liner, just as Peggy called to her from aboard the ship.
“I thought I had lost you,” she yelled to Tina.
“I’ll wait for you up here and then we can find our rooms.”
Tina threw back her shoulders as she stepped up her walk.
Janet Mason is an award-winning creative writer, teacher, and blogger for The Huffington Post. Her radio commentary airs worldwide on This Way Out, the LGBT news syndicated based in Los Angeles. Her book, Tea Leaves: a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012), was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2013 Over the Rainbow List and also received a Goldie Award. Janet’s short stories have appeared in many literary journals including the Brooklyn Review, Sinister Wisdom, and Aaduna. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.