The Hijacking | Susana Santos Martins | The Piltdown Review

The Hijacking

The Hijacking
Photograph of T.N. Santa Maria courtesy of ssmaritime.com.

It was a tight space, a very narrow opening between the crates and the cold storage locker. But it must be where the little spy had disappeared. No, not disappeared, Fábio thought. Still there, just out of sight. People cannot very well evaporate into the atmosphere only to condense again somewhere else, slowly and steadily dripping back into existence.

Now there was a concept. Hanging back, breathing hard after the silent but swift chase he’d been led on, Fábio was struck by it for a moment, wished it were true: that he could travel molecule by molecule off this ship, quietly re-forming on the underside of a banana leaf in Luanda until he could stand upright on his own two feet and have a word with the sergeants and captains, rally them around the cause. That should be simple enough—hardly any of them believed they should go to the lengths of war in order to keep the African colonies. None of them, he imagined. Every farmer’s son—every João das Couves as Fábio’s mother would say—who had been drafted to protect the settlements in Angola and Mozambique surely understood he was nothing more than an instrument of Salazar’s mania. It was Portugal’s freedom the soldiers would willingly fight for; it would mean going home.

But what a long hard slog to get there. Why not materialize on the damp-streaked windowpanes of Salazar’s study and lie in wait for him there, take him prisoner, put him on trial for his crimes? Because it’s impossible, Fábio told himself, flashing the beam around the storage hold just in case he was wrong about the spy’s hiding place. God would never let a man simply will himself to a place. There must be very good reasons to keep people trapped in their own bodies. But it was Salazar who had made them exiles and fugitives—that was not part of God’s plan, despite the prime minister’s pious avowals, despite his portrait hanging in every Portuguese schoolroom by decree, right beside the cross. This was why they must find their way to Angola and from there back to Portugal.

Fábio was the youngest of the twenty who had boarded the Santa Maria at La Guaira harbor in Venezuela, with four more, including Captain Galvão, embarking a day later in Curaçao. As one of the men carrying a real passenger ticket, purchased after each of them had sold every last possession they owned, he did not even have to exercise his wits in order to stow away like several of the others; and he hadn’t been entrusted with smuggling any of the weapons. This errand—pursuing the shadowy little figure spotted lurking in the passageway outside the tourist-class cabin they were using as their onboard headquarters—was the most important thing he’d ever been assigned to do, and it was only because the two men reporting the intruder thought it was nothing, a passenger’s wandering child, and everyone else was readying to get into position. In just forty minutes, they were meant to take over the ship, in the small hours, when the bare-bones overnight crew drowsily neared the end of their shift, a few hours before the morning staff would begin their pre-dawn bustle.

He clamped the end of the flashlight between his teeth so he could hold his rifle steady and crept forward, knees slightly bent the way he’d been taught by Jorge, one of the Spaniards in their group, and the only one who had served as a navy officer. They had taken to calling him Commander Sotomayor, following the Captain’s lead, but Fábio still thought of him as Jorge, from the days before the actual plan to hijack a transatlantic luxury liner had been formulated and everything was just basic skills training and attempts to raise money. Tranquilo, Jorge was always saying. Clear your mind. Doubt will get you killed. Or worse. What is worse? Fábio once wondered aloud, and all the Spaniards glanced at each other and laughed. That’s the problem with the Portuguese, one of them muttered. And even now Fábio was wondering if he should be holding his knife, not his gun, because wouldn’t the bullets ricochet? Wouldn’t he alert the ship’s crew if he fired in here—too soon, before the other men were in position? Should he—

But now the beam from his flashlight had penetrated the crevice and it was too late to change tactics. The intruder was flat against the wall, head tipped down, hardly daring to breathe, hands empty: there was a relief. Fábio reflexively jabbed the figure in the stomach, just lightly, with the muzzle of the gun. A tiny movement, a flick of the hair, and then eyes like bronze coins, flat and broad, caught the light, staring back at him. Fábio shifted the weight of the rifle to his right hand and took the flashlight out of his mouth, holding it up near his left ear like policemen do in films. He tilted the beam rapidly up and down the length of the captive, and that was when he saw it was a girl, despite the trousers, the work shirt, and the hair chopped close by the ears. Another wave of relief, even though he knew that PIDE recruited women, teenagers—anyone could be an informant or agent. Also, according to his mother, the only murder in the village where he’d been born had been committed by a woman wielding a hoe. She had buried it in her husband’s cranium one hot summer day, a single mighty blow, and never uttered a word of remorse about it either.

“If you move, I will shoot,” Fábio said. “Come out.” He hoped she understood Portuguese. If she spoke Spanish, that would also be okay, but his English was very poor.

She looked down at the rifle, which was still pressed against her midriff. “How?”

He took two steps back, keeping both the flashlight and the weapon trained on her. “Come out.”

“If I move, you will shoot?”

“What?”

“What you said: if I move, you will shoot.”

“Come out,” Fábio said. “Hands up.”

“So if I move, you will not shoot.”

He reached out with the hand that held the flashlight and grabbed a handful of her shirt at the shoulder, but at exactly the same moment her arms shot up and she shuffled rapidly out of the crevice, breaking his hold and knocking the flashlight to the floor.

“Fuck!”

“Don’t shoot!”

She dropped into a crouch, scooped up the flashlight, and held it out to him. “Here,” she said.

He had the gun trained on her face now, not quite on purpose, but she was still down on the floor and anyway she’d startled him. He was breathing harshly and had broken into a sweat; it trickled into his waistband. He grabbed the flashlight, slapping her hand away in the process.

“It was an accident,” she said sullenly, but she straightened up with her hands back in the air.

“Let’s go,” he said. When she hesitated, he nudged her with the gun barrel. “Let’s go.”

After that she did exactly as he instructed, all the way up to the Captain’s cabin, staying quiet except to inform him, when they were halfway up the stairs out of the storage hold, that if he shot her in the back it would be a cowardly act, and furthermore the incident with the flashlight was an accident, not to mention entirely his fault. He didn’t take the bait. Everything she said was technically true, even if it was extremely annoying of her to say it.

Nobody was impressed by Fábio’s capture of the spy, but nobody teased him either. They were focused, serious, the few who were still with Captain Galvão. Zeca made Fábio halt outside the door and performed a quick search on the girl—something Fábio realized he should have done immediately, and she did too, the way she shot a glance at him. Zeca said nothing, only showed him that he’d found some money, mostly Venezuelan currency but with some Portuguese escudos mixed in; a slip of paper with what appeared to be directions to an address, written in tiny all-capital letters; and a jackknife. A small one, but still. Zeca knocked gently and then stepped inside the cabin. A moment later, he opened the door and beckoned them in.

Captain Galvão was standing beside the small built-in writing desk with his head lowered as he listened intently to Jorge, who was murmuring something about “radio communications.” The Captain was tall, taller even than Fábio, and in his gray suit with his slicked-back silver hair he bore a passing resemblance to Salazar himself, a thought that had crossed Fábio’s mind before but which he would never say out loud. In every other way the two men could not be more completely opposed, which had made Fábio ponder how ideas and convictions—behaviors as well—must come from somewhere outside individual hearts and minds. How could such vast gulfs arise or be contained by mere mortal men who shared so much in common, each and every one of them built of flesh and bone with eyes for seeing and mouths for eating and skin that would wrinkle and sag over time, every one of them faced with quotidian preoccupations of hunger, thirst, sickness, desire, the occasional bout of constipation? The dictator and the Captain alike are made up of literally incomprehensible forces, Fábio concluded; they are movements, they are both moved and movers. He felt no such special convergence within himself, which made him think such men were extraordinary despite their commonalities with any person on the street, any shopkeeper, taxi driver or student. It was a conundrum.

“Go now,” the Captain said, checking his watch. “I’ll give the signal when all are in place.” Sotomayor slung an automatic weapon over his shoulder—one of the few they’d managed to get hold of—and let his eyes slide over the prisoner, the only change in his expression a raised eyebrow. Then he nodded at Fábio, made a small gesture towards Zeca, who had stationed himself in the corner of the room, and left.

“So,” Captain Galvão said, “we have very little time.”

“Give me back my money,” said the girl, talking right over him.

The Captain gave her a bemused look. “Of course.” He slid the small pile of bills and coins off the edge of the desk with one hand into the palm of the other and stepped forward to give them to her. “We are not thieves.”

She stuffed the money into her pocket. “And the rest?” she said, eyeing the slip of paper and jackknife that still lay on the desk.

“First let’s talk. As I began to say, we have very little time. Do we know anything?”

This last was addressed to Fábio, who shook his head, then said—like an idiot, it was obvious already—“She’s Portuguese.” Perhaps he should have questioned the captive before bringing her here. He resisted the urge to look at Zeca to check if he were rolling his eyes.

The Captain courteously offered the desk chair to the girl. When she refused, he sat down in it himself, crossing his legs. Now they were at something like eye level with each other. “I will ask you a few questions, and I would like you to answer honestly. Nothing bad will happen to you.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” she said. “I know who you are.”

“Good,” he replied. “Then you simply need to introduce yourself.”

She said nothing. The Captain glanced involuntarily over his shoulder, following her gaze. She must be scanning the room, a true spy. Fábio stared at the back of her head, where her hair appeared to have been butchered with a pair of garden shears.

“Or perhaps you would like to begin with what you were doing in the corridor? Or for that matter on this ship; you don’t appear to be a legitimate—“

“Where are we going?” The girl lunged towards one of the lower berths, where the charts and maps lay spread out, with small markings visible in red ink. Zeca’s pistol rose up, the Captain stiffened in his chair, but Fábio was the closest. He flung his right arm around the girl and restrained her, feeling the rifle he still held collide with her ribcage. Her right arm was pinned against her side but with the left hand she managed to reach up and strike him in the temple. He grabbed her wrist and forced her arm down, then held on while she kicked his shins and struggled. She was tiny and bony but he had to clamp down hard, which only seemed to infuriate her.

“Tell me! Where are we going?”

The Captain was on his feet by then. “Calm down,” he said. “What is the matter?”

“This ship is supposed to dock in Lisbon,” she replied, still straining away from Fábio’s chest but no longer slamming her heel into his shin. “I can see—I can see on the map—“

“Do you see these weapons?” Zeca suddenly growled from the corner. “What do you think they are for?”

“To overthrow that son of a bitch Salazar, obviously!” The girl wrenched herself sideways just to throw an angry glance in Zeca’s direction, nearly toppling Fábio over.

“Calm yourself immediately and tell me who you are,” the Captain said.

“We don’t have time for this,” Zeca warned.

“Clearly. But if she has spoken with anyone?” The Captain’s tone was flinty; Zeca clammed up.

“I would never tell,” the girl shot back. “I thought we were on the same side. But the map—you are nothing but pirates.”

“Patriots!” Fábio said, giving her a shake.

“Calm down, everyone.” Galvão took the girl by the chin, compelling her to look up at him. “At the moment you are putting us in danger, which in turn is dangerous for you. We can discuss everything, but only if you stay calm.”

After a moment she nodded, and the Captain signaled that Fábio should release her. She went straight to the berth with the charts, staring down at the largest map.

“Why aren’t we going to Portugal?”

“First things first,” the Captain said. “Have you talked to anyone?”

“No,” she said.

“You are certain? No one at all? Think well before you answer. Lives are at stake.”

“I’m not stupid.”

“No,” he agreed. “But reckless. What are you doing here? Someone spoke to you about our plans?”

“What kind of plan is this?” the girl said, jabbing a finger into the thin, crinkly southern Atlantic. “To take the ship off course? What kind of stupid, cowardly—“

“I know who she is,” Fábio blurted. It had finally come to him, the way she spat the word “stupid.” It reminded him, he had heard that contempt before. They all turned to look at him, the girl included.

“Senhora Luisa had a little girl,” he said.

“Little girl,” she repeated in disgust.

“Ah,” the Captain said. “The daughter of Senhora Luisa.” He seemed to be regarding her in a new light. “What is your name?”

“Who cares,” the girl said, sullen again, as though being identified as someone’s daughter instantly put her at the mercy of adult authority figures. “I just want to know what kind of stupid—what kind of plan is this.”

Zeca made a show of shifting his weight and the Captain glanced at his watch again. “Your mother is a good woman and loyal patriot,” he said to the girl, “and she must be desperate to learn what’s become of you. I assume you did not even leave her a note? Or else she would have alerted the authorities, and the ship would have been searched top to bottom before it even left La Guaira.”

“I already said I told no one.”

“What you have done is very cruel to your mother. We will have to get word to her.”

“We can’t do that,” Zeca said. “It will destroy our plans.”

“And what are these plans?” the girl said. “You promised to explain what—“

The Captain turned to Fábio. “What are your orders?”

“—the hell we are doing!”

The General glanced at her sternly, and waited for Fábio’s reply.

“To guard the portside passage to the bridge.” Fábio was in Jorge’s—Captain Sotomayor’s—assault group, assigned to take the bridge, pilothouse, and radio room. The others, under Captain Galvão’s leadership, would attack the quarters on the second deck, where the ship’s officers had their cabins.

“Antonio will handle that on his own. Now your assignment is to guard the menina.” The girl pulled a face and started forward in protest, but Fábio took her arm to hold her back. “For your own safety,” the Captain said to her.

“And ours,” Zeca added.

“Here?” said Fábio. It was probably a dumb question, but it seemed wrong to keep her in this particular cabin, as though the maps would be at risk, the whole sense of their mission in peril.

“It will have to be,” the Captain said decisively. “Zeca. Vamos.”

He picked up a .42-caliber Colt and slipped it into his waistband, where it made a slight bulge under the flap of his suit. Then he paused and looked at the girl’s piece of paper, tapped it with his index finger. “Perhaps, when there is time, you will share your plan for this,” he said to her with a small smile. “In the meantime, sit. Do not give this poor boy any trouble.”

Galvão took the flashlight from Fábio and moved past him to the door. Zeca peered out into the corridor and gave the all-clear. Then they were gone.

The girl had flung herself into the chair and now regarded Fábio through her ragged bangs while he paced, four steps in one direction, a sharp explosive turn, and four steps back.

“What’s your problem?” she finally said.

His mind should be on what was going on right this very minute—within the hour, they would either succeed or be imprisoned. The moment had arrived. But Fábio was fuming over the Captain having called him a “poor boy,” thereby putting him at the same level as the menina. No, not at the same level, beneath her really, at her mercy, as though he would not be able to handle it if she did decide to cause any trouble.

“I should be on the bridge,” he said. “Not closed up in this room in charge of making sure you don’t mess everything up.”

“Seems like an important job. I’m very dangerous.”

“Don’t start with me. You have no right to be here. You should be at home peeling potatoes for the soup.”

That was exactly how he’d remembered her: standing at the kitchen counter, using a sharp paring knife that left tiny cuts in the top layer of skin on the pad of her thumb, which she used as a bumper for the blade as she swept it towards her. She cut the skin off the potatoes very thin, very rapidly. His own mother would have been pleased—he’d often heard her berating the maid back in Vila Pouca for wasting food with her thick, clumsy peels. Fábio had paused to watch for a moment, mesmerized by the movements of the knife wielded so expertly by this child wearing a woman’s apron and short socks with her Mary Jane pumps. He had only caught glimpses of her before; Senhora Luisa kept her daughter well away from the men who boarded with her, even these fellow Portuguese to whom she was quietly letting rooms at no charge.

In fact Fábio was not supposed to be in the kitchen at all, but he’d missed breakfast and was hoping to find a leftover roll, maybe a piece of fruit. He spied an open package of Bolacha Maria—flat, round Portuguese biscuits, he’d never liked them but now they’d certainly do—and he started to slide a few out of the package but the wrapper crackled loudly and the girl was startled. She whipped around and lost control of the knife, which bit into her thumb.

“Estúpido!” she had said, glaring at him while sucking on the wound, and Fábio saw that she was a bit older than he’d thought from her frail build and the clothes her mother made her wear. Sixteen. Maybe seventeen.

“Really,” he said, taken aback by her fierceness, but then he had immediately apologized and retreated, leaving the biscuits behind.

“That’s what men think,” the girl said now. “That women are only good for making soup and washing their filthy socks.”

“And other things,” he said with a sidelong look, but it was only a half-hearted attempt to provoke her. He couldn’t even be sure she’d know what he was talking about.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “you’re worse than children, worse than dogs, all this talk about honor and work but you’ll throw it over in an instant just to get a look at a pair of tits.”

She had a real mouth on her. The only woman he’d ever heard talk like that was La Concha, the toothless old woman who smoked cigars and taunted the workmen all day at the bar that was located a few blocks from Senhora Luisa’s boardinghouse in Caracas. He never talked back to La Concha, even when she hypothesized that he was a maricón or speculated about the various attributes of his penis (sometimes a mere fava bean; other times an unwieldy plantain; sometimes a putrid, oozing plantain). He knew he’d never win with La Concha. There was no shocking her, and no shutting her up either; she always had the last word.

“If you even had tits, we’d do a lot more than just look,” he said.

“A look at what I have was enough to get me on this ship.”

“Liar,” Fábio replied automatically. He was still pacing, it was practically a compulsion now. “Grown men are not interested in little girls.”

She let out a harsh laugh. “Do you even hear what you are saying? What a joke.”

“Like you know anything about what men want.”

“I know he made me lift my shirt.”

“Who?” Fábio said. “Who would commit such a heinous act on the precious menina?”

“The stevedore at the dock in La Guaira,” she said. “Before he’d let me into the hold.”

“Made you,” Fábio sneered. “What a whore. That’s what whores do, did you know? Pay for their passage with their tits and asses instead of money.”

“I’m not a whore!”

“Did you not just say you used your tits to get on the ship?”

“I paid. I gave him almost all my money. And then he still made me.”

Something in her tone made him stop pacing and look at her. She stared back at him steadily but her face was flushed and her eyes were shiny. He pictured it then, one of the sad-sack stevedores with his beer belly and missing fingers stuffing her money into his pocket but then backing her up against a crate, fumbling with her shirttails, reaching into his trousers with his other hand, perhaps rubbing up against her while she cowered there, chest exposed, hoping it would be enough for him, hoping he’d explode in his pants and be satisfied.

“Well don’t cry about it now,” he muttered.

“I’m not crying. Go to hell.”

Fábio sat on the very edge of the bed, careful to slide the charts back, and laid the rifle across his knees. “What made you want to get on board that badly?”

She had crossed her arms. He saw she was surreptitiously probing at her ribs.

“Go on, I’ll listen,” he said. “Since we’re on the same side.”

“Why are you here?”

He shrugged. “I’m a soldier.” This was only barely true. He’d received his conscription papers just days after his eighteenth birthday but never even reported for basic training. His father had torn up the orders in a drunken rage one night—angrier that he’d be losing a laborer than he was over the prospect of losing his son to a conflict that was poised to escalate into full-blown guerilla warfare. To Fábio’s terrified mother he’d insisted that they would just claim they never received the summons, mail service being what it was in Vila Pouca; although mail service being what it was in Vila Pouca (an old blind woman with a canvas duffel bag slung across her shoulders trudging in from the rail station two miles away and hand delivering each letter by having the villagers paw through the bag, one by one), everyone in town knew the orders had come in for Fábio. Then there was also the fact that his father spent more than one evening at the tavern boasting about how he’d told Salazar to “go fuck himself with his draft papers.” When the tavern owner’s wife tipped off Fábio’s mother that she and her husband were PIDE informants and that both Fábio and his father would soon be rounded up, Fábio’s mother had him spirited away to Brazil by a visiting cousin who happened to be a priest. Priests could pull off almost anything.

Her husband, on the other hand, she did not bother to warn. He’d languished for six months in prison and then returned to Vila Pouca, thinner, quieter, and limping, but still a pain in the ass according to his mother’s letters.

“One of his soldiers?” the girl said, meaning the Captain. “You’re not old enough.”

Galvão had left military command almost twenty years ago to take on various political posts in Salazar’s government. It was for excessive honesty during his stint as High Inspector of Overseas Territories and deputy for Angola that he was eventually sentenced to eighteen years in prison, which, for a man of his age by the time his three trials finally concluded, essentially meant “for life.” He was a high-profile prisoner, given his infamous report to the National Assembly on the miserable conditions in Angola, but he had still managed to slip away from his guards at the hospital while being treated for a heart condition.

“No, I met him in Venezuela,” Fábio said. “I went to São Paulo to avoid capture by PIDE, but I still wanted to fight. So I sought out Captain Galvão.”

Another almost-truth. Shortly after getting back to his parish in São Paulo, the priest had declared that the only way for Fábio to stay on would be to enter the seminary, which would also fulfill his cousin’s request that her son receive an education. He’s read every book in Vila Pouca, she whispered to the priest. Make him into something. But Fábio could barely stand church as a parishioner with the minimal duties that role entailed, and when he told his cousin as much, the priest bought him a one-way flight to Caracas, where a friend of his managed a hotel and had agreed to take Fábio on as a porter. Fábio had no interest in Venezuela, with its arid soil, filthy oil industry, and unslakable thirst for everything from water to money to beauty itself; nor did the prospect of learning the hospitality trade excite him. But he knew his cousin had taken great risks for his sake, so off he went. He’d inquired about the Portuguese community almost at once and eventually fell in with Antonio, a carpenter, and Julio, a locksmith, who were recruiting men for the Captain’s operation. The goal was to secure one hundred commandos. They ended up with a mixed bag of twenty-six disaffected Portuguese and Spanish laborers and office workers. Some had important skills, like the naval machinist and the two engineers. But then one of them was a bricklayer; another a photographer. Two of them failed to show; either they’d run into trouble or chickened out.

“And you?” Fábio asked, since the girl just sat there, staring at the floor in front of her feet. It was probably good that she didn’t ask what PIDE wanted with him. “What made you run away from home? Looking to experience the romance of life on the sea?”

“Caracas is not my home,” she said. “And I’ve been on a ship before. That’s how we got here.” She was irritated with him; he could practically see the word estúpido on the tip of her tongue.

“All right,” he said. “All right. So.” He glanced around the cabin, and his gaze fell on the slip of paper from her pocket. He reached out to pick it up. “Is this where you lived?”

“Do you think I would need to write down directions to my own house?”

“Peniche,” he read aloud, glancing up at her. “The prison?”

“Where they’ve had my father five years now.” She was looking at the floor again.

“Are you sure he’s still alive?”

“Why would you even say that?” She had tensed up, hands balled into fists, as though she might fly at him.

“No, you’re right, there’s no reason to doubt.” At least it was not Tarrafal, the concentration camp in Cape Verde often referred to as the Camp of the Slow Death. But rumor had it that at least one body a week was tossed into the surf that crashed into the walls at the fortress of Peniche, which was reserved for those expressing a difference of opinion with the regime. People went mad in isolation cells, or suffered permanent disability from the hours or days on end of the torture method known as “the statue.” Still, now and then someone managed an escape. Just last year the head of the Communist party had slid down the walls on bed sheets that had been tied together. He was said to be hiding out in Moscow, biding his time. Perhaps Salazar would be attacked by ragged bands of dissidents on two fronts, Fábio thought wryly, though no one here was much interested in throwing open the door to the Soviets.

“He used to send letters,” she said. “But now they don’t reach us anymore. Mother says she gave him the address in Caracas and maybe they just don’t want to pay the overseas postage.” She was fidgeting now, like a child striving mightily not to pick at an itchy scab or pull at the loose strand in a sweater that her mother had knit for her. “I write him all the time, I told him I begged Mother not to take us away, that I would never have left and that I would come back. Maybe he’s mad at us.”

“No,” said Fábio. “I’m sure he’s not.” He glanced down at the paper in his hand. “Somebody wrote this out for you? And what were you going to do when you got there?”

A pause. “You can visit,” she said dully. “They have these cubicles with glass. You can see them and you can talk.”

“So your plan was to, what, live on the beach and visit your father on Sundays?”

She said nothing. She had her arms wrapped around her ribs again and was hunched over so far that he was staring at the crown of her head.

“Ships dock at La Guaira all the time before heading back to Lisbon. The Santa Maria herself is there every few weeks. But you chose this voyage.”

“When Portugal is free all the prisoners go free,” she said.

“Did you think we were an army, sailing into Lisbon to take it by force?”

“I read the letter from Delgado,” she said miserably. “It said a lot of men, it said automatic weapons, grenades—“

“We have a total of four grenades,” Fábio replied, almost without thinking, and he saw her chest heave like she’d just remembered to breathe. “Wait,” he said, adopting a playful tone. “You read the Captain’s correspondence? Why, you sneaky little spy. Maria da—”

“Don’t call me that!”

He’d been about to imitate a scolding mother, calling her out by her full name, but he didn’t even know her name, he’d been about to make one up. “So what should I call you?”

“Dulcinea,” she said, and they smiled at each other ruefully. Something else she had learned from the letters, or from eavesdropping.

“Strange name for an operation, isn’t it? The Captain’s idea.”

“Speaking of which,” she said, suddenly standing up and cocking her head to one side, “I haven’t heard a thing. What are they waiting for?”

“We’re too far below decks,” Fábio replied, but he checked the time anyway. The assault was supposed to begin at 1:30 am. It was nearly two now.

She had drifted closer to where he sat on the bed, reaching out to drag the maps closer. “So this,” she said. “Your plan is, what, to live in the jungle and declare a free state? A new Estado Novo?”

“No,” Fábio said. “You miss the point.” It sounded ridiculous: um novo Estado Novo.

“So? What is the point, exactly?”

“Declare Angola’s independence.”

“And then? Saying is not doing.”

“It is if you have the support of the people.”

“And then? Freeing Angola is not the same as freeing Portugal.”

Fábio hesitated.

“Gather up all the people of Angola and march on Portugal? Is that the plan?”

Even more ridiculous. Fábio shook his head.

“Gain international attention,” he said. “Support.” This was how the Captain explained the value of taking over a luxury cruise liner instead of a war ship, even though everyone knew the real reason was that no Portuguese or Spanish war ship would ever have occasion to dock in Venezuela, or anywhere else in South America for that matter.

“From who? The same countries that Salazar has been convincing for years that he is the Savior himself? Maybe you mean his friend the Pope?” She was the one now talking to the back of his head, standing next to him where he sat on the edge of the bunk.

Fábio opened his mouth to retort but closed it wordlessly. Perhaps Galvão and Sotomayor had the answer? He should have asked more questions. But he didn’t want to appear cowardly, or ignorant, or pessimistic. Portugal, with its never-ending fado and saudades for days of past glory, was full of pessimists; one might even argue that was how the people had gotten themselves into this mess in the first place. First man to come along and declare “I know what to do” managed to take over the entire country and all its territories without shedding a single drop of blood. He had even acted like it was a burden, shouldering this paternal duty. Salazar, the reluctant dictator, the overworked martyr. Fuck him. But only the Soviets were motivated against him, and at the mere whiff of an alliance with communism, all of Salazar’s most powerful Western allies would come to his aide against them. They would be crushed before they even began.

“Well?” she said. The girl who wanted to be called Dulcinea. “You won’t tell me the rest?”

He glanced up at her and realized she was really asking, despite the mocking tone. She was looking for reassurance that the plan was not quite as hopeless as it seemed.

“I do not know the rest,” he said. “I can only . . . try to believe that the Captain knows what to do. That Delgado is also making progress, that they have allies we don’t know about.”

“Indeed,” she said slowly, staring at him. “Just as you said. There is no reason to doubt.”

They passed the next several minutes in silence. Fábio would not have been able to say how much time went by; he felt suspended, as though all the clocks in the world had stopped, and this was the absolute nothing that happened when no one knew what to do because there was nothing one could do, when nothing would change and everything somehow had always been like this, because nothing existed except the present state. Both past and future are nothing but illusions, Fábio thought. They don’t exist, they are only in our heads. This, finally, was the ultimate truth; it had always been true, it was only that he had finally perceived it. Nothing would change. There was no such thing as change. This must be what death was like, why people said “lifeless” but also “deathless,” when—

“Would you stop it?” the girl said sharply, startling him out of his reverie. He realized he was jiggling his knee at a frenetic pace. He laid the rifle beside him on the berth and leaned his elbows on his thighs.

The girl heaved a sigh and he glanced at her to see if she was about to launch another complaint but just then the door of the cabin swung open and Luis, the photographer, came rushing in.

“Oh,” he said. “Fábio. And who is this? Never mind—bandages. We need bandages.”

“What happened?” Fábio said, jumping up to get out of his way. Luis began rummaging around the luggage piled in the corner as though there might be a doctor’s satchel or first aid kit conveniently stashed there.

“Firefight on the bridge, one crew member dead, we have some injuries. Sotomayor sent me.”

Fábio was now pawing through the bags as well. “But are we—”

“We have control of the ship! Galvão negotiated the surrender with the officers, those sad bastards. The ship’s captain wants a guarantee that they won’t be incriminated, for Salazar to see that they were not a part of the operation, on paper no less, a document of their cowardice, can you believe it? Shameful. Paiva is in the engine room. We are turning the ship towards Martinique. They already sent the message about needing repairs, then cut radio communications. Full speed ahead! Who knows what the Americans will say when they wake up and realize we will not stop in Miami. Perhaps they will join us, who knows? They like adventures. Do we have no medical supplies at all? This one guy is bleeding like mad.”

“The infirmary,” Fábio nearly shouted. “The ship has an infirmary. And a doctor.”

“Aii aii!” Luis straightened up and hit himself in the head with the heel of his hand. “I didn’t even think of it! Where is the infirmary?”

“Hey, stupids, help me out over here.”

They turned and saw that the girl had stripped one of the bunks and was tugging at a tear in the sheet that she had started with the jackknife that had been left sitting on the desk. Luis rushed over and helped tear a few strips, then gathered the whole sheet and headed to the door. “This will be enough to get them to the infirmary,” he said. “Thank you . . . what is your name?”

“Dulcinea,” the girl sang out, but he was already gone, leaving the door standing wide open.

The girl spun around towards Fábio, who had sunk into the chair while they were tearing the sheet.

“What are you doing? Let’s go!”

Fábio didn’t budge. The brief frenzy of activity had left him enervated. “What is the point?”

“What do you mean, what is the point?” She said the last part in a low, dumb-sounding voice. It was the voice all women used when imitating anything a man said that annoyed them.

“It won’t work. Nothing will change. It’s a stupid idea, the fantasies of a people who have no sense of how the world works.”

She stared at him as though he were speaking nonsense, just uttering a series of meaningless noises. He lifted his hands and let them drop disgustedly. “The ship’s captain is smarter than we are—he knows Salazar will get us all.”

“Don’t say that.” Hands on hips, furrowed brow. “We can’t just sit here when this is happening. The sun is about to come up. We have to go and see, we have to help.”

“We will never be free.”

“But don’t you understand? We are free now. This ship, right now, is free. This is free Portugal!” And then she actually tried to kick him in the shin, but he dodged her.

“It won’t last,” he said wearily. Was that happiness on her face? He barely recognized her.

She paused, then swiftly stepped forward and snatched up the rifle.

Don’t say that. Time is passing, wake up! We have to go make the freedom last forever.” She swung the rifle around, causing him to duck involuntarily, and charged through the door.

Fábio lurched to his feet. She should not have his gun, he knew that. He also knew she had taken it just so he’d follow. Isn’t that what the deluded always do, he thought. Carry guns to make you follow? She was wrong of course. There was no way to make anything last forever, least of all this. But to look at her, she looked so happy. She was inside a moment, but not stopped, not motionless; she was inside a movement. Death versus happiness: both suspensions of time, but one is absolute stillness and lasts forever, and the other flows fast, runs right through you, and you can’t make it last. Or is that life itself, with “happiness” only the chance to forget, even briefly, that nothing lasts?

All of that in a split second, and Fábio too was out the door, right on her heels. He sprinted up the passageway, pursuing her again, but in a different direction this time; and nothing was suspended really, the thoughts kept coming, spinning through him like something from the outside. This must be what it was like, to be both moving and moved. And he wondered then, as he ran, chasing Dulcinea, hoping to stay in the moment, whether everyone, even Salazar himself, felt such grave misgivings.  

shortlink: dogb.us/hijacking

          

               

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