(Paulette Cooper set out to become the first successful woman stowaway. She did it not by hiding out, but by making herself conspicuous: Feigning alcoholism, deliberately wearing low-cut dresses, becoming the ship’s ping-pong champion. This is her account of a week on board.)

In retrospect, I often wonder why I did it. Sometimes I think I did it not just to prove that it could be done, but to prove that I was the one who could do it. Sometimes I think I did it just because I knew it would make interesting cocktail conversation afterwards. (“Oh, so you’re the girl I read about.”) Occasionally, I have a sneaking suspicion that I did it just to save some money. But now, as I stand at the foot of the pier, looking up at the giant luxury ocean liner, I wonder again why I was about to do such a strange and silly thing.

Well, it was too late to back out now. I walked hesitantly up the VISITORS gangway according to my plan, hoping that I looked as if I were going to see someone off. I was just a little bit late, and then I had just stepped onto the ship when I heard the loudspeaker announce that all visitors had to go ashore. I didn’t move. About five minutes later, the message was repeated, and I don’t know whether it was my imagination, but the speaker’s tone sounded a bit more urgent. I stood there, still uncertain whether to go through with this crazy scheme.

Then, with one long last lonely wail of the ship’s horn, the gangway went up and the giant liner started slowly creeping out of the harbor to begin its winter cruise from New York to the Caribbean. And then it suddenly hit me like the waves that were hitting the side of the ship: I was officially a stowaway.

It had all started many months before when I was on another cruise and a young stowaway was caught hiding in his friend’s cabin. I was always tremendously impressed with Edgar Allen Poe’s The Purloined Letter and commented on the situation to my friends back home, expounding on my theory that if the boy had stayed out in the open, he would probably never have been caught. No one agreed with me, and since I was slightly drunk that night, I stated that I was going to prove it by doing it. Unfortunately it became a joke among my friends, who know what a coward I am, and eventually, in order to save face, I had to follow through.

So I began formulating my plans. Sleeping would present no problem since I knew I could sleep openly out in a lounge, which is not uncommon on a cruise ship since liquor is so plentiful and cheap that passengers often pass out in the public rooms. Food would also present no problems, since most ships have plenty of free buffets on deck where they don’t check passengers for room numbers. Furthermore, I knew I could ‘hide out’ during mealtimes by simply staying right out in the open at the bar. Drinking would explain my not going to the dining room as well as my ‘passing out’ in the lounge at night. In fact, after a while, the idea began to be attractive. After all, a stowaway doesn’t have to worry about whether to get an inside or outside cabin. He doesn’t have to fight for the first or second sitting. He has no problems with silent tablemates who order every course on the menu and then wash them down with his wine. Yes, the life of a stowaway might be quite interesting…

But before I got carried away, I decided to go to the library to find out whether any stowaway had ever made it. I learned, at least, that as a stowaway, I would be in good company. Balboa, who successfully discovered the Pacific Ocean, successfully stowed away in a crate with his dog in order to escape his creditors. Mike Romanoff, the famous Hollywood restaurateur, stowed away across the Atlantic three times, once sleeping in the dog kennel, another time calling himself a prince and carrying a paper that said he was authorized to stow away, and a third time wearing a white steward’s jacket and carrying a bundle of dirty linen to make himself look legitimate. But as I read about these people, and others, one thing stuck out in my mind: women were almost never stowaways—and there is no record of any woman who ever succeeded.

Maybe that was the real reason that I did it: it was my chance to be first in something. Why couldn’t I at least become the first successful female stowaway at sea?

But now, as the cruise was starting, I began to suspect my friends had been right about me. I was much too frightened to be able to carry this thing through successfully for the entire one-week cruise, and I probably couldn’t even make it through the first for two, which would be the most important. I certainly tried to look relaxed that first hour at sea while I explored the rooms of the ship along with the other passengers. But while they went to look at the lounges, I panicked and immediately checked the location of all the Ladies Rooms in case I would have to hide in there. And although I had some fantasies before leaving of nonchalantly introducing myself to the purser—one of whose jobs is to watch out for stowaways—when the other passengers got their cabin keys from him and introduced themselves, I went out of my way to avoid him.

About an hour later, all the passengers seemed suddenly to disappear (probably to unpack) and so did my courage, so I decided to stay in the Ladies Room until they returned so I wouldn’t look conspicuous. But when I tried to open the door, I discovered with a shock that it was locked—possibly to prevent stowaways from hiding—since most ships have stowaway checks as the ship first pulls out of harbor, since then they can still send someone back on the tug if they catch them. I cheered up when I realized that I could always go to the bar, but I became even more upset when I discovered it too was locked. (I found out later because drinks can’t be served tax free until they’re outside a certain limit.)

I simply had to go someplace or do something. Standing there like that made me too conspicuous. So decided to hide the luggage I was carrying—one small attache case. After a few minutes of searching, I found what I hoped would exist: a small lounge below and away from the main ones. I also realized that this place would make a very good bedroom, and, although there were no couches, if I pushed two chairs together it would make a bed that was about a foot shorter than my already short five-foot frame.

Next I tried to find a hiding place for my attache case. There was only one possibility there: the piano. I picked up the top, placed the case on top of the strings, closed it and tested it. It sounded just like an attache case was resting on the strings. I thought sadly to myself that if anyone sat down to play that piano, they might as well have played the Funeral March for me.

As I left, I cursed myself for bringing that attache case along, remembering ruefully that on the last voyage of the old Queen, an American stowaway had been caught when his clothes were found. But I really had no choice. I had to stay out in the open, and I knew that a girl wearing the same dress each day would be very conspicuous, especially on cruises where the women have such wonderful wardrobes. My first plan had been to feign pregnancy, by putting a pillowcase under my dress and stuffing all my clothes in there. But that presented all kinds of difficulties, both technical (it could fall out) and moral (I’m not married). So in the end I took that attache case along and filled it with two blouses, four evening dresses and a long evening gown. It may sound impossible to fit it all in, but it works if you fold it army style: in half, rolled tightly and secured with a rubber band. Then I went upstairs to begin my total plan. I knew that people on a cruise ship always notice a young woman traveling alone, so I planned to go all out with a full wardrobe and try to be really obvious: socialize with all the passengers, mingle with the officers and wear enough low-cut knock-out dresses that everyone would notice me and, with luck, nobody would ever think I didn’t really belong.

I first went to the bar to inaugurate my first scheme; establishing myself as an alcoholic who preferred liquid to a real meal. A large number of passengers were already at the bar, and since I’m friendly, I immediately met almost everyone there, as I had done on other cruises I had been on. But unlike the other times, I couldn’t enjoy myself. Whenever someone casually touched me, I could feel a pain right through to the pit of my stomach. Whenever the loudspeaker went on, I held my breath, certain they were about to announce my unwanted presence. And every time someone looked me straight in the eye, I knew they knew. I became so nervous that I was grateful when they at last left for dinner. (“I prefer to drink than eat. That’s how I keep so slim,” I said to explain my staying there.)

But the ship’s doctor who had been there remained, and stated that he also preferred to skip dinner so that he would have a chance to be with me. I was flattered, he was attractive, and I decided to stick with him for the evening, assuming a ship’s doctor would be a nice safe bet.

That was my first and almost fatal mistake. When I tried to leave him at the end of the evening, he insisted on escorting me to my ‘cabin,’ and all my protestations were futile.

“I can’t leave you alone,” he explained. “There are goose pimples all over your arms, you’ve been trembling all evening, and you’re so jumpy it’s unbelievable.”

“I’m seasick,” I lied.

He dismissed my diagnosis. “It’s a perfectly calm sea and seasick people don’t drink or eat like you did.”

“I was hungry,” I wailed.

“If you were really hungry, you would have gone to the dining room for dinner so that’s not what’s wrong with you. But I know what it is,” he continued and my heart started pounding as I waited to hear the dreaded word ‘stowaway.’

“You’re coming down with the flu,” he said instead, and I knew he was lying, because had he really believed that he would have taken me directly to the ship’s hospital. But I couldn’t suggest that he do that either, since the ship usually charges medication to your cabin.

“It’s my duty as a doctor,” he said pompously, “to see that you’re tucked up in bed tonight and can’t run around the ship and start an epidemic.”

“Lecher,” I thought to myself, but I had to let him bring me to my ‘cabin,’ and we wandered around the lower decks while I tried to convince him I had locked the key in my cabin. And couldn’t remember which cabin number was mine. When he suggested that we look up my room on the passenger list, I realized I had better do something fast.

I began trying to open some of the doors which I told him “looked familiar”(they all looked the same), hoping that one of them would accidentally be open. None budged. After several tries, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Someone had left the key right in the keyhole.

“That’s my room,” I shouted joyfully, and as I opened the door I prayed that the room would be empty. It was and I realized I was safe.

“I’d better tuck you into bed,” he said, with a slight smile that suggested he was more concerned about his health rather than mine.

I changed my mind then. I wasn’t so safe.

To add to the danger, this room I said was mine was obviously being used by a man, since his shaving things were lying prominently on the dresser and his shoes were strewn on the floor. The doctor went to kiss me and I let him; I preferred to have him direct his attention to me rather than to that room. But I didn't enjoy it because all I could think was whether or not the man who used the room would suddenly return.

The doctor, misinterpreting panic for passion, put his head on my breasts and told me how “sensual” I was as my heart was beating so fast. When he started loosening his tie, I realized I had better get rid of him fast. I emphasized my illness, reminding him that he was the one who had diagnosed it, and also hinted that I might be a bit more responsive later on in the voyage when I felt better. (I figured I’d be in jail by then anyway.)

It worked and, after he left, I dashed out of the room, went up to the bar to get an empty glass and then ran down to my lounge with it. I pulled the two chairs together in back of a large decorative pillar that was in the center of the room, so no-one would see me unless they walked back there. With my dress still on, and the empty glass on a table next to the couch, I hoped that if anyone walked back there, I would just look like someone who had had one drink too many.

It was impossible to sleep. A slightly rolling ship always squeaks, the water below it swishes, and every time I heard a sound I was certain that someone—most likely the captain—had entered my ‘room’ to investigate. What would actually happen to me if I were caught, I wondered? I knew that a stowaway chances a hefty fine and a possible jail sentence, but I was more petrified about what could happen to me before being turned over to the police. From my library research, I had discovered that stowaways have been tossed overboard, put on islands to die, and left to devious sailors to devise their own devious schemes—like rape, beatings, and torture. Maybe things are more civilized today, I thought.

Second day: I slept only three hours the previous night and was totally exhausted. I spent the morning walking around on the decks while the salty sea-spray started ruining my hair-do that had been so carefully set to stay for a week. “What difference does it make,” I thought to myself. “I’ll be in jail most of that time anyway.” And then, as if to confirm that suspicion, I bumped into the doctor.

“When I left your room last night I made a note of the number,” he said, “and I called you there this morning.”

I did not like the tone of his voice or the icy expression on his face. Had the man who really owned the room answered the phone? Did the doctor ask him anything about me? Did the doctor know the truth?

“Some man answered,” he said, and I stood there, as petrified as the proverbial forest.

“Now I don’t care that after I left you probably picked up some other man and brought him to your room,” he said slowly and angrily, since he apparently assumed that the room he called was mine and that the man he spoke to was lying next to me. “But I do care that you’re giving the flu to every bloody man on this ship,” he said and turned and stormed away from me.

I was sure he had spoiled my appetite, but I went nonetheless to the lounge where they were serving bouillon and tea sandwiches at 10:00 a.m. and easily ate 12 half-sandwiches plus three cups of soup. I spent the afternoon socializing with various passengers, feeling quite proud of myself to have got this far, when, all of a sudden, bells and horns started going off like a slot machine that has just hit a jackpot. Oh my God, I thought! It’s got to be a signal for a suspected stowaway. But then, when I suddenly saw the crew and passengers running around in their life jackets, I wondered if the ship were going down.

I thought I had prepared for every possible contingency, but this was one emergency I had certainly never envisaged. “What does one do when a ship goes down?” I wondered; “Women and children first,” they always said. “Good,” I thought, “since I’m so short I could qualify for both.” But then another thought hit me: “Is there any space in the lifeboat for a stowaway or were we, like the captain, suppose to go down with the ship?” And suppose I refused to go down and tried swimming? I once read that you should swim away from a sinking ship since the suction as it goes down takes everything with it. But hadn’t I read elsewhere that you were supposed to stick with the ship so that you could easily be found later? I had just decided to compromise by only swimming slightly away, when I realized it was only a lifeboat drill.

By dinner time I was still free, but I was famished too, and with the exception of bar set-ups there was no free food until midnight, when they rolled out the most beautiful buffet I’ve ever seen. I discovered to my delight that there were quite a few men on board, and while there were a number of women, there were not that many attractive ones—and none dressed the way I was.

So I thought at the beginning of the evening it was great to be popular, but I liked the situation less at the end, when every time I got up to retire to my ‘cabin,’ five men jumped up and asked to escort me. I sat down again, trying to outwit or out-wait them while they all seemed to be trying to do the same thing for me. At last I knew I had better pick someone, so I chose someone I’ll call Bob who appeared to be the safest-- i.e. least sensual--man there. I was afraid of repeating the previous night’s fiasco by trying to take him to my ‘room’ so I went right to my lounge with him and said that I had been seasick the previous night in my small inside cabin and thought it would be better to sleep in this port-holed lounge instead. Naturally, he invited me to sleep with him in his cabin, but to accept any such invitation throughout the voyage would never have proved my basic point: that a stowaway who stayed out in the open would not be caught. After what seemed like hours of arguing about whether or not to go to his cabin, Bob said he had another suggestion.

“What?” I innocently asked.

“We’ll exchange cabins,” he said.

I almost passed out.

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” he said magnanimously. “A small room with no port-hole doesn’t bother me. And I’ve got a large room on an upper deck right in the center of the ship so you can’t get seasick there.Here’s my key. Now give me yours.”

More arguing, more offers, and finally sleep—alone in my lounge.

Third Day: I need about nine hours sleep to survive and with less than three again the previous night, I could barely wake up that morning. I dragged myself upstairs to the Ladies’ Room, locked the outside door, stripped down to nothing and washed as completely as I could. Unfortunately, the towels were on one of those revolving racks and since I was too short to completely reach it, I had to stand there naked, dripping wet, waiting for the air to dry what couldn’t be reached with the towel.

While drying like that, I set my hair, removed the five-day deodorant pads which were wrapped in foil to prevent them from drying out, brushed my teeth with the bristles of a broken-off toothbrush, and brushed my very long hair with a tiny fold-up brush that could only coif about five strands at a time. Then, like any female, I put on all my make-up because nobody had been able to convince me to leave it at home even if I were a stowaway and short on space.

I went out on deck, hoping it would be nice enough to sleep in a deck chair, but discovered it was raining. Later, I bumped into Bob and he asked me to see Bonnie and Clyde at 2:30 with him; another man invited me to the 4:30 showing, and I accepted both invitations hoping I might get some catnaps. I don’t know whether it was my exhaustion, the dark, or the steady staccato of the machine guns on the screen, but I slept through the movie both times, despite a recurring nightmare that I had been caught and was being chased all over the ship.

That evening I had a new problem to worry about: would I be able to hold up in appearance for another four days until the end of the cruise?

I was beginning to look pretty awful. My eyes were almost closed and quite bloodshot from lack of sleep. My make-up was a mess, since the Ladies Room was so dark that even if I managed to get my fake eyelashes on my eyes instead of my nose, the rest of my make-up was too heavy for the bright lights of the rest of the ship. And, since I couldn’t go to the beauty parlor (they ask you for your cabin number) my locks resembled the bushy mane of a hippie. “All those handsome men on board are going to waste,” I thought sadly. I realized that with the way I looked, it would be a miracle if anybody ever asked for my phone number back home. And then I remembered something I had almost forgotten—it would be a miracle if I even got back home.

Fifth Day: Perhaps I should have felt better that day, since the previous day had been spent in port—not shopping like the other people on board, but sleeping on a beach-chair, since my plan to rent a room to shower and sleep for the day had failed. I had no reservation and the only room available cost fifty dollars. I was tired, but I could never be that tired.

But that wasn’t the only one of my plans that had not gone according to schedule. First of all, I had trouble holding so much liquor. Because people were spending a lot longer in the dining room (while I was stuck in the bar) than I had expected. Secondly, although there were some free buffets to munch on, they were badly spaced and I almost starved to death between noon and midnight with only some tea and pastries in between. In addition, I was absolutely filthy, because there were no public showers, and bathing in the pool proved harder than I had expected. Furthermore, my clothes were dirty. I knew they might become messed and wrinkled stuffed in a purse and attache case, but my wrinkle-proof clothes weren’t, and I couldn’t steam them out by holding them above a sink of hot water in the Ladies Room since my arms would soon start aching, and the water wasn’t really hot enough to produce steam. And finally, sleeping in the lounge was impossible, fully dressed with all the lights on, on two small chairs with a bumpy patent leather purse for a pillow. But what bothered me most was not that sleep was uncomfortable, but that there wasn’t enough of it. I never dared retire until the lounges and bars were deserted (around 4 a.m.), and then I would awake the second I heard any noise on the ship, which usually started around 7 a.m.

And the night before, I had a very frightening experience. I thought I was safe and that no-one noticed me behind that pillar, but around 5 o’clock in the morning a crew member apparently found me sleeping there and I woke to find a man’s hand down my dress. I was about to scream, but realized that, as a stowaway, that would be even more dangerous. So instead, I fought him and ran out of the lounge and then stayed trembling and much too frightened to return.

Nevertheless, I had to continue to stay out in the open, since I knew so many of the people on the ship by then that if I suddenly left to hide, my disappearance might be noticed. So I decided to enter the women’s ping-pong contest. I’m a pretty good player, but I knew that as a stowaway I would have to lose, since prizes, or notices to collect them, are usually sent to your cabin. So to be certain I would drop out of the tournament quickly, I was the first to sign up. And then I waited for over an hour for somebody to play with. Nobody else showed.

Nervously, I began combing the lounges, pleading with every female I saw who was over the age of six to enter the contest. But nobody wanted to play ping-pong early in the morning, especially since the ship was swaying slightly. So I finally gave up, and returned to plead with the social directress to cancel the contest.

Instead, she insisted on declaring me winner by default. “Congratulations,” she bubbled, “We’ll deliver a prize of pale champagne to your dining room table at dinner.”

I turned paler than the champagne she promised. “But I don’t like champagne,” I lied, realizing that I would definitely be caught when they discovered I had no table.

“But maybe your table will like it,” she argued.

“But I don’t like the people at my table,” I countered, “so why should I give them my champagne?” The social directress fixed me with a stare she reserved only for unsociable passengers. “How would you like a picture of the ship?” she asked.

“Beautiful,” I said, trying desperately to get some enthusiasm in my voice.

“Good,” she said. “We’ll inscribe it with your name and deliver it to your room tomorrow.”

I walked away, probably the most unhappy winner they’d ever had on board. Well, I decided, I wasn’t going to let myself get caught over a stupid mistake like that. So instead of letting them deliver their prize to my non-existent cabin, I spent the entire afternoon in the social directress's office, purposely making a complete nuisance of myself until she finally in disgust gave me the crummy wooden photograph of the ship. I didn’t have room for it on the piano, and besides which I was so disgusted with the whole incident that I wanted no mementos: blithely, I tossed the photo overboard—and then watched in horror as it floated several miles out to sea in full view of all the passengers.

A woman I had spent some time with on the ship watched this curiously and then came over to congratulate me, hesitantly, for winning the women’s ping-pong contest. I thanked her just as unconvincingly, and then braced myself for the temperance speech, since every female I met over 30 had felt obliged at some time in the voyage to give me a motherly lecture ("for your own good") about missing meals to drink.

Fellow Passenger Abuse

"Is this your first cruise?” she asked instead.

“Fifteenth,” I said truthfully.

All of a sudden, she turned on me. “You’re a bloody liar,” she spat. “You can’t possibly afford to have gone on so many cruises.”

I tried to tell her the truth: that I had to travel for business and I’m afraid of planes but she interrupted.

“You couldn’t even afford planes,” she said snobbishly. “First, you never wear any jewelry. Second, nobody with any class would wear such terribly creased and dirty clothes, and third, I often see you going down below to your room, and why should a ‘rich girl’ have a room on a lower deck?”

I would have preferred her to think I was a stowaway rather than a liar, and I desperately wanted to tell her the truth: that my jewelry was purposely left at home so that it wouldn’t be taken as payment if I were caught etc. But there was nothing I could say, since it would be dangerous to let anyone know the truth about me, so I walked away instead, feeling very embarrassed and self-conscious.

Sixth Day: Although the trip was almost over, I still couldn’t help jumping every time someone came up to me from behind, and I continued to turn pale every time an officer looked at me for more than a second. It was obvious that I had been completely accepted by everyone as a legitimate—although definitely odd— passenger. But I still couldn’t relax, perhaps because the biggest problem still loomed ahead: getting off the ship the next day without the immigration card or customs declaration that all the passengers had already received in their rooms.

I was so exhausted that last day that I barely remember it. I slept a little in a deck chair in the afternoon and, as usual, fought off the men that night (I had become something of a hopeful conquest for them, rumored to be the only single girl who had not been in a man’s cabin during the cruise). But as a stowaway, I was more scared than flattered by all the men trying to change that situation. Of course, I had expected attention in those low-cut dresses, but so many male passengers and 500 love-starved crewmembers after me was ridiculous. My biggest problem now wasn’t even the men who kept trying to escort me to my cabin, since I was usually able to discourage them with a story I had made up about having a seasick roommate who was always throwing up in the cabin. But, as a stowaway, I was constantly alarmed every time somebody asked me for my room number so they could call me, and I would become almost hysterical when someone told me that they had already tried to call me but couldn’t find my name on the passenger list. (“I bought my ticket the day before the trip and they probably didn’t have time to put me on the list,” I would lie.) Even Bob (from the second night) was a problem, since I didn’t want anyone to spend too much time with me lest they become suspicious of my rather bizarre behavior; but Bob was constantly following me around. If I had wanted, I suppose I could have used him to my advantage throughout, since it would have been easy enough to have hidden out at night in his room (or any room, since there were plenty of other offers) instead of sleeping surreptitiously in the lounge. But while most stowaways try to get inside help, I had been so determined to make this trip on my own, and without anyone knowing what I was doing, that I constantly refused him. But that final night, I cheated and went to his room.

He had a beautiful bottle of wine waiting , and the bed was neatly turned down when I went in.

“Mind if I lie down?” I asked.

It was a silly question. He led me to the bed; I took one long look at that long bed and soft pillow and complete exhaustion hit me. I don’t even remember falling asleep: I just remember Bob waking me up.

“I’ve heard of women who fall asleep afterwards,” he said with amazement, “but I’ve never met anyone who ever fell asleep before.”

I smiled. He kissed me. “What time is it?” I asked sleepily.

“Five to twelve.”

“Oh my God!” I screamed and jumped out of his room and up to the lounge. Nothing, not even sex, could make me miss the midnight buffet.

Later that night in the lounge when Bob came up and asked for my home phone number, I decided to give it to him. But I wondered whether he would still be so smitten with me when he called and I told him the truth: that my name wasn’t Jane but Paulette; that I wasn’t a passenger but a stowaway.

Seventh Day: When I woke up that final morning, I saw that someone had distributed mimeographed comment cards during the night in all the lounges, including mine. I picked one up and started checking: food, excellent; service, excellent; entertainment, excellent; accommodation—poor. “What did you most like about the trip?” I wrote down “The price.”

“What is your name and cabin number?” What the hell! I signed the captain’s name and went upstairs and submitted my card.

Although I should have been hiding already, I couldn’t resist joining the other passengers to watch the pier as we approached. Suddenly there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that all passengers had to report to the main lounge for immigration. I had to hide quickly—but where? I dashed down to the Ladies room. It was locked. I tried several cabin doors. They were all locked. I went down to my lounge. It was already being cleaned for the next voyage.

I started walking around the decks, probably more frightened than I’ve ever been in my life. There seemed to be nowhere to hide, nothing to do. Finally, I saw a cute-looking room steward, and on an outside chance, told him that I had already turned in my key and had to lie down in a room because I was too ill to stand in line. I asked him for a room on his station, and to my surprise, he agreed—in return for my phone number back home. I gave him a phony number, but fortunately the empty room he unlocked for me was real.

As soon as I entered, I saw the bed, but I didn’t dare to sleep, or even lie down, because I was so exhausted I could easily have slept through until the ship sailed again. Being a stowaway once, I thought ruefully, had been once too often. So I instead nervously paced the floor for four hours until it sounded like all the passengers had gone. I emerged at last, trembling, to walk the ‘last mile’ to the gangway.

There were five security men standing there.

I walked past them, trying desperately to look relaxed and nonchalant, but I was so white with fear that even my slight suntan probably totally disappeared. I had almost reached my goal, the gangway, when once again I met the doctor.

“We’re sailing again tomorrow morning. Why don’t you go with us so I can spend more time with you?” he asked me.

“It’s too expensive,” I said honestly.

He looked me straight in the eye. “Then why don’t you stow away?” he asked.

My heart started beating like a cuckoo clock gone mad. Had he figured it out, or had the panic throughout the entire trip turned me into a hopeless paranoiac? I scrutinized his face carefully but I could detect nothing. And I realized I would probably never know. Perhaps he had indeed guessed, but if he had, he had been man enough not to try to extract any payment from me for keeping my secret.

I continued to walk down the gangway, aware of his eyes still watching me, and my knees shook so badly I almost fell down the incline. Would my assumption be correct that all the passengers would be finished with customs and all the customs men would have left for lunch? I was greeted with the most wonderful sight I had ever seen at the end of the most miserable trip I had ever had.

The pier was empty.

I walked outside, feeling calm for the first time in seven days, deliriously, joyfully, unashamedly ecstatic. “I made it!” I wanted to scream and I couldn’t wait to tell my friends at home. Now I understood why sailors sometimes kiss the ground when they land on shore. Although there were no cabs around, since the ship had docked four hours earlier, I just stood there outside, smiling, thinking about the hot bath and long sleep that I would be able to have at home.

Suddenly, a police-type car with four security men pulled to a screeching halt in front of me. My heart dropped as I remembered a statistic I had read in my research: 20% of all stowaways are caught when they think they’re already safely ashore.Was this the end for me? Had I gone so far only to be caught at the very last second?

“Were you a passenger on that ship?” one asked me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Where’s your luggage?”

“It’s a long story.”

“Is something the matter?”

“There are no cabs,” I said.

“Where do you live?”

I gave him the address.

“Oh that’s not too far,” he said. “Jump in. We’re always glad to help a lady in distress.

And they drove me all the way to my apartment (probably the only time that pier police had ever driven a stowaway home without realizing it.) I had to stifle what I so desperately wanted to announce to someone : “I am the first successful female stowaway at sea. At last I’m first in something!”


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