Bundleman (Part 1 of 4)
In the large room, the single light over the door was the only illumination of the cargo held within the closed space. The metal floor was covered with dozens of sleeping individuals hidden under tattered blankets and heavy woolen coats. The room was filled with sounds of people sleeping in crowded, cramped conditions. Loud snoring seemed to hang in the heavy warm air above the still bodies. Somewhere in the darkness a baby cried for his late night meal, and someone had a hacking cough near the back wall. These were the sounds that overflowed from the room full of sleeping travelers.
These many souls were on their way to what they hoped would be a new life; one better than that left behind. They had saved every bit of money they could to buy themselves and their families a space in the bottom of an old cargo ship headed toward the setting sun. Some dreamed of the new world where they would soon find themselves, while others feared the unknown that lie ahead in the dark. But, all knew it was the promise of a new place and opportunities that brought them on this quest for a fresh start.
Near the outside wall a man of small stature was covered with a faded quilt. His head was lying on a neatly folded gray coat he used as a pillow. Sounds of the old ship’s engines working below whispered to him while he slept on the metal floor.
The rhythmic sounds traveled along the ship’s structural beams into the floor beneath his head. To the man, it was this gentle sound that gave him comfort amidst the other sounds of humanity that surrounded him in the night.
Unseen, wrapped inside the pillowed coat, was a gold pocket watch. It was special because it had been given to him by his father many years ago. He had very little when it came to material possessions in his life, but this timepiece always made him proud.
From within the folded coat came the sound of the watch chiming the early hour. The sound was so soft it could only be heard by the sleeping man. As the last chime sounded to announce the three o’clock hour the small man opened his eyes and smiled. No one saw or knew that he had awakened in the near darkness.
Without hesitation he sat up and reached inside his folded coat and retrieved the watch. Even though he knew the time, he still opened the cover and turned it toward the dim light and squinted his eyes to see the face of the watch. He thought to himself, it is time. Still smiling, he closed the watch and slipped it into his jacket pocket and hooked the chain to a worn button hole in his shirt.
In the darkness, he felt next to a steam pipe for an old pint bottle. Before going to sleep, he had placed a few coffee beans into it along with water. The steam pipe had heated the brew during the night and the beans had released their coffee flavor into the water.
Next he reached into his heavy cloth bundle sack for a folded waxed paper that contained a piece of cheese and dried bread. In the dark, and among the sleeping humanity, the man sat eating his breakfast of bread and cheese while savoring the coffee from the old bottle. He sat there smiling as he ate his simple breakfast.
Again he retrieved the watch and opened the front while turning it toward the light to see its numbers. After a moment he could see the hands of the watch indicating 3:20; time to gather his few possessions in the bundle sack and make his way onto the ship’s deck. The cheese and coffee were placed in the sack along with the folded quilt. He did all these things with no one awake to watch him as he prepared to leave the room full of sleeping people.
The small man carefully made his way through the mass of people until he reached the room’s heavy metal door. Carefully he opened it into the lighted hallway. He turned and looked back at the mother leaning against the wall while feeding her small child. She took no notice of his leaving at 3:30 in the morning.
He sat his bundle sack onto the floor and began to clean his wire framed glasses as he looked toward the stairs that led up onto the ship’s deck. With a slight grunt he heaved the bundle over his shoulder and started for the steps. At the top he opened one last door and stepped out into the cold morning air of the Atlantic. He could hear the sounds of the waves as the ship sliced through the dark waters of the Atlantic before its bow. That is where he was going.
The deck was wet and the air seemed colder from the ocean’s mist as he made his way to the very front of the ship. He sat down his bundle sack and adjusted his gray coat to close out as much damp air as possible. It was cold and dark but it was important to the man to be at the front of the ship at this time. He spoke very little English but had managed to communicate enough with one of the crewmen to find out what he wanted to know about this morning.
The mist from the ocean clouded his glasses and when he removed them, the sea air made his eyes water uncontrollably. But still he wanted to see that first moment he had thought about for the last year.
He rubbed his eyes to try and keep away the tears. Then he began to see what he had awaited in the darkness to witness. At first, it was just a twinkle in the distance. Then more and more of the distant lights began to appear over the far horizon. As tears from the cold air streamed down his cheeks, they began to mix with warm tears of joy.”America,” he said to himself as he stood shivering in the cold. “AMERICA,” he cried out loud to the dark ocean below. He had traveled what seemed a lifetime to see the first lights of a land he had only dreamed about until now.
With each passing minute, the lights of America filled the horizon as the cargo ship steamed toward its destination carrying the small man and those that still slept below.