Written by Alice Xu
As he scribbled some words emphatically in his notebook, light shined out from his eyes: “April 24th, 1865. Going home.”
He smiled with joy, the first time since the Civil War had ended. As a prisoner, he suffered poor physical, mental and emotional health from the conditions of his cage. But now, as he looked out from the ship to the rolling waves of the ocean beneath him, he didn’t mind the conditions, or the scars they had given him. All he ever wanted was to go home, to see the smile on his child’s face, on his wife’s. A reunion, he told himself. A reunion that he had waited years for. And The Sultana, the glorious vessel that would take him away from his hell, was the last step towards achieving that dream.
As he ruminated on what was to come, he slowly walked to the other side of the ship putting his hands on the rail, and then leaned forward to see the sunrise. With a glance at the others to make sure no one would see him, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a battered, black and white photograph and held it tightly in both hands. He used his thumb to touch their faces, imagining they were right in front of him. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew by abruptly, and grabbed the photo from his hand. He jumped, catching it in the air, just as it was about to fly further and further away from his grip and into the sea.
“Hey, watch that!” A man yelled from behind him “No one will save you if you fall overboard!”
He looked around and began to focus on just how crowded the upper deck really was. He could only imagine what it looked like down below. A weight of nervousness filled his body. He tried to shake it off, but the feeling grew stronger. He wanted a place to sit, to enable him to calm down, but all the seats were full. Casting his eye over the volume of humanity around him, he knew something big was about to happen.
Standing won’t help relieve my stress, he said to himself, and went for another walk. One, two, three, four… dozens of Union Soldiers were on the ship. By then, he started to panic: Is there a possibility that the ship is over weighted? Would it reach its destination?
Trying to pacify himself, he held the photo close to his chest, guaranteeing that he would never let go. Again, he sank into the abyss of memories.
“Daddy, don’t leave me! Please, Daddy!” She choked back her sobs, “Please.” She had blue eyes and blonde hair.
“Daddy has to go, Annie,” he whispered the words softly, holding back the tears, “We have to fight for justice.”
“But I don’t want you to go,” Annie cried.
He could hold back his heartbreak no longer and poured out a flood of uncontrollable tears. He looked up at his wife, and saw she too was a cascade of tears.
“I will come back.” He said it in a solid voice, as if he had settled it in his mind.
Four slow and painful years crept by while he fought Lincoln’s war, and now, pacing back and forth on the deck of the ship, he wondered what his darling little girl would look like now. And would she recognize him? His stomach was a tangle of excited butterflies and nervous ones.
Just then, as if the vessel itself had taken a huge breath, everything went silent for just a moment and then BOOM. The over-strained ship exploded around him, causing uncontrollable fire, and he watched as his dreams began to incinerate amongst the deck. Many passengers were blasted off the ship instantly, and blood poured everywhere. He stumbled to take hold of the rail. He inhaled in a panic, and whispered: “I have to live; I have to live.”
Suddenly, something landed in the water with a splash.
“Daddy, don’t leave me!” A girl cried out, “Please Daddy, please!”
That was when he turned around and found her. She had blue eyes and blonde hair. He ran toward her without a single doubt in his mind, grabbed her and plunged with her into the sea.
He used all his strength to carry her, swimming through the water. Finally, he saw a piece of wood flowing in the water. He put her on the wood, and reached in his pocket, clenching the photo in both hands. Then he let it go…