I wanted to dip my hand deep in the water.

Dad shouted, 'No Tommy, no, it's too dangerous, we are at sea.'

I always loved stories about the sea and so did Dad. After Mum died he used to read me bedtime stories about the sea. He even read me a few pages of 'Moby Dick', making me promise that one day I would finish it myself.

One sunny afternoon when I came home from school in Rotham, having flung my satchel into the corner of the hall, I found Dad on his hands and knees packing a suitcase. Me and dad loved going on adventures, fishing in the river for eels or going down to watch the trains speed by at the railway tracks.

We'd never gone anywhere with a suitcase before, even though I was eleven years old.

Next, I heard a loud car horn honking  just outside of our garden gate. 'Dad, dad,' I shouted, there's a black taxi  honking outside our gate.'

Dad snapped the suitcase shut, grabbed my hand and the two of us bundled into the taxi.

I saw a road sign for Southampton. Teacher sometimes talked about Southampton in geography class. The taxi came to a halt there and we got out, taking our suitcase with us.

A big ship, the biggest I had ever seen, stood in the dock.

Dad went very quiet as he rummaged frantically in his pocket for our tickets.

A man in black uniform checked our tickets and waved us on. We went downstairs where it was almost dark, even though it was not yet night. Dad left our suitcase in a vacant spot on the wooden floor. People spoke different words I had never heard before.

I was afraid to ask Dad where we were going on this big ship. He seemed so nervous.

In the evening we came upstairs and stood by the railing, looking out at the darkening waters. I had never been this close to the sea. It was huge, nothing but water for miles. But still, it wasn't close enough to dip my hand in.  How I wished my best friend Andy were here to see this. Like me, he loved stories about the sea.

All we could hear was the occasional crashing of the waves against the sides of the ship.

'Time to go down under, Tommy and get some shuteye. We have a long sea journey ahead,' Dad said.

Me and Dad walked down the rickety stairs. They creaked every time we took a step.

The sky was full of stars that night. Don't think I had ever seen so many stars from our back garden in Rotham. On some starry winter nights, during the school holidays, Dad used to allow me and Andy to sit on our three-legged stool, by the scullery door. With our necks craned upwards, we competed to count the stars. Andy always managed to count more than me. Dad used to come out, smoking his woodbine cigarette and ask us how many we counted.

Our little suitcase still stood by the tiny door where we had left it earlier. Dad pushed the door open. The bunk bed looked bigger than the one we had at home and the blankets were whiter. There was a musty smell like the one in our shed, back in Rotham.

'Up top Tommy,' Dad said, just as if we were at home. Dad had said very little since we left Rotham.

The bed was cold so I wore my knitted cap and socks. It was exciting though being in a bed that swayed on the waves. How Andy and me would roar laughing if he were here, I thought.

I fell fast asleep. Next thing I knew Dad was tugging me out of bed telling me to hurry up and get up on deck. There was noise everywhere. Furniture was sliding along the wooden floors. People began to stumble. Music was playing somewhere. Women in long dresses and men in black suits ran as fast as they could.

We squeezed up on deck as Dad gripped my hand more tightly than he had ever done before. My teeth were chattering in the cold dark night. I didn't ask Dad what was happening. His face was pure white like a ghost.

Up on deck, a man in a black uniform with brass buttons was shouting gruffly, 'Women and children first.'

Me and Dad walked to the edge of the deck. Looking down, I could see a whole lot of small boats bobbing on the water. People were scrambling into them. Dad eased me into the crowd while he stood by the railing.

Before I could figure out what was going on, I was being bundled into one of the small boats. I couldn't see Dad anywhere. I started shouting, 'Dad, Dad..' at the top of my voice. He didn't answer. No one took any notice of me.

By now, I was so scared. The small boats moved off quickly in groups. People were frantic, some cursing the 'Titanic.' I was bewildered.

I sat squashed between ten or twelve other children. Some of them were vomiting on their flowery nightshirts and dresses. Others were crying bitterly and screaming for their Mum and Dad.

Shortly afterwards I could see light breaking at the bottom of the sky. Then I saw we were near the shore.

There were people everywhere. They helped us, children, to get out of the boats. A nurse in uniform ordered us to follow her up a long flight of stone steps. It must have been a hospital. We were given a small bed each to lie down. They checked our hearts and gave us hot cocoa to drink. But Dad was nowhere in sight. I was utterly alone.


I'm ninety now and far away from the tiny village of Rotham. The 'Titanic' shaped my entire existence.

Sometimes I still imagine I see Dad's ghostly white face peering out at me on some  crowded street.

We never got to say 'goodbye.'

October 16, 2019 21:12

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