Passage to Tangier
A barnacle-studded bow parted dark waters, and a gentle breeze propelled the square-sail caravel toward Morocco. The ship now sailed peacefully on the Atlantic Sea and once in Tangier, Miguel knew that his life with Isabella would begin. He sat on the crowded main deck and reveled at his young wife asleep in his arms—her chest rising with each breath, her peaceful features—and delighted in how dear she was to him. They were both free from Inspector Guerida’s reach now, and from Grand Inquisitor Torquemada’s tentacles. Since they had left Seville’s port, and plied along the meandering river, the Guadalquivir, the last five days had gone by smoothly with good weather into the Mediterranean Sea. In a few days the sights of Africa’s northern coast would be in view. For now the sea moved along with the ship, helping transport them to a new life.
Isabella stirred, opened her eyes, and smiled at Miguel.
He grabbed her hand and pressed it against his face. “My precious and beautiful wife. Did you rest?” he asked anxiously.
“I had a dream of a little house overlooking the sea. You were standing on the beach, chopping logs, and I was calling you.” Her eyes held a vision.
“Did I come running to you?” he asked playfully.
Her face suddenly lost its color. Her emerald eyes dimmed and looked at him with fear. “Yes, you were running toward me, and men were chasing you.” She came close to him for protection, held him tightly while her hands slightly trembled.
“Shh, shh,” he reassured her. “It’s only a dream.”
She buried her head into his chest, but her breath remained shallow and fast.
Miguel helped her to her feet, grabbed her hand, and fought his way through the throng of people and bundles lying on the upper deck. Weary women and some suckling newborn infants looked haggard from lack of sleep, and old men with a vacant gaze in their eyes tugged at their white beards, smoothing them to unravel tangled, matted hair. Both Miguel and Isabella advanced to the ship’s bow and held on to the rigging tied around the conifer foremast. The Levant wind, now increasing a few knots, came at them more forcefully than at first as it blew their long hair off their foreheads, and they swayed under its power.
“Hold on!” Miguel shouted at Isabella. He came close and wrapped her with both arms, trying to protect her from the sudden wind now lashing at them mixed with sea spray.
The captain standing on the upper deck shouted orders to his seamen. “Raise them! Furl the sails!” he bellowed to the lower deck while his men furiously scrambled to pull on the coiled ropes. Like a curtain rising before an oceanic audience, all the canvas sails were clewed up and furled tightly to the beams above their heads. From their vantage point, Miguel and Isabella watched the scene unravel while the water sprayed on the decks and washed over the travelers. Miguel felt glad they had found the small quarters below in the hold. Below the decks, the Beneluz family was huddled in the hold and sleeping close to each other.
He recalled that his uncle, Isaac Beneluz, had compensated the captain with a handful of gold coins for the coveted space below. His aunt, Rivka Beneluz, had taken it upon herself to make the small space into livable quarters. She wrapped two blankets from the rafters to enclose the space into a cubicle where all of them, including their four sons Avram, León, Guerson, and Mica, would feel some privacy.
As the winds increased, visibility decreased exponentially while the waves washed the deck continuously. Their faces and clothes now soaked, Miguel and Isabella marched toward the hold and descended the rope ladder. Their eyes adjusting to the dark and cavernous space below deck, they made their way to the opposite side of the vessel and to his uncle’s small cubicle. Miguel parted the blanket hung from a rope and found them still asleep. He went to his uncle and shook him gently by the arm.
Beneluz uttered with eyes still heavy with sleep, “What is it?”
“We’re hitting rough seas,” Miguel told him. “We may also get more refugees from the upper deck down in the hold.”
“If we do, we’ll make room for them.” Isaac Beneluz quickly woke the rest of his family and urged them, “Move closer.”
Still the rabbi helping everyone! No sooner had this thought crossed Miguel’s mind than the huddled masses from the washed-out deck began to descend the rope ladder in their wet and dripping clothes. Their soaked bundles were thrown from above to land on the families camped below. “Watch out!” Fists were raised by indignant passengers.
Miguel whispered in Isabella’s ear, “They must’ve parted with some of their gold.”
Their small space began to shrink as the ones already there moved to accommodate the new additions.
Meanwhile, his Aunt Rivka had prepared a cold meal of bread, dried meat, cheese, scallions, and cakes.
His Uncle Isaac reached into their bundles and retrieved more provisions. His Aunt Rivka raised her eyes at him, and before Isaac could stand up from his bent position, she reached for his full hands.
“No!” She raised her voice. “You won’t!”
“We must! It’s pitiful how hungry those children are.”
Rivka looked down at the provisions in his hands. She grabbed half, then handed him the rest. “All right. But that’s all we can give. We’ll starve ourselves.” She then reached across to feel the foreheads of her two youngest, Guerson and Mica. “They’re burning with fever,” she moaned to Isaac.
“Give them more water to drink. I’ll see if I can find the ship’s doctor.”
On his way up, Isaac went to give the extra bread and cheese to the hungry children. The parents thanked him by nodding silently and watched as the youngest children devoured the bread.
“Aunt Rivka.” Miguel addressed her. “We should be coming to port within a couple of days.”
“That is if we have good weather,” Rivka replied.
Isabella, who had been quiet until now, went to sit by Rivka and grabbed her arm affectionately. “We will, Aunt Rivka. You’ll see.” She tried to reassure her.
“May I have some more bread, Mother?” Mica said in a weak voice.
“There’s no more for now!”
Rivka’s hard voice startled Mica. Avram, the oldest Beneluz son, moved sluggishly on his mattress and offered Mica his own bread. The young lad took it gratefully and ate it slowly.
Rivka broke out crying bitterly.
Isabella comforted her. “It won’t be much longer now, you’ll see. Two more days and we’ll be there. By then their fever will be gone.”
Rivka wiped her tears as she saw Isaac returning to their small space.
“Did you find the ship’s doctor?” Rivka said to Isaac.
“He said many are sick on the ship, and he ran out of medicine.”
Rivka took her handkerchief from her pocket to dry new tears. “What are we going to do?”
Isaac shook his head and lowered it.
“We have another long night ahead of us. Let us rest,” she then said.
Everyone around them bedded for the night in their blankets. Soon the only sounds heard were a few passengers chatting quietly and the sounds of quiet breathing around them.
Miguel hugged Isabella as they huddled on her blanket and, covering their faces with a corner of his blanket, stole a kiss from her lips. She kissed him back and said, “Two more days.”
Source: The New World