• A gentle breeze blew into my face as I stared out to the night-darkened sea. The cruise ship rocked gently in the water, the splash of the water mixing with the steady hum of the ship’s engines. The gentle rocking and droning hum had lulled me into a meditative trance. The breeze circulated the air around the deck, cooling off flushed dancers as they came out for some fresh air. Idly, I listened to the music floating out of the doorways. It was a slow waltz now – a chance for the more enthusiastic dancers to catch their breath before the next song. I tuned out and returned to my own thoughts, noting how the star and moonlight sparkled on the waves.

    A smattering of applause from inside intruded upon my reverie. The orchestra struck a chord and launched into a slightly faster song. Recognising the tune, I stepped inside, momentarily blinded by the lights from the chandeliers after the darkness of the night outside. I squeezed my way past laughing and clapping passengers and up a staircase so I could have a view of the dance floor. I leant against the balcony and tapped my foot to the beat as the dancers whirled across the lacquered floor. I hummed the tune under my breath, transfixed by the swirling colours of the ball gowns. Without realising it, I began to softly sing along with the song.

    “…Beg, borrow or steal,
    I’ll find a way
    To be with my lover next
    Christmas Day.
    And I’ll run and I’ll roam,
    I’ll cover the ground.
    Next Christmas I’ll see you,
    I’ll be around…”

    A hand tapped me on the shoulder. I gave a start and looked around. A young man stood behind me, smiling cheerfully. He was dressed in an immaculate black tuxedo and a bow tie. His brown eyes sparkled with happiness. His apparent joy was infectious and I almost smiled. I frowned at his hair though: it was combed in such a manner that his short brown hair stuck forward to create a small peak over his face. It was quite outrageous and yet…the man was oddly charming.

    The man bowed slightly and offered his hand to me. “Would you care to dance?”

    I blushed. Normally I would refuse an invitation to dance. But…I just could not refuse someone who looked so cheerful and carefree. I spread my skirts in a graceful curtsy, and replied, “I’d be delighted to.”

    He accompanied me down to the dance floor. There, we joined with the countless other couples weaving in circles. The music had changed into another waltz. The two of us weaved our own circle around the floor. The young man continued to smile, clearly at ease. As we danced, I decided to question him.

    “You’re looking rather happy,” I commented.

    He grinned at me. “Why? Should I not be happy?” With that, his grin was replaced with a sad face. It was so comical, I had to laugh.

    “Be serious, though,” I said. “Why are you so happy?”

    “Can you keep a secret?” he asked, his eyes twinkling with mischief. I nodded, intrigued. “To be honest, I’m not supposed to be on this ship. Stowaway,” he added in a confidential whisper. He seemed on the verge of laughter.

    My eyes widened but my step did not falter. My feet automatically stepped in time with my partner, but my attention was all on the man opposite me. “I should report you, you know,” I murmured.

    The man raised an eyebrow, his face all seriousness. “Go on, then.”

    I bit the inside of my lip and stared into his face. He did not seem at all afraid of the possibility of being caught. And I really was very intrigued by this man. I suddenly noticed he was smiling at me again. I felt he knew my answer even before I gave it.

    “No, I won’t report you,” I told him. “But someone else might.”

    The man shrugged carelessly. “What’s life without a little risk?”

    My reply was cut off by a round of applause for the orchestra. We both clapped politely and moved off the dance floor to make way for new couples.

    “Drinks?” the man asked me. I nodded and we made our way to the refreshments table.

    The waiter greeted us. “What would you like to drink, sir? Ma’am?”

    “I’ll have a lime soda, thank you,” the man said. He turned to me. “What about you?”

    “I’ll just have some water, thanks.”

    Wordlessly, the waiter handed us our drinks. We accepted them and moved out of earshot to an empty space by the wall. The man toasted me, his smile seemed like it would never fade. “A toast,” he said. “Here’s to a happy voyage.”

    I smiled back and we touched glasses. “I never asked you your name,” I said, after I had sipped.

    “John Smith,” the man said. He was not looking at me when he said it. He was leaning against the wall and watching the crowd around us through hooded eyes. He seemed almost bored.

    I eyed him suspiciously. “No it’s not,” I retorted.

    The corner of his mouth twitched upwards but he made no reply.

    I tried another tack. “What are you doing here? Surely you don’t stowaway on ships all the time?”

    At this, the man laughed outright. It was a short, loud burst of laughter which startled those around us. A stern, elderly-looking couple frowned disapprovingly at the man. I tried to stem his laughter.

    “Did I say something funny?” I asked stiffly, uncomfortably aware of the eyes upon us.

    Mercifully, he stopped laughing, but he was once again grinning. “If you only knew,” he said.

    I felt I did not want to know after all.

    “What about you?” he asked me. “What are you doing on this ship?”

    I shrugged. “I like to travel,” I said.

    The man nodded knowingly. “I do quite a bit of that.” He smiled reminiscently. “I love it. Go where you like, do what you want.”

    “But…?” I prompted him. I sensed there was something he was keeping back.

    He shook his head. “It gets lonely, don’t you find?” he asked me.

    I considered for a moment then shrugged again. “Not really,” I replied. Silence followed for several minutes. Both of us were caught up in our own thoughts. I broke the silence with a question that I had been burning to ask. “Where do you come from? I can’t quite place your accent.”

    “Nowhere you would have heard of,” he answered. At my incredulous expression he smiled. “No, really, I mean it,” he said.

    I narrowed my eyes. “You’re not an immigrant are you? There’s been talk in the newspapers about Germany…”

    The man shook his head quickly. “No, no. I’m not an immigrant.” He finished his drink and placed the empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter. “Well, it’s been good to meet you, Miss…?”

    “Walters. Mary Walters.”

    The man gave me a short bow. I inclined my head in return. He was about to move off but he hesitated. “Just a little heads up,” he said. “If I were you, I’d stick close to the lifeboats. I’ve got a nasty feeling this ship will probably hit something sooner or later.”

    I scoffed lightly. “This ship is unsinkable!”

    He rolled his eyes. “That’s what they always say.” He walked off and was soon lost amongst the crowd. I watched him go, my thoughts churning in my head. He seemed to be serious about the lifeboats…

    I placed my own glass on a waiter’s tray and headed outside into the cold night air.

    * * *

    The next morning…

    I stood shivering on the dock, watching as people staggered off the ship. I glanced around. People of all classes were standing together, also shivering. Some were staring as if in a nightmare, some were crying.

    The ship had sunk. Just like that man had said. It had struck an iceberg and slowly filled with water. I shuddered. I never wanted to hear those screams again. Or see those frozen, lifeless bodies…I had been saved, but so many others had not.

    I looked around. Had that man made it off the ship in a lifeboat? It had been too dark to see before. I began to wander around the dock, hoping to spot his tell-tale hair and – possibly – his cheerful smile at having cheated death.

    * * *

    It had been a week since the ship sunk. I still thought of the man now and again. I suppose it was sort of selfish, thinking of him when so many others had died. He’s still alive – I know it.

    As I walked along the icy streets, preoccupied with my thoughts, I was suddenly startled by a large explosion. I gazed in horror. A factory had suddenly burst into flames, just a few buildings down. People were shouting and screaming and shouting for water to put out the fire. Many of the men around me began to run towards the flames. One man was running away from the flames. I stared at him. It couldn’t be…

    I yelled as loudly as I could. “Mr. Smith!”

    The man skidded to a halt, almost falling down. He looked around, searching for the source of the voice. Yes, it was him. He was dressed differently, but his face and his hair were the same. I waved and ran towards him. He noticed me then. His face split into that familiar grin.

    “Mary Walters!” he exclaimed. “Fancy that!” He waved away my attempt to speak. “Explain later. Come on, we’ve got to get away from here.”

    It did not matter to me now if anyone stared at us or not. I was too happy to care. This strange man – whose journey I was sure had ended on that sinking ship – was alive.