by Willie Lagarde
His name was Bin Abu and I came to know him well because he was assigned to my lifeboat and helped me inventory water, rations and survival gear in the all the boats during drills. As Third Mate this was part of my routine duties.
He was an Algerian arab and had been a crewman aboard the French liner Normandie when WW2 broke out and like many other foreign seaman had no way to go home. He claimed French citizenship and although he was denied that status in America he was allowed to serve on American ships like many other expatriates from allied countries.
I took advantage of his fluency in French to improve my own asking him to speak to me only in French which at the time was the most widely spoken language in Algeria if not the official language.
It was about 6 PM and I was lying in my bunk with the door on the hook, reading the last few chapters of Two Years Before the Mast.
My room was near the head of the ladder leading up from the main deck and crews quarters one deck below. I heard yelling and cursing from the passageway and then hurried steps on the ladder. It was Bin screaming “m’aidez, m’aidez”. As I opened the door he rushed in past me and I saw Pancho another crewman with a knife that looked like a sword. He had blood in his eyes and no doubt intended to kill Bin. I could see he was debating whether he should push me aside to come in my room and all I could do was stand there and wait for his decision.
There was no one aboard these freighters to keep the peace or enforce the law. There were no MAA’s or Marines; only the captain and loyal officers usually with only a pistol, perhaps a black jack and a few pairs of handcuffs were aboard to deal with criminal intent among the crew.
Bin was hugging my back and Pancho’s knife which looked like an oversized chopping knife was long enough to go clean through me and kill Bin behind me.
I had a good relationship with Pancho and hoped it was enough to make him consider the consequences. All I said was “give it up Pancho and go below.” He hesitated and finally left but the problem had yet to be resolved.
To this day I have no idea what the fight was over but I told Bin to lock himself in my room while I consulted with the captain.
The captain decided one of them must get off the ship at our next port and because Bin was the most expendable it would be him. Until we reached port he would be moved into the unused armed guard quarters over the stern and instructed to lock himself in at night.
On two occasions during my years at sea men simply disappeared.
Bin had told me it was his goal to one day join the French Foreign Legion whose headquarters then was in Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria.
The captain put him off the ship in San Pedro with a promise he would try to expedite his return to Algeria. Looking back on those days I wonder, was he accepted in the Legion and if so was he still in when they were forced to move to a training facility in Corsica and new headquarters in Aubagne France.
Is it possible he ran across a well stacked dark haired mamselle named Rosanna in Corsica, one of the unforgettable characters who passed my way during my stay on planet earth. If so did she remember me? Parle moi Bin.
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