Langston Hughes sails from Haiti to Cuba, 1932

Down in the sweltering town again, I took off my coat and tie. I stopped at the market and bought a couple of loaves of French bread, a long greasy sausage, some cheese and some tinned sardines because, since Zell and I had only deck passage, we could not even purchase bread from the ship’s dining salon. We had to have enough to eat all the way to Cuba, and there was no telling how many ports a cargo ship might stop at en route, perhaps anchoring miles out in the water with no way of going ashore to buy food. I bought fruit, too, and a bottle of wine. Thus laden, back I started toward the wharf. The sun, heading west, was still blazing. Sweat poured from me. For cinq cob a street urchin offered to help me, so gratefully I let him put the bread and sausage under his sweaty arms, and the cheese on his head, and he trotted behind me toward the pier.

As I went up the rickety gangplank, the winches were rattling and the cranes lifting the swinging crates of cargo through the air. I found Zell on deck aft, where I dumped my packages on a closed hatch and proceeded to undress, putting my clothes in my suitcase in exchange for the oldest and dirtiest pair of trousers I had — in preparation for a night on the bare deck. It was so hot that I removed both shirt and undershirt. If the iron deck had not seemed like a griddle, I would have taken off my shoes. As it was, I removed my socks and rolled up my pants legs.

We were both hungry, so while I had stripped down to my ragged trousers, Zell spread on a newspaper our supper of cheese, sausage, bread and wine, with a bunch of bananas for dessert. He filled a couple of tin cups with tepid water from the tap, and we sat down on a shady corner of the deck to eat while cargo winches clanked and bales of sisal swung overhead. The sausage was good but greasy. We had neither forks nor napkins. Our hands were greasy and our bodies sweaty as we dined.

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Axé.


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