It was the biggest ship the young kid had ever seen. It was the biggest anything, in fact. When his mother told him they were moving, he wasn’t crazy about the idea, but didn’t fight it either. As a seasoned wanderer, he simply complied. His few belongings were easy to gather; besides his three or four changes of clothes and a grimy pillow, the only things he had to cherish were an old blanket and the little tin can toy car made by Old Floyd, the tramp from the park near his soon-to-be-former house. He didn’t even had a suitcase. Everything was put together with his mother’s clothes and objects in the hemp bag she would carry. It was a large brown bag closed with a string, like the ones used for transporting rice. They had two of those, but for some reason his mother had only one of them with her. They moved about two times a year, which means that he had lived in fifteen different houses in his almost seven years. Usually, they walked for a few minutes before reaching their new home. That time, they had been walking for some hours, the park and Old Floyd long gone. If he knew they would move so far, he would have visited Old Floyd one last time, even if his mother didn’t want him around the trump. It must have been some sort of great moving day, because the more they walked, the more he saw people carrying boxes and suitcases and bags. People just like them. Old clothes over tired bodies, sad faces protected by shabby hats, men with badly tended facial hair, everybody using dirty white, grey or dark brown. Not a colorful scene. The boy dreamed of the colors he saw once in a poster, up in the street he wasn’t supposed to go, the street where the rich people walked. There were no rich people around, even if they had walked a lot already. He was holding tight on his blanket, having chosen it over the tin car for carrying around. He had never been to this side of the city, and he believed he had been far away, much farther than his mother allowed him to go. They were now surrounded by people, everybody moving somewhere, everybody carrying something, even the children, and everybody shouting. First, he heard the horn, the loudest noise he had ever experienced; he almost let his blanket fall when he tried to cover his ears. Then, when they managed to turn over a particularly crowded corner, he saw the ship. Immense, black and white, uncountable small circular windows, a lot of gangplanks with people coming and going, four large red and black funnels on top.
“Are we going in there, Mom?”
“Yes”, she answered while grasping his hand and forcing their way through.
“I thought we were moving.”
“We are, love, it is just that we ate going a little farther this time.”
“We are going to a new country, Willie. We will have a different life soon.”
The young boy couldn’t make much sense of what was a “new country”, but he somehow felt he liked the old one. But then again, he did felt the same for pretty much all his former houses. As long as he had his blanket and the tin car, he was sure he could manage.
He looked again at the ship. From where he was standing, he couldn’t see the end of it. Or the beginning, he wasn’t sure which side was which. Besides the lots of people walking and running in all directions, there were large burdens being shipped, suspended in ropes and surrounded by some kind of net. There were some white letters painted over the black hull. His mother had been trying to teach him how to read, so the boy amused himself deciphering the symbols. Before his mother pulled him, all he was able to read was the first three letters. His mother didn’t want to lose him, so her grip on his hand increased at the same rate the amount of people around them did. By the time they had reached as close to the boarding planks as they could get, she was almost hurting him. The boy, seeing everyone coming and going through the flat ramp, naturally tried to climb on it, only to be pulled by his mother once again.
“Aren’t we going in?”
“Yes, we are, just not by there.”
She started walking faster, too, as fast as the crowd allowed her to. They reached an opening in the hull through which some men were carrying the large burdens. Apart from the dockworkers and the netted boxes, there weren’t anyone using that entrance. The mother approached one of the workers, the boy still firmly held. He was distracted by the unusual spectacle before him and didn’t pais attention to what his mother and the man were talking about. He did notice, though, the vague look they shared right before his mother pulled him inside. They went fast toward the back of the large compartment, zigzagging through piles of boxes and suitcases. There was even a car attached to a series of pallets. Once his mother considered they were deep enough, they sat behind a large box and she handed him something wrapped in a newspaper. The boy, distracted by everything happening to and around him, only realized how famished he was when he saw the piece of bread.
The mother seemed satisfied seeing his offspring devouring his first meal since the previous night. She wished she could give him something else, something more tasteful, and she also wished she could share a little for herself, but the look on the child’s face was enough to give her the strength she needed for another couple of hours, when she would be able to get more food. She was looking away, waiting for the cargo door to close, when she felt his son’s little hands poking her. When she looked at him, he had a chunk of bread in his stretched-out hand.
“Here, mommy, you need to eat too.”
She turned away again to prevent him from seeing the tears rolling down her face. One moment later, a loud clunk sound and the dimming of the light indicated the finishing of the cargo shipping. A few men were still inside, they could hear steps, one of them approaching.
“This way.” A strong man, wearing only pants with the legs rolled up to his shins, was signaling them to go with him. They passed through a series of corridors filled with tubes and pipes, extremely hot and humid, vapour escaping through the gaps. They were leaded to another compartment much like the one they were before, piles of boxes surrounded by nets. The man indicated a place where they could stay, walked away and returned soon after with a thick cloth he said they could use as bed. From where they were, they couldn’t hear the outside noise, but there were sounds coming from above and below, steps, talking, and the cracking and humming of the ship adapting to its new weight. The boy looked around curiously and got pulled back when he tried to walk to explore.
“This is our new home, mommy?”
“No, Willie, we will just stay here a few days before we get there.”
By the end of the second day, the mother herself was crazy to see anything else than the corner of a poorly lighted room filled with boxes. The boy started walking slowly, as if to test how long his mother would let him. Turns out not only she let him go far, she actually joined him exploring. The swinging of the ship over the ocean made the walk kind of funny, and for some time the boy had a nice time just by doing it. They found the passage from where they came, and from there other cargo decks. And, in those other decks, other families hiding. They were about thirty, a small portion of the ship’s total population, but nevertheless amazed by discovering each other. They quickly formed a sort of self-supporting group, caring for one another’s children and sharing the little resources they had. This had an incredible effect on the overall morale, and merely a week after leaving port they felt like family. The kids were confident enough to expand their exploration area, venturing stairs leading to other decks. That’s when the little boy learned where most of the noises he had been hearing comes from: there were other people on the ship. A lot of people. Tens, maybe hundreds of families, sharing small rooms with two bunk beds, a few hammocks hanging from any possible spot; every space, no matter how little, was used. Mothers cared for their babies, older children ran around, men passed the time talking and smoking and playing cards. There was someone playing an instrument, some singing. Willie’s clothes were just a little more ragged than those of the boys from third class, so he blended right in. So did the other kids and their families.
The stowaway boys returned with the great news: they discovered a new place to go, with the other families. The adults knew there were other people but were intrigued about how their children got access. As it turns out, there was not much surveillance for the third class and cargo decks. People were stopped from coming up to second and, of course, first class, but no one cared if there was another bunch of passengers for the cheaper tickets, once the ship had sailed. So the stowaway families simply moved to the lower deck. The people there rearranged themselves to make room for the newcomers. What’s another couple of mouths to feed for those used to so little? The ship provided enough food for them to share. Some transformed pillows and cushions into makeshift beds, some found people willing to share their hammocks, the lucky ones even got beds. Willie and his mother found someone who transformed the thick fabric they got from the worker into a hammock big enough for the two of them. They were all official third class passengers now.
This operation happened in the afternoon, and while they were still rearranging, the whistle sounded soup time. The stowaways simply continued with their task, for them it was just another of the many noises the ship made, but the others revealed what for the newcomers was the greatest part of this moving: from that moment on, the whistle meant food. They all passed to the dining saloon located in an upper deck, a large hall with long tables and many chairs. Still, there was no space for everyone, so they took turns. By the end of the meal, a small group had started playing songs, others singing. Once everyone had eaten, the tables were pushed to the walls to make room for dancing. The mother recognized the rhythm of people banging their feet to the floor. That party happened every night. Struggling with pretty much everything never stopped the poor from having fun.
They were playing and singing and dancing for about two hours when a sudden movement indicated the ship was changing course and also drastically reducing the speed. Some people fell, others were thrown over the tables or at the walls, the children found that absolutely amusing. Another sharp turn and, before everyone could get on their feet again, a strong bump, violent enough for everyone to fall and even for some to got hurt. Seconds later, the lights went out while the whole ship seemed to be complaining, humming and cracking. Some people shouted when it became dark but right after they were all silent. Then the floor started tilting slowly, making everyone slide through and fall over each other. The shouting restarted, panic ensued.
Willie was watching his mother dance when it all began, right beside the deck door. He heard someone shouting “Go up!” and, as soon as his eyes got used to the dim light of the night sky coming through the small round windows, he looked for his mother, but someone took his arm and pulled him up the stairs. The small group ran through the corridors but, when the ship started tilting, everyone grabbed whatever was closest. Willie got to enter through a door to what seemed to be the food storage, tall shelves of boxes held by nets. He latched onto one of the shelves and hoped his mother was all right. The ship started tilting back, and everything seemed to be coming to an end. He heard people screaming and running outside, but he was too afraid himself to let go. Despite all the movement and the noise, despite his fear and worries for his mother, Willie ended up sleeping, his arms intertwined with the nets.
When he wakes up, all he sees is a white room, filled with machines he had never seen before, several rectangles with moving images, wires and cables, four or five people wearing white coats, talking and looking at him, one of them examining the monitors.
“Where is my mommy?”, was the first thing he was able to speak. The people seemed thrilled to see him in good health, considering everything that happened. The person looking at the monitors turns to him and start checking his eyes with a flashlight, auscultating his chest, checking his reflexes. He is groggy and falls sleep once again. The next time he wakes up, all five people are around him.
“Where is my mom?”, he asks again, “What happened?”
They talk briefly among themselves, then one of them turns to him:
“Hello, William. What we are about to tell you will probably be hard for you to understand.”
“Willie”, says someone else.
“He is a boy from the 1890s. Most likely he was called Willie.”
“Is that right?” the woman on the front asks him. He just nods. “Well, Willie, try not to think about it right now, but you are the first person to successfully take part on a time travel.”
“Time travel?”, the boy is confused, and looks around searching for something.
“I’m sorry, your mother is not here”, says the other woman, sympathetic enough to recognize what the boy was looking for.
They feed him and change him into strange clothes, white like he hasn’t thought possible. They explain to him he is now many years after his time, almost two centuries. He inadvertently participated in an experiment, they say, that saved his life and brought him to the future. They tell him how the ship he was in sank and most of the people inside died, including his mother. They show him some of the amazing new technologies, most of them beyond anything the boy could imagine. It is a strange world for him, and no matter how much the scientists try to make him adapt, he doesn’t seem happy. They care for him for two weeks, seeing the boy getting more and more depressed despite his perfect physical health. One of the scientists, the woman examined him when he first woke up, tries to understand why he is feeling sad.
“I want to go home”, the boy says.
As it turns out, even with all the technology and advancements brought by almost two centuries of scientific exploitation, all the little boy wants was to finish the travel he started.
“Your mother will not be there, we can’t save her, even if we send you back”, the scientist explains.
He is crying, but nods to sign his understanding. He hears the scientists discussing how this is not what they were looking for, how sending him back is just against everything they worked so many years to achieve.
“Look at him”, says the woman who talked to him before. “We were successful, we got him here. But if we keep him here even if he doesn’t want to, it will also be a failure.”
The team finally agrees to send him back. They spend two days researching the right way to do it, while the woman explains to the boy how they can’t simply teleport him to the same ship because it would mean send him to his death. They choose another vessel, just a few months apart from his original departure.
The boy passed another week on the ship before seeing the first signs of his new home. A large city, with constructions tallest then anything he had ever seen. A giant statue of a woman carrying a torch looks at him as the ship approaches. They dock at an island close to the statue, lines and lines of people in front of a beautifully decorated building. The boy could hear the noise of hundreds of people talking, the movement, he could smell the new odours. It was a new place, but it also felt immediately familiar. He is finally home.