Shiphrah’s Pearl Part One

Shiphrah's Pearl square

PART ONE: SHIPHRAH AND THE GIRL

 

Shiphrah’s stomach tossed and turned with the waves outside her family’s first class cabin. She knew being on this deathtrap of a cruise ship would be the end of her.

“Oh, sweetie, it’s not that bad,” her mother said as she wrapped a sapphire blue scarf around her black shoulders.

Shiphrah huddled under her covers even more. Being sick was terrible, but, in this case, she welcomed the nausea. It was the perfect excuse to not venture beyond the cabin doors.

“I think she’s faking, Mama.” Her brat of a brother bounced up on the bed, shaking her and the pillows. She groaned in response.

“Aaron, don’t be mean to your sister. Let her rest. We can go enjoy the swimming pool in the meantime.”

“Woo hoo!” He jumped off the bed and raced to their father.

Her mother sat down beside her. Shiphrah peeked out just a little.

“Baby girl.” Her mother combed slim fingers through her course, frizzy hair. “This isn’t about that, is it?”

Shiphrah pulled up the blankets once again. “I’m sick, Momma. Why would I fake that?”

“I know you didn’t want to come on this cruise. But your father and I wanted to celebrate with you children. Your father made partner at his firm and got a great deal on this vacation. Not to mention your grandmother finally found a beau.”

“It’s weird that Gram’s dating. Just weird.”

Her mother laughed. “She loved your grandfather dearly, I can say. But sometimes, after a long, long time of living without anyone, some people just get lonely. She may not remarry, but she loves her new social life.”

Shiphrah peeked out again. “You’d never remarry, would you? If something happened to Daddy? Or would he do that if something happened to you?”

Her mother patted her head. “Now, girl, let’s not think about those things. Your father and I are both healthy. And you and your brother are too. Even if you have a stomach ache right now.”

“Sarai! Shiphrah!” came her father’s booming voice. “Are you two coming?”

“What do you say? Will you brave the sea with us?” Her mother asked.

Shiphrah tightly pressed her white lips together and shook her head slowly.

The woman frowned. “Promise this isn’t because of that? No one will laugh at you.”

“I promise.”

“Alright. I’ll try to find some medicine for you. And maybe something to eat besides Aaron’s snacks. Love you, baby girl.” Her mother kissed her on the head.

“Love you,” Shiphrah whispered.

She watched as her mother left. She waited in her bed as three sets of feet shuffled out of the cabin and the door shut.

Shiphrah sat up, a deep frown chiseled on her face. She never wanted to come on this trip. It was too much of a hassle. She did feel bad, though. She knew her parents only booked this cruise and surprised her and her brother because they wanted to show their love. But Shiphrah never liked being in public. Especially now that they were on board with hundreds of other passengers, and she was stuck with either hiding in her room or hearing their snide comments when she walked past. The worst part was that she had to miss out on swimming – something she loved.

Shiphrah looked down at her hands and arms. The beautiful black skin of her mother and grandmother was marred by milky white splotches all over. She was ugly and she knew it. And she didn’t need anyone else telling her or saying so behind her back. She already had enough of that at school. She didn’t need anyone pointing out the obvious.

Shiphrah had always wished and prayed that she would be whole – she wanted to be fully black like her mother. Her father and brother also had this curse – vitiligo – but theirs was so small, so insignificant, that no one pointed it out. It was only her, the splotchy sheep of the family, that had to bear these marks.

And she hated it.

***

It took all her courage for Shiphrah to open the cabin door. She peeked to the left, then to the right. No one was there. Good.

She let the door shut behind her as she ventured into the hall. If it was up to her, she wouldn’t be out here at all. Unfortunately, her brother had clogged the toilet before he left. She planned to give him a hard kick in the knees for not saying anything before he and their parents left.

Thankfully, she spotted a shared restroom at the end of the hall. All she had to do was go in, do her business, and go back into the safety of the cabin. With everyone enjoying the sun and pools on the top decks, she shouldn’t have to worry about anyone seeing her.

Shiphrah grabbed for the handle, but the door didn’t open. Wait. These were multi-stalled restrooms, right? The door to the men’s room opened in response; two men in sleek black suits walked out and headed towards the stairs to their left. Shiphrah was glad neither one of them turned her way. Though it was odd to see anyone wearing such bulky clothing this early on a cruise ship. They must have been a part of the crew.

Shiphrah tried the women’s door again. It must be stuck from the humidity or something. All she needed was to pull a little harder, and she’d-

The door shot open. Water rushed out and Shiphrah slipped. She fell with a hard thud.

“What was that?” she groaned.

She tried to stand. Something heavy fell into her and her head smacked onto the deck. Black spots blotted her vision.

“S-sorry,” came a thick accent.

The weight lifted off of her. Something brushed against Shiphrah’s eyes and her vision cleared. A pale girl. She looked sickly, even. Was she seasick, too?

The girl grabbed Shiphrah’s wrist and pulled her back to her feet. She let go, shot her head this way and that, and ran towards the stairs.

Shiphrah watched as she faded from view. That was weird. Did that girl have black eyes bigger than usual?

She looked down at her wrist, slime dripping off of it. And gross. Definitely gross.

Shiphrah entered the restroom, her nose scrunching from the rotten fish smell. Whatever that girl had for lunch was something Shiphrah wanted to avoid. Her stomach was already fried out from her nerves.

***

“Come on, honey. You need to eat some dinner,” her mother said as she put on a grey dress.

Shiphrah opened her mouth to protest as the clock struck six, its bells chiming throughout their cabin.

“No buts.” Her mother waved a finger. “You don’t look sick and you need to eat. Enough said.”

“Maybe she’s just embarrassed,” her brother chimed in. “She did destroy the women’s restroom earlier.”

“No, I didn’t you little twerp!” Shiphrah yelled.

“Enough you two,” her father’s voice boomed. The two went silent. He spoke again, his voice softer, “Aaron, your sister did a good thing by telling the staff about the mess. And Shiphrah, there’s no need to raise your voice. You know the truth and that’s all that matters.”

Shiphrah twisted her lips. “Yes, Daddy.”

“Now, let’s get down to the dining hall. I want to snatch some of that crab before it’s all gone.”

Without another word, Shiphrah got ready. She pulled on her favorite jacket, hiding her splotchy arms; she made sure to get her best jeans on too, hiding her blotchy legs. Her mother didn’t protest to her choice of attire, though she did see a small frown cross her lips. Shiphrah ignored it and followed her family down to the dining hall.

She was grateful her long black curls hid her neck. She always dreamed of having short hair or braids, but she refused to let her skin be seen. She covered as much of it as she could, grimacing at the fact there was no way to hide her face and the white and pale paint that covered one cheek, her lips, and part of her forehead.

It didn’t take the family long to bustle down to the dining hall. Part of Shiphrah’s fear of being seen subsided as she smelled the plump roast and buttery rolls. She might object to this trip, but at least the food smelled good. And her nausea from the waves was finally subsiding.

They took their place at a table where a server jotted down their orders. Shiphrah kept her eyes on the menu and mumbled hers. The woman seemed nice, but everyone did until they saw her.

“Oh listen to that music, dear.” Her mother touched her father’s arm. “Doesn’t it remind you of our wedding song?”

“It does.” Her father got out of his seat and offered a hand to her mother. “You two stay here while we’re gone. No moving.”

They strode away and onto the dance floor. Shiphrah scooted down in her seat even more as her parents began to twirl around.

She let her eyes wander over the crowd. Nearly everyone was in the dining hall, she thought. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be an incident and she could stay as transparent as possible.

Her eyes caught on a girl – the same one from earlier. She still looked sick, but there was something else about her that made Shiphrah uneasy. The girl’s eyes were sifting through the crowd as if trying to find someone. But instead of going to a table to sit down, the girl slipped out of the room.

“Aaron, tell mom and dad I went to the restroom.”

Her brother chuckled. “Going to destroy it again?”

She hit her brother’s arm. As he gasped in pain, she got up and left.

Outside the dining hall, she looked around for the girl. A flip-flop clad foot disappeared around a corner. She hurried to follow it. This girl was acting too weird and Shiphrah didn’t trust her. She followed the flip-flop shaped water marks down the corridors until they disappeared into a room. Shiphrah put her ear up to the door. Drawers were being opened and shut frantically. What was this girl doing?

The noise stopped and footsteps ran to the door. Shiphrah shot behind a laundry cart just as the girl exited the room. She looked mad. Shiphrah’s eyes went straight to the shiny necklace the girl held. Was she stealing?

The girl ran down the hall. Shiphrah looked around but no one was there. She followed the girl. She wasn’t going to let someone steal when she was around.

“Hey, girl! Get back here!” Shiphrah yelled. “That isn’t yours!”

The girl ran faster.

Shiphrah did too. She chased the girl down a flight of stairs and onto the main deck. The girl stopped right at the railing. She was trapped.

Shiphrah eyed the deck. No one was there except them.

“Look. If you put that necklace back, then I won’t say anything. But you can’t just steal from-”

“Steal?” The girl hissed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The wind howled over the waters.

“You were stealing. I saw you myself.”

The boat rocked, making Shiphrah lose her balance. The water was getting choppy. Shiphrah needed to stop this girl before she got seasick again.

“Just give it to me and I’ll say I found it somewhere. That way you won’t get caught.”

“Look, I’m not here to play with some kid-”

The waves rocked the boat harder. Lights flickered on and off. Shiphrah tried to get her balance back, but she fell to the deck. The girl did too. Shiphrah looked up as a massive wave sprang forth.

“Watch out!” She scrambled toward the girl.

But the wave didn’t wait.

It crashed down on Shiphrah and the girl, pulling them off the boat. Shiphrah didn’t even have time to scream before she crashed into the ocean. Air pushed out of her body as it sank without a struggle into the darkness.

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© E.N. Chaffin 2019. All rights reserved. Any reproduction without author permission is against the copyright laws of the United States of America.

 


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