Ahead of them William’s father cut a swathe through the crowd, snarling and shoving. He cursed the steerage passengers who didn’t know to step aside for him; glared at the second class upstarts who stopped to ogle him; nodded to the gents and ladies who recognised an eminent man. William felt himself towed along by his father, though it was his mother’s hand that tugged gently at his.
William was worried about his mother. Her eyes were red and her cheeks pale. He hoped she wasn’t getting a fever like the one she had last winter. There’d be no one to look after her this time.
“Hurry along, William. Greta, you’re slowing us down, so you are. I’ll not have us miss the sailing for your dawdling.”
William peaked up at his father. The fedora was pulled low; William could only see his nose and the bushy black moustache which covered his mouth but couldn’t muffle the bellow in his voice. William’s eyes watered. He told himself it was the stinging wind. His father ploughed on. His mother squeezed William’s hand.
His father halted at the gangplank.
“This is us. Say goodbye to your mother and be quick about you.”
William longed to throw his arms around her, losing himself in her soft fur coat. Instead, he held out his hand.
“Is that all I get?” she teased, trying to smile.
William let himself be pulled into a hug, melting against her.
“Greta, don’t fuss the boy. Jesus, he’s twelve. William, now.” His father’s hand stamped down on William’s shoulder, dragging him backwards.
His mother dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes. “Goodbye, Michael. Take care of yourselves. Wire when you arrive.”
His father removed his hat and pecked his mother on the cheek.
“I’ll be back by the fifteenth. Be sure to forward any urgent correspondence.”
His mother nodded.
“Now, get along with you, woman.”
She rested her hand one last time on William’s arm. The warmth soaked though his coat and into his skin.
“I expect a letter from you every week. I want to hear all about your adventures.”
“I promise, Mother.”
She withdrew her hand. William’s father jerked him towards the queuing passengers. William watched as the crowd surged around his mother, drowning her. The warmth on his arm faded.
“Come on, lad.” William’s father set the fedora back on his head and pulled it down over his ice blue eyes.
Case in one hand, the other balled in his pocket, William trudged up the gangplank in his father’s long black shadow. On deck William stood on tip-toes. Around him people waved; he clutched the railings with whitening knuckles. Horns tooted their farewells. The ship began to drift from the dock and skirt Liberty Island. William thought of those times his mother had taken him on the ferry to visit Lady Liberty. Up the hundreds of steps they toiled, his mother telling him how Lady Liberty had been gifted to New York as a symbol of the freedom won by France and America through hard-fought revolutions. William let go of the railings and waved frantically at Madam Liberty as they sailed by her.
He stayed at the railings until the whole of Long Island was reduced to a pin-prick on the horizon, recalling his father’s words, “You’re going home, home to Ireland.” William ground his top teeth into his bottom lip as he watched his real home falling into the sea.