I spoke to my commanding officer, he was real stand-up guy, you know? And he made a phone call. He said I would have to go to the High Commission for North Africa run by the Free French. They might know something. I made it to their offices and explained my business to some kind of functionary in the lobby. He asked me to wait which I did for about forty-five minutes. I was finally shown into a large office with a big wooden desk. The clerk had me sit in a small seat facing it.
A few minutes later, a stern looking older man in a crisp French officer’s uniform entered the room, sat down and considered me from across the huge desk. ‘You speak French, I assume,’ he stated. I said I did. “Very good,’ he said. ‘May I ask what interest you have in these matters?’ I explained that a friend had asked me to inquire. ‘An American serviceman should be wary of making curious friends in Algiers. These are complicated and dangerous times.’ I didn’t say a word. ‘Very well, then. The name of him you seek?’ I gave him the name. ‘Ibrahim Sefrouk,’ he intoned, and pulled a series of files from a sleeve by the desk. He opened one and looked through some pages. ‘Yes, Sefrouk. Arrested January third on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate the High Commissioner. He is alive, yes. He is in a work camp awaiting trial.’
I felt tremendous relief. I had feared the worst, as I knew his parents must still. I asked him if there was anyway to help him or if his parents could visit him. The officer looked at me with disgust. ‘Young man, you should understand that the only reason we are having this conversation is because of a call from your commanding officer whom I hold in high regard. If you think I am accustomed to spending my time answering inquiries after terrorists you are sorely mistaken. I would also strongly advise that you break off relations with these curious acquaintances of yours before you get wrapped up in something you cannot wriggle out of. As I’ve said, these are complicated times.’ With that he showed me out of the office.
“I returned to my base and thanked my commanding officer who agreed I should make no further inquiries and that there was, in any case, nothing we could do.”
“That must have been frustrating.”
“Yes, very frustrating. It was injustice wrapped up tight in an impenetrable bureaucracy. But, the next afternoon I returned to the Sefrouk home and knocked on the door. It opened and there they both were, just standing there wringing their hands. Not wanting to prolong their anguish, I blurted out that Ibrahim was alive. They let out great sighs — he bent with his hands on his knees, she with her hand over her mouth as tears welled up in her eyes. They ushered me in. I recounted in detail everything I had found out. At least he was alive. We sat down to lunch: a stew of sweet potatoes and carrots with what seemed like matzoh balls, but with spicy meat inside.
We talked about anti-Semitism in Algeria, how property had been confiscated, professionals forced out of jobs and on and on. They were not surprised that his French Comrades had betrayed Ibrahim. They kept thanking me for what I had done, and it made me feel sorry I couldn’t do more. ‘We have something for you,’ the husband said, rising from the table. He returned with a ring and before he handed it to me he said, ‘this is to remind you of a time when you touched the lives of strangers, and filled with hope a mother’s heart.’ He handed me the ring and I slipped it on.”
“So you see, I have always tried to help people since then. If only in little ways. That was the only medal I received in the war and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Mr. Flint shut his eyes and eased his head back on the pillow. I sat in silence listening to the ping of the heart monitor. “Hey there,” a voice startled me from behind. I turned around. It was Pete standing at the door. He came in and sat down next to me. “You see the neurology note?”
“I did. Persistant vegetative state.”
“Yeah, no wakey.”
“You gonna keep that ring?”
“I think I will.”
“You still think he’s Jewish?” Pete asked smiling, pushing his glasses higher up the bridge of his nose.
“That, I guess, we’ll just never know.”