The S.S. Hato is torpedoed two days after leaving Panama. With uncharacteristic calmness, Phillip’s mother takes him out on deck; the entire back half of the ship is on fire. As Phillip and his mother are helped into a lifeboat, the Hato lurches violently, throwing everyone into the water. Phillip is hit on the head from above and loses consciousness.
Four hours later, Phillip awakens to find himself on a raft with “a huge, very old Negro,” whom he remembers seeing with a deck gang on the Hato. Phillip’s head hurts terribly, and he looks around for his mother, but he is alone except for the Negro and a large cat. Phillip asks the Negro, whom he thinks is very ugly, “Where are we? Where is my mother?” The Negro responds that he believes Phillip’s mother is safe and that they are floating “somewhar roun’ d’cays.”
Looking at the desolate sea all around, Phillip becomes violently seasick and vomits over the side of the raft. The Negro ministers to him tenderly, then rips some boards from the end of the raft and builds a shelter to shield them from the burning sun. Crawling into the shelter with Phillip, the Negro comments that they are lucky because they have a keg of water, some biscuits, chocolate, and matches.
Phillip sleeps for a while. When he awakens, his head hurts more than ever. He learns that the Negro’s name is Timothy. Although his father has taught him to address adult men as “mister,” he does not think he needs to bestow this token of respect upon Timothy because he is Black. Phillip’s mother had not liked Negroes and had always cautioned him to stay away from them because they were “different.”
Phillip realizes he is thirsty and asks Timothy for a drink of water. The old man pours him a small portion from the keg. Phillip complains that it is not enough and demands more, but Timothy refuses, telling him that they “mus’ make [their] wattah last.” Later, Timothy catches a few fish and gives Phillip some to eat. Repulsed, Phillip refuses and petulantly blames his mother for the situation he is in. Timothy wryly comments, “She started dis terrible wahr, eh, young bahss?”
That night, Phillip thinks how very strange it is for him, “a young boy from Virginia,” to be lying next to a Negro out on the sea. Although he had been around Negroes both in Virginia and in Willemstad, he had never known them very well. Curious, Phillip asks Timothy where his home is, and Timothy says he is from Charlotte Amalie on the Virgin Island of St. Thomas.
Phillip observes that Timothy is an American, but Timothy has never thought of himself in that way. He was raised by a woman named Hannah Gumbs. He does not remember his parents and is not sure about his age. All Timothy knows is the sea and his beloved Caribbean Islands.
As the night grows colder, Phillip begins to shiver, and Timothy draws him close, sheltering him from the wind. Phillip finds Timothy’s smell “different and strange” at first, but after a while it no longer matters “because Timothy’s back [is] very warm.”
In the morning, Phillip notices that his vision is hazy, and he tells Timothy that there is something wrong with his eyes. Timothy rebuilds the shelter and Phillip goes back to sleep. When he reawakens, his headache is gone but everything is dark, and at first he thinks it is night. The air is hot, however, and when Timothy tells him it is about ten in the morning, Phillip realizes that he is blind.
Terrified, Phillip flails around the raft, screaming for his parents. Timothy holds him tightly to keep him from falling into the water; though the old man is clearly worried, he whispers to Phillip consolingly. At one point, Phillip’s fear turns to anger, and he lashes out at Timothy. But Timothy understands his panic and submits to his blows. Finally, his fury spent, Phillip falls into an exhausted sleep.