June 1953. I am now 18 years … and 2 months to the good.
Oh, the ol’ friend of a friend routine, eh?
From days gone by I had a friend who knew a man working as an agent under W.R. Carpenters Group (SS freighter ship owners among many other prosperous business ventures) which regularly came into the Port of Suva.
In turn he had a friend who worked on the SS Lakemba as a waiter who was most often in personal service of the captain by order of the chief steward and having been aboard for quite sometime, earned his trustworthy status. My friend’s friend, called upon his friend.
It was easily decided between us; just as soon as an opening came up on the SS Lakemba, it could be mine. That wasn’t so hard right? There were a few other Indian nationals on the kitchen and dining room staff and so, in this new life’s adventure I could find a comfort in the workspace accompanied by sheer bliss of the open sea!
The freighter ships would enter the port about every 3 months and I was all but on board. It was to the customs office where I would go to sign-up for employment on this ship. And so with the confidence of a well-learned trade, an excellent letter of reference and the respected recommendation of a senior captain’s boy, I was ready for my life’s next chapter.
One afternoon while still at work in the tailoring shop, I heard from the Carpenters Group agent who called to inform me that my current future’s balloon had been popped! Sadly, another chap unexpectedly took the position.
Even the agent was baffled at the thought of how someone else could’ve taken this spot as we were all but certain it would be mine for the taking. I went home that afternoon with a splitting headache, restless, cranky and fevered. I took some aspirin and fell asleep. Little did I know my stars were lying in wait just over the horizon with some pretty serious plans for me.
The accepted candidate who should have come in to sign his paperwork and be officially entered on the payroll, never showed. The slightly distraught Skipper then said to the senior waiter, “So where’s this guy you told me about before, is he still available?”
Right away Sir! This young man -the agent’s friend- immediately caught a cab and came directly to my house. He frantically pounded at my door and when my mother opened the door, she was greeted with, “Where is he?!”
She told him I was asleep and asked for the reason of his hurried inquiry. He very quickly relayed there was an opening on his ship and I was to be brought immediately to the ship’s office for processing! “Please wake him now!”
She left him at the porch, more than a bit suspicious of what her dear young son may have going on and she woke me. She carefully asked me if I knew why there was an anxious man at our doorstep, asking for me and babbling on about taking me to a ship.
I popped up right away with a few thoughts of my own which were soon confirmed as I walked towards the door. When he saw me his words were immediate and to the effect, something like, ‘We have to go right now, they’re waiting for you! The job is yours!’
You can imagine my surprise … I knew also then -and in my excitement, left it alone for the time being- that my mother’s heart was being torn right out of her body. “I have the taxi outside. We must go to the office straight away!”
I quickly straightened my locks and locks of soft, wavy hair just a bit as I dashed past my mother with a smile, stopping only for a brief moment outside to splash my face with cool water and then climbing into the taxi.
We had arrived at the customs office in moments flat. I was officially accepted for employment on the SS Lakemba that evening. I couldn’t believe it! I went home to begin packing, have my dinner and say my goodbyes.
I had to report back to the ship very early the next morning to begin my new position, my new life. My mother cried … a lot. I didn’t want her to hurt but I also knew that I had to go the way my heart was guiding me. The next night would be my last night at home, this time.
⚓️ Once on board, my uniforms were assigned to me, the how-to of things to do were laid out and practiced and I received my cabin assignment, there were four to a cabin. I found I needed no time to adjust, I knew I was already at home on the ship. 🏝 On the 3rd day, we sailed and I left my Suva behind for the first time in my life … my little tropical paradise was disappearing into the horizon. Yes, that horizon.
AND by the way, that bit about the locks & locks of soft, wavy hair is actually true, also … as everything else in these chronicles. It’s just that today, Little Blue Masala still goes on about all the hair he used to have and well, I couldn’t resist the entry!