49. Sailing,​ ​Sailing​ ​Upon​ ​the​ ​Ocean​ ​Blue

And once the P&O Liner Orsova has got herself directional, we look back to barely see specks of people at the docks and really only the coastline is in view.

The haunting Isa Lei is but a faded hum joining in the ever so faint lull of the engines as my mind and the ship tap into the Koro Sea – we have left Viti Levu and all those I love so dearly in the Fiji Islands.

I stood on deck awhile longer taking in the deep ocean blue; I know this was allowing all my thoughts and actions to settle in.  After a little while and a lot of sea spray in the face –love that! I went back inside, slowly walking to my cabin.

Sitting on my bed -one of 2- I look across to the other one taking notice of a suitcase, a coat I think and another bag.  Smiling to myself I hoped my cabin mate would be of the female species.  It’s all really very silly I know – this was not a coed dormitory after all, ha ha!

What? Okay enough daydreaming. I take a moment to unpack my suitcase.  No one showed yet so I thought it wise to find the dining room and I may as well get busy checking out the local scene.

I approached the purser’s desk for the evening’s schedule.  She naturally was only too glad to share all the lovely details about the SS Orsova. “Our dining room is one deck below.  I would recommend that you go down now, if you’re not doing anything else and familiarise yourself with your mealtime accommodations.”

The lady then asked if I was comfortable in my cabin and if I had met my cabin mate.  ‘Not yet!’  Thinking again about my earlier thoughts with a slight smirk, she must’ve caught it; she looked up my cabin mate’s name in her book and told me.

This time without another thought I laughed out loud for she gave me the name of a man; a man with a given-Christian first name and an Indian surname.  🔱 My daydream balloon was popped!

I found the dining room. Right away I was able to connect with the dining room captain who briefed me politely on how it all worked.  There was always two seatings early/later for meals and my table would remain the same throughout my time on board.

There were four chairs and only two of us assigned to this table although free to move about if invited to another.  I see how this works, two available seats if we should find someone to invite to our table.  Us?  The other dining chair being my cabin mate … okay, makes sense.

It was probably a bit past six in the evening and I thought it good to stroll about for a little while, not that I needed to work up an appetite or anything.  I explored my surroundings some more and of course still had hopes of seeing where the ladies might mingle.

Yes, what can I say?  This was a semi-important quest for me; can’t help it, I enjoy their company.  I know what you’re thinking … don’t worry, Noori is still sitting heavy on my heart and will be there for a very long time.  One in a million no doubt about it.

Goodness! It’s 7 o’clock and I should return to the dining room; 1st seating it will be.  All this questing was making me hungry.  The dining room’s aroma led me right to my table.

I am the only one and I take a seat.  A larger-than-life menu is handed to me and my drink request taken.  A young man approaches with a beaming smile.

I return the smile and he states, “You must be my cabin mate.”  I reached out to introduce myself, we shook hands and he tells me his name which I already knew, “Joseph.” and after seating himself, “I sure am hungry!”  Already something in common, nice.

And this is one of the many things I love about shipboard dining, there’s no wasting time on the waitstaff part.  It wasn’t long before we two young lads were enjoying an excellent meal and mutual conversation.

Joseph and I parted company after dinner.  I wanted to see if I’d find something of interest.  Truthfully I cannot recall neither what I had for that first dinner or what I chose to do that night.

I do know I enjoyed breathing in fresh salty air and sort of slipping into a peaceful, half-conscious state.  ✨ Are the stars out above the sea going to keep me aligned?

What I really wanted was to stroll the deck with someone, catch a movie, a show or dance a little, you know what I’m saying.  It sure would’ve been nice if that someone was Noori.

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You know back then a ship was my transportation -prior to that, my employment- not a leisurely cruise for the sake of a vacation.  🌏 I’ve been on a few extensive and leisurely cruises in my life since and apart from how the times and services have changed, being on board a luxury liner or freighter, yacht or speedboat, ferry or any boat really, the joy for me remains the same;​ ​it’s​ ​the open​ ​sea​.

It’s the endless horizon, some of the freshest possible air to fill my lungs with, the constant spray of the salt water, 🐬 the giants of the sea 🐳 occasionally accompanying our vessel, the starry sky of night and the twilight of a new morning.  I feel the cobwebs of my mind clearing out and if even momentarily, like I can do anything.

48. All aboard!

First thing I did was surrender my suitcase at the entry level and having checked my ticket, it was accepted and my hands were free.  I came back down to the wharf where my family and friends, who had come directly to the docks, were waiting.  

Saying the this-time-for-real goodbyes to the family before climbing the gangplank was rough to say the least, especially seeing my mother’s face and knowing this was, once again, tearing her up … it hurt.  

Then there is my sweet Noori.  I was closest to her now than ever before and knowing how dearly she loved me didn’t make this farewell any easier.  

The loudspeaker blurted out the commencement of pre-boarding for those passengers who were already residing on that ship from the previous port.  My heart skipped a beat and I can only imagine what my mother, sisters and brother and Noori’s hearts were doing.  

“Send us a postcard!”  someone said.  “Don’t forget to write!” said another.  “Remember us and return soon …”  trailed another voice.  It was time to say our final (such a word!) goodbyes.  

One by one I went to each person, young and old, hugging, kissing and wiping tears and making the repetetive promise to take care of myself and return sooner than later.  

Do you know there were a few of my family members whom I had never in my life, witnessed them shed a tear up till just now.  How heart-wrenching.  It was a long line-up of dear ones and then I get to my brother and my sisters.  

I had never seen my brother cry either and in our embrace he poured which of course caused me to cry my eyes out too!  My dear sister-in-law stood by him silently crying.  To make her smile I told her I’d miss her meals as no one could touch her cooking where I was going.  It worked.

I gave my brother a personal promise; whether or not he wanted it I would send money to assist so that he wouldn’t have to miss me that way and I reminded him that I will definitely call for him as soon as I have settled.  

To my sisters I told them how much I loved them and would miss them (I knew my little sister would be the one writing to me) and to all my nieces and nephews I laid down the promise of goodies from America.

My mother, my dearest, most precious mother.  I don’t have to tell you about the nonstop tears there.  She said to me, “Maybe I’m not going to be here when you come back.”  What a stab in my heart, I had that coming.  

I knew I’d better say something comforting and quick!  ‘Amma don’t worry please.  I promise you as I have made the same to Noori that I will be back in two years to marry her.’  

Noori was naturally standing there right beside my mother.  That statement brought a gentle smile to my crying mother’s face … and to Noori’s.

It was nearly 4 o’clock and the steamship whistle sounded.  The call for all to board was heard and went through my bones.  Noori and I embraced, tightly, she cried a lot and we repeated our love statement for one another.  ‘I will see you soon Noori.’  I assured her and she assured me in return, “I will wait for you Gary.”

I began my ascent of the gangplank and I could hear all the crying.  I made my way to the top deck of the ship.  Boxes of streamers were laid out for the passengers to throw as their departing gesture and final tie being broken … well that’s what it felt like to me.

I grabbed half a dozen of those paper streamers and made my way to the railing of the ship, obviously dockside.  The Fiji Military band had begun a tune and the mood was set.

I see my people down there on the wharf and I can tell they’re searching for my face among the many.  A couple of the excited children spot me waving and point me out to the rest.

The Orsova horn -that sound- was blasted again, twice.  It was 4:45p and the gangplank would go up in five minutes.  I hold one end of each streamer and then begin to throw them towards the crowd, in the general direction of my family and friends.

Then the departing song Isa Lei began.  A man had caught one of my streamers and as though by fate, handed it to Noori.  She may not have caught one on her own, I don’t know and I had no idea who he was.

The big rope at the stern was first released and the ship begins a controlled slip away from the dock.  The tears and emotions for nearly everyone present were uncontrollable.  It’s such a haunting piece of music and the way the lyrics are sung, one cannot help but to lose it.

Isa is God in Fijian.  A feeling of hearts full of pleasure and return right away and your absence will bring pain … that kind of a feeling, very haunting you know.   

“Why did you come if you have to leave …”

The band is still playing and the streamers have been flying.  Now the stern has been released as the ship pulls away under it’s own complete power.

 
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You know this goodbye with Noori reminded me of 1953, nearly the same scenario up in Vancouver with Sonia.  I had said to her I would return to her and that we would run away and get married.  Sonia had said she would hide me from everyone.  This felt a lot like the same and I really didn’t want to suffer that love lost once again.

47. Fiji, My Bittersweet Farewell to You.

Sunday morning it was.  Time to get crackin’ for it’s sailing day.  Turn by turn we got up and took our showers; as usual they were cool and quick!  

Busy emotional day ahead.  I got dressed, made my bed and placed my suitcase upon it.    The kitchen had been buzzing since before my eyes opened and breakfast smelled especially good this morning.  

We all sat down to enjoy our meal and I wanted to savor everyone’s face who was sitting at this table with me.  After breakfast Noori arrived and just after that my aunts, cousins and uncles arrived from Toorak.  

All the bodies in the house were busy doing one thing or another, the children were running around as they do.  I had gone off to my room to pack and Noori was right there with me.  

There was a little wardrobe where most of my clothing hung.  She immediately began to remove and fold them;  she was packing my suitcase for me.

I’d glance at her as I buzzed around the room for things to put in the case.  She’d watch me and I knew it.  I closed in on her near the suitcase and saw the tears just rolling down her cheeks.  She stopped adjusting my garments in the case and reached out for my hands,  

Noori held my hands in hers and then she embraced me with the most affectionate hug she had; naturally I responded to this with a tighter hug and there we stood, embraced for what seemed like an eternity yet too short.

She cast a look around the room mainly towards the open bedroom door just to be sure no one was looking our way and then she said to me, “I love you Gary and I will miss you so much.  I also promise you this, I will continue to come here and take care of umi as often as I can possibly manage it.”

I pulled her to me, again in a hug and then I kissed her.  ‘I love you very much Noori.  Please know I have to leave for now but also I feel you do know me well enough to understand why I must do this.  I promise you I will come back soon and we can finally be married. Then we’ll be with one another forever!’

A lite lunch was laid out and we all ate together.  Then we did whatever last minute preparations were remaining before leaving for the wharf.  The family bus came (out of my brother-in-law’s garage) and it was time to pile in.  

Better than taking many different cars wouldn’t you say?  There was roughly thirty of us, adults and children, climbing on board.  I was the last one to get on as I wanted to gaze upon my family home one last time and bid it farewell.  

The bus driven by my brother-in-law drove away down Mal Street and towards the wharf where the P&O Liner Orsova awaited me.

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