88. Cash & Tailors

 

I climbed down a rope leading into the boat which would take us from our ship to the Qui Nhơn Harbor shore.  We didn’t tie up at any dock instead, the boat took us aground into the sand.  The trap/exit door opened up and we’d jump out onto Vietnamese soil.  We walked up the beach and into Qui Nhơn town.   

Being hyped up right from the start, I felt a little scared but it was certainly comforting knowing that I was never alone; we were always in one another’s company …mostly.  And as we walked, carefully at first, thoughts of what the Skipper and some of the Marines had told us, rushed to the forefront of my mind.

Absorbing the street scene crowded with men, women, children, the young and the old, I began to relax;  they were basically just people like me. There was plenty of street cooking which smelled amazing and lots of little shops and bars.  I felt eyes on me.

I’d see them waving in order to attract us into their shops.  Thinking of the families back home, I saw some things which interested me such as handmade trinkets, clothing, jewelry and the like.  

I detoured with a couple of the guys into one of these places, a tailor shop.  The tradesmen were Indians, like myself. Why I found this as a surprise, I do not know.

And perhaps we were obvious as new to the area because almost immediately, we were asked to join them in food and drink.   “Let’s talk, have something to eat and enjoy.” They actually closed the shop for a couple of hours.

After a shared meal and hearing the stories of where we came from originally, how we found ourselves in this little corner of the world etc., they asked us, “What can we do for you … what would you like to buy?”

From these Indian tailors, I would buy a couple of slacks.  As measurements were being taken I asked, ‘Aren’t you afraid to be here in this war zone?’  

The shopkeeper reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash from both pockets.  In his fairly decent English he explained, “Of course we’re scared sometimes but this is home.  If we must run suddenly, at least we have our money with us. My wife and kids do same. It’s how we handle.”   Fascinating, I remember thinking to myself.

After a much enjoyed evening in comforting hospitality of the locals, we knew it was getting late.  With the Skipper’s speech still fresh in my mind, it was definitely beach time.

Making my way there I remember looking at the sights along the way and thinking of the fun time ahead tomorrow.  At the shore we were just in time to hear a Marine’s voice blaring through a bullhorn, “Load ‘em up!”

Several of us to include guys from some of the other ships in the harbor, climbed aboard this fairly large boat and off we went.  Each various group would let them know which ship they had to return to. I called off the Trans Western.

Thank goodness for our Marines for in this dark night amongst all the boats anchored offshore, there was no way we ourselves would know which one was ours.  We arrived at our ship and quickly climbed up the rope ladder.

Myself and the other guys headed straight for the mess hall to raid the refrigerator and pantry for a late night snack before turning in.  The chef had tuna salad and fresh breads waiting to be turned into midnight sandwiches.

A full day it was and I was more than ready for some snuggling down in my bed.  That’s the sum of my first day in Vietnam. Not bad at all.

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12. What Do You Mean These Are Not My Cards To Play? – part 1

It wasn’t too long before I excused myself to retire.  The meal, the drinks, now the tea and conversation, oh I was done for.  Not to mention this ship worker’s early rise is just around the corner …Fiji is one of the first to be greeted by the new day you know.  The rest of the family followed suit and it was altogether dark and quiet.

No sooner was I wrapped up in a cozy little dream when the morning arrived.  It got here so fast that it awoke me with a start -perhaps a little of the forecasted excitement dancing around in my mind was involved too- and I popped up, much like a jack-in-the-box!  

Man, I gotta get to the harbor right now!  It was a good thing we arranged for a taxi the night before.  Wanting to awake everyone I called out, ‘It’s time for me to catch my ship!’

While I wasn’t late yet, there was zero time for tea and pleasantries, only wash, dress and hurried farewells to the household family members.  I grabbed my well-packed bag and three of us climbed into that waiting taxi just at the front of our house.  My mother and my brother were my escorts to see me off.

In only moments we arrived at port.  I quickly got out of the taxi and approached the docks …to my right-down disbelief I did not see the SS Lakemba where I left it; there was no bloody ship at all!  My bag dropped to the ground as my grasp of it fell away.

My heartbeat was pulsing heavy in my throat, racing up to my temples; it had already taken my heart hostage as my eyes looked out ahead to the mouth of the harbor.  There in the not-so distant distance was my ship on its way out, under the Harbormaster’s control.

What?!  I am still on time, am I not?  Why did it leave early?

I desperately looked around me for an answer and asked anyone who would respond if there was some way I could be taken out to that ship.  Much to my rapidly disintegrating once bubbling spirit, everyone had the same answer; only the Harbormaster could and he’s the one navigating the ship at present.

By the time he returns, the ship will be out in the open sea, as in too late.

Gravity won and I literally fell to my knees – a loud anguished cry escaped my 18 year-young man’s lips, “Oh my God, no!!”  As though I spent an eternity on the docks, I really felt so alone -it was like none of the people surrounding me were even there at all.

Finally coming to realize I couldn’t change what had just taken place, I picked myself up and walked to the cab which was waiting to take my brother and mother back home.  I had no desire to speak with anyone.

Through my tear-filled eyes it seemed the only thing I saw clearly was Sonia’s face and it devastated me because all I could contemplate is that she will probably think I wasn’t serious about coming back to her and maybe she’ll even start to feel that I just played her or who knows what.  How would I ever be able to tell her that’s not what happened?

Her precious image in my mind’s eye wore the look of the broken hearted.  I was convinced I saw the tears streaming down her beautiful face and then her expression turned to disbelief, then disappointment and lastly rejection.  I was punishing myself pretty royally over here.  

My brother must’ve picked up my bag from the dock before he and mother got into the taxi with me.  He placed it in the room when we got back to the house.  I expect he did not have a look inside because he never questioned the contents.  You can imagine the family’s surprise when I came back in through the door that very morning.  

I went straight into my room and laid down on my bed.  It was early still and the best thing for me at this point was shut-eye.  I awoke about lunchtime and thought of nothing else other than, I must write to her; what else could I possibly do?

Sonia, Sonia, Sonia.

You are still with me here in my heart.  I cannot do or think of anything else.  I feel heavy with grief and guilt and I see this situation is changing the course of both our futures.  The only thing I feel I am capable of doing at this time is write this letter to you.  I want to try and explain why I cannot be there by your side in a few weeks.   

Very simply this is what happened here in Fiji this very morning.  I arrived at the pier at the time I knew I should be there.  I am at the dock prepared to board my ship but there was no ship to board!  I saw it sailing through the harbor on its way back to Canada, without me, to you my dearest Sonia.

I can only blame myself because I did not know my ship would set sail half an hour early.  I overslept this morning; I missed the departure by thirty minutes; it was my fault Sonia.  

Once the ship is in Vancouver, I expect the guys with whom you saw me with at the club will hopefully go in there again, see you and confirm what I am telling you here is the truth.  They would only realize that I must not have known about the change in the schedule of departure and of course my friends have no idea of our plans to elope.

But I love you Sonia and if my love is genuine, then surely we will meet again sometime, somewhere and I hope it is in this lifetime.  I truly love you so very much.  Those four days we spent together were the happiest single moments, that I cannot recall happier days in my life.  Being near you was like heaven.’

I then took this letter to our post office and mailed it with lots of pretty stamps.  The only address I had to send it to was in care of the club and then hope for the best.

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