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.

6. 🤷🏽‍♂️ Tailoring My Way Off the Island – part 2

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.

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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!

3. Dreams Are Visible Over the Horizon

I am a teenager now.   My curiosity is wildly stimulated not only by my own vivid imagination but seeing those cargo ships coming in near every week and the urbane passenger luxury ships calling to port -at the rate of four to five per month- left sparsely an idle moment in this youth’s fanciful thoughts.

Convenient for me I had a friend who worked for the only travel agency in Suva.  This fellow very much enjoyed the food from my house and so for a few favors I exchanged roti and curries.  Jackpot!

I was now supplied with travel brochures, posters, schedules and best of all, passes to go on board the ships -passenger or cargo- as a visitor, yes passes!  These items were extremely valuable to me and if you’ve read up to this point from the beginning, you know this.

Wherever I would be wandering in my town and for whatever purpose that day, I’d keep my watchful eyes fixed on the Pacific Ocean.  Never mind the Harbor Master being the first to bring in the ships; for me it was my appreciation in what those vessels at port represented and that is how I (metaphorically) brought the ships in to the Port of Suva.

🚢Some of the ships I recall were the U S Flagships, SS Mariposa and the SS Monterey.  The P&O Liners were a constant to the Fiji Islands.  And you can be certain if there was a ship headed this way and I was at all able, I’d make a bee-line straight down to the docks!

Even if it was a cargo ship on a brief overnight stop for supplies on its way to Hawaii, New Zealand or Australia just for example, I could almost guarantee myself a meet with some of the crew.  I’d arrive at port with overflowing eagerness and full of enquiries.

Usually only some of the troupe came ashore.  I was there to greet and be helpful; perhaps recommending a comfortable spot for a perfect meal, steer them to a decent tailor, an honest souvenir trader or perhaps even to the watchmaker-jeweler’s shop where my brother worked!

If I had enough free time in the morning, I’d use my pass to go aboard.  Otherwise I could wait –barely- till the early afternoon.  On the day-only ships, I’d have to off board an hour prior to their 5 o’clock evening sailing time.  That’s all right because I knew another ship was soon to dock within the week!

If these people hadn’t been here before, they’d ask me something about my island and after providing the best answer I could, then I felt it was my turn so I’d ask questions about where they came from.

I’d ask them to describe for me some of what they have witnessed in their travels and well you can imagine how this continued to fuel my dreams!  The majority of these people were only too glad to converse with me; maybe it was my dashing good looks?!

As every day came and went I soon realized this hunger was indeed a zealous fire; one in which I simply had to explore the world surrounding me, no turning back, in order to find any contentment with my life, ever!

My spirited resolve having given birth to a ceaseless passion, I knew I could write my own destiny; at least I’d give it my best shot.  Oh how I coveted a life beyond what I thought was my best dream!

Looking out to the horizon and catching sight of a ship -which looked like a small toy- moved me in such a way that I realized nothing could hold me back from aspiring to my full height.  These lofty dreams were going to carry me out to sea.

For the most part I am now stepping into a different circle from that of my recent boyhood island life.  I find myself making many friends from all over and this gained for me quite a few pen pals as well.  They were mostly from New Zealand, Australia and America.

I had gone aboard the SS Mariposa one morning and I remember an especially kind gentleman; I first saw him standing on deck, uniformed and talking with some fellow officers of the ship.  It must’ve been the way he carried himself I guess, and I remember thinking how important and impressive he appeared, daring to believe he’d make a great friend!

Carefree as I was and not at all shy, I approached them.  They all greeted me and the light communications began.  I recall feeling joy at the fact they made time to speak with me, a young starry-eyed boy.  I continually made eye contact with him as we all spoke, which led to our one-on-one conversation and he introduced himself as *Stéphane Vieuxmaire.   I almost immediately and confidently told him that I knew I could work on this ship someday.

“Of course you could!” he enthusiastically said to this eager heart and with a warming smile to be sure.  This wonderful man eventually became a close friend to the family.  Stéphane was of French descent and he was the 1st Mate, Chief Officer.  With his encouraging reply, I could see myself standing beside them on deck, uniformed and all!

And you know this vision stayed within me for many years: if not as an officer then for sure a world traveling passenger!

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Thanks again for coming around for another dose.  We wish for you all a wonderful gathering in thanks with all your loved ones and at least one delicious meal shared.

And if you cannot be together at this time, please send the LOVE out there to them, to all!  Here’s to my loved one currently deployed: away for his birthday, thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years – come home safely my dearest, all of you!

Until next Sunday night, after the stuffing and cranberry has run out, tune in again for the continuing chronicles!  And I look forward to your comments 😉

*Stéphane Vieuxmaire is a fictitious name to protect the privacy of the very real person in this life history.