11. Think Happy Thoughts!!

Port of Suva arrival and naturally my family is there waiting for me.  And as the time before, I stay at home only to report to the ship as duty calls.  The cargo of flour had to be unloaded and the ship cleaned before more Fiji sugar can be taken on for the next port in Canada.  This means I have a good four or five days in port, possibly more and this was always dependent upon available labor.

Friends and family filled my evenings as work filled my days.  It was the 2nd day at home when I began to discreetly collect my most important personal belongings and pack them into my travel bag; the things I felt I would need to start my life anew up in Canada, with Sonia.  

The evening prior to the ship’s departure had arrived.  My mother and my brother announced to me their plans of taking me along to a dinner gathering at their friend’s home.  I asked if I knew this family and I was told I had not yet made their acquaintance.

Although I was deeply preoccupied with thoughts and preparations of seeing sweet Sonia again, I didn’t wish to upset my mother or brother so I agreed and certainly I never minded meeting new people.

They lived just about a mile from our home, near the main street of Waimanu Road.  We arrived to happy hosts and they received us warmly.  Sitting comfortably on a sofa in their living room and having been served a drink, the introductions began for me as everyone else knew one another already.

I met the adults aka the parents and their six children; two sons and four daughters.  Of the two eldest children, one of the daughters parked herself next to me on the sofa and began a conversation with, “What countries have you been to so far?” in Hindi of course. 

Her name was Hemma and I replied to her, ‘Hawaii, Vancouver, Canada, Washington and Oregon in the United States and when we came back this way, I went on to see parts of New Zealand and Australia …’ Hemma was smiling.  I finished with, ‘…and tomorrow I am going back up to Hawaii and Vancouver!’

Our conversation continued and I asked her what her birthdate was; instead of giving me a date, she said, “I am fifteen.”  So much for beating around the bush.  I told her my birthdate and stated that I was eighteen.

My mother came by after a few moments and gently touching my arm, she softly told me this girl was one she especially wanted me to meet.  Dinner was served and we all joined together at the table.  A delicious Indian meal had been prepared and it was delightful to me.

This very young and pretty girl was doting over me perhaps a little too much for a first meet but then who am I to say anything about first meetings?  As Hemma filled my plate with lots of food she told me I should enjoy these dishes and eat up because I would not get this taste in my mouth again while overseas.

Well then!

Dinner was finally over and the conversation going around the room that evening was all pleasant enough.  However it was getting late and well, this young man had a working schedule to keep!  I suggested to my brother that we depart by 10p as I was feeling tired.  I was after all a couple of drinks into the night and with a full tummy to round off that relaxed state, I wanted to go …lingering thoughts and all.

For the lovely hospitality, dinner and drinks, we said our goodbyes, many a thank you and good nights.  It only took moments to reach our house and after we got settled in, cups of my sister-in-law’s perfect spiced tea for all, we conversed a little about the night.

I was asked how I enjoyed the evening and, did I like the young girl they introduced me to?  We could tell she really liked you, they said.  Now as they’re trying to speak lightly, suspicious thoughts are entering my mind.  It’s becoming apparent to me that my mother, brother and the other members of the family had been talking while I was away and decided it was time for a bride for the Little Blue Masala; and they picked Hemma!

They knew I would be sailing away again.  I knew my mother -God rest her soul- was doing everything she could to keep me at home.  My brother -God rest his soul- wasted no time introducing me to her and guess what?  Although panic momentarily set in, I realized I had nothing to worry about!

My life-changing bag was packed and with it I would be leaving first thing in the morning.  They didn’t know about the little plan I had hiding up my sleeve.  The one where I arrive in Vancouver, jump ship and elope with my Sonia …forever.

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Hemma is a created name for a very real person in this part of LBM’s saga.

We’re both glad you have decided to climb on board Little Blue Masala’s ship of tales.  Thanks for riding the unpredictable waves with us; after all that is what makes life interesting isn’t it?

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!