Round the Bend: Pages 291 through 300
ROUND the BEND
Nevil Shute, 1951
```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)
and dried before I see him. We've got to give him something to look forward to, and hang on to."
"But you don't operate in Siam at all, Tom."
"I didn't operate in Indonesia six months ago," I said.
I took her down to the souk myself in the old Dodge that night; it was not possible to get the car up to her house, so I stopped it at the end of the narrow alley and walked with her to the flight of steps that led up to her room. Then I went back and got into the station wagon again, and on an impulse I drove out to the Residency compound at Jufair and went to call on Captain Morrison.
The Liaison Officer was out, but he was somewhere not very far away; his boy offered to go and tell him that I was waiting to see him and his bearer brought me a whiskey and the paper. Morrison came in about five minutes and apologized for keeping me waiting in his shy, diffident way.
"I've come about Shak Lin," I said. "He's been chucked out of Bali." And I told him all I knew.
He took it very seriously. "The bloody fools," he said bitterly. "They've done just the same as we did here."
"I don't see that we can blame them for that," I said.
"No. I suppose that, down in Bali, they're right out of things; they couldn't know how fast this Shak Lin cult is spreading. It's up in Baghdad now." He glanced at me. "I suppose you know about that."
I nodded. "It's in Teheran, too. And it's all through India, from Lahore to Trincomalee."
He said, "It's gone right through the East—so far, only with one limited class of people, on the aerodromes. You can't say that it's a very strong cult, yet. It hasn't touched the peasants, or the politicians, or the intellectuals. But it's strong enough already to rouse vast resentment if we Europeans take to kicking Shak Lin out of every place he tries to settle in."
I agreed with him. "It's just not got to happen again," I said. "For one thing, he's a sick man now. After he's got rid of this thing, I think a Buddhist country would be best for him. I'm thinking of Siam. He's always been very well thought of in Bangkok. He'd be all right there."
"He'd be all right here," said Morrison. "The Foreign Office
are quite aware that a mistake was made. You don't think he could come back here again?"
"I doubt if he'd want to," I said. "I think he feels that he's done all he can in this part of the world. You see, he's much more of a religious teacher now than a chief engineer. And as the cult grows, he goes further that way every day. I'd like to see him back in the hangar on the airstrip here, running the maintenance of my aeroplanes. But you can't put back the clock."
"No," he said, "you can't do that. When you make a mistake, sometimes, it's made for good." He stood in silence for a moment, staring out into the night. "Do what you can to get him back here for a little while, Cutter," he said. "Even if it's only for a visit, for a week. We made a blunder over this, and there's no doubt that it's affected British prestige in the Persian Gulf. People may call the Sheikh of Kbulal an old fuddy-duddy, but he's an important man in these parts. If you could get Shak Lin back here if only for a visit so that we could make amends, I think it might be very helpful. Just bear that in mind."
"I'll do that certainly," I said. "I'll get him back here for a little if I can. But everything depends upon his health; this treatment at Karachi or in Paris must come first."
I went back to the aerodrome for dinner in the restaurant. Alec Scott was in the Control tower; I went up and talked to him about Karachi. Radio telephone connections were not very good at the moment and he said they would get better as the night went on; I went back at about midnight and Karachi was coming through as clear as a local call.
I asked to speak to the Controller and I had luck there, because it was Khalil, the chap that I had spoken to once before, who was himself a follower of Shak Lin. I asked him to deter any aircraft that might be taking off for Bali with pilgrims and make it clear to them that they would almost certainly be stopped upon the way. I told him that I should be going down in two days' time myself and bringing Shak Lin back to hospital in Karachi. There was no point in any pilgrims going anywhere, since Shak Lin would himself be in Karachi in a fortnight and they could see him there.
He thanked me for the message, and said he would explain
what I had said to the engineers. I only just got through to him in time, because the Dakota was already chartered and was to take off at dawn.
We left two days later in the Tramp. I made Hosein chief pilot and went as second pilot myself, and I put Nadezna on the manifest as navigator and she travelled in the navigator's seat most of the way. We had eleven passengers for various destinations on the route, all oilmen of course, and about two and a half tons of miscellaneous machinery and stores, so we had a pretty good load up.
We passed through Karachi in the early afternoon. Wazir Hussein had arranged for his agent to meet us on the aerodrome and this chap turned up. The hospital bed was all arranged and everything laid on. I took his name and address and promised to send him a cable to tell him our exact time of arrival back with Shak Lin, so that he could meet us with a car upon the tarmac. I made these arrangements with some difficulty, because Hosein was up in the Control office with the paper work, and Nadezna and I were beset with continuous enquiries from the engineers about Shak Lin. Finally a Pakistani customs officer in uniform came to our assistance and got a couple of the aerodrome police to keep the people off us, and to explain to newcomers what we had already told them many times.
We took off presently for Ahmedabad and spent the night there. Next day we flew on to Calcutta and Rangoon, and then in the evening light up to Yenanyaung, landing just at dusk. We set down some of our passengers there and took on others, spent the night in the oil company's rest house, and went on next day down the Kra Isthmus.
I had cleared the machine that morning from Rangoon for Kallang airport at Singapore, because when making a long journey I always like to get a good long stage done in the early part of the day, and a short one in the afternoon; it's less tiring doing it that way than the other way about. We were passing the Siam-Malaya border about noon and beginning to think about lunch; I was flying the machine with Nadezna by me in the co-pilot's seat, and Hosein was down organizing the lunch baskets, when Nadezna said,
"Are we going to land at Penang?"
I didn't think for a moment. I said, "No—Singapore." And then I said, "Why, of course—you were brought up in Penang. It doesn't matter—I can go in there and fuel just as well. Would you like to? I can get upon the blower."
She said, "Oh, no. I'd just like to see it."
"We'll go past," I said. "Go past between Penang and Butterworth. You can see the harbour and the town that way. I'll drop off height and come down to a thousand feet or so." I throttled back a bit and retrimmed the machine. "How long did you live there?"
"Only till I was five," she said.
"Remember anything about it?"
She smiled. "Oh, yes. I used to go to a convent school; I remember the nuns very well. They were so kind. There was a rocking horse there, and a swing."
"I tell you what we'll do," I said. "We'll night-stop there on the way back, with Connie. I often do that. Then you can get a rickshaw and go down and see the school."
She said, "Oh, Tom, that would be fun!"
I brought the machine down on a long descent, and Hosein came up from the cabin to see what was going on and I told him, "Nadezna was born here!" and he grinned, and went down again to reassure the passengers. We passed Georgetown on Penang Island quite close, and Nadezna looked up flushed and excited and said, "Oh, Tom, I believe I can see the street we lived in!" And I said, "Bunkum. You were only five years old." And she said, "I'm sure I did."
"We'll come back this way and spend a night," I promised her.
It was a grand day that, spent flying the Tramp in fine weather down the coast of Malaya with Nadezna by my side. I made her fly it while I ate my lunch, touching the wheel now and then to bring the machine back level when I thought the passengers would be dying of heart failure. Hosein kept bobbing up to see what was going on, and once he asked me why I didn't use the automatic pilot. I said, "I am," and indicated Nadezna. I think he went down and told the passengers that I was in love, and they'd
all probably be killed. We had a fine time up in the cockpit, that afternoon.
We put down at Kallang for an hour to refuel and then went on over the Linga Archipelago and Banka Strait down to Diento. It was a lovely evening; the sea blue and green around the coral atolls, the coastlines with their massive forests dim on the horizon. Nadezna and I were in the pilots' seats as before, and now a new problem was right upon me, not altogether unpleasant. Connie had ordered me to give his sister a message, and I hadn't given it to her. I should be meeting him the next day, and he might ask me about it; he was quite capable of asking her. It seemed to me that I'd better see about delivering it, and Diento was as good a place as any.
They had customs at Diento since our flights had become regular, so we didn't have to waste time by putting down at Palembang. We landed just at sunset and were met, as usual, by cars from the oil company. It was dark by the time we had refuelled the Tramp and got her shut up for the night. The others had gone on, and Nadezna, Hosein, and I drove the five miles through the scented tropic night in an open car, to the refinery club. There was a great full moon, just coming up.
She said, "Oh, Tom—this is a marvellous place! It's everything the tropics ought to be, and aren't."
It was, that night. The Dutchmen had arranged bedrooms for us in the club, as usual, but because we came there so frequently now they had given up the effort of entertaining us, and the routine now was that they just turned us loose to swim in their swimming pool, eat their food and drink their liquor, and dance to their dance band with the shorthand typists of the refinery. We did all that, that night. Hosein had a girl friend there and he went off with her, and Nadezna and I swam and changed and dined and danced in that lovely place beside the tropical river. I couldn't have staged a better evening for her if I'd taken her to the south of France.
We had flown all day, down from Yenanyaung, over ten hours in the air. We were both tired, and by eleven o'clock we both felt like packing up and going up to bed. We lingered a little on the terrace by the river, bright in the moonlight; sampans
moved about on it with little lanterns, going upstream with the tide.
She said, "It's been a marvellous evening, Tom. Thank you so much."
I squeezed her arm a little. 'Why say that? You know I've enjoyed every minute, being with you."
She raised her face and smiled, and I kissed it. She said, "Oh, Tom. Think of all the Dutchmen!"
"They've probably got a rule against that," I said. 'We'll get chucked out of the club."
But nobody seemed to have noticed us, so we moved into a bit of black shadow and did it again.
"I had a message for you from Connie, that I've never given you," I said presently. "Would you like to hear it now?"
"I don't want to hear anything about Connie just now," she said. "Not tonight."
I raised her face to mine and stroked her cheek. "I think you'd better have it," I said quietly. "We shall be seeing him tomorrow, and it's kind of relevant. He came back at me when I told him that it would make you very happy if he married Madé. He seemed to think that was a bit of lip. He said that it would make him very happy if you married me." I paused, and then I said, "He said I was to tell you."
She stood quiet in my arms. "He isn't very practical," she said. "You're English, Tom, and I'm an Asiatic. You wouldn't want a quarter-Chinese baby."
"If it was yours I'd want about a dozen of them," I replied. "That's a fine way to propose to a girl," she said. "I ought to push you in the river."
"You can do that, if you'll marry me," I said. "Will you?"
She stood silent for a time, and then she said, "Not just like that."
"Like what, then?" I caressed her shoulder.
She said, "We're such very different people, Tom. I know you like the East, and for an Englishman you get on wonderfully well with Asiatics. That's probably why you want to marry me, because you think of us as people like yourself, not different. But
we are different, all the same. You're English, and I'm Asiatic."
"Does that matter?"
She said, "It might not, but it might ruin everything. I wouldn't want to marry without children, Tom. And I wouldn't want to marry and try and raise a family in the Persian Gulf—there'd be no joy in that. You're English, and some day you'll want to go back and live in England. All your roots are there, not in a place like this." The sampans moved on the dark water at our feet; over our heads the flying foxes wheeled under the full moon. "Suppose we went to live in England. I look Chinese now, and I may look more so when I'm older. Suppose someone said something about us, in the subway or a restaurant or something. I couldn't bear that, Tom. I'd have to get out of England if that happened, and where would we be then?"
I was silent.
"There's the children, too," she said. "I couldn't bear it if the others called your children Chinks, at school."
"Look," I said. "All these are serious things, Nadezna. I think you're worrying too much about them, making too much of them, but still, I know they're there. I wouldn't want to live anywhere where my wife would be insulted in the street, or my kids have a bad time in school just because they were yours. But there's lots of places where those things don't happen; we could live in one of those."
"There aren't so many white countries where those things don't happen," she said. "I know."
She turned in my arms, and put her face up to me. "I do want to marry you, Tom," she said. "If we got half a chance, I could make you very happy. But I'm not going to marry you till I can see things a bit clearer than they are just now. Some day, if you ask me again, I'll probably say, yes."
"You wouldn't like to say it now?"
"Not now. All I'm going to say now is, good night."
She got kissed good night, and it took about ten minutes, and then we broke it up and went up to bed. I really hadn't expected anything much different, I suppose, and perhaps as you get older you get philosophical about these things, and don't go off the deep end as you do when you are young. You get to count your
blessings, and my blessing that night was that Nadezna loved me, and that there was a very good chance she'd marry me one day.
We went on in the Tramp in the morning, stopped at Sourabaya for fuel, and put down at Den Pasar airstrip in the middle of the afternoon. Connie was there to meet us with Phinit; I got out of the machine with Nadezna and left the work to Phinit and Hosein for the moment, and walked with Connie and his sister into the shade of the hangar.
"One damn thing after another," I said. "First leukaemia and then pilgrims."
He smiled. "I told you that that Arab doctor had found something wrong."
"I know you did," I said. "The crafty little mugger. He never said a thing to me till he got his samples reported on from Karachi."
Nadezna said, "We're going to take you back to hospital in Karachi." She told him about the specialist from Paris and the arrangements that had been made. "It's going to be much better if you have it all done there."
He smiled. "If I've got to get out of Bali I might as well go there. The only thing is this, and it's quite definite. I'm not going to Europe."
Nadezna said, "It may be that the best treatment is there, Connie. There's something about X-ray therapy."
He said, "They can keep it. I belong in these countries, not in France or England."
There didn't seem to be much point in arguing about it there and then. "In any case," I said, "the first thing is Karachi. Will you be all ready to start tomorrow morning?"
He nodded. "I'm all ready now."
"Okay," I said. "Now look, about these ruddy pilgrims. I'll have to go into town and see the Governor and smooth things over with him, Connie. I heard about two Dakotas coming here. Has anything else happened?"
"Three," he said. "It was two when Arian Singh was down here ten days ago. One came in from Bangalore after that. It had a lot of people from the Hindustan Aircraft Company."
"Any more coming?"
"Not that I know of," he said. "But then I didn't know. those were coming, either."
"I don't suppose that there'll be any more," I said. "They won't clear pilgrim aircraft at Kallang, because the Dutch don't like it."
I left them to get on with the refuelling and transfer of the load, after warning Connie not to do any physical work himself, and I drove into Den Pasar to see the Dutch authorities. I went first to see Bergen. He was quite polite, though somewhat distant. He said that the policy in Indonesia was to interfere as little as possible with the indigenous religion of the peoples in Dutch territory, and that they had naturally assumed that this policy was known to me and that they would have my co-operation. They had nothing against Shak Lin except that he appeared to represent a new creed of some sort, and that aeroplane loads of people from all over the East had started coming to see him. It was quite impossible for that to be allowed. They understood that this man had been expelled' from British territory in the Persian Gulf for similar activities, and they considered it a little underhand of me to have introduced him into Bali without disclosing his record. In any case, I must remove him now, and I must understand that no activities of a religious nature by my staff would be tolerated in the future.
There was nothing to be gained by quarrelling with them. I said I was exceedingly sorry this had happened. It seemed to me that this was hardly a religious matter; Shak Lin had done no missionary work among the natives, and had not, in fact, infected any Balinese men or women with his ideas. All that had happened was that visitors had come to see him from considerable distances, and had left again without troubling anybody or making any contact with the Balinese. I told him that Shak Lin in any case was a sick man and would have to be removed to hospital immediately, outside Dutch territory; I proposed to promote Phinit to be chief in his place, and send down a young Chinese called Pak Sza San to work with him. I said that I hoped there would be no further trouble.
We went in to see the Governor then and Bergen explained all this to him in Dutch, and he delivered a rocket in Dutch which
Bergen translated to me, and then we all smiled and shook hands, and it was over. I said good-bye to Bergen and went out to my taxi to drive back to the airstrip. The young Dutchman, Andel, was waiting for me by the car; he was the man who had first taken us to Pekendang, in the jeep.
He said, "Is it true that Shak Lin has to go?" I suppose he was too junior in the administration to have been told.
I said, "Yes. He's a sick man, anyway. I shall be sending down a young Chinese to work with Phinit."
He said quietly, "I am very, very sorry, Mr. Cutter. It may not be my place to say so, but I think it is a great mistake."
I wrinkled my forehead. "Why do you say that?"
"I think he is a very great man," he said simply. "Perhaps the greatest that has ever visited Bali." And then he said, "I am interested in all that has to do with aeroplanes. I served in the war with the R.A.F. in Bomber Command; I was the rear gunner in a Halifax. I have been to Pekendang several evenings, to be with Shak Lin and to listen to him talking. He is the greatest man that I have ever known."
It was nearly dark when I got back to the airstrip. The Dakota had come in and both lots of passengers had gone up to the Bali Hotel. Refuelling was just finished but the loads had not been changed; we would do that in the morning. I knocked everybody off for the night, because I knew that if anybody worked late on the aircraft Connie would insist on working too, and I wasn't going to have that. We shut up the machines when the bowser had driven away, and then I asked Connie if there was room for us at Pekendang.
"I think so," he replied. "There's only three—you and Hosein and Nadezna?"
"That's right," I said.
"Hosein usually goes with Phinit. There's the hut you had before—that's ready for you. Are you sleeping with Nadezna yet?"
She was in hearing, but I didn't dare to look at her. "No, I'm not," I said. "We haven't got as far as that."
"Pity," he said. "Well, she can come in with me. We've shared a room often enough before."
We all walked over to the village carrying our small overnight