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Round the Bend: Pages 251 through 260

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 251 through 260

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

    ```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)



    "Rice," he said. "Always rice. Usually with something curried on top—dried fish or meat. They eat a good many vegetables, and a certain amount of fruit. I leave it all to Madé here, and she feeds me very well." He spoke to her and she smiled shyly, and went away.

    She brought us food to Connie's house presently; he had a table and two rickety chairs. She brought two wooden bowls filled with rice, and two spoons, and a number of broad leaves upon a tray each with a small portion of curry or dried fish upon it. "I'm teaching her Western ways," he said. "The people here eat everything off leaves so there's no washing up. I told her that I had to have a bowl and a spoon, and you'd want one, too." He had two glasses, and Madé brought water in an earthenware jug with a curious long spout. "If you're a Balinese you can drink out of that by pouring it into your mouth. Very hygienic. I can't do it without choking, though."

    "It looks as if you make quite an unreasonable amount of work for her," I said.

    "I don't think she minds that," he said. "She wants to learn how people do things in the West."

    The girl settled down upon the edge of the small balcony or floor before the hut, and watched us while we ate. The food was good, well cooked and appetizing. As we ate, Connie asked me how Tai Foong was settling down into the job at Bahrein, and I told him about that, and about the new Liaison Officer, and how the work had been going generally. He was interested in the proposal of the R.A.F. to build on to the hangar. "It would be better if they didn't build just there," he said. "It's not very important, though. It's only sentiment, because I took our people there to pray after work, and then the others from the souk got into the habit. But that could very easily be changed. If the RA.F. really need that bit of land, let me come back there for a week, and I'll see that they start praying somewhere else."

    "It's not necessary," I said. "There's all the land in the world there. The R.A.F. can put their hangar on the north side of the long strip. They've got to have a civil aviation hangar, anyway."


    "If it's going to make any trouble," he said, "we can easily put it right."

    He spoke to the girl, and she smiled, and got up and went away. "I asked her to get fruit," he said. "They've got some quite good things like grapefruit here."

    "You've learned the language very quickly," I remarked.

    "I never have much difficulty with that," he replied. "I was brought up to speak Canton in Penang when I was a boy, and I speak Malay, of course. These languages are all very much the same."

    The girl came back with a wooden bowl full of fruit and put it on the table, and went back and sat on the edge of the floor again. "Phinit eats in his own place, I suppose," I said.

    He nodded. "He's gone to live with the other girl's family just over there." He smiled. "Quite a married man."

    "That's all right, is it?" I asked.

    He said, "I think so. Madé here tells me that it's a very good idea." The girl, hearing her name spoken, looked up and smiled. "But I'm afraid she's got an axe to grind."

    I didn't follow that one up, and presently I got up and went to my own hut, and dropped off my two garments, and blew up the air pillow that I carry on these journeys, and lay down on the charpoy. From where I lay I could see out into the brilliant sunlight across to Connie's hut; he also had gone to bed, and the girl had carried away the remnants of our meal. I lay dozing before sleep while the sweat slowly ceased to run, and presently she came back with a flat basket of palm leaves, and sat down on the corner of his but in her usual position, and began doing something with her hands. Later I found that she was making lamaks, woven panels of dark green and yellow palm leaves in a chequer design, and stylized artificial flowers of the same craft, for offerings at the shrines of the house temple. I fell asleep and slept for about an hour in the heat of the day. When I woke up she was still sitting there making her offerings, waiting, perhaps, to be ready to fetch Connie anything he wanted when he woke.

    I got up presently and put on my khaki drill trousers and bush shirt, and a pair of sandals, and went to the entrance of my little house. Madé saw me and got up, and moved softly into the room


    behind where Connie was asleep. I crossed over to where she had been sitting to look at her basket and examine what she had been doing; she had been using a crude knife of hoop iron to split the fronds of the green leaves, and her basket was half-full of her offerings. She came out of the room, and she was carrying her earthenware pitcher of water and a glass, and she poured out the cool water for me. It was no good trying to talk to her, so I smiled at her and took it from her, and drank, and she smiled gravely in return, and put the pitcher back in the shade and the draught.

    She offered me the bowl of fruit, but I refused that and strolled slowly through the village. There was a girl weaving at a loom, and a young man roasting a pig upon a spit over a wood fire, and a very old man carving an elaborate wooden sculpture of a girl dancer, a very advanced and refined piece of artistry, or so it seemed to me. I stood and watched all these for a time, and then I went out into the road and down towards the sea. Two or three children followed me at a safe distance, quiet and a little timid, watching everything I did.

    There were fishing boats on the beach, and a few children bathing. The boats were beamy, well-built vessels with one big lateen sail; there was a lighter type also, a sort of dug-out canoe stabilized with an outrigger formed of a large bamboo log. I sat in the shade of the trees at the head of the beach for a time watching the boats come in and go out; women were washing and gutting the fish near by and salting them, and spreading them out to dry in the hot sun. Both men and women on this job were less crude in their manner than fishermen and herring girls in other countries; it seemed to me that they must make their living more easily, permitting greater attention to the arts and graces of their lives.

    I left the beach presently, and went back into the village in the late afternoon. There was a temple there, an enclosure of brick walls with facings of a soft white limestone, most elaborately carved with fruits and gods and gargoyles. Inside there were a number of platforms with thatched roofs, and a number of shrines, but the shrines were all empty and unattended, and the whole place was swept and clean and empty. I learned later


    that there was a festival there three or four times a year, when the whole countryside came to make offerings and pray, but at other times it stood empty and unused, the daily worship taking place at the shrines in each house.

    I came out of the temple and looked around. There was another one a short distance away, and here I was brought up with a round turn at a statue before the door. It was a stone figure, more than life-size, of a hideous old woman, perhaps a witch. She had huge, pendulous breasts, and the face of an animal; her body appeared to be covered in hair. In the talons of her hands she held a baby, and she was about to eat it.

    The children were still following me. I stopped and stared at this monstrosity, and they gathered around me. One little girl went and patted the stone figure and said, "Rangda." Whatever the thing was, it didn't seem to worry them a bit.

    I left the enigma, and found my way back to my own place. Connie was up and sitting at the entrance to his house in a deck chair; Madé Jasmi was still sitting at the corner of his house weaving her offerings. He said something to her and got up to meet me, and she came back in a minute with another deck chair and I sat down beside him.

    I told him where I had been and what I had seen, and I asked him about the hideous statue outside the temple. He laughed. "Oh, that's Rangda," he said. "That's the Death temple, where they do cremations. Rangda symbolizes death, and evil—all the bad things of this world. To make it perfectly clear, she's usually shown eating a baby."

    "Well," I said. "That doesn't seem to leave much doubt."

    He smiled. "No. The opposite to Rangda is the force of Good, or Life. He's the Barong. The Barong's an animal that's a cross between a lion and a bull, very fierce. At one season of the year mummers go round every village and act a sort of play. They have a pantomime Barong with two men in it, and this has to fight a pantomime Rangda. It goes on for hours. I'm not sure who wins, but everybody gets very excited about it, specially the children."

    "Is all this Hinduism?" I asked uncertainly.

    He shook his head. "It's something much older—animism, I think you'd call it. It's not got much to do with the daily worship,


    although, of course, it all gets a bit mixed up. What Madé here is making"—she looked up at the mention of her name, and smiled—"is offerings for the shrines here in the house. Those are for the Hindu gods in the shrines. The one in the big shrine in the corner is the kingpin—that's Surya, the sun god. Then there's Brahma, and Vishnu, and Shiva, and Ganesh, and half a dozen others. Madé doesn't know them all. The only ones she knows are Surya and Shiva. She picked Shiva when she was a little girl, because the shrine was the fourth from the left and she liked that one best. Perhaps she was four years old. She's always said her prayers to Shiva ever since. She asked the pemangkoe once—he's the local priest—she asked him who lived in that one and he told her Shiva, so she says her prayers and makes her offerings to Shiva."

    I asked, "Is there an image in the shrine? I didn't see one."

    He smiled. "No image. Shiva likes to come down and live in a bit of quartz. She got the pemangkoe to show it to me the other day. He keeps it in a sort of cupboard with a lot of other bits of things—a piece of coral, a bit of lava, a bit of carved ivory, one for each god. Shiva's spiritual home is this bit of quartz. On holy days the priest takes them out and puts each in its own shrine, and then the god comes down and takes possession of it. The soul of the god, that is. She works for days before that holy day to make offerings that will please the god. Not only palm lamaks like these—she'll kill a duck and roast it and dress it up nicely as a cold roast duck, with little sweet rice cakes all round. She mustn't smell it, if she can avoid it, because that takes the essence of it, that's reserved for the god." He paused. "When the great day comes she takes her offering and lays it down before the shrine, roast duck and all, and kneels down to say her prayers. The priest comes along and sprinkles it and her with holy water while she prays. And the soul of the god comes down out of the shrine while she is praying, and he takes the soul of the roast duck, and the soul of the rice cakes, and the soul of the lamaks. She stays there praying for an hour or more than that, and she feels good after it, so she knows that the god is pleased with her. Shiva doesn't want what's left of the roast duck and the rice cakes; he's taken their soul, and so only the husks,


    so to speak, are left. She can have those, and so she picks them up when she's done praying and takes them away to eat, and has a feast with her friends. I got a bit of Shiva's offering for supper the day before yesterday."

    I couldn't make out if he was making a joke of it all, or not. I said uncertainly, "That sounds like a very debased sort of religion."

    "Is it?" he said thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure. It keeps her praying."

    I didn't quite know what to say to that one. "What does she pray for?"

    "All the usual things," he said. "She prays for her mother, for her good health and long life. She prays for her father, that he may rest quietly and that his ghost shan't come and trouble them. She prays for a good rice crop and for good fishing, and she prays for her brother and for her cousins who are children, that they may grow up clean and good. And because she's a girl, she prays for a man that she can love and respect, and she prays for children by him, and that she may stay faithful to him, and he to her, until they die. She probably spends an hour upon her knees in prayer each day, and double that on holy days, apart from the amount of time she spends in making up the offerings.

    I don't know that you can say that it's a bad sort of religion." "I don't know that you can say it's a good one," I replied. "It seems to me that these people are naturally devout, and that's all about it."

    "Maybe so,"
    he said thoughtfully. "Somebody once said it doesn't matter much what you believe in, so long as you believe in something. These people here believe that their religion helps them to lead better lives. If we think that the impulse is from their own nature, not from the religion—does it matter? Does it matter much if they believe in Jesus, or Shiva, or Mahomet, or Guatama, so long as the results are good?"

    "Blowed if I know," I said. "Perhaps it doesn't. I don't know."

    "Nor I," he said. "I only know that the results here are good, and I like to see it."

    I glanced at him. "You like this place all right?"

    He nodded. "Yes," he said. "I like it here."


    "I was afraid there might not be enough work for you," I said. "Enough interests in training and directing other people, which is what you're good at."

    He smiled. Can't you believe that I'm a normal man, and that I like to draw my pay for doing nothing, and be lazy?"

    "No," I said. "It would be all too easy if you were like that."

    "Why do you think I'm not?"

    "You'd be living with Madé Jasmi, if you were as you say,"
    I remarked. "Phinit hasn't wasted much time."

    He sat silent for a little. Behind his hut the sun was going down; the small buildings were casting long shadows, and the air was golden with the light of sunset. "I was very tired when I came here," he said at last. "It was time for me to get out of things and sit quiet for a time, and think where I was going. These weeks have been very good for me, I think."

    "And where are you going, Connie?" I asked him. "Do you want to go back into the active life again, or to stay here?"

    "What do you think I ought to do?"
    he asked. "You know me well enough by now to say."

    Perhaps it was as Nadezna had said; he wanted someone to advise him. I said, "Well, this job is pretty stable, far as one can see. I'll probably be getting a small passenger machine before long, a Dove perhaps, and then we'll run that down here turn and turn about with the Tramp. That means there'll be an aircraft down here every week within a few months, and you'll have a bit more work then,"

    I was talking to gain time, and he knew it. "I think you ought to settle down here," I said quietly. "Take what's given you, and be happy with it. Marry Madé Jasmi and raise a family, like any ordinary man."

    He smiled. "And you," he said. "Are you an ordinary man?"

    I wasn't ready for that one. "You mean, I'm a fine one to talk?" "I know that you have been married," he said, "and that it ended in a tragedy. But is that any reason why you should not marry again? Will you ever be really happy till you do?"

    "All very well to swing it over on to me like this," I said. "It's you that I was talking about. You and Madé Jasmi."

    He smiled. "And I was talking about you."


    "That's not fair," I said. "Stick to the subject."

    "She would marry you if you asked her," he observed. "I knew that, of course, when I lived in Bahrein, and Gujar Singh, he tells me that she is in love with you."

    Gujar, it seemed, was something of a two-way street. "I wouldn't ask any girl to marry me and raise a family in the Persian Gulf," I said. "The summers are too bad. If I did that, I should want to give up everything and go and find another job in a cold climate, in England or America perhaps. I don't know that I'm ready to do that yet. I've started something, and I've got to see it through."

    "So the work comes before the chance of marriage and children, and a quiet home,"
    he said.

    "If you put it that way," I said, "—yes, I think it does."

    "And so it does with me."

    There was a pause. "We are two men of the same temperament," he said. "Madé would marry me tonight if I should say the word." I don't think she knew what he was saying, but she heard her name and knew that we were talking about her, and she looked up, smiling. "If we did that, I should stay here, of course, probably for ever. Living is cheap and easy here, and while there are aeroplanes, and an airstrip upon Bali, there will be casual work for an engineer, to let him earn the few guilders that mean wealth among these people. I would not take her from this place, into the world outside. Here she is known and loved and happy, but in the outside world she would be treated as a savage. Marriage with one of these people means a life spent in this place, and there are few better places in the whole wide world to spend one's life." He paused. "Only the work prevents."

    We sat silent for a little, and then he went on, "This power of the job, so much greater than we ourselves! When you came to Bahrein with one Fox-Moth to do a little charter work, you never thought that you were setting up a power that would rule your life, impede your marriage, dictate where and how you were to live. When a good man employs others he becomes a slave to the job, for the job is the guarantee for the security of many men. So when a man speaks candidly in the hangar of the things, the ethics of the work, that he believes in, he may bring others to believe in those things too, and to depend upon his words. Then


    he, too, is a slave to his own job, because if he relaxes his endeavours to teach men proper ways of work and life, he may destroy the faith he has created in them, and so throw them back into an abyss of doubt and fear and degradation, lost indeed."
    He paused. "I think that we are very much alike, you and me. Both in our own way, in the same boat."

    "Both going round the bend a bit, if you ask me," I said, a little bitterly.

    "Yes," he said thoughtfully. "Perhaps the road has a curve in it. Perhaps it is necessary to go round the bend a little before you can see clearly to the end."

    "Nadezna would be very happy if you were to marry Madé," I said. It was my last argument. "She wants to see you married, very much indeed."

    He smiled gently. "She's been a good sister, Tom. Not many women would have left California to come to the Persian Gulf, to live as an Arab woman in the souk, merely to look after me. Will you give her a message from me?"

    "Of course I will," I said. "What is it?"

    "Tell her that I should be very happy if she were to marry you."

    "I can't tell her that."

    "I think you can."

    I hedged. "I might in my own time, but not just yet."

    "Tell her in your own time," he said. "But be sure that you tell her."

    It was nearly dark. The girl got up from beside our feet and said something to Connie; he exchanged a word or two with her, and she went away. "Supper," he said. "We have it soon after dark here. I usually go to bed after that, and get up before dawn: It's the best routine in a place like this, I think."

    I said something or other agreeing with him, and then I said, "Nadezna was going to come down with me on this trip, for the holiday. But then she thought she'd better keep away, till things were settled between you and Madé."

    "Things are settled now," he said. "But not the way she wanted them to be."

    "Madé knows that,
    does she?"

    He nodded. "If it looks like being difficult for her, I shall go


    away. Live in Den Pasar perhaps, and buy a bicycle, and come to work on that." He paused. "But very soon, I think that there may be a change."

    "What sort of change?" I asked.

    He said vaguely, "A change. I don't know what sort of change, but I think perhaps a change is coming, and quite soon."

    "I see," I said.

    He glanced at me. "Have you got any other message for me, that you have not told me yet?"

    "Not exactly a message," I said slowly. "But there is something you'll have to know. I had a visit a few days ago from Wazir Hussein. The Sheikh of Khulal is a very old man now, perhaps dying."

    He nodded. "I know that he is near his time."

    "He's very anxious to see you before he goes," I said, and then I hesitated. It seemed such a stupid thing to say to my chief engineer. "He—well, he wants to get your blessing. He's chartered the Tramp, and he'll be coming here to visit you on the next trip. He'll be here in about ten days from now."

    "He's liable to die upon the journey, isn't he?"

    "I don't know. If he is, it's a risk that they're prepared to take. We're rigging up a bed for him in the fuselage."

    "Is the Imam coming with him—the Imam from Baraka?"

    "I don't know," I said. "I know there's quite a party coming to look after him, seven or eight of them, at least."

    "I would have gone to him," he said. "Why strain an old man to come all this way?"

    "I offered that, Connie, but they wouldn't have it," I told him. "They seemed to think that he should come to you."

    He nodded. "You see the workings of the job," he said. "Once you start something, you must see it through. I am as much enmeshed in my net as you are in yours. Only by an act of treachery to those who believe in us can either of us escape."