Ten Days To Rangoon
I was separating the beds when Ketut brought the bottle in.
“Trouble, Mr. Jim?” he said.
“Nothing that bottle won’t cure. Mix me a Rickey, would you?”
I moved the nightstand between the beds, and opened the porthole. Calm seas, clear skies. We’d make good time.
Ketut gave me the Rickey on a tray. The lime was fresh, and the water had plenty of fizz. “Perfect, as usual, Tut. But I do have one piece of advice for you.”
“What, Mr. Jim?”
“Never get married.”
When I looked up, she was standing in the door. Milky skin and auburn hair. Ample curves squeezed into a black cheongsam. “Get out,” she said. “Both of you.” I finished my drink and took the bottle. She glared at me with her green cat’s eyes.
Out on deck, I leaned over the rail and scanned the horizon. The Riau Islands were visible off the port bow, hazy in the tropic sun. Braithwaite appeared beside me in a crumpled linen suit. “The little one is Palau Salor,” he said. “Won’t be long till Singapore now.”
I didn’t care about Singapore. I was thinking of Rangoon and my lumber contracts. “Would you mind, terribly?” Braithwaite assaulted me with his deadly breath. He was after the bottle. “Go on,” I said. We passed the gin and smoked. “Awfully hot,” said Braithwaite. “Could do with some wind.”
A door clanked open behind us and the gorilla came up from below. He was shirtless and sweaty, covered in coal dust.
“Australian,” said Braithwaite. “Beastly people.
The gorilla stared down at us, grunting as he passed. When he entered my cabin, Braithwaite raised an eyebrow.
The ceiling fan in the bar was broken, and the heat and smoke were stifling. Braithwaite sat at the piano and played.
“What is that?” I said.
“‘Put the Blame on Mame.’ From Gilda. I could sing a verse.”
Ketut was rubbing a stain off his white jacket with seltzer. He put the syphon aside and gave me a serious look. “Gorilla big trouble, Mr. Jim. Watch out.”
I wished Ketut had been around three years ago, when I first saw my wife in that San Francisco nightclub. He would’ve warned me. “No good, Mr. Jim. Watch out.”
Braithwaite transitioned into “These Foolish Things” and I ordered another Rickey.
We shoved off before breakfast and steamed through the harbor. Bumboats crossed our bow one after the other, carrying rubber and rice and tea to and from the freighters anchored offshore. Singapore had been a disaster. My wife had gone off with the gorilla, and Braithwaite had taken me to the Cricket Club. Braithwaite comes from landed gentry, and he knows all the club people, but they had not wanted to see him. He’d quarreled drunkenly with the consul, and a Sikh doorman had thrown us out.
Now we were dozing on deck chairs in the morning sun, watching the city slip away. The captain walked up and flicked his cigar overboard. He was unshaven and looked worse than we did. “Strait of Malacca dead ahead, gentlemen. Ten days to Rangoon.”
“What do you mean ten days?” I said.
He squinted. “New stops. Penang and Port Blair.”
“I have business, damn it.”
“Everybody has business.”
The days dragged on. My wife took her meals in the crew mess, with the gorilla. At night we retired to our separate beds. Braithwaite was as anxious to get to Rangoon as I was. A check was waiting for him, and if he didn’t get it soon, he’d have to quit drinking.
We were at the bar nursing gin pahits one afternoon, when the gorilla came in with my wife. She was smoking a Jakartan cigarette and bulging out of her sarong. The gorilla asked for a beer.
“Go away!” said Ketut. “No crew in here!”
“We’ll see about that,” said the gorilla. He poked me in the chest. “She’s mine now, mate.”
Braithwaite picked up a bottle, but she stepped in front of him. “Take it easy, rummy. We’re going.”
“I’ll cripple ‘em!” said the gorilla.
“C’mon,” she said. “I wouldn’t drink with these bums anyway.”
The night before we arrived in Rangoon my wife pushed the beds back together and cooed at me: “Where we staying? The Strand, I hope.”
“We? I thought you’d be shacking up with your Australian pal.”
She stood there in a tiny slip, cleaning her face with a washcloth. The humidity had wilted her hair, and mascara was smeared around her eyes. “That big ape?” she said. “You must be kidding.”
The next day the gorilla ran down the gangway and confronted us on the wharf. “I told you, she’s mine,” he said, grabbing her arm.
“Take your filthy hands off me,” she said. “Did you really think I’d throw in with a penniless slob like you?”
The gorilla looked at me dumbly. When he understood what was happening, he picked up my wife and tossed her in the water. She splashed around, trying to get a grip on her suitcase. “You animal!” she said. “You louse!”
Braithwaite advised me to keep walking. I knew this was my chance to get away from her, but I couldn’t do it. I went back on the ship and told Ketut to bring a lifebuoy. Then I fished her out of the soup, like I always did.
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