An extract from:

Charles H.G. Nida, Chota Sahib: you’ve had a busy day (2007), edited by Ian Clark

ISBN 978-1-898728-11-5

I now owed £6 which I did not possess–and which I had no legitimate means of acquiring during the voyage.  I had never felt so foolish in my life.  I envisaged having to spend the rest of the trip in my cabin to avoid Rowlands.  I asked the Doc if he could pay me back the £7 he owed.  He promised me £2 when we left Port Said, but the other five, he maintained, were rightly his for “professional services”.  I suppose if I’d taken his advice and not played again for the rest of the trip I’d have been quite happy with that, in view of the money he’d won me.

It was well on into the night when we anchored at Port Said.  Coal dust enveloped the ship in an acrid fog as she refuelled, forcing passengers to disembark in order to be able to breathe.  I succeeded in joining up with Mr Bunford and we strolled a street or two, avoiding the itinerant pedlars as much as we could.  At one time in the history of the port there must have dwelt there a very good man (or a very bad one) by the name of MacGregor, since we were invariably addressed as Mr MacGregor without distinction being made.

It wasn’t long before we ran into Mr Hitchcock.  He passed on the warning to us not to venture deeper into the town unless we wanted our throats cut.  After two hours spent ashore and a thousand “imshis” uttered by each of us in turn, we were back on board once more, having declined either to buy carpets or to be introduced to the nicest ladies.

It was clear that my companions were making for the saloon.  I couldn’t blame them, in view of how dry our throats were, with the heat and the coal dust.  But without a penny to my name I couldn’t risk having to buy a round of drinks.  I slunk away to a lower deck, only to run into Gertie.

“You took a good hiding very well,” she said consolingly.  She looked as miserable as I felt.

“So did you Gertie,” I felt obliged to reply.

A bond of sympathy seemed to spring up between us.  I ventured to say, “But I don’t know how I’m ever going to pay Mr Rowlands!”

“I shouldn’t worry about it.  It’s another ten days to Bombay.”

Then, as if it was an afterthought, she said, “Look, I’ll tell you what.  I’ll make Rowlands lend me the money, then you can give it to him–and pay me back plus a bit of interest in Bombay.  We are going to be staying there overnight.”

That seemed to be a generous proposition, on the face of it, albeit a complicated one.  It would entail my having to borrow from my employers on arrival–or finding someone else to lend me the money.  It would be a bad introduction to the job.  But saying yes there and then would give me another ten days to think out some way of meeting my commitments–or evading them.  So I agreed.

“Where is the office you’re going to be based at?”

A sudden stab of fear prompted a glib lie to spring to my tongue.  “Oh–it’s a firm called Harris by the Apollo Bunder…  er…  under the Taj Mahal Hotel.”  How glad I was to have come across a book on Bombay whilst aboard.

“And where are you going to live?”

“Someone’s going to meet me off the gangway to arrange it.”

“Well, don’t worry about it.  I’ll see Rowlands, like I said.”

They still weren’t finished with the coaling, which continued to make it gloomy on deck.  Gertie suggested we go to her cabin for a while.  “I still have a drop of Scotch,” she promised.

She went below and I followed.  Once in her cabin, she bade me sit in the easy chair while she scratched around, pretending to look for the bottle.  I noticed that she had slipped the door-bolt on.

With feigned chagrin she announced:  “Oh, silly me!  We drank it all the other night!  I’d quite forgotten.”  She treated me to a bright smile instead.  “Never mind.  It’s much nicer in here than up on deck.”

So saying, she plonked herself down in my lap and flung her arms round my neck.  “You’re a nice boy.  Let’s be friends while the trip lasts.”  Her words came in disconnected syllables as she plastered hot kisses on my face.  Outside there wasn’t a sound.

I don’t imagine for one moment I could make you believe I wasn’t affected.  Indeed I was well and truly aroused.  Gertie was obviously aroused too, the way her pupils dilated.  Holding me all of a sudden at arm’s length, she beamed seductively.

“Like it? –I do.”

Giving my shoulders a squeeze, she got to her feet.  “Now you just stay put for the moment while I take off a few bits and pieces.  It’s far too hot with all these things on.”

As I watched her doing that, I started to get frightened.  It might be a trap.  She might have a husband.  Now her breasts emerged, lilywhite and wobbling, and my eyes were riveted to a gorgeous pair of pink nipples.  Another moment and she’d be able to do just what she liked with me.  How I found the presence of mind to leap to my feet, lunge for the door and unbolt it I still don’t know.

“Charlie!”  she shrieked.  “Don’t be a beast!”

“Please,” I begged her, “I’m in enough trouble already…!”

As I dashed out into the corridor I fancied I heard her muttering “Very well, young man, if you won’t pay one way…”

The next morning Rowlands dropped the chit over my shoulder as I sat at the breakfast table.  “You’d better settle this, don’t you think?”

I was at bay.  “I–I thought Gertie was going to arrange something…”  I mumbled.  Immediately it occurred to me that she had–but I’d failed to go through with the deal.

Rowlands snorted.  “I don’t know anything about that.  All I can say to you, young man, is–Pay Up!  Or get a bad name on the ship.”

“I’m broke!”  I spluttered.  His flinty features made it clear he wasn’t impressed by that for an excuse.  “…OK,” I muttered, “I’ll think of something…”

“See you do.  By this time tomorrow.”

Feeling sick I got up from the table and tottered outside to lean on the deck rail.  There I stared and stared at the furrow of the bow wave, imagining it folding me over and plunging me out of sight for good.

What a fool I’d been!  If my family ever found out, they’d consider it an utter disgrace.  I did wonder about approaching Messrs Hitchcock or Bunford for a loan, but I quickly dismissed the idea–I had no security to offer.

The worry of it all sat on my stomach like a lead weight the whole day.  At lunchtime the sight of the chief steward reminded me that neither he nor the other stewards would get a tip from me at the end of the voyage.  What would they think of me!  I could only hope that I wouldn’t meet any of them ever again–on this or any other ship.  You can imagine how fervently I said my prayers that night.

…to be continued.


See also:

Chota Sahib – Foreword

Vocabulary Of The Raj