December 1st 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Two members of the crew, Yopi and Val

Our rest ws interrupted in the rudest fashion, just after midnight, when the rain suddenly + violently lashed down.  One of the junior officers on watch (we’d christened him Leon, partly because his own name was unpronounceable, partly because he reminded us both of Val’s school friend, Leon Mincher) rushed out from the wheelhouse, + guided us down with his torch to the rear deck, under cover, + so sheltered from the rain.  Once more we laid out our mats + bedding, a little dampened by now, + attempted to sleep.  It was slow in coming but crept, in time, over us. Tho’ not for long.  The back deck is used as a mosque by the more devout passengers + crew, + our sleeping place was right next to the water tank from which they take their water to cleanse themselves before devotion.  So, rather than receive another soaking, we moved once again.  There was just about room for one person to squeeze into the corridor – our persecutors were sleeping soundly now, but had left one small space.  I left that for Val, + searched around for a place for myself.  In fact, I found a fine spot, on the back deck, but away from all that running water down the deck, + protected from the wind by being right behind the bridge.  I spent a relaxed + peaceful time there, perhaps the best couple of hours of the whole trip.

Dawn was fast approaching, bit I dozed peacefully, warm + comfortable.  Which only adds to the irony, when I finally awoke, + reached out for my glasses, which I’d removed + placed next to my head, they were gone.  I felt thoroughly sickened – theft is such a violation – + angered, of course.  It was such a pointless theft, of immense inconvenience to me, + I imagine, of no benefit whatever to the thief.  But it may well have been motivated as much by malice as greed.  We hadn’t established a good relationship with the young men on board, + this may have been a way of hitting me where it hurt.  If so, they were entirely successful.  Without my glasses I am pretty severely disabled.  (I do have a spare pair, my John Lennon/National Health ones, but it was decided immediately that I shouldn’t reveal these, both as a counter to the white man who has everything including 2 pairs of glasses notion, + perhaps to generate a little more sympathy.)

I woke Val to inform her of my (effectively our) mishap, + we decided to spread the news as far as possible so as to create the maximum possibility of getting them returned.   But it wasn’t difficult – in next to no time, it seemed everybody on board knew of the loss.  Val undertook a tour of the ship to ask as many people as possible if they knew of them (we were hardly expecting a confession, but it might create some pressure for them to be passed back somehow) but in nearly every case, the news had preceded her.  We also informed the official sources, simply because it was necessary rather than with any belief that it would do any good.

 One of the passengers who had a cabin invited us in to sit down, as expiation of his countryman’s sins perhaps, or out of sympathy – I certainly felt extremely sorry for myself, + must have made a  miserable picture.  His name was Yopi, + he spoke some English.  At the time, I was grateful for his kindness, but I soon came to resent him, and we both regretted any contact at all with the bloke.  It was almost as big a disaster as losing my glasses (tho’ not as long-lasting.)  He was a very strange man indeed.  There was a young lady travelling in the same cabin as him, whom he was at pains to disclaim as his wife.  Usually he referred to her as his sister, sometimes she was his cousin, + Val thinks (tho’ isn’t sure – that language barrier again) once he explained that she had been alone on deck, + that he had invited her to share the cabin.  Since she spent virtually every minute lying on the bunk asleep, I hardly think that he had her there for her company.

Yopi pushed whiskey onto me immediately I joined him, – + to be honest, I did not object too strongly, thinking that Scotch might dull my depression.  In fact the heavy shots, plus the beer that followed, did not make me drunk at all – it merely gave me a headache.  For Yopi, tho’, the stuff was disastrous.  He seemed pretty neurotic in any case, + drink made him even more giggly (he laughed all the time, + was driving me mad) even more garrulous, even more fidgety, more excited, less at ease.  I never saw the guy relax once.  The crazy thing was that despite how we felt about him, we allowed him complete dominion  over us, allowed him to keep us as virtual prisoners… tho’  we could, + probably should, have walked out at any moment.  Instead, once I’d determined I had nothing to say to the man, I buried my nose in my book, + ignored him.  This left Val to do the talking for both of us, + tho’ she too tried my tactic, she was not as strong-willed, + so not as successful.  I really shouldn’t be too unkind – Yopi got coffee for us, had food (presumably of a slightly better quality) brought to us in the cabin, so that we didn’t have to fetch it – I still didn’t eat it.  And I imagine these things cost him money.  But we didn’t ask for them, + the price we were required to pay, in putting up with him when he wouldn’t give us a single moment’s peace, was too high.  But that was our fault.

The entire day passed in this way, plonked in Yopi’s squalid little cabin, filled with the reek of stale cigarettes + over-ripe mangoes, enough to make one sick.  I finished my book too, leaving me with nothing at all to do, but thankfully we all went to bed early.  This night we slept in the cabin – Yopi had been reluctant to let us out all day.  We slept on the floor, were reasonably comfortable there.  Yopi switched the light off to say his prayers, but then switched them on again once he had finished.  Val requested that they go off again tho’, + he seemed happy to comply.

It is strange to think now that we knew Yopi for so short a time, for he has become quite a figure. First of all, there is the name. To “Yopi” has become a verb, meaning to take over someone’s life, in an apparently benign, but ultimately abusive manner; we have had the opportunity to use it on many occasions. It is also the case that Yopi himself took quite a while to disappear from our consciousness. He was particularly obsessed with Val, had somehow obtained her address in England, and for a long time we (or more accurately she) received fancy cards of one kind or another. Needless to say, she never replied. As for the glasses, I never did get them back, and I suppose I iught to say that I cannot be certain that they were taken; that just seems the most obvious answer.

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