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Round the Bend: Pages 221 through 228

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 221 through 228

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

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



    in Bahrein," but it turned out that he knew no more than we did, and had the same story. We talked about it for a time, but there was nothing we could do except get going for the Persian Gulf as soon as possible in the morning; so we dined and went to bed with an order to be called at four o'clock.

    We landed at Bahrein about midday next day. Gujar Singh and Hosein were both out on jobs, Gujar flying the Carrier and Hosein one of the Airtrucks. Chai Tai Foong was in the hangar, however, and he came out and met us as we stopped the engines on the tarmac. I got down quickly from the door ahead of the passengers, leaving the machine to Arjan, and walked over to the Chinese engineer, and said, "Morning, Tai Foong. How are things here now? They tell me that you've had a bit of trouble while I've been away."

    He smiled. "All is quiet now. It was only one day. The people were angry with the Major Hereward and they hurt him with stones, but now they listen to Mem Nadezna and there is no more trouble."

    "Was there trouble here, about the people coming in to pray?"

    He nodded. "One day only. After that Mem Nadezna went to the C.O. and said the people meant no harm in coming here to pray. And Flight Lieutenant Allen, he spoke on the radio to Air Vice Marshal Collins at Habbaniya near Baghdad and said—his own words, Mr. Cutter,. I am sorry—he said the local Jesus had been crucified and he was in a mess and wanted some advice because there was nothing in the book to tell him what to do. And next day the Air Vice Marshal flew down from Habbaniya in his Devon, and after he had talked to Flight Lieutenant Allen they both came here to the hangar and talked to Gujar Singh, and then they talked for a long time to Mem Nadezna. And after that the guard was taken off the road and there was no more firing, and the people now come here to pray each evening. It is quite all right now, Mr. Cutter. No more trouble at all."

    I went into the hangar with him and he showed me what had been going on in my absence, but I had only half my mind upon his maintenance jobs. I told him to get on with the routine checks on the Tramp since she would be leaving again for Bali in a few days' time, and I went over to the office. It was the


    lunch hour and the babu clerk was there eating something that he brought with him every day done up in a cloth; he told me that Nadezna was over in the restaurant having lunch, as she usually did. I went there to find her.

    She was eating curry and rice at a table by herself, and at first she did not see me. I crossed the room thinking how small she was, how delicate, with her slim figure, her black hair, and her kind, thoughtful features. It was incredible that this slight girl had pressed through a yelling crowd of furious Arabs stoning a man to death, to walk through the flying stones and stand over him, and tick them off. It was more credible that she had been sick afterwards from nervous exhaustion. I walked towards her not quite knowing what to say, because she had become very dear to me, and I was shocked at the risks that she had taken.

    She heard my step and looked up, and got up to meet me. "Mr. Cutter! I didn't know you were back. Have you come back in the Tramp?"

    "Yes," I said. "We landed about a quarter of an hour ago."

    "I had no idea. I'm so sorry—I'd have come out to meet you. Have you had lunch?"

    I shook my head. "I'll join you, if I may." I pulled out a chair and sat down opposite her. "They tell me that you've had a bit of trouble here."

    "Nothing to speak of," she replied. "It was just one afternoon, down in the souk. The people were a little upset. But that's all over now."

    "How's Major Hereward?"

    "He's still in hospital.
    He's going to be flown home on leave in a few days' time. His relief, Captain Morrison, was flown up here from Aden yesterday."

    "Is this one any better?"

    "You mean, as a Liaison Officer?"

    I nodded.

    "They say in the souk that he was quite popular at Aden. I don't think Hereward was very bright."

    "I don't suppose we'll see him here again," I said. "They'll probably send him to another district, after this." I smiled at her. "He ought to be very grateful to you, but I don't suppose he is."


    She said, "Oh, but he is. He sent a message asking if I'd go and see him in hospital, and all he wanted was to say thank you." She hesitated. "It was a bit pathetic. He didn't know what he'd done wrong to make the people so angry."

    "Didn't he realize that sending your brother away was likely to make trouble?"

    "I don't think he did. I think he thought he was preventing trouble when he sent Connie away."

    You cannot argue with stupidity; you just have to accept it patiently as one of those things.
    I said, "You didn't get hit by any of the stones?"

    She shook her head. "They stopped throwing as soon as they saw me."

    "Thank God for that," I said quietly.

    She looked at me curiously for a moment, and then coloured a little. "There wasn't any danger," she said. "They wouldn't do anything to me. I knew that from the first."

    "Like hell you did," I said. "That's why you were sick as soon as it was all over."

    She stared at me. "However did you hear of that? Did Chai Tai Foong tell you?"

    I shook my head. "Salim told me, last night at Karachi. He's a Pakistani lad who used to work for us here. He's with Sind Airways now."

    "He told you I'd been sick outside the hospital?"

    "He mentioned it in telling me the story."

    She looked me in the face with her thoughtful eyes. "They know about that in Karachi. Do they know that I was sick in Rangoon, in Bangkok, in Bangalore and in Bombay?"

    I was silent.

    "Does every little thing we do here in Bahrein go halfway round the world?"

    I met her eyes. "If you want a straight answer to that one, Nadezna," I replied, "I think it does."

    She smiled. "A goldfish in a glass bowl has more privacy than we have, if I can't even be sick without the whole of Asia knowing."


    "Much more," I agreed. "But that's what comes of having Connie for a brother."

    "How did you leave Connie?" she enquired. "What sort of place is Bali, anyway?"

    I told her what had happened on our flight out as we sat over lunch in the airport restaurant, and about that far off village he was living in, Pekendang. "It's very quiet, very lovely there," I said. "It's not like this at all. It's tropical, of course, but it's a gentler place than this, with plenty of rainfall, plenty of shady trees and greenery. And cleaner, gentler, happier people than live here. He hasn't got a lot of work to do. I think he should be able to rest there, and put on weight a bit. It seemed to me that he was getting very thin."

    She nodded. "I know; he's terribly thin. I think he's been in Bahrein long enough."

    I sat thinking for a time, wondering if I could ask her what was in my mind. At last I said, "I wonder if you'd tell me something. Was Connie ever married?"

    She shook her head, smiling. "Never came within a hundred miles of it."

    "Was he ever in love with a girl?"

    "I don't think so.
    Not that I know of, anyway. He always thought too much about religion. What's all this about, Mr. Cutter?"

    "I don't want to be nosey," I said. "It's just that he's stuck down there in a very lovely place with very lovely women to look after him. I was wondering how he'd make out."

    She smiled. "Like a hermit or a monk or something. I wish he was different, more like other men. If he'd go around with girls and fall in love I'd be much happier about him."

    "I know," I said. "Everyone ought to do that."

    She coloured a little,
    and then she said, "I'll have to be getting back on to the job, Mr. Cutter. Can I ask Arjan for the journey log book of the Tramp?"

    "That's all right."

    "I'll get the airframe and the engine log books written up, then, right away. Oh, Mr. Cutter, Tarik wants to see you as soon as you can fit him in."


    "What does he want?"

    "He wants to go down to Bali to work under Connie. Tai Foong came and told me all about it."

    "What does he want to go there for? This is his home town."

    She sighed a little. "He's writing up the Gospel according to St. Tarik in a lot of five-cent exercise books. He's afraid there'll be a gap."

    I suppose I was dead tired. I just sat back and laughed as if that was something very funny. I knew it really wasn't funny at all, and yet for a few moments I couldn't stop laughing. I saw her face change, and she came across and laid her hand upon my shoulders. I think that was the first time she had ever touched me.

    "Stop it, Tom,"
    she said gently.

    I think that was the first time she had called me Tom, though I had called her Nadezna for some time. I never had been quite sure if Shaklin was her surname, or what.

    I took a pull upon myself. "Sorry," I said. "Tarik can't go down there. He's got Phinit with him. That bit'll have to be the Gospel according to St. Phinit."

    She nodded. "Don't bother about that any more. I'll see Tai Foong and Tarik. Go to the chummery and rest an hour or two. There's nothing very urgent in the office."

    "I can't do that," I said. "I must go up this afternoon to the Arabia-Sumatran and tell Johnson how the trip went off."

    I went and got the Dodge out of the hangar and drove into town to the Arabia-Sumatran office. I told Johnson how the trip had gone and fixed with him the details of the next one, to start in four days' time. We spent half an hour talking of the business, which was going smoothly from his point of view. Then, as I got up to go, I said, "I hear that there was some trouble the day after I went."

    He nodded. "It was very foolish of Hereward to advise the Resident to expel your man Shak Lin. Very foolish indeed. As it is, he's lucky to be alive today. He wouldn't have been but for that girl Nadezna."

    "I know," I said. "I heard about it."


    He thought for a moment. "We owe a lot to her," he said. "I'd give her a medal if I had one to give."

    "Things seem to be quiet enough now," I remarked. "I suppose the people in the souk have accepted the position."

    "The souk? Oh—they don't matter. It's the Sheikh of Khulal and his oil that I was worried about. I'm a bit worried still, I don't mind telling you."

    "The Sheikh of Khulal?"

    "I see you don't know the half of it," he said. "The Sheikh of Khulal was behind that business in the souk. Not a doubt of it. He was in Bahrein that day. I think we might have had a first-class riot if your girl Nadezna hadn't gone to see Wazir Hussein."

    I was startled. "When did she do that?"

    "The same evening. She put on one of those black milfa veils to hide her face and went to see the Wazir at Sheikh Muhammad's palace, where they were staying."

    He paused. "It would be very awkward for our interests if an open breach were to develop between the Sheikh of Khulal and the Resident," he said thoughtfully. "I wish you'd bear that in mind, Cutter. We want peace in this country. In a way, I think perhaps you and Nadezna can do more to bring peace back into this district now than the Resident can. Bear it in mind, and just do what you can. Especially if anything crops up that has to do with Khulal."

    I left him and went back to the aerodrome. As I crossed the causeway I saw an Airtruck on the circuit, coming in to land, and when I drove up to the hangar Gujar Singh was just taxiing in. I met him on the tarmac, and walked with him to the office.

    He told me about the various flight jobs that had been going on in my absence. About the disturbances, he knew little that I did not know already. "I think things are becoming quiet now," he said. "I think that when Air Vice Marshal Collins took the guard off the road and let the people come back here to pray it made a great deal of difference."

    "I should think that would begin to tail off now," I said. "Now that he's gone away, they won't be quite so keen to come out all this way just to say their prayers."

    "I do not know," he said. "I have not counted them, but it


    seems to me that more of them come here to pray each evening. I think there are more coming now than when Shak Lin was here."
    He paused and then he said, "I think a movement such as this is strengthened if you try to repress it."

    I told him that I wanted him to take the Tramp on the next trip to Bali with Hosein as co-pilot, and discussed the route with him a little. There was not much to talk about, because he had flown it already once with me; he had plenty of time in the next four days to study his maps and radio information to prepare the flight. I left him presently, and went back into the office and started on the correspondence.

    That was the bad part of my job, the office work. I had been flying and working hard for five days in the tropics, all across the world, and as a solace and a rest I came back to a desk piled high with papers to be dealt with. I dictated to Nadczna for three-quarters of an hour and gave her more than she could cope with that day; then I sent her out to get on with the typing and sat on at my desk turning over the remainder of the stuff with a mind dulled with fatigue.

    Presently outside my office Arabs from the town began to pass along the road; it was getting towards sunset and the time of evening prayer. I could not concentrate enough for useful work; I got up and went out of the office and watched what was going on from a distance. A string of motor buses and taxis were parked on the road, and men were streaming from them to the empty space reserved for prayer just by the hangar. There were a great many of them. I did not try to count them, for I was too tired, but as I stood there watching it seemed to me that there were many more than I had seen before. There was an Imam with them, and presently he stood up in the semicircle of white stones that faced to Mecca and began to lead them in the evening Rakats.

    I stood and watched them for a time, most desolately alone. I could not go and join them because I was a European and a Christian, and because I had never done so. I just stood at the corner of the restaurant watching as they laid their troubles before God and cleansed their souls with the ritual; I was tired and depressed, and I would have given anything to be there with them, joining in their prayers. And presently I couldn't bear it any


    longer, and I went back to the office and sat there with my head resting on my arms upon the desk. If I had been able to I would have wept, but I had not wept since I was a child.

    And presently Nadezna came in with the letters. I raised my head, and I said heavily, "The post must have gone. I'll sign them in the morning." She came to my side and put the letters down upon the desk. And then she put her hand to my head and caressed my hair, and said, "You're very, very tired. You must go home and rest."

    She was comfort and security and stability to me, a touch of everything that was lacking from my life. I pulled her hand down and kissed it, and she said softly, "Poor Tom." We stayed like that for a long time, perhaps ten minutes.

    It was no good starting off upon another Beryl.
    Presently I got up and smiled at her, and said, "Thanks, Nadezna. That was good of you." And then I went out to the old Dodge station wagon, and drove in a daze down to the chummery, and went and lay down on the charpoy. I didn't sleep much that night: perhaps I was too tired.