Round the Bend: Pages 331 through 335
ROUND the BEND
Nevil Shute, 1951
```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)
usually left it off for coolness; when the Buddhist priest Boonchuey came to talk to Connie, which he did frequently, Madé was banished to the back quarters with the other women.
Connie liked to talk about the earliest days, when we had met in Cobham's circus, when we had done the Gretna Green act together in the old Ford, when we had been bombed by the crazy flying Moths and Avros with little paper bags of flour and rolls of toilet paper, and my skirt always got torn off. He could still laugh at the recollection of the fun that we had had together, even though it hurt him to laugh now.
"You've come a long way since those days, Tom," he said once. "You never thought that you'd end up by running an airline half across the world, and owning all the assets of the business."
I smiled. "You never thought that pilgrims would be coming from five thousand miles away to watch you talking to me, and to pray beside your house."
"No," he said thoughtfully. "No, I'd never have thought of that. It's funny the way things turn out."
Another time he said, "I didn't want to end up with this sort of reputation, Tom. All I ever wanted to be was an absolutely first-class ground engineer, the best in the world. And because the best teacher is the chap who's only one jump ahead of the pupil, I thought I could teach others to be first-class chaps. But the truth of it is, you can't do any job really well unless you're really good yourself. The perfect job demands a perfect man, and you can't separate the two. I didn't understand that when I started. It wasn't until I came out to the East and learned something about religious ideas here that I began to cotton on to what it was all about."
And another time he said, "They're making legends about me already, Tom. Try and tone that down. They're paying far too much attention to what that English pongyi, U Set Tahn, has been saying."
"You mean, about you being born in Tibet or somewhere?"
He nodded. "It's completely wrong. I was born in Penang, and I'm a British subject. I've got a birth certificate to prove it." He hesitated. "My father married my mother up at Barkul, true
enough. But I was born in Penang. So that prophecy can't possibly apply to me."
I wasn't quite so sure about that, though I didn't argue the point. Some Asiatic countries have a different definition of when a man is born.
"Another thing," he said. "U Set Tahn and the Rangoon Buddhists say that the new Teacher's ministry will last for four years and twenty-three days. They're trying to pin that one on me, too."
"I know," I said.
"Well, when did I start teaching anybody anything?" he asked triumphantly. "I don't khow myself. I simply haven't a clue."
"When did you first come to Damrey Phong?" I asked.
"Four years ago last Thursday," he said. "I worked it out. But I never taught anybody anything while I was here. So that one's all wrong, too, because I was here three months and I don't suppose I'm going to live that long. Try and put a stopper on this sort of thing, Tom, if you can. I want people to remember me as a good ground engineer with both feet on the ground. Not as a legendary mystic or anything like that."
"I'll do my best," I said. And as I sat there I wondered if he knew when he had been teaching or if, in those early days, his teaching had been largely unconscious. U Myin and Chai Tai Foong had both been with him at Damrey Phong, and they were among the most devout of Connie's followers.
That evening I walked out with Nadezna to the runway in the bright moon, and we walked up and down it for a time, talking of Connie. And presently, at the far end where nobody could see us, I took both her hands, and I said, "What about us? After this is all over, and it must be soon, I'm afraid—after that, will you marry me?"
She said, "I wanted to tell you about that, Tom." She hesitated. "I'm not going to marry anybody, ever."
I said quietly, "I don't think that's a very good idea."
She smiled. "I'm sure you don't. But it's what I'm going to do."
I held her a little closer. "Not because of your Chinese father?" I asked. "It's not reasonable to let that worry you. It doesn't worry me. You know it doesn't. We can work that out together.
I don't want to go and live in England. All my work, and all my interests are out here, Nadezna. But it won't be any fun unless you're with me."
She freed herself a little, and I knew that I had failed. "It's not that, Tom," she said. "I'm not worried about that now. I know that if I married you we'd get over the mixed marriage side of it all right. But we'd be letting such an awful lot of people down."
I was puzzled. "Who would we be letting down?" I asked.
She did not answer me directly. "I've learned a great deal since I've been here with Connie," she said. "You can't help being influenced by it, Tom—all these aeroplanes that come here every day, at such expense; full of people who believe in him. People who have spent all their savings just to make this journey, because Connie is a man that they can pin their faith to. All they want to do is just to hear him say a few words, or if that's not possible, then just to see him, or touch something that he has touched. It's—it's like the Bible, Tom. Like people that were wanting to see Jesus. They believe in him."
"They haven't been doing any worshipping, have they?" I asked. "Not like as if he was a god?"
She shook her head. "They haven't been like that. They know that he's a man, and that he's dying. Gods don't die. But they know, too, or they think they know, that he is such a man as they will never see again, and they go away feeling that just to look at him and touch what he has touched has done them good, and has made their lives complete, and justified spending all their savings to come all this way. They don't think that he's a god. But if you asked me if they thought that he was a man who had attained perfection as Guatama attained it—well, I think a lot of them do think of him like that. They do."
"You mean, as an example?" I suggested.
"I think that's it," she said. "They venerate him as an example of what any man can attain to if he can be as wise, and thoughtful, and self-sacrificing, and as good as Connie."
We stood together in the moonlight for a little, on the runway. Over against the strip the mountain loomed above us, scented in the warm night air. "He's my brother, Tom," she said simply. "One never thinks one's brother can be anything particular.
I thought he was just nuts about religion, and it was all because he'd never had a girl in the United States, because he was an Asiatic who was out of place. It's not easy when you're brought up as an Englishman or an American, but you're really Asiatic, Tom. I know. I thought that Connie was just an ordinary brother, just like any girl might have. I thought that up till the time I came here. But now . . . I'm not so sure."
I was silent. Perhaps I wasn't quite so sure, myself.
"These people that come here to see him," she said presently, "—they think he's a man, but a man touched by the hand of God, whichever form of God they happen to believe in. And because that's what they think, it does them good and gives them something to hang on to. Because, it means that God still cares about the world, and cares for them. That's why they come here, Tom. They come to see the evidence that God still cares, that He has shown that care in making of one man a perfect example, to show everyone the way to live their lives out in the modern world."
She turned to me. "It's bad luck on us," she said, "but I'm not going to spoil it for them. If I married, Connie's sister, and had children, and lived just a normal woman's life, going out shopping in the morning, going to the movies in the evening while you worked up a bigger business every year and we made money—it'ld detract from it. Maybe they'd get to feel that Connie couldn't have been something after all, if his sister wasn't anything. If they thought that they'd lose the faith they have, and with that they'd lose everything that he has worked to give them. It's in my hands now, Tom, whether what he's started goes ahead or flops—at least, I think it is. And it's not going to flop."
I cleared my throat. "What are you going to do?"
"It's bad luck on you, Tom," she repeated. "You deserve a better deal than this. But if Connie could give up love to help along the things that he believes in, so can I. I don't have to give up children, though. I'm going to go back to Penang, Tom, where I came from. I'm going to go to Mother Mary Immaculate and ask if I can start in at the bottom, working in the orphanage. That's where I came from, and I reckon that'll be the best thing I can do."
I asked her, "May I come and see you there, sometimes?"
She said, "Please—please don't do that, Tom. And please, don't write."
I started on my journey to Bahrein next day, because I couldn't stay away too long. Connie lived for a month after that, gradually growing weaker. Then he went into a coma that lasted about thirty hours. He died just before dawn and the cremation took place on the same day, according to the custom in the East.