The shadows lengthened as the last rays of sunlight fled from the Indian town of Calcutta. Night was falling fast as it was prone to do in Southern Asia. All through the streets, the rich aroma of curried spicy foods wafted from the nearby market and heavily coated the air. The sounds of people hastily moving through the streets could be heard from a distance as traders and street vendors packed up their road-side stalls, businesses closed their doors, and shoppers made their way towards their homes.
In the midst of the evening’s chaotic scurry, Nagi briskly strolled down the main street of Calcutta after a full day of trading and negotiating for his Uncle Alisad. He usually accompanied his uncle and two of his field workers on the weekly trip into town. There they supplied their regular customers with rice and other garden-produce, and tried to acquire new business partners. Earlier that morning, as they were about to leave home, Uncle Alisad had taken him aside and told him that he wanted him to manage all of the day’s trading. “Nagi, we both know that you can manage today’s business. I’m getting too old for this and you are fast developing into an astute businessman. You know how and when to strike a deal and I can trust you handling my money.”
This was the first time that Nagi had come to Calcutta without his uncle. He and the two field workers had left at sunrise, carrying supplies to deliver to Uncle Alisad’s customers.
This week’s trade had been a great success. Uncle Alisad would be pleasantly surprised with the news of the four additional customers that he had wheedled into an agreement to purchase from him each week. His bargaining skills seemed to have been in full bloom; someone had even commented that he had learnt well from his old uncle. Nagi’s silent musings on the compliment caused him to smile proudly to himself.
The day had been hot, but he was thankful for his white cotton sherwani and pants that hung loosely around his well-built frame. Congratulating himself, he clutched his stomach where he had safely tied the cloth pouch containing the day’s earnings. Today he had made lots of money; uncle would be pleased. Over the past forty years Uncle Alisad had faithfully built himself a thriving farming business. Nagi was eager to make his uncle proud and prove to him that he was man enough to take over all of the fields.
He was a fine looking young man of medium height, fair complexion, and strong Asian features that betrayed his Nepalese heritage. His upright bearing, stately gait, and correct use of his native language were evidence of his belonging to one of India’s higher casts. As he walked the distance towards the part of town where he would catch the wagon train, he sighted a cobbled alleyway that was often used as a shortcut. With quickened steps, he detoured into the alley. Sita, his childhood love who would soon be his wife, must be told the news of his good fortune that day.
Sita was the daughter of Uncle Alisad’s neighbor, Hamid Ramkissoon, a fine and well-respected medical doctor in the town of Bihar. As was the custom in those days, their parents had agreed that they would marry when they became teenagers. Sita, who was now barely thirteen, was developing into a most beautiful young lady. She had the striking features of an Indian goddess, marble-smooth skin that was always fully tanned and an angelic face that was framed by long black hair which made her expressive eyes stand out as they exposed her earnest heart and loving soul. Whenever there was opportunity, they would meet after school under the huge mango tree near the bank of the stream that separated the properties. They would talk for hours about their future plans and about the elaborate marriage ceremony their parents would host as soon as Sita finished school. Nagi hoped that by then he would be in charge of all of Uncle Alisad’s properties and have the means to provide Sita with all the comforts that she was accustomed to, and more.
Nagi’s day dreaming seemed to have taken him so far away from reality that he vaguely heard the distinct, firm sound of a man’s voice calling out to someone.
“Hey you! Young man, listen to this; do you want to hear how I can help you make a better life for yourself?”
Unsure about to whom this tall, well-groomed, gentleman was speaking, Nagi continued to walk briskly towards the location of the wagon trains, ignoring the stranger’s question.
“Come on, just give me a minute of your time and I’ll show you how you can make yourself some real money, get out of India and this slum life; build a new life for yourself.”
The evening breeze was cooler than usual for this time of year, and by this time the sun had already set. There was barely enough natural light for Nagi to see his way on the narrow cobbled alleyway. Whenever he came to Calcutta with his uncle, they would take the 5p.m. carriage and by this time be much closer to home. However, after the day’s successful trading, he decided to relax and have a drink with some friends from Bihar whom he had not seen in over a year. He knew that he had already missed both the 5p.m. and 6p.m. carriages, but if he hurried he would be able to catch the last one scheduled to leave at 7p.m. He therefore had no intentions of slowing his pace now.
Raising his voice in a more insistent tone, the tall stranger continued his pitch, “Trust me, I can help you, you can start a new life for yourself now! There’s a boat leaving the port of Calcutta at noon tomorrow.”
At this time of evening, the alleyways were generally quite deserted; however, with the British vessel, the Whitby, set to sail the next day there were still a few people around. As he continued towards the station, Nagi felt relatively safe—although flooding his thoughts at the moment were some of the recent stories he had heard about people being harassed and mugged around this part of town.
In spite of this and his resolve to keep moving, the tall stranger’s touting stirred his curiosity and he found himself slowing down to see to whom the stranger was talking. Laughing to himself and knowing that he couldn’t be convinced to leave India, he still decided to stop—just to listen.
“Why are you even stopping?” he asked himself. “You know that you’re not the average fifteen year old Indian; you’ve got a life that most only dream of.”
Unlike most other youngsters his age, Nagi had lived a privileged life. At the age of thirteen, his Uncle Alisad had given him the responsibility of managing three of his rice fields. Uncle Alisad had three daughters and had always looked to him as the trusted son that he never had. He knew that his uncle would leave all of his properties to the closest male relative in the family and that meant that he’d become owner of all of the fields. There really was no need to leave India. But Nagi’s curiosity got the better of him and that changed the course of his life forever.
Turning towards the tall stranger who stood about fifteen feet away, he looked the man directly in the face and asked, “Are you speaking to me?”
The tall stranger smiled and calmly waved his hand towards Nagi, beckoning him while he started approaching the young man. Nagi hesitantly obliged and as he did the tall stranger continued to speak.
“You look like a fine and decent youngster. What do you do for a living? Do you have a job?”
Adjusting his posture, Nagi purposely allowed his arrogance to take control as he looked condescendingly at the tall stranger. His upper class family background mixed with a heavy dose of self-confidence bolstered his young male ego, making it appear as if it was on a pedestal. In a most boastful manner he almost scoffed as he responded, “My family employs people to work, we have a number of fields and I manage three of them with twenty-seven workers. So, yes, I do have more than a job!”
“I see,” said the tall stranger, “So does that mean that you’re happy with your life? Did you say that your family owned those fields?”
“Yes, I’m more than happy with my life,” Nagi shot back. “The fields belong to my uncle, but they have been in the family for decades and my uncle is like a father to me. He says that by the end of this year he’s going to allow me to manage all of his properties.”
The tall stranger quickly observed how easily this arrogant yet innocent youngster had begun to bear his soul; sharing a lot more information than he needed to, Nagi continued speaking.
“My uncle is very rich and has fields in Bihar, Punjab and Nepal, but right now I am the manager of all of those in Bihar. I’m going to be making millions by the time I’m twenty-one.”
“Do you really think so?” The tall stranger asked as he continued his intrusive line of questioning, “I believe your Uncle is just using you; how do you know he wouldn’t just sell all of the properties or give them to someone who is older and more experienced?”
“No way, never!” Nagi responded defensively. “I’m his right hand; he can’t do without me!”
“No need to get so worked up,” said the tall stranger, in a now stern and serious tone. “I’m just sharing something that you may want to think about. Now, just listen to my offer…”
Nagi quickly answered with a mocking laugh, “Offer? You can’t offer me anything, I’ve told you I have a life that most young men my age would die for, my life is great!”
“Hmmm,” said the tall stranger in a most sarcastic tone, “You sound like an intelligent youngster, so I know you’ll come to your senses. When you do, a wonderful opportunity awaits you if you really want to start living. I can promise you a journey to the great New World. The Whitby will be leaving the port tomorrow at noon. I doubt you want to stay here in India and live the rest of your life dependant on your uncle’s handouts?”
His hot Indian blood began to boil; he’d heard enough of this man’s idle talk. He was not at all interested in ever leaving his India or his beautiful Sita and the wonderful life that they had planned. Nothing and no one would change his mind. Furiously he turned and walked away from the tall stranger, silently cursing himself for stopping to entertain this stranger and his folly.
Nagi hurried along the now lonely road, but as he approached the main street that led to the wagon train station he suddenly realized that someone was following him in the distance. He didn’t think much of it as his mind had drifted between the conversation with the tall stranger and another that he had heard earlier that week. He had actually been eavesdropping on some of the workers as they were talking about the ships that were coming to the port of Calcutta. There were promises of great opportunities for persons who wanted to work and own some of the sugar cane fields in this “New World” that everyone was talking about.
“It is a great chance to make money and develop your very own plantations,” said one of the older field workers, “And the passage is also free!”
“My cousin and his family will be leaving this week,” said one of the newest field workers, “He told me that everyone is going to be given food and housing.”
“If I were younger I’d consider leaving. Leaving India for the New World sounds a million times better than living here under these down trodden conditions and these less than minimal wages and we wouldn’t even ever be given the chance to own any of the fields here,” the older field worker lamented.
“I’m thinking about going after my cousin and his family to get settled. Maybe I’ll be able to work for a few years, save some money and then return home to help my poor old mother,” said the new field worker.
During the mid 1800’s poverty was wide spread among India’s working class and a large percentage of the population was living under very harsh conditions. The promises of the New World and its immediate jobs and other potentials for wealth were very appealing to that class of the population. Ship owners and their recruiters secured emigrants and delivered them to the West Indies where laborers were desperately needed by the British to work in the sugarcane fields. Slavery had recently been abolished making the newly freed slaves opposed to working in the fields.
* * *
The port of Calcutta reeked with the foul scent of rotting garbage that littered both the water and the walkways. The sweat of port workers and the hundreds of travelers, who had braved the intense heat of the day to travel to the port in search of promised greener pastures, further destroyed any ambience that the meeting of land and sea would generally bring. No one seemed to care however, except the two little boys who stood away from the crowd holding their noses and kicking pebbles into the water. It was their first experience, seeing the ocean and ships but they were now experiencing the first disappointment of many more that was to come on the long voyage with their parents.
From all appearances it was a typical port scene, with regular loading processes and all the accompanying hustle and bustle associated with the packing of a ship before a long voyage. The ship’s scheduled departure had long passed and evening would soon be sending its dark cloak to wrap the landscape and reduce the flurry of activities, but on this afternoon, a fatal one to many, one well known British ship was getting prepared to send out its signal of departure from port.
The Whitby, a broad built vessel with white canvas sails proudly displayed its well-known name, which was painted across its side in red dye. It occupied its position at the far end of the wharf. Its maiden voyage to the New World was calculated to take four to five months, depending on weather conditions and the favor of the gods. Its mission therefore demanded much planning and detailed preparation.
Later that evening, the captain began allowing the Whitby’s two hundred and thirty passengers to board the ship. They were mainly males between the ages of ten and thirty; several entire families as well as a few brave young women who attached themselves to the families for added protection were included in the number. Half naked port workers and crewmembers continued loading the large quantity of food supplies which consisted mainly of rice, dried legumes and dried fruit. These, along with a limited supply of local herbal medicines and hundreds of kegs of fresh water quickly filled the area allocated for food.
The loud wailing of family and friends pierced the air and added to the confusion of the chaotic scene. They had come to bid goodbye to loved ones who perhaps they may never see again. The majority of them would remain to see the vessel raise anchor and sail away into the evening.
The entire process of loading the vessel consumed the better part of the day. Preparations were almost done when the captain emerged from the hold of the vessel, close to the stern. Pacing the deck anxiously his sharp nautical eyes scanned the scene before him. It was quite apparent to the crowd below that he was awaiting someone or some ones. To occupy time, relatives and friends of the travelers speculated on the captain’s apparent anxiety.
“Wonder what the captain’s looking for? It’s long past time to leave,” said one of the onlookers. “Maybe he’s waiting for some contraband goods. Some of these ships have begun the bad reputation of handling shady trades.”
“Really? I heard that there’s been some cases of young men being kidnapped and taken to the New World! My mother’s housemaid lost her son last month. His body was never found. Rumor has it that he was taken aboard a vessel,” replied another spectator.
The first blast of Whitby’s horn jolted a few in the waiting crowd but even as they recovered, the dull sound of horses’ hooves was heard approaching. The crowd parted as the dust rose and a horse drawn carriage drew alongside the broad side of the vessel. Immediately, the captain issued a sharp command and in response four crewmembers stood in place to receive the large crate that was being hoisted down from the carriage. The wooden crate was narrow but long and the top was filled with small spaces that invited the air and natural light to penetrate its frame.
Skillfully they balanced the weight of the large crate as they hurried up the gangplank as if bearing the load of a few lightweight animals. This was the final piece of cargo that the captain needed aboard and once it was securely placed beneath the holding cells in the base of the vessel, the captain commanded the port workers to hoist the anchor. Many cries of both despair and hope filled the air as the Whitby cruised slowly out to sea.
The gentle rocking of the ship and the effects of the ether that had been used to sedate Nagi and his unknown companion in the crate kept them in a state of unconsciousness for many hours. It must have been midnight when Nagi awoke to the severe throbbing pain at the back of his head. His confused brain tried to untangle the many knots that seemed to have had him tied in a fetal position to a hard surface. In vain he tried to think of why he seemed to feel so trapped and literally tied but there seemed to be no logical explanation and even thinking increased his physical pain. He recognized that he was not alone but he did not have the energy to speak.
Everything seemed so blurred and Nagi drifted in and out of consciousness. How long he remained in this semi conscious state he was never able to tell, but as he later deduced, the blow to his head and the ether that had knocked him out to ensure that he remained unconscious for a long period did together accomplish the purpose of his assailant. It was not until the sound of a creaking door and the voices of a man and young lady pierced his dull senses that Nagi fully awoke to his plight.
Quickly his eyes took in the scene. He and his unknown companion had been boxed into a large crate with holes that provided enough oxygen to keep them alive. He tried to stretch himself but the crate did not allow that luxury so he sat up. At the same time his companion did the same. With displaced anger they eyed each other. Nagi’s companion was a young man of similar build but of a slightly darker complexion. His dirty features and unkempt appearance provided little satisfaction to Nagi that he was of a lower class. That fact faded into insignificance as they realized that they were both prisoners who were probably facing the same fate.
Nagi was able to deduce from the constant rocking he felt and the sound of splashing water that they were on board a vessel. His only experience at sea was sometime ago with Uncle Alisad when he’d invited some of the family to join him on a combined business and vacation trip to one of the northern coastal towns where he had some land. Sita and her family had also joined them and together they had had a wonderful vacation in spite of the fact that Sita and his cousins were all sea sick on the first day.
Sita and Uncle Alisad! His mind was too clouded now to think, but the memory of his first trip to sea and his loved ones, immediately created a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He suddenly felt more sick than he had ever felt in his life. “Sita, Sita,” his young heart screamed in terror. Was this a nightmare from which he would wake up in relief? “Oh God,” he pleaded aloud, “Let this nightmare pass away.”
The voices of the two new occupants in the room shifted Nagi’s attention from himself to what was being said. His eyes dilated and fingernails dug into the palms of his hands as he clenched his fists in readiness to deliver a blow. The voice he was hearing sounded vaguely familiar. The jigsaw puzzle that haunted his dream in his semi conscious state was finally coming together. It was the voice of the tall stranger from the alleyway in Calcutta. Nagi was livid and in his frustration he banged and kicked the solid crate that confined him.
“Get me out of here,” he repeatedly screamed. “What the hell do you want from me? Is it money? Uncle Alisad will get you hanged, you bastard. Get me out of this cage!”
With these and several other threats, Nagi finally succumbed to his weakness. He slumped back against the crate breathing heavily.
“Well, well, my young, rich plantation owner! I see you’re alive, alert and well,” he said with a smirk of cynicism. “Fortunately for me you helped me make my quota for this trip, you were right in place to help me.”
The tall man’s taunting gave Nagi new energy.
“Damn you wicked crook,” Nagi shouted helplessly, “What quota are you talking about?”
“You think you’re such a man but you’re so, so innocent. Don’t you know that the New World pays per head count? I couldn’t leave Calcutta without making this trip financially worthwhile. The more persons on board the more money I get when we get to the West Indies.”
“So you mean that I’m going to be sold like some sort of slave?” Nagi screamed.
Laughing out loudly the tall stranger responded, “We like to refer to you all as indentured workers. If you calm down and cooperate I promise you that you will be well treated. My daughter here will attend to your needs.”
Nagi and his fellow captive who had remained silent shifted their gaze to the young lady at the tall man’s side. She stood with head cast downwards as was the custom of young ladies in the presence of strange young men. She appeared to be in her late teens and although he could not get a clear view of her face she did not seem to be pleased with the present scene. From the onset Nagi hated her and transferred all of his negative feelings towards her father on her. Nagi looked at her with as much disgust as he did the man standing at her side. In his deep frustration and anger he let loose his ill-tempered tongue, “I hope you burn in hell, you and your stupid daughter! When my uncle catches you, you’ll both curse the day you met me.” With a promise to return when Nagi was more inclined to listen the tall stranger hastily pushed his daughter out of the room.
Nagi’s fellow captive looked at him with conflicting emotions in his eyes. First admiration, then disgust, and finally rage seethed through his body. He blurted out, “What are you doing, you naive fool. The man must have come to bargain with us. Are we going to remain stuck in here without food because of your big mouth, Mr. High and Mighty. Get it right, fellow, I aint’ planning to stay here with you any longer than I need to. If you don’t learn to suck it up and stop all of your whining, stuck up crap, we might be here forever.”
With naked disgust and loathing in his eyes, Nagi shot back contemptuously, “What do you have to lose? I have rice fields and much land to inherit. I need to get out of this God forsaken place.” Then after a brief pause he continued, “Why did they have to kidnap you anyway? You should be glad for the opportunity,” Nagi spat out in disgust. He was not going to let the other fellow push him over and so he continued with his abuse.
The older occupant of the crate allowed Nagi to vent his rage. Although he did not claim the same high social standing of his companion, his rugged life had taught him some valuable lessons that Nagi’s near pampered life had not afforded. Don’t fight the odds, but if you can, out smart them, was a lesson the hard knocks of life had taught him. He was going to work his way out of this, not fight his way out.
Finally recognizing that his fellow captive was not responding, Nagi stopped his tirade and looked at him in sullen silence. With a faint smile the other fellow said, “I’m Suresh. What is your name? Maybe if we work together as a team we will be able to help each other out of this.”
Slightly ashamed of his outburst in the face of more reasoned thinking, Nagi grudgingly extended his hand and clasped the proffered one of his companion. “I’m Nagi Singh,” he sheepishly responded. “Sorry to meet you under these circumstances.”
A period of silence followed as each became wrapped in his own thoughts. Weariness, aggravated by his angry outburst and weakness from lack of food, caused Nagi to drift off to an uncomfortable sleep. He dreamt he saw Sita smiling at him from the other side of the stream, but the stream was swollen with flood waters and as she attempted to cross the stream to reach Nagi, the currents swept her down stream even as she yelled, “Nagi, Nagi.” With a cry of deep despair Nagi awoke to find his companion calling his name and offering him food that had been brought to them by the tall man’s daughter. Although hungry, Nagi’s dream left him emotionally worn out and he was unable to consume the bowl of rice and lentils that was placed in his trembling hands.
Except for Nagi’s vociferous venting of his anger, the first day at sea passed uneventfully. The young men were released from the crate and taken to a very small room that held a small bunk bed and an extra coconut fiber mattress. This was luxury on board a vessel that carried two hundred plus indentured servants in its hold, but the good fortune of the young men resulted from a twinge of conscience in the tall stranger.
When Nagi had asked about his pouch, rather than deny knowledge of it, the tall man had arrogantly replied that Nagi would be given service in exchange for it and that he should consider himself fortunate not having to endure the hold of the vessel. Furthermore, he said, Suresh’s company had been tossed in for good measure. Nagi was highly enraged but he was slowly recognizing that he was in a hopeless situation, at the mercy of an unscrupulous man. When he landed on solid ground again things would be different he reasoned.
During the next few weeks Nagi was indeed thankful for the companionship of Suresh. When they were not sleeping or day dreaming they spent the time talking about home and loved ones. Nagi shared stories of his growing up in Bihar and later working with his uncle. A strong bond of friendship, born of shared adversity, sprung up between them. However, on the few occasions when the tall man visited, Nagi’s rage continued to surface while Suresh, of more submissive nature, tried to calm his outbursts. It was obvious that the man was trying to get more information about their families, information that would help in his despicable trade.
Suresh’s disposition finally won him a little freedom and he was ‘elevated’ to the status of kitchen hand. This provided Nagi with more food but it did not encourage him to be less belligerent to his captor. Nagi remained a virtual prisoner in the little cabin. His communication was therefore limited to chats with Suresh, cursing the tall man whenever he got the chance and angry non-verbals or monosyllables to the tall man’s daughter who brought him food and attended to some of the other basics in the room. Her attempts at conversation were often rebuffed but somehow she was attracted to Nagi. Her name, she had volunteered, was Vashti and although she was the man’s first daughter, she unlike her younger sisters had not been able to attract a suitor to marry her.
Whenever Nagi saw Vashti thoughts of Sita flooded him. He longed to see Sita again. He wondered if she too grieved his absence and what she thought of his failure to return home that ill fated night. He tortured himself with the thought that he may never see her again and that she would be given in marriage to his older cousin who lived in Punjab and whose young wife had died in childbirth a few months before. Nagi’s grief over his separation from Sita seemed too much for him to bear and often he would bury his head in his hard bunk and weep uncontrollably.
Thoughts of his uncle were very painful to him too. Did Uncle Alisad think that he had stolen his money and ran off? What had the two field hands told him on their return? Had they mentioned his going off with his friends for drinks in Calcutta?
What of his dear mother back home in Bihar. How disappointed she would be that he had left her brother, Alisad, and gone with friends. Or maybe, just maybe, the possibility existed that someone might have unobtrusively witnessed the scene and sold the information to his uncle when next he visited Calcutta’s market. It was all so distressing to Nagi; but, unfortunately, he would never know the answer to his questions.
Days ran into weeks with Nagi remaining in his little cabin aboard the Whitby. On a couple occasions in the company of his captor he was allowed to sit on deck for a short period. Vashti’s daily visits eventually grew more tolerable, in spite of the many rebuffs, she tried to be kind to him. Soon Nagi’s defenses were lowered and he began telling her stories of Sita and his deep longing for his childhood sweetheart. Seated on the fiber mattress Vashti enviously listen to him speak of Sita, their plans for a big wedding, their meetings under the mango tree and his dreams of expanding the family business. In spite of her jealousy, Vashti listened sympathetically. She longed to provide the comfort of her own arms to soothe the pain of this handsome young man who her father had so callously hurt. As time progressed she extended more of her womanly charms towards him.
One evening when Vashti came to give Nagi his dinner he noticed a strange difference. She was unusually quiet and seemed to drink in his every word, yet when he looked at her, he knew that her mind was far away. Instead of sitting on the floor next to his fiber mattress, she sat beside him on his bed, allowing the fabric of her sari to fall open; she made no attempt to close it. Nagi was accustomed to seeing Vashti’s exposed belly and lower back under her sari but now he became mesmerized by the smooth look of her thighs. He could not deny the strangely familiar ache in his body; he had often felt this way late at night, back in Uncle Alisad’s home when his older cousin Yacoub and his young wife thought he was asleep. Nagi had often times heard their guttural sounds and sharp breathing through the thin wall that separated their rooms and he knew that they were expressing their love for each other. He would lie quietly on his bed and think of Sita and yearn for the time when they would be able to express their love in this way.
Now, as he and Vashti were side by side on the coconut fibers, Nagi had those same feelings and he flipped over to lie on his stomach, trying to hide the obvious passion rising within him. As they spoke, Vashti reached out to him and began to rub his back, placing one of her legs over him. He wanted to tell her to stop but then she began to play in his hair and he closed his eyes as he thought about his beloved Sita.
Vashti suddenly pulled her hand away and Nagi opened his eyes to see her taking off the top of her sari. For a brief moment the thought of the tall stranger flashed through his mind. The mental picture threatened to paralyze him; however, the sight of Vashti undressing replaced his fear with misguided desire.
The heat of his little cabin coupled with Nagi and Vashti’s passionate exchange caused Nagi to instantly abandon all thoughts of India. The secret sweetness of the moment caused him to forget the wicked deeds of his captor—the evil tall man, his beloved family and the fact that he was drifting further and further away from the life he loved.
The next day Nagi was angry with himself for betraying his love for Sita, but manly instincts and youthful testosterone continued to push his resolutions out of the way. Soon he and Vashti were deeply engaged in a secret love affair on board the Whitby.
Two months later, days before the Whitby sailed into the small harbor on one of the islands of the West Indies, their world of new found ecstasy, though riddled with guilt, came crashing around them. Vashti realized that she was pregnant. Tearfully she sought Nagi’s comfort but he immediately flew into a fit of anger as he quickly started blaming her for their dilemma. His anger however, did not change the situation.
Alone, Vashti sought out her father who was at the bar having a few drinks with the Whitby’s captain. As she revealed to him her plight, her father’s anger outmatched that of Nagi. Furiously he stormed into the little cabin and grabbed Nagi by the scruff of his neck, squeezing the life out of him as he hoisted him up against the door of the cabin. “You little piece of scum, you’ve defiled my daughter,” he growled with a slur, as his alcholic breath fanned Nagi’s face. Nagi, never bereft of words, was silent as the father hurled insults at him. He felt the sweat breaking out all over his body as he clenched and unclenched his fits. How dare this man who had robbed him of a great future speak to him like this. It was all his fault that this had happened, Nagi reasoned. He found himself responding in deadly calm.
“What else did you expect,” he said. “You brought me here. You robbed me of my family, my business and my future,” Nagi hissed. Then sarcastically he injected, “Was this your plan too, to get me tied to your daughter so that you could be free to run your ill gotten trade?”
Dropping Nagi to his feet, the angry man took a step back and instinctively slapped the youth across his face. The slap sent him reeling across the room. When Nagi finally caught himself, he lunged towards his opponent. Delivering a series of long overdue blows to the tall man who fought to keep his balance. Knocking the tall man on to the fiber mattress he continued to release his pent up rage. He finally stopped when he realized that Vashti’s father was clutching his stomach and gasping for air.
The two sharply stared at each other in a moment of disbelief. After a brief period of deadly calm and silence in the cabin, Vashti’s father though still breathing heavily, straightened his shoulders as he tried to regain his dignity. “There’s a pundit on board,” he said. “Tomorrow you will wed Vashti. You have already violated her and no other man will want her.” Without awaiting a response the tall man exited Nagi’s cabin.
Cruel fate had delivered the final blow. Nagi had already thought of the consequences of his actions. His options were limited and he knew that that was the only honorable thing to do under the circumstances. With deep anger towards this man, Vashti, and fate itself, he gripped his head as he sunk to the ground in deep desperation. Once again he felt as he had in the crate that brought him aboard the Whitby. His hands and feet were tied. The feelings of entanglement and imprisonment seemed to suck the life out of him as he whispered in anguish, “Good bye Sita—my forever love.” Nagi was forced to finally accept his dreadful misfortune, and the fact that he was indeed kidnapped for life!
*I came across this masterpiece (drafted and shared with me on 4/2/07) as I was reflecting on my sister, Vernetta who passed away almost four years ago. It was written based on memories and accounts my mother shared of how our East Indian ancestors arrived in the island of Grenada during the nineteenth century. It’s an interesting read with meaningful historical dialogue. Enjoy!
†Vernetta M. Andrews van Putten (June 17, 1972 – September 6, 2014), former Communications Manager for the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise Development.