BONG

Nude-man . . . Nude-man . . . Nude-man,” is the urgent call that brings me round. “I want to give you something.” She reaches into the pocket of her jacket, pulling out a small brass pipe and a plastic bag containing big lumps of yellowish white stuff. “Follow me, please,” she commands, rising and smoothing her skirt over her thighs. The deck is pitching violently as we stagger through the bar out into the open air.

In the lee of a lifeboat we crouch on all fours and try to ignore the driving rain slanting in from the southwest. I reach into the pocket of my dressing gown for my cigarettes. The girl slaps the packet out of my hand.

“No smoke cigarettes,” the girl commands shrilly. “Take ten years off you’ life.”

Great. My eighties. Don’t want to miss those.

Tashi pinches off a large slice of material from one of the lumps, rolls it between thumb and forefinger, and stuffs a plug into the bowl of the brass pipe. She fires up a disposable lighter at the fifth attempt and sets the contents of the bowl alight. Sucking vigorously at the stem of the pipe she takes a couple of hits before handing the implement over to me. I suck in tentatively and blow out a small cloud of smoke. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh,” I go in a tone of intense satisfaction. She raises the brass pipe to her mouth, taking repeated light puffs, the bowl glowing briefly, then growing dull, and again turning red. We spend the following twenty minutes re-packing the pipe and passing it back and forth. We blow smoke into each other’s faces.

“You go to Barra?” I ask.

“Correc’, is the reply.

“What waits fo’ you there?” I say.

“A man,” she sighs.

“He from Barra?” I enquire.

“Correc’” she says. “I meet him first time in park in KL>”

“In Kinning Park in Glasgow you meet?” I say, mystified.

“Kuala Lumpur, silly man,” she says.

“You go to Barra man – let me get this straight,” I say. “You go marry?”

“No marry,” she says. “Strict cash only.”

“Why you need cash?” I ask.

“I maybe find – I dunno – new me,” comes the unexpected reply.

“A new you?” I gasp. “Old you more than good enough.”

“No,” she stresses. “In new land I find somet’ing all mine.”

“Four acres of croftland in Nask?” I enquire doubtfully.

“Maybe it work,” she says. A new thought strikes her. “Eeef it no’ work, I wait to hear if I get part.”

“What part?” I ask, becoming increasingly confused.

“In Bushfire,” she retorts.

“This is a film?” I say. She really could be a model or an actress.

“No,” she announces proudly with a broad grin. “Ees Tapas Bar in Hillhead. Een Glasgow.”

Abruptly I decide to give up. My breathing is coming in short, jagged gasps. My fists are clenched and, despite the cold wind scouring the deck, the back of my neck and my forehead are soaked in sweat.

Soon, not soon enough, my gorgeous new friend stands up and extends her hand to give me a little touch on my shoulder. “Come,” she says. “We go back for more fun talk.”

What are we on? Whatever it is, it feels good. It is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.   As I glide behind her effortlessly I marvel at how sure-footed I have become, the rising and sinking carpet of the Bar and the Observation Lounge magically smoothed out. I repeat to myself ‘We go back for more fun talk.’ What is she proposing? Is she intimating dalliance in full view of all the folk in the Observation Lounge? Getting into something freaky-deaky with this person would be one for the book: especially in full view of all the Barraich and Uibhistich in that crowded place. Strangely enough I am not too worried.

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