Although I’ve always prided myself on my ability to get females to listen to my patter, it is only when I attempt to turn up the corners of my lips in a welcoming smile that it occurs to me that I don’t know what to say to this glamorous vision.
“’l don’t mean to presume . . .” I make a gesture with my hand casually – cool – and say, “Well, why don’t you take the weight off your . . .legs?” No sooner do I mention the divine appendages than I don’t know what to say next.
“I may sit beside you nude?” comes from the sensual mouth above me.
What am I hearing? Is this Asian girl proposing to do a striptease before sitting in the reclining chair next to mine?
It takes me about three seconds to realise that ‘nude’ is in the vocative case and the question is a simple request directed at me. She points a forefinger at my pallid bare thigh, which protrudes from the ragged hem of my dressing gown. In my late seventies the circumference of my thighs is about the same as that of my calves.
“Of course,” I gush, sweeping a newspaper and an empty crisp packet from an adjacent seat. “Please, I want you to . . . recline . . . I mean, relax next to me. The world was made for you alone . . .you’re most welcome.”
“You I t’ank,” she says.
As an aficionado of Edgar Rice Burroughs, I immediately twig that we are communicating in Tarzan language.
“What name for you?” I ask. Our vessel has just left the comparatively sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull and now is being buffeted by very heavy waves in the Southern Minch. Indeed, for the month of May recent weather in Scotland has been most unseasonal.
“Tashi Daleq” – she pronounces it Ta-shee Daal-ek – “name for me.”
“How you are?” I demand, believing nothing can challenge my increasing confidence in this dialect. I shake her hand and receive a little extra squeeze before we disengage. I fleetingly register that for such a slip of a girls she has some mitt on her.
“First is last,” is the unintelligible reply.
I hypothesize that in her native language – Pashtun? Tagalog? – this is the locution employed to indicate complete satisfaction with current conditions.
“What name for you?” she asks.
“Norman is name for me.”
“Noh-maan,” she repeats slowly. “I call you ‘Nude Man’ because yo’ flesh is bare.” Her index finger points to my naked peely-wally legs poking out of my old.bobbly dressing gown. She shrieks: “Nude!” and slaps her bejewelled fingers over her eyes and laughs uncontrollably. “You’ legs hurt my eyes.”
“You going to Lochboisdale?” I ask.
“No, to bar I go soon.”
This reply is promising. It occurs to me that if she intends to go next door to the Lounge Bar I may take the opportunity to sneak a double-double or two to sustain me for the remainder of the long voyage.
“Look . . . er, Tashi,” I say, handing her a twenty pound note from the crumpled heap of bamknotes I’ve taken from my pocket. “When you get to the bar, get me whisky – a lot of whisky. You understand?”
She becomes rather grave. “No,” she says, shaking her head. “I no’ goin’ get whisky. I go to island of Barr.”
“Oh, you go to Barra?”
“Yes, I tell you before.”
“Business or pleasure?”
“Beezness, of course,” she replies. She doesn’t seem to find the alternative worth considering. Only a half-naked old man would imagine that any degree of pleasure could be found on a rock in the North-east Atlantic.
“What kind beezness?’ I press. The diction adjustment is becoming contagious.
“Yes, darlin’” says the Asian beauty.
I wait for amplification but no explanation comes. In the ensuing silence despite myself my eyes close and for a brief period I am out the game.