Excerpt from Rum Shrinks Elephants

            A local bigwig appeared driving a big car in a cloud of dust. He was a magnate of some sort in Johore and he had come to fish in the over-equipped style of the affluent. He had film star good looks, somewhat like a Chinese version of the young Omar Sharif, and wore an expensive-looking watch and smoked expensive-looking cigarettes. As he drove up, he had his smoking arm dangling out his car window, a habit I detest.
            The bigwig also told us that he had been educated in Australia, near where Grace had originated from, and had enjoyed himself immensely, the Australian girls vying with each other for his attentions. He was undoubtedly handsome but I could sense Portia’s lip curling even though she was standing to one side of me. Portia, like practically every Indian female I knew, could not stand chauvinistic males, a set which unfortunately seemed to include a great many Indians. Chauvining on, the bigwig told us that he was single and had no intention of getting married as the local Chinese, Indian and Malay girls were all over him currently and concurrently.
            Portia’s lip curled so much that it blocked her nostrils.
            Normally, I would make everyone walk somewhere but a rugby injury only allowed me to hobble up and down the beach. We found the skeleton of a green turtle and a large dead cuttlefish which still had a great reservoir of ink in its head. There were also a couple of wild pigs looking for hermit crabs on the beach. The estate manager had informed us that were no elephants in the vicinity, the last few having been translocated to Taman Negara, but there were a pair of cheetahs around. This last statement was puzzling as the nearest cheetahs to Malaysia were, as far as I could recall, in Kazakhstan or Iran but never mind. The estate manager said he would send two of his spare Indonesians down to look after us, although we said we could look after ourselves. He appeared to think that the Kazakhstan cheetahs might eat us but this possibility seemed to us to be moderately remote. Indeed, the Indonesians themselves might be in more danger from the Malaysian army, hotfoot after illegal immigrants.
            For the rest of the evening we barbecued, ate and drank. On these expeditions, I was always the fireman and stoker and Portia was always the cook. Later in the evening, two tiny plantation workers showed up to guard us from the cheetahs in Kazakhstan. They sat down about two metres away and refused all food but took cigarettes, drawn from my emergency icebreaking stock. These two came from Lombok, next to Bali. They were lucky to have jobs and presumably a legal status in Malaysia. Later still, a lesser plantation official and some still lesser assistants, all Malays, came down and fished in the sea with nets. They caught three fish which they roasted on my fire and then gave to us. They watched us, mainly me, eat them, although we were already crammed full of undercooked steak and overcooked everything else, and rum.
            There was a sort of shack to sleep in but Portia was frightened of geckos, lizards often found in rudimentary shelters. She did not want to sleep in the shack but on the beach. She had suffered severely in her youth from lizard-abuse at the hands of her brothers who had dropped them down her neck. However, she was also frightened of wild pigs so we all slept on the beach with her, except Mac who slept in a hammock in the shelter.
            It was not very comfortable on the beach, especially as my stretched ligament did not allow me to lie in certain positions. In the middle of the night a soldier with torchlight and rifle woke us up. He was looking for aliens. Of course, we were all aliens in a sense but not the sort he should have been concerned with. He fussed about something, our papers I suppose, but Portia told him crossly to mind his own business and go away. Portia was frightened of geckos but not of armed men in the night. The soldier persisted. She told him not to be a fool. So this Malay soldier got a flea in his ear, doubtless paying the penalty for Portia’s disgust over Mac’s not sleeping on the beach with her and her disapproval of  the chauvinistic bigwig.

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