Saturday, January 03, 2009

Saturday 27th March 1943

It is sad to be aloof from the other wards here – the real P and N rooms. Today, when I went around collecting the soiled linen, I noticed there had been some interesting events.

An orderly came out of the black sergeant's special room with a torn battle-dress blouse; the other room was occupied by poor old plug-ugly Johnson, (or King Kong, though orderlies call him “Abe”) in solitary and mournful state; Paras and his sergeant were packing their kits, ready to move to another hospital. The sergeant was pacing up and down at the same time, humming “Song of the Revolution,” the Communist song he once wrote out for me. Paras paused for a few minutes, to confide in me that 135 Greek officers had just been sent to prison as Fascists. “Bloody Fasciti!” he bawled, leaping about, apparently trampling them underfoot. But alas! I don't live among them now, I just drift in and out occasionally.

Had a talk with King Kong, now quiet though much troubled. When he is alright, I imagine he speaks good English. He told me the orderlies had started to fight him because he wanted to go out, in the night. “It is no good,” he said sorrowfully.
“But why do you want to go out?” I asked. “Long man call me. I hear long man, so I want to go. Long white man.” “Is he good?” “I do not know. He call me, call me. I have not met with him yet. Perhaps tonight we shall see.”

The sailor still has hallucinations, too. This afternoon, after discussing the ward patients in a conversational manner, he suddenly stopped and said, “Do you know what I think it all is, Lofty? It's just a sham, everything that goes on. No one in there is really ill! Those darkies and the Scotsman and that little Arab – there's nothing wrong with them. It's just a show put on for my benefit!”

The Sergeant-major has departed. (Farewell!) His cloak falls upon my shoulders, almost, for I now have further greatness thrust upon me. It is now my duty to Collect the Names of “A” patients Requesting Permission to go to the Camp Cinema. Yes! I am NCO i/c this detail and each evening hand in a signal chit bearing the names of the request men.

Achieved the triumph of my photographic career this morning, when I secured two snaps of Chief Rampelli M'swani! The old scoundrel was in bed when I first produced the camera. “Photo, Rampelli.” I suggested hopefully. “Yes!” he said, to my delight, with half a dozen grimaces, “Yes! A'right!” I went outside and proceeded to photograph several of the celebrities. I didn't waste any snaps on the people of my own tent, except for two interesting Bechuanaland blacks who arrived recently. (This was Mako, a tall queer hawk, who speaks some English and seems to suffer from an imaginary bad leg; and one Dipulitsa, as ugly as King Kong, who speaks no English and is reputed to be a witch doctor by occupation. At present they don't belong to the black sergeant's anti-white gang. I watch developments with interest.)

Gasaiui and Joe Louis indignantly refused to be photographed. Dipulitsa and Mako sat down complacently in deck chairs, but Gasasiui and Joe cried out, “Don't let this man do it! Camera make you sick!” (In their own tongue of course. I got the translation later.) This startled Dipulitsa, who hastily got out of range. The more enlightened Mako remained and was duly snapped.

At this moment the ward doors opened, we heard a stream of gibberish, and the Chief was before us. Ghandi, dressed in immaculate blues and a shirt, with cap adjusted at the correct angle. If only I could have snapped him then, with his face working, laughing, gesticulating! But patients eagerly rushed in front of him, urging him forward, and when I snapped the old bounder, he was posing, with a stern and impassive face. (I got a second picture with the famous scarlet cigarette holder in action.) Ghandi, also, had ignored the instructions of his Bechuana cronies.

Subsequently I had a talk with Mako. He and Dipulitsa had received a sort of propaganda talk from Ghandi and the others. Mako was not impressed! “I do not understand much this Basuto, M'Swani,” he said calmly, “He talk too much, talk too fast. Yes, very funny. No, he is not Chief. Only one chief of Basutoland. The sergeant (he tapped his head but spoke with resect) is son of Bechuana chief, yes. But M'Swani no chief... These strange men,” added Mako, pointing towards Gasasiui and Joe, “Talk no good.” He tapped his head again, and then shook it.

Why, this Mako is a rebel! He turns against his own kith and kin, and casually uncovers their schemes to a white man!


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