by Randy Ford
It was one of the most isolated places on earth. It was one of the least known places on earth. It was an island, a speck, a speck in a shallow sea, a calm sea, part of a chain of islands. It was so isolated that symbols of modern and primitive worlds merged in the sound of a single machine, in a practical sense sound of a single machine: an unreliable six-horse-power generator. An unreliable six-horse-power generator competed with sounds of cicadas, crashing monkeys, and whooping gibbons, and for people of this upland region put-put of a one-cylinder engine implied civilization and, falsely, existence of a medical doctor.
Only Europeans had generators. Generators were foreign to the island just as Europeans were foreign, and most natives expected white people to have generators and medicine. Most natives believed white people were doctors and carried medicine, or else white people were invaders. Now, there was no black and white about this. White people were either missionary doctors or invading smugglers. You were either-or, either white doctors or white smugglers, and there was no ambivalence about this. Most natives knew this and never questioned it.
Years had changed nothing, nothing on this tiny island, and except at an out-station no one expected to find amenities here, amenities found elsewhere, western comforts and luxuries, found at larger settlements on larger islands, amenities such as tennis courts, sewerage systems, and water systems designed to raise level of hygiene. It may also in no way seem strange to find white women living at larger settlements.
Mr. Flint measured himself by how much influence he had and wasn’t afraid to be himself. Mr. Flint took pride on how well he managed his life and accepted privileges he thought he earned. He knew how to take charge. He knew how to manage his business. He knew how to manage his people. His business extended well beyond this small island. He was the only white man on this island and enjoyed power it gave him; He often acted like lord, judge, ruler, but back home he would be considered a two-bit thug. Mr. Flint knew this, knew his limitations, and knew he couldn’t control what happened outside his domain. Mr. Flint was astute. He was clever. He was ruthless. He knew when to assert authority and when to pass. He knew that passing was often better than conflict, and knew he had to be on guard. It was true that the Kelabit were peaceful and genial, and he learned to capitalize on it. In comparison to him, his wife became querulous over having to live so far away from civilization, when she would’ve been better off were she accustomed to it or lived some place else.
There were no other white women in the district, and she never allowed Mr. Flint to forget it. She also hammered him, often hammed him, often as she could with: she was an educated woman, who enjoyed music, dancing, and spoke two or three European languages, while he was not cultured. She liked to play on his guilt by claiming that he tricked her into coming to this tiny speck off Borneo. According to her, he lied about conditions she would face, lied, lied, lied about everything, something he couldn’t do and get away with because she was highly intelligent. She surely knew, surely knew what she was in for, yet nothing irritated her more than heat and more heat and claustrophobia she only escaped when she was sleeping. There remained tropical fruits … only tropical fruits … mangoes, mangosteens, and a fruit called soursop … to enjoy. She enjoyed tropical fruits. She enjoyed mangoes, mangosteens, and soursop. She enjoyed these fruits and bragged about them when she went home.
She would’ve preferred living in Aden, Ceylon, Penang, or Singapore, places where people didn’t bathe in rivers or wouldn’t spy on her so much. She enjoyed a toilet whereas other people on this island didn’t. She enjoyed a hand-pump for water whereas other people on this island didn’t. She enjoyed mosquito netting whereas it didn’t matter to her husband as much. Now she lived away from a world she knew and loved as a child (also away from royal gardens, peacocks, flowers and perfumes of her imagination) and was forced to live under primitive conditions. She found it hard to smile. She found it hard to shrug things off. She found it hard to remain positive. She felt depressed most days. She suffered from colitis. She would’ve changed places with anyone except her husband. It irritated her that her husband never complained. It infuriated her. She stood behind him and beside him but only reluctantly.
The Kelabit, however, weren’t totally primitive. Mrs. Flint had never expected to hear them sing and play with mandolins. Yes, mandolins, sing and play with mandolins. When she heard them the first time sing and play with mandolins she knew it was unique. There wasn’t another tribe in this district that loved Spanish music so much. Spanish music? No, it wasn’t exactly Spanish, but it was not primitive. People there preferred to play and sing with mandolins outside, outside their nipa huts. And they sang all the time, sang and told stories, stories about themselves, their lives and loves. It was beauty, but Mrs. Flint wasn’t touched by it.
Mrs Flynn never like attention given to her on this island. She didn’t like being touched. She never got used to her hair being stroked. She didn’t like women stroking her face or her hair, touching her even if it were out of curiosity. She didn’t like people standing close to her. She never got used to men gaping at her whenever she went somewhere else in the district. She always attract a crowd. She always felt as if she were living in a fishbowl. She felt as if natives were trying to take a piece of her. She disliked it. No one could show so much disdain and at the same time have so many admirers. While appearing helpless, strangely enough she hated being helped. Born an aristocrat, she got angry with her husband over not recognizing it.
How could she be faulted for missing a family in Moscow or friends in England where she met Mr. Flynn ? Or why she couldn’t reconcile living so far away from civilization? How could she reconcile living so far away from civilization when she gave up so much? Or she missed Christmas and Easter, Russian springs and painted eggshells. And she couldn’t forget a seaside dacha she lived in as a child. She yearned for London and wanted to return to Paris. So, after loving London and Paris, she made a big mistake … the biggest one of her life: she married Mr. Flint.
Obviously she didn’t consider it a mistake at the time. Obviously she didn’t consider it a mistake when she married him. There was romance involved. There was a courtship. There was kissing, hugging, and yes, lust, yes lust involved, but she had reservations even then. Love isn’t something you can explain. Love may not be blind, but it’s intoxicating, and nothing is without its difficulties. Some mistakes seem right at the time, but with hindsight are obviously mistakes. She soon wished that she never met Mr. Flint. With all her heart she wished she stood her ground, told him no, rejected him, and especially after he talked about going into government service.
As a British government officer on a tiny island, Mr. Flint had to be a jack-of-all trades: a policeman, Chief of Public Works, Land Revenue Officer, magistrate, accountant, treasurer, and sometimes coroner; but prestige of this job hardly matched magnitude of sacrifices he made. Not to mention toll it took on his wife. But this brave man thrived on change and loved adventure, so he jumped at a chance to join Foreign Service.
Back in England, as a young man, he thrived on competition and excelled in sports such as cricket and polo. He seemed more interested in playing than having a career. But though he seemed to lack ambition, he had qualities that would make him a good administrator. He was always sober, enthusiastic, and full of energy. Once he got started on something, nothing stopped him … heat was less a factor than he expected. He didn’t mind monsoon. He loved uncertainty, uncertainty of monsoon. He liked watching clouds roll in, and lightning excited him. Once he was assigned to this part of the world … which he asked for …he could count on being shifted to almost every station except Brunei and Sandakan. Consequently he trekked through much of Borneo, through jungle interior where head hunting had not been curtailed. He never expected to be assigned to a tiny island.
Thus adapting to an illogical and tortuous landscape, to snakes, leeches, and parasites, to a jungle, cliffs, and crevasses, he felt at home where few white men rarely went. At home in small and remote villages, he was always honored with the best floor space. And he expected Mrs. Flint to adapt.
Mr. Flint couldn’t imagine living in England. Twice he gave it a try, and twice he gave up. He loved wilds, and life away from them seemed too tame. And everywhere he went he was treated like royalty and talked of nothing else. He loved it. Mr. Flint loved it.
Everyone was welcomed into his home (his home was his office). He maintained an open door policy. Day and night they came and brought him business. They came to him with their problems. Sometimes in the middle of the night they brought problems and expected him to solve them. He always helped them. He settled disputes. He negotiated treaties. He represented law and order. He represented Britain. And you know what this meant. He signed on for the duration and would be buried on an island in a small cemetery set aside for British civil servants. Mr. Flint was a great gentleman, a dedicated public servant, a loyal subject of the Crown, and a credit to the human race. He was one of many Englishmen overseas … united by regulations and policy … who helped the Crown maintain its valued empire.
They found themselves in a world that defied description, including never faltering spirits of falcons, otters, and rhinoceros. For Westerners these spirits didn’t exist. Westerners had no time for them. Westerners dismissed them; yet these spirits were everywhere. Whether fortunate or unfortunate, Mr. Flint wasn’t a believer, but he was around long enough that it didn’t seem improbable. To the Kelabit everything was a sign, such as a cry of a horn-bill or a sound of a falling rock. Then was it necessary to understand it? “ Wild waters tremble lest rivers turn to stone.” Was it necessary to understand this? Was it necessary to know for sure? There had to be something to it because the Kelabit rarely worried about anything, or so it seemed. They gain strength from an unspecific number of spirits, and they believed that as long as they were generous, spirits wouldn’t disturb peace.
Before the war the Kelabit considered Mr. Flint a generous man, and they were pleased with him, just as he was pleased with them. And he was able to keep peace.
There wasn’t much trouble because he was a generous man. From a small monthly allowance he purchased salt, tobacco, beads, and so on that he gave them. They also gave him gifts. That was how he managed. Anyway, he felt obligated to accept their gifts of chickens, rice, and eggs (and perhaps a sword, a battle headdress, a sun hat, or maybe a mat). To refuse anything would insult them. He had to anticipate what they would like. A mistake would’ve been disastrous. Of course he didn’t get it always right, but close enough usually worked. Nothing in England prepared him for this, but he soon found out that even people who weren’t advanced liked hair-lotion and scented-soap.
Hoping that men in big planes didn’t care about them, the Kelabit often waved at Japanese as they flew overhead, while the Flints considered it unsafe to wave. They hid. They moved around. They were constantly on the move. For safety, they relied on the Kelabit. Throughout the war, they relied on the Kelabit. From the air a jungle canopy gave only the faintest hint of human activity. Japs believed that this green hell was the last place they’d find Europeans. Given this assumption, they didn’t search jungles very much, and the Japanese couldn’t afford to waste men and time subjugating a few backward tribes, when they needed to concentrate on a growing headache. This meant the Flints felt relatively safe.
For the first time during occupation, Japanese faced American air attacks. Also, around this time, tempo of life around the long houses quickened because a “Z” Special Unit, made up of Australians, dropped into the island’s interior. This would be rightfully noted, rightfully noted, along with Japanese errors, as to what changed the course of the war. The Japanese showed utter contempt toward people living in the interior, but were the first to appreciate this mistake.
Had she been in her native Russia and part of the great Soviet experiment, Natasha would have run a greater risk (we know how Russia suffered during the war); yet she would’ve had her baby in a clean maternity ward. Mr. Flint didn’t know how to treat women. If he had, he would’ve sent her to a hospital to have their child. He would insist on it. Regardless what she said, he would insist on it. Before he brought her to Southeast Asia, he should’ve made contingency plans. He knew she wanted children, and he was foolish not to plan for it. It was obvious that he didn’t know much about her. It was obvious he didn’t know much about women. And she wasn’t sure that he loved her. And he was gone from their bungalow too much. He was away on business too much and rarely touched her. She would’ve been trouble if they never had sex. His excuse was that he was too busy, too busy for sex. She couldn’t understand it. She thought that there was something wrong with her.
Regardless where she lived in the Soviet Union, she would’ve given her son a proper name, a proper name by naming her son after one of her papa’s relatives. And for all of her effort, she would’ve won a Motherhood Glory medal.
Had she stayed in Moscow, as part of the Great Patriotic War effort, she would have worked in a factory and having a baby would’ve earned her a grant and a monthly bonus. She now knew nothing about working in a factory but felt she would’ve been treated better back home. The Soviet Union had a great interest in woman having babies. It was a matter of Soviet pride, so if she had been back in the Soviet Union everything would’ve been different. And she would be happy living there, had she been given a chance. Had she stayed in Moscow, she would not have had to hide. Had she stayed in Moscow, she would not have met Mr. Flint and married him. Had she stayed in Moscow, she would not live in Southeast Asia during the war.
By 1944, the Greater Co-prosperity regime of the Japanese had gone back on its word. Maybe they didn’t have resources to fulfill their promises. Maybe they promised too much. But it wasn’t a bad thing for the Flints (or the “Z” Special Unit). It allowed them to go unnoticed for three years, and after the Flints gave birth to their only son, they hoped it would continue for the duration of the war.
But whenever they heard and saw a wave of Zeros overhead, they knew they had to hide and leave the few comforts they had. Thus a bathroom, a study, and a sitting room were stolen from them. She was then suckling a child and became depressed. She wanted children; yet she was depressed. She wanted children; yet she tried to abort her second pregnancy. It was during the war and didn’t want to bring a child into a war-torn world. Even though she wanted children but not under those circumstances. She blamed her husband for the war, blamed him for everything that went wrong, and most of all for her a second pregnancy. But the Kalabit knew what to do and helped her. Without the Kalabit, she would not have made it, while courage, pluck, and a Scottish sense of resourcefulness sustained her husband.
Besides a few things she could carry, she took with her a desire to somehow get back to civilization. If her husband wouldn’t save her life, she would find someone who would. She looked for someone. She planned. She tried once or twice to leave him but never found an opportunity. To simply take off was too risky. The jungle seemed too hostile and was too risky for a pregnant woman with a child. Even when they lived in Sandakan … even with distractions, distractions of cards, dancing, and reading … she never liked living on Borneo, or near Borneo, or on an island. She felt isolation more than her husband did. She hated isolation. She hated living in isolation but was it really isolation? She saw few other white women, Western women, women of rank and fashion. There were a few adventurous women, and they sided with her husband. They also liked listening to the Kelabit sing “we have his head! We are so happy,” while Mrs. Flint hated it.
This Russian lady took delight in her anger. She would explode. Bang! Like that. She would explode. She survived by being combative and loudmouth. She didn’t try to control herself, and Mr. Flint was the brunt of her abuse. She may not have been so abusive had she been some place else. After they moved to Borneo, for safety sake, why couldn’t she appreciate the wild splendor of the Tamabo range and overridden all hardships with heroic notions? What happened to her adventurous side? If she had married adventure, maybe she wouldn’t have felt so betrayed. She hadn’t signed on for it. Maybe with the right attitude, though stuck in the middle of a jungle, she wouldn’t have complained so much.
Her original ideas about Borneo came from old pictures of old days when English officials dressed in white uniforms and spiked helmets. From diaries of the period, she read about music and dancing and bungalows the English built with true shingles, true gables, and true blinds. With rustle of silk and silken draperies, bright rooms were highlighted by colors of flowers of gardens. In that world, white women, except for servants, only associated with datus’ wives, other whites, and hosted garden parties.
She saw herself retaining a butler, dressed in a white jacket and a yellow and black sarong. She saw Mr. Flint wearing a white civil uniform and a Wolseley pattern helmet with a gilt royal arms, topped by a red and white swan-feather plume. If they could afford a butler, they could afford a maid to do cleaning, washing, and ironing. A maid also would give her company. She needed company. She needed another woman, another woman to talk to and with an idea of having a maid came an idea of throwing parties, parties, and going to parties, and having women friends, and it would be possible had her husband been assigned Hong Kong, Panang, or Singapore. Parties she envisioned would be large and given in a proper manner, with meals and table arrangements that would be prettier than those in England. Where right remarks given at the right moment lightened the heart or thawed the ice. “Makan! La … Minum! La … Janga malu! (Eat … Drink … Don’t be ashamed!) ” Never mind incorrect pronunciation. Etiquette was required. Knowing when to leave rooms and husbands to their claret and cigars was essential. No wonder she felt betrayed.
But what she found on Borneo and adjacent islands, even when she had her own home with a cookhouse and a boy to cook, was nothing as she imagined. Irritations, such as lack of privacy (since natives saw nothing wrong with peeping into windows) got to her. This meant that they had to keep their shutters shut all the time, which made her seem unfriendly. As for friends, she left them behind. And when they ended up in a jungle village, it became impossible for her. She had no one to relate to. She was lonely and homesick, and her loneliness intensified as time went by. If only there were other white women around. There were white women only in major towns along the coast but socializing with them meant a long journey (mostly by riverboat) and became impossible after Japan invaded. (After Japan invaded she never heard from white women in the coastal towns again. They were taken away to prison camps, and those who survived weren’t rescued until near the end of the war. She seemed to forget this.) And she and her husband had little in common. She didn’t like hunting or hiking and never joined her husband on hunting trips. She enjoyed looking at photographs of birds, which meant she became upset when her husband shot green pigeons and snipe.
Natasha left a home in a land of neatness and order and exchanged it for a land without proper seasons. There, there were only two seasons, wet and dry, for Natasha wet meant that she never got dry. Heat meant she was never dry. And she never felt secure in houses with nipa roofs and that swayed in wind. This meant she never felt secure anywhere.
She complained a lot to receive attention and complained a lot to receive sympathy, but the Kelabit never understood why she complained. What did she have to complain about? From the way she walked down the gangplank you could tell that she felt superior. From when she first stepped off a ship, years ago in Sandakan, carrying a parasol and wearing sunglasses, she looked too fair for the tropics where the temptation was to avoid sun completely. There were too many things that she had to get use to: bathing in a river made her feel violated and lack of privacy made her angry.
Who was she? Who was she really? She didn’t want to be defined by her husband. She never walked contently beside him. She never wanted to follow him. She didn’t liked walking behind him. She didn’t like walking in his footsteps. He didn’t like being mobbed. She didn’t like crowds she attracted. She didn’t like them. She thought they didn’t like her, though they mobbed her. Yes, it could be that, but there were other things that bothered her more, nor could she remember stupid little things that often got in her way.
Because of monsoon, rivers were flooding and trails were impassable. Without sympathy from her mate, she endured sticky skin and water that made her sick. She had runny stools, dysentery, and chills and sweats that made her worry about malaria. They both were tortured by bitters and were greeted by mangy dogs, but it didn’t bother her husband because he was always in motion, whereas getting from place to place was futile for Natasha. But what discouraged her most was isolation, which overshadowed beauty of the place. She spent much of her time staring into space. You could see by looking at her that she was unhappy. She wondered if she had ever loved her husband.
Natives thought Natasha came from a mouse deer, a stupid animal; and silly things she did amused them. Mimicry was a favorite pastime, and it drove her crazy. Men laughed and cried, while women often laughed so hard that they fell to the floor. Then, lying on their backs, they kicked the floor, while Natasha was expected to mask her revulsion. This famous female mouse deer had infected feet and had to ask for help. Then she had scars from infected feet, scars that never went away.
“And at last the male mouse deer came carrying his wife on his back,
A sad man with a heavy burden, a burden which he wished he could throw off.”
Crockett’s old man masked his feelings. He always gave a measured response or retired behind a curtain of silence. Rather than fight, his father, Mr. Flint, fled. And as Natasha’s discontentment grew, she became more certain that she didn’t love him. For a while she pretended that she did. It annoyed her, and she felt sad and grew accustomed to sadness. One thing she could rely on was sadness. Yes, stupid mouse deer felt sad.
It all came from his coldness. He wouldn’t touch her. He seemed indifferent. She hated his correctness. He never said he was sorry, and when she asked him what was his problem, he wouldn’t answer her. But she still tried. Inexplicably, he wouldn’t answer her. Then, too, his correctness in how he dealt with other people irritated her. Though his duties as related to her were clearly spelled out by the church, it always came down to the church, whichever creed they followed: Church of England or Russian Orthodox. What? Maybe they should’ve concentrated on similarities rather than differences.
Sitting in a Kelabit long house with no privacy on her due date, her depression grew more acute. Around her were people who thought they lived in paradise. And her poor husband hardly slept and because of constant chatter never heard her say she wanted to kill herself. Wouldn’t it baffle him had he heard it? He had no idea what she was going through. Tired, nervous, and in an angry mood, he couldn’t have taken much more. He could never stand hysterical women, and now his wife was having a baby and was hysterical, their baby, and she was in pain and was hysterical. In any event, out of necessity he didn’t show his true feelings.
Though she regretted marrying Mr. Flint, Natasha wouldn’t want to return the Soviet Union. One ought never wish for something unless they have some idea of what they really want. With absence of phonograph records, she yearned to hear old Russians folk songs. She remembered in winter she could jump in snow and in summer dip in a pond without fear of slime, but Natasha would’ve been surprised to learn that a Russia she knew or dreamed of no longer existed. She forgot that friends she left behind were in prisons or in graves, after she fled purges of Stalin and married an Englishman.
On Sunday, June 22, 1941, Germans attacked Russia and Timur and His Gang inspired them to hold on. From pages of a little book meant for children, for the sake of those fighting at the front, they learned to “live honestly, modestly, to study well, and work stubbornly” and, even during the fiercest battle, to stay “happy, proud, and calm.” Therefore, due to effort of her children, Russia rose from ashes. Boys and girls described in the book arrived with their tools and rushed off to work. They cheerfully worked gardens, minded babies, and gathered scrap. Not that Crockett ever knew industriousness of his forgotten cousins; but a connection was there. He inherited many of those traits from his mother.
Birth of a son gave Natasha something to live for. It gave her hope, hope, and she felt it at the moment of conception. She and Mr. Flint made love infrequently, so she knew exactly when it happened. Natives believed pregnancy came from discharge of hot blood during orgasms: they were partially right for father in this case was hot and sweaty after he did his part. Then look at it from Natasha’s perspective: she almost died and for a while wished she had. Her husband’s lack of participation … he left the house … didn’t help. It caused her additional pain, as the Kelabit celebrated.
Everyone excepted the mother drank rice wine and celebrate that her womb had been right and the couple’s blood were properly mixed. Adam Flint felt proud. A SON! And while drinking as much wine as he could as all men did, he expressed his happiness. The Kelabit followed his example and got drunk. They also teased him about sex, about unsticking the womb, which distinguished it from being stuck to the backbone. They chanted “ bloods getting hotter and hotter until it boils and turns to steam.” And he felt really, really embarrassed.
Natasha didn’t know why they were laughing. It would’ve disgusted her. You need to remember that many things they did disgusted her. How they went to the bathroom in the river was one example. Why her husband hadn’t done anything about this, she never knew. Now they were laughing. And she just had a baby, and she heard them laughing, and if she knew why she would be disgusted. She would never know why they were laughing.
There hadn’t been time to send for a doctor, while during dry season there would’ve been plenty time. It was a silly mistake, since she knew her due date. It was easy for Natasha to blame her husband and accuse him of not caring, not care much, not caring enough, and blame him for impassible trails and blame him for monsoon. There were no telephones, and it was highly unlikely that they would have any service soon. Mr. Flint had a short wave radio. Why hadn’t he used this radio?
To assure future prosperity, Adam bought a buffalo, bought a water buffalo, which they slaughtered and ate. It was a special meal, It was a celebration, a special meal, but it didn’t involve Natasha. In Russia, she wouldn’t have been ignored. Her family would have focused on her. Her family would’ve fussed over her. They would wait on her and brought her caviar, an omelet, black bread, and tea. If she’d tried to get up, they would stop her. Now any acknowledgment would’ve meant the world to her.
First sounds Crockett heard were soft songs sung by a midwife. Songs calmed the baby and got him accustomed to his new home. This midwife took dried leaves, which dropped from jungle trees and applied them to Crockett’s forehead. She threatened evil spirits. She yelled at evil spirits, and when they didn’t withdraw from the house, the child was subjected to another ritual and on it went. On and on it went. This midwife began to speak to him as if he were an adult. “He will be tempered like this iron in my hand! He’ll grow strong because posts of his body will be made of iron!” Sacred rituals also involved chasing away spirits that could kill him. This amused Natasha. Yes, something amused her. She laughed and laughed for the first time in a long while. While she didn’t believe in “such nonsense,” Christianity didn’t help her either.
Meanwhile, while celebrating, Adam had no patience for superstition. After celebrations, he was faced with the same realities that he faced before birth of his son. To Natasha, he seemed more concerned about his position as a representative of the Crown than concerned about her or their son. Something else, that was she still felt as if she lived in a fish bowl.
From birth, Crockett was treated like a Rajah. As a child, Crockett was treated as a Rajah. As a child, he was pampered, cuddled, and treated like royalty. The whole tribe adopted him. A Rajah, a white Rajah, he was placed on a pedestal. And he had many attributes to support this idea. There was no denying that it was because of his fair skin and length. He was longest baby they ever saw. His midwife treated him like a Rajah. His midwife treated him like royalty. His midwife predicted that he would become a powerful man and cited length of his cord as a reason for it. She cut it long to make sure. She cut his cord as long as she could, dried it, and placed it on display. She took pride in length of his cord. It was the longest one she ever saw. And there was every reason to believe that he would be healthy and strong. He not only grew strong but also was always treated differently because of his extreme height. Over six-feet tall, he was always treated differently because of it. Publicly honored, privately scorned, and always spoiled, and tall, very tall, he couldn’t have gone unnoticed. The slightest sneeze brought a tidal wave of attention.
As Natasha’s resentment grew, she retreated and paid less attention to Mr. Flint and her son. Crockett didn’t understand. Crockett didn’t understand why he never saw his mother. He didn’t understand why his mother retreated and ignored him. He grew to suspect she didn’t love him. He missed his mother, but he had friends, native friends, and was cared for by the tribe.
As war continued, Aussies came. One day out of the blue they dropped out of the sky. Perhaps if they hadn’t come war wouldn’t have come to the interior. And Aussies, who wore khaki shorts and ran around with their shirts off, won it for the allies. Accordingly, as a British official, Adam helped out as much as he could, but still Australians snubbed him. What else could he do then but wait for them to come to him? What else could he do until they left Borneo? What else could he do until they went home? He knew the local dialect while most Aussies didn’t, and that proved useful when it came to negotiating. Natasha, then however, succeeded with them when her husband couldn’t. Natasha succeeded with them when her husband wasn’t around.
Her existence delighted them. They delighted in her existence. They hadn’t expected to find a pretty white woman living in the jungle. They hadn’t expected to find a pretty white woman living in interior of Borneo, a white woman who they could communicate with. And a beautiful woman. They thought she was beautiful. What a delightful! What a surprise! What a delightful surprise! They felt lucky, but she was married, married! But hell, what did it matter? Sometimes temptation is too great. Sometimes temptation was too great. But it wasn’t something that was easy nor something that happened overnight. No, no, no! Because most of these Australians were also married.
Here was attention she sought. Lonely people and lonely hearts were closely allied. To Natasha, British Civil Servants were so ridiculously stuffy, while Aussies seemed so much more alive. (And Aussies ran around with their shirts off.) Since she sometimes wondered why she stuck with her husband, she was tempted now in ways she wasn’t tempted before. Perhaps she only hesitated because there was no place for her to escape. Jungle certainly didn’t offer her a sanctuary. Jungle certainly didn’t offer her privacy.
After Aussies came, she had to deal with something inside herself that she didn’t like. She had to compromise when she didn’t like compromising. She compromised because she couldn’t hide. But she couldn’t remember the last time she had so much fun. “They like what they see,” she said and didn’t want to be put back on a shelf. Then for some reason she gained confidence, and one thing led to another.
She didn’t care anymore … didn’t care if she upset her husband when she picked out one of them. The shortest one, with a protruding chin: his name was Roger.
Roger. It was Roger. And he was married. And she wasn’t sure why she picked him except he was married. And she picked him because he was the shortest one. And she considered herself lucky because he was a fine person. Her husband didn’t think so. They were both married, but neither one of them considered marriage irrevocable.
Aussies were more forward than the British. Aussies ran around without shirts. They survived tropics without shirts. Natasha enjoyed their humor, their flippancy, and their flattery. She believed Roger when he told her that he loved her. Natasha needed love. Mr. Flint never told her he loved her. In what ways were the British restrained, too restrained for Natasha’s taste? Was it simply in Aussies’ manner or lack of manners or their appearance? Yes, British people still talked about keeping a stiff upper lip, but as for Natasha, Roger, with his bare chest and perturbing chin, had them beat. It was simple though: he was also handsome … without his shirt on.
Adam couldn’t control her. He wanted to control her, but he never tried. And never talked about it. They never talked about it. Yet Natasha talked and needled him as much as she could. She also took great risks and laughed and sang with men from down-under. You could say that she was no good. Aussies would’ve said the opposite. Her tastes were indeed opposite of Adam’s. His strictness sapped her energy. All buttoned up, he gained his authority by being trim and proper. He kept a stiff upper lip while his rivals boasted and ran around with their shirts off. Hair on Aussies’ chests delighted Natasha, and she talked about it until she died “Those Australians were a wild bunch. They were certainly appreciative of me and, when I needed salvation, they saved my life,” she said. Such was the situation when Natasha felt trapped the most.
Natasha neglected Crockett. Without thinking about it, she gave her son’s care over to her neighbors. Carried in a sling, he was cared for by three-to-six-year-old nurses, who lived and played in a three-to-six-year-old world. While carrying him in a sling, his three-six-year-nurses jumped up and down to time of rice sifting, or threw stones by pushing them forward with a shot put-like motion. Play kept his nurses occupied, while they babysat a white infant with a full head of hair.
It was May of 1945. Jungle had grown over charred ruins of Sandakan, and you could see where American ships shelled and torpedoed harbor and town. Nor was it hard to forget a May Day massacre and jungles were now dangerous because of fleeing Japanese. Now came task of staying alive, staying alive, and staying alive until Japs capitulated.
Natasha waited with resignation. Natasha and Mr. Flint hid with resignation. By then Natasha decided to leave her husband and join Roger in Australia. Uncertainty that came from hiding from a brutal enemy and being a white woman trapped in an unmapped, untamed jungle that had taken its toll. She was giddy about hooking up with Roger again. She was giddy about living in Australia with Roger and hadn’t thought about complications involved. It would give her, as she put it, freedom, but there were complications. She didn’t intend to take Crockett with her. Crockett? She rightly associated Crockett with savages, who until recently had been headhunters. Crockett? He was a little savage. Crockett had become a little savage. She did however recognize him as her son. Crockett? Sometimes her son frightened her. Sometimes she didn’t recognize her son. She loved him; yet she didn’t recognize him. So Natasha … a strong woman who appeared fragile … was persuaded to let go of her son … decided to leave her son and husband, which she immediately regretted.
By this time Adam carried Crockett on his shoulders. It was always a tribute to Adam that he cared so much for his son and that theywere bonded. Together they went exploring. Together they explored jungles. Together they hunted boar. Together they hunted nuisance cats. Together they fished. Together they sailed the Sulu Sea. That was how the boy was exposed to jungles and the Sulu Sea, islands of the Sulu Sea, Sitangia, Tawi Tawi, Turtle Island, and even Jolo. And it was always to his father that he attributed his love for Borneo. And it was always to his father that he attributed his respect of Islam. During his boyhood it was his father who influenced him most, though there was a wild side to him that was never tamed. Then, too, when he thought of his mother and missed her, of course he missed her, he never thought of her failings. Yes, he missed his mother and planned to someday see her. All right, all right, he hated his stepfather and Aussies who didn’t wear shirts. Who influenced Crockett more, a mother who sometimes protected him, or a father who exposed him to innumerable risks?
Under both the Chartered Borneo Company and later Administering Government, Adam Flint was a loyal civil servant, and a very good one. Only once was he derelict in his duties. But he could have been more influential. He stayed in Borneo too long to be more influential. He became an old man too early and in later years lost vision.
Growing up in the interior of Borneo, usually naked and barefoot, Crockett learned to love jungles his father loved. From an early age, Crockett explored on his own. Barefoot and naked, he carried a spear. Jungles became his home. The Sulu Sea became his home, and he was never afraid because he knew he could meet any emergency.
Little Rajah never backed down. His father taught to never back down. His father said “Crockett will someday carve an important niche for himself” and indeed he had many of his father’s traits. Thus there was a difference between him and other boys that gave him an edge, and his skin color also gave him an advantage. Little White Rajah … some said that he could be the next heir of James Brooke of Sarawak, though there were already heirs in line. Crockett retained his title not so much because he was a deserving boy but because of valor he showed in mock combat.
He would pick up a stick and hit his enemies with great delight. To earn respect, a Rajah had to be willing to die and defend himself with all of his might. He pulled his friends hair knots. He hit his friends with a stick. Imagine what he did to his enemies! He ran up behind his victim’s jackfruit head, and before he got caught he pulled hard. He always fought to win.
In birthday suits, boys slid down hills on bamboo sleds. Then as the biggest, Crockett would start it and end it, end it victorious. Insults and jibes flew and teasing produced a desired effect. This always amused adults. And Crockett always stood out, but his most salient quality was his empathy for victims.
Crockett looked up to his father. He saw his father at work, and his values, as prescribed by duty, came from his dad. Sometimes Crockett wondered how his mother was managing. He knew his father missed her, or suspected he did. He watched his father assert his authority, enforce British laws, and do all he could to prevent head hunting.
For years British government tried to abolish headhunting. It had been a full-time job, and even as late as 1951, this ritual survived in scattered pockets of Borneo; however as far as Adam knew, killing had stopped in his area. Then while they had put a stop to human sacrifices, ceremonial parts with dancing and drinking lived on. But had British officials suspected participants still sometimes coated spear tips with poison, there would’ve been hell to pay. But far worse for Mr. Flint and more threatening was what happened with his son.
On occasion Crockett participated in these martial rites. Crockett wanted to be a warrior. Crockett wanted to be a great warrior. Dressed in a loin strap, a war-coat, and a helmet, he looked like a warrior. Then as darkness fell he and a small war party left a village and spent a night beside a river. They stayed up all night, spent all night getting ready for a mock battle. There was a ritual they followed. Everyone knew it. Everyone knew this ritual., and normally it wouldn’t have amounted to much, and except for one reckless moment that was how it would be … and if he had been his father, Crockett thought, he would have stopped it.
All evidence was in tact: fresh blood, a severed head, a grim collection. And added to this a bloody knife and spear and rest of a corpse with puncture wounds to the heart. It had been a brutal murder.
Bloody and brutal and the whole war party participated. It was forbidden and against colonial law, and yet they didn’t try to cover it up. Instead they celebrated. Pretty terrible, and they celebrated, and Crockett participated. He got his hands bloody. He got his loincloth bloody. Crockett joined in as they shouted and stomped their feet and jumped an unarmed neighbor from a neighboring, rival village. He hated things that were messy, yet he participated in something that was messy, very messy, and he couldn’t explain why he did. Crockett wasn’t intoxicated. Crockett wasn’t in a trance. He knew what he was doing, yet couldn’t explain it. He couldn’t help himself. Crockett became violent when other boys had, and he took his turn with knife and spear, and he couldn’t help himself He couldn’t explain it and wanted to forget it, and it became a refrain he repeated rest of his life. Crockett saw another boy pick up the head. He was thinking, you see, it would’ve been better if it only had been his head. He knew what position this put his father in … his father was a police officer, and he was a jailer and a judge. He knew at once that he would have to face his father: a police officer, a jailer, and a judge.
Crockett knew his father would kill him. Not that he would literally kill him because that would require more from his father than his father had. Murder was murder and required justice even if murderers were boys … even if your son was a murderer. Murder was murder and required justice even if one of the murderers was your son. What unfolded in a matter of minutes hurt Crockett forever. Horrified, Crockett stood there. Whole party saw his face. Then he panicked. It went without saying that he would panic, didn’t it?
A refrain he was beginning to live with went like this: “I have killed a man. I am murderer. So then I should be sent to prison and perhaps hanged. Hanged! Justice requires it. Justice requires hanging. ” He became vulnerable just as he became violent. He would confess and pay a price, but it wasn’t up to him. And while quickest and most honorable way out was a bullet. If he had access to a gun he knew what he would do.
We have here a collision of cultures, old and new, primitive and civilized. Oh, he understood what consequences should be, but he couldn’t understand why his father did what he did. He was disappointed. He was disappointed with his father. His father disappointed him. Could Crockett believe his father wouldn’t do anything? Of course, he would have to make a report. His father would have to write a report.
Murder is murder, and murder was a capital crime. Was that the refrain? Yes, of course, it was. Grizzly. Grizzly … Crizzly, yes. A grizzly murder. It would be a long time before any of them would forget it.
While Crockett was alone with his feelings of guilt other boys were engrossed in business at hand. For a quarter of an hour this war party whooped and danced and paid little attention to Crockett. They made an offering to Brahming kites and Spider Hunter and looked for religious meaning in what they did. But a head as a trophy held no significance for Crockett. Instead he felt sick while his friends felt the reverse. As Crockett later recalled, “they sprung into the air, shouted, clapped, and laughed, as I tried to let it out.” He was not crying for himself but for a person killed.
In times past a whole tribe celebrated arrival of omen birds. Attended then were kites instead of a bastard form: instead of chicken flesh or goat meat: this time human flesh! Even small children participated.
They sprinkled themselves with blood to increase their strength as fighters. But now instead of blood of a chicken or a goat blood of an enemy, blood of a human! And martial rites and offerings continued with clanging of gongs.
Circling birds attracted unwanted attention. Adam, poor chap, went to scene of the crime Adam went to scene of crime with reluctance. It wasn’t that he dreaded what he’d find. It was that he knew that it wouldn’t be pretty. He knew what he would find. He read a report and knew what he would find, but he never expected to find that his son was involved. In his official report he wouldn’t mention Crockett, though when he arrived on the scene he saw that his only son was not only there but had blood on his hands. From this moment on, this civil servant only thought of one thing. He abandoned principals and covered up a crime in order to save his son.
Water removed blood, and Mr. Flint soon sent Crockett to Darwin to be with his mom. And he wouldn’t have gotten away with it elsewhere. Had he lived in a major town, such a crime would require a more thorough investigation. Instead he had to think up something and put together something that satisfied everyone. He had to concoct a story to satisfy everyone. No one wanted to admit that headhunting hadn’t been eradicated, hadn’t been eradicated, and because of it people were reluctant to talk. They were ashamed, and shame was a powerful thing. Ever see a grown man cry? This was one time Adam Flint cried.
As direct result of this incident, a cat fight between two villages intensified. More blood flowed. More blood flowed. More blood. Once killing began, it was hard to stop. It spoke well of British officials that they were able to stop this violence before it spread to other villages. The Chartered Company regained control by executing leaders of the feud in Jesselton. With regard to head hunting, a connection between it and feuding villages was never made. It was never officially made. Then after a hearing, Adam gratefully accepted reassignment. Such gifts bunglers received when they were members of the same club. Though in this case, motives of Adam’s superiors were unknown.
Meanwhile, in Darwin, Crockett attended a Catholic school, and it was only a matter of time before he screwed up. He was bullied as he walked through halls, and it was only a matter of time before he exploded. That was when this redhead English boy learned what it meant to be a foreigner. Crockett discovered that his English, British English, wasn’t good enough. No longer a rajah, he paid a price for being different. Not only did his peers pick on him, but also sadly his teachers allowed it.
It was difficult and damn shitty. It was a shitty feeling. And his mother couldn’t control him, so it was only a matter of time before he ran away. Perhaps he was listening to a refrain in his head. Or perhaps he simply wanted to be with his father. If he’d stayed in Darwin it would’ve been only a matter of time before he shot someone.
After the war, having to totally rebuild a mutilated land, people’s attitudes changed. There was a widespread distaste for traditional, old fashion Asian ideas, while the Colonial Administration didn’t radically alter the Chartered Company’s legacy. Then as rebuilding continued into the 1950′s, Crockett moved into exporting (now illegally) everything from breakfast grains to trucks … shoes, refrigerators, furniture, tractors, cars, bicycles, etc. As far as he was concerned, he owned this territory, he knew this territory and own it and earned ownership, and it came with arrangements he made. And he was a gentleman among smugglers and a lifeline to the whole Sulu archipelago, with some of his goods attracting customers in Manila.
By the late 50’s, Crockett slipped back into Malaysia but hadn’t bothered to look up his dad. No. But remember trouble he was in. He changed his name. And hoped people wouldn’t remember him. And somehow he managed to curry favor with politicians, politicians in charge and who were determined to make a new nation work.
Tausug, and not Gypsies, still lived in bamboo houses reached by a maze of shaky walkways built over the sea. Crockett descended on these people with his small army of boats. He was determined to raise their standard of living and make a profit from it. With pox Americana, tausug, by and large, accepted American rule, but with Philippine independence that was about to change?
America introduced paper money proving how ready people of Sulu were for Crockett and his bargains. With a variety of goods, goods to sale he always departed a richer man than when he came, and his ability to move around safely proved that he had right connections. He started with one boat filled with chintz, chinaware, tea, drugs, and many other things; next a bigger boat and then many boats; and finally he established a monopoly. Poor chap made a lot of money from selling petrol, blue jeans and t-shirts, Guinness Stout and cheap parangs and upped ante when he added Cornflakes, Tide, and Coca-Cola and before long was living a life of a white Rajah. From money he made he constructed a house made of white coral, and with hardwood floors and imported furniture, this house would impress the real White Rajah.
And as for his father, poor Mr. Flint, he was still on Borneo somewhere, but God knows where. It was a difficult situation for him because he lost his job when Malaysia gained independence. If there had been some definite news from him … Crockett would’ve felt responsible … and would’ve surely taken him in. You could be sure of it. It was the least he could do. Though a bit improbable, or impossible for them both. Perhaps. You were saying? If he were still alive ….