Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy
CHAPTER ONE (5)
The white man did not get up when James walked out to the sitting area.
“ Taylor. My name is McKenzie .”
They shook hands.
“ I came to see you to tell you about what you will be doing here. I hope you like it so far.” he said.
“ Nice to meet you Mr. Mckensie. Henry did tell me that you may be dropping in some time. Welcome. Can I get you something to drink?” said James.
He was somewhat embarrassed as McKenzie would have seen Thangam come out of the room.
“Don’t worry Taylor. I’m fine. Sit down. I will tell you about the plans.”
James sat on one of the other chairs.
“ We need your services at another place urgently. You can get ready to move to Loolecondere in about a week.” he said.
“ Oh. That is a bit sudden Mr. McKenzie. I did not expect this so soon after my coming.” said James.
“ Yes. Things happen. You must realise that we are required to produce results. The investors are very concerned that their hard earned money is being put to good use. We need estates to produce coffee or whatever that they are being set up for.” Mckensie said.
“ What seems wrong about this place? Why not develop this block of land? It’s as good as any other block. I think this is a nice estate that can be worked on for good results. I can promise you that.” said James.
“ You are very stubborn about moving out to Loolecondera . What’s keeping you here? Looks like you have very sentimental reasons for not moving out. But it’s not your decision that counts. You have to follow instructions or ship out of the country.”
“ I have to do as I’m told. But what I’m saying is that this is a very good piece of land and I can produce the results that are needed.”
“ You have follow instructions. I must go now. If you are having problems with taking instructions, let me know. I will inform the firm about your position. Goodbye.” said McKenzie getting up and walking out to his carriage. The carriage moved away.
The first thoughts that came to James was that he had made sure that he had a signed contract. He had insisted that a contract be signed giving him a three year work contract at £100 per annum. But the contract did not allow him the choice of where he worked. The company could send him to any estate. He liked the Naranghena Estate even though he had only been there just a few days.
James stood there looking at the estate, the trees, the little hills, the blue skies. He heard a bird twitter from inside a tree. The sweet smell of the earth made him think of Scotland. The feeling of being brutalised by McKenzie did not go away completely. He knew he had to go. But he was determined to stay on as long as he could. He could not leave Thangam and Sinniah suddenly. He surprised himself with a thought. He could try to take them over to his new place. Or he could even offer to look after both plantations. The company will save the money it would have to pay to another British planter and he could be coming to visit Thangam and Sinniah. He was very pleased with himself. He could even move right away to please McKenzie and show that he was no shirker. But there no assurance that the company will accept his offer of looking after two estates. It seemed a long shot but worth trying.
Thangam had made her way to the kitchen having noticed McKenzie seated in the front of the house. She stood close to the kitchen door listening to the conversation. She could not hear everything that was being said. Sinniah walked into the kitchen and looked at her and said:
“ You were with him in the bedroom for a long time.”
“ I was making the bed but he was trying to help me. I told him that I was doing my job and not to worry about helping me.” she said.
“ You must be careful. He is our dorai.” said Sinniah.
“ Nothing happened. He didn’t do anything.”
“ Many white dorais have given children to our girls and gone away.” he said.
“ I understand. Nothing happened.” she said, thinking of the way James touched her softly and hugged her gently. She wanted to tell her father that James was a good man but caution made her hold back what she wanted to say.
“ Be careful daughter. The white people are here for a few years. They go back to their country after that. Sometimes they come back bringing wives from England.”
“ Yes. I understand father.”
Sinniah went out of the house to check on the water tub. It needed topping up. Thangam would have to go and fetch some water. He went to the vegetable garden and the banana bushes near by which provided valuable fruit and vegetables. The potatoes, onions, chillies, aubergines and other vegetables they produced were valuable sources of food both his family and for the dorais. The plants looked well. The watering was being done.
* * *
James told Sinniah that McKenzie told him to go to Loolecondera. Sinniah looked startled. He looked at James with his eyebrows raised.
“ All right sir. That’s not very far from Hewaheta. Its not much different to this estate.” said Sinniah.
“ I like this place Sinniah. I know it’s only been a few days, but I guess being the first estate I’ve been to, I like this place.” said James with a faint smile playing on his face as he looked out towards the hills.
“ When are you supposed to go over?” there was a note of anxiety in Sinniah’s tone of voice.
“ I was asked to go there immediately.” answered James shaking his head from side to side, his shoulders moving up in an involuntary movement.
“ Oh. We must get prepared for the move sir. I’m not sure who will look after you in Loolecondera” said Sinniah looking out of the door pensively.
“ I want to take a few days to prepare for the move” said James, taking a deep breath.
“ That’s fine. That will give me time to visit Loolecondere to check out what accommodation is available.”
“ We can go together Sinniah” said James.
Thangam came in to the front room and announced that lunch had been cooked.
“ Thank you Thangam. I’m going to miss your great cooking very soon.” said James.
“ What is happening sir. Are you going away?” asked Thangam looking at James with her eyes staring hard, her eyes darting towards her father and James in turn.
“ Yes. McKenzie told me I’ve been transferred to Loolecondera estate.” replied James. His voice showed he was resigned to his fate.
“ When are you going sir?” she asked, her voice had a note of sadness.
“ Your father and I will be visiting Loolecondere tomorrow or day after depending on the transport.” said James, taking a deep breath.
Sinniah kept his silence. He seemed to be thinking hard, planning the trip.
“ I will have to arrange for transport Sinniah. Can you go and find out who is able to take us to Loolecondere” asked James.
“ I can go now and find out. Would you like to go tomorrow?” asked Sinniah.
“ If possible the day after. If not I can leave tomorrow.” replied James.
“ I will go now and get back soon. You can have your lunch sir” said Sinniah getting up and walking out of the house.
James looked at Thangam. She was looking down. Her face wore an expression of grief. James walked up to her and placed his arm around her. She stood looking down. James hugged her and said:
“ Thangam you look sad.” The perfume of jasmine from her hair charmed him. He wanted to hold her and enjoy the warm feeling.
“ I didn’t expect you go so soon.” she said.
“ I will be back. I’m planning to be around. This doesn’t mean I have given up seeing you.”
“ But you will be in Loolecondere sir.” she said.
“ But I will come to see you and your father.”
“ But it’s a long way out sir.”
“ Nothing will keep me away from you.” said James.
James felt he had changed. He felt he had grown older suddenly. He kissed her cheeks. She looked up. Her browny pink lips were so close. James planted a gentle kiss on her lips. The light brown skin on her neck made him kiss her neck. It felt soft and warm. He felt an urge he really had never felt before. He lingered on her neck running his lips gently and noticed that Thangam had closed her eyes. He kissed her on her lips, parting her lips with his tongue. She responded . He felt her lips and tongue caressing his lips. He felt a stirring in his loins. He felt an urgency. He resisted it. He wanted to enjoy her nearness. He hugged her and she responded by snuggling up close to him. He could hear her heart thumping and her breathing close to him. He walked with her in his arms. When they went to his bedroom and shut the door. He realised that there was no lock on the door. They made love. She allowed him to enter her whispering that he should not go to far inside.
James was in a daze after his first experience of making love. He had imagined that it would be heavenly moment when the world was a golden garden. It was different. He felt very close to Thangam. He felt he was in a different world. It was a secret world where he was with Thangam to the exclusion of all others. In this secret space, he was happy and Thangam was happy. Even though he withdrew at the last moment, he felt that heavenly feeling, a moment of lingering bliss.
It was her first time as well. There were traces of blood on the bed sheet. She changed the bedsheets. She removed the stained bed sheets and took them to the washing place. She heard a crow cry “ caw ,caw”.
Superstition had it that it was not good to hear a crow at an important moment. She soaped the sheets with Sunlight bar soap and gave them a good bashing on the stone that was placed in the washing area to help to clean out dirt from cloths. She soaped the sheets again and bashed them again and again until they were clean and put them out to dry.
When she came from the washing area, she could hear a bird singing. She always felt happy when she heard that bird. But on this occasion she heard the bird but did not respond with pleasure. The dog came and wagged it’s tail at her. She would normally have given a dog a pat. Her worries overcame her. She went to the dining area to check that everything was laid out well. She walked to the front and told James that lunch was getting cold.
“ Thanks Thangam.” he said getting up and walking towards her and continued.
“ You are very kind to me. I will always want you. I will look after you even if it means that I lose my job.” he said.
“ I want to be with you. You are a very nice man. My father and my people are very careful about being with outside people. You are a very important man. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing .”
“ I understand your feelings. If you don’t want me to see you, I will go away and not come back” said James.
“ Oh no. Sir. Don’t do that. I want to see you and I want to be with you. I will do all your cooking and cleaning.”
“ You are a very nice girl Thangam. I’m lucky to have found you. I feel very happy when you are around.”
“ I will be there to do everything for you sir.” she replied.
James held her tight. He was a very large man. She was a small made woman. He felt blissful holding her tight and hearing her breath and make a sound as he squeezed her. She was his Thangam. He will always cherish her. McKenzie can do what he wants but James will always want Thangam around him. If it comes to a push, he will apply for land and plant coffee and even tea, though he knew little about coffee or tea.
James was having his lunch when the dog barked and they knew somebody was coming to the house. Sinniah was back.
“ I have spoken to the person who normally does our transport sir. He said he will come tomorrow morning. It’s a bullock cart sir. Will it alright?” asked Sinniah.
“ Certainly Sinniah. Don’t worry. I’d like to walk but the suitcase could be a problem.”
After lunch Sinniah and James talked about the journey the next day. Thangam took her leave wished James a safe journey to Loolecondere and went back to her house.
The carriage arrived in the morning and Sinniah and James were on their way. It was really a local cart. James took a look at Thangam and noted that she had been crying. There were dark spots under her eyes. He felt embarrassed to do anything about it. Thangam would feel ashamed if he showed affection when her father was there.
James and Sinniah planned a few days stay in Loolecondere and a return to Narangghena Estate to get a few things like a change of cloths for James. This meant that he was already working in Loolecondere but returning to collect his things and possibly make arrangements for work to be done in Narangghena as well.