Here's the first chapter! Please note, this gets a bit more violent than I intended, so just...yeah.. you've been warned.
My name is Arjan Tiede, and this is my story.
In May, 1931, I shipped out on my first voyage on the freighter SS Victoria, leaving from my home in the Netherlands, to Indonesia. It was not my love for the ocean, but rather escaping from an embarrassing scandal, that drove me to leave. I was, in part, persuaded to ship as a telegrapher and radio operator due to my unparalleled talent in that vocation.
I left my house under cover of night on May 17th. I had no desire to say goodbye to any friends or family. My legacy was roughly 20 guilders hidden in my closet which I remembered several weeks after I left port, and a nearly broken bike that was still at the train station in Eindhoven, my hometown. I reached Scheveningen early in the morning and slept in an alley near the docks.
I woke up later that morning and looked for the ship I had signed on with. It was at the very end of the dock, and when I reached it, I saw what exactly I had agreed with. The SS Victoria was a relatively new ship, built in the latter part of 1929. It was roughly 490 feet long, and it was powered by a steam-boiler system.
That’s really all that I knew about the rest of the ship, and that’s not really much more than I cared. I was, however, very well acquainted with radios and telegraphs, and that’s all that mattered.
I had reached the ship just in time. It was embarking in the next hour. I boarded the ship, carrying my meager belongings. As I reached the top of the gangway, I heard my name being shouted by a woman.
It was Mies, my girlfriend. Or rather, ex-girlfriend. We had known each other for a very long time, and one night, things got out of hand. I was scared then, and I was even more scared now that she had just shown up.
“Arjan! I know you hate me now, but please, please, please do not forget that I still love you.”
“We both decided that we’re over, Mies. I’m leaving for Indonesia, and by the time I come back, you’re going to have forgotten about me. Go marry Christiaan, you always admired him, and he’s well off! Forget about me!” I turned. “I’ll only bring pain for you, Mies, and I don’t want you to experience that.”
I walked off, and her sobs wrenched at my heart, as a novelist would say. That was my greatest regret, before I die. I could die peacefully if only I could beg Mies forgiveness. But alas, I’ll die a coward and a cursed man.
I was at first a rather reserved man, keeping to myself as much as I could on a boat with about 60 men. I sat alone at meals, I spent my free-time alone on deck or reading in my room.
By the time we reached the French colony of Cote-d’Ivore, however, I had developed distant friendships with several of the men onboard. I had no desire to really have or make friends, as Mies was always on the back of my mind, and I could not think about anyone else.
There was a bit of time to waste in Port-Bouet, in Abudjan, while the workmen put several loads of cocoa beans onboard the ship. These would be traded in the south in South Africa and sent by train to Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.
I wandered the streets, mildly amazed by the sights and smells. If this was what escaping your past would be like, I was probably going to enjoy myself. I ducked into what I surmised to be a coffee shop when I saw several men from the ship coming towards me. I didn’t want to deal with them, and they no doubt did not wish to spend their valuable free time with a soppy introvert such as myself.
I was surprised by the mustiness of the place. It was smoky and very head-lightening, so to speak.
I had unfortunately ducked into an opium den.