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In Dreams, She Waits

a dream about generations

By Trish BPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 8 min read
Runner-up in 3:00 AM Challenge
Victoria Dock of Bombay, April 14th, 1944

We have sailed on dark seas, across generations, through storm and still waters, to sink our toes into the dreams of our mothers and fathers. What a journey, what great adventure. But for this dream: a black and white dream folded with salt and sunshine and giant banyan trees. The feel of the ocean rocking these bodies, the taste of O’Henry chocolate coating our tongues, the sweet promise of better lives, or perhaps, just different lives, ebbing and flowing and finally withdrawing until all that remains are sweaty sheets at 3 am.

Always the same dream.

Always Seema.

It is the end of the year 1943. The December afternoon is ripe with the lingering scents of langra mangoes. Sixteen-year-old Seema sits under The Great Banyan in The Calcutta Botanical Gardens. In her hand, she clutches a letter from twenty-year-old British Third Officer Stuart Philips. The orange sun, already low in the sky, will soon set and she worries that that very last ray will steal the ink from the pages like dust lifted from a flower petal. That in the fading light, the paper will dissolve between these fragments of day and night and take with them all the promises these pages hold.

It is February 25th, 1944. The SS Fort Crevier finally departs Virginia. Third Officer Stuart Philips is relieved to at last be on his way. He reminds himself that no great thing has been accomplished without first some desperate journey, both away from familiar shores and across some vast scape of time and distance. He imagines that it is harder to be the one who waits than it is to be the one who travels towards something.

It is March 12th. Seema receives Third Officer Stuart Philips’ last letter. She reads it quietly in her room, where she cries and adds it to the pile of four other letters he has written her. She studies the dank room in which she has slept for almost a decade, since her parents’ deaths. In a moulding corner, shadow and cobweb hold fast to the fading memory of her mother’s chiming laugh, of dark hair falling down a straight back. There is no memory left here of her father. He was a rigid man, a respected police officer. Their deaths were tragic, even more so for Seema’s aunt, who was burdened with both the loss of her sister and a child’s extra mouth to feed. Somehow, though love had been left for dead on some wretched street all those years ago, like a miracle, it had crawled back to Seema. True, it did not look anything like her brown-skinned parents, yet it came with kindness, and Seema found this new love charming. Precious in the way rarity makes things precious. He will arrive in Karachi in April, send a telegram and then it will be mere days before they are reunited.

It is April 7th. Third Officer Stuart Philips sends Seema his promised telegram. He is scheduled to leave Karachi that very day. It will take another week and two days to arrive in Calcutta but he tells her in his telegram to expect him at Sealdah Tram Station on April 16th. He pulls away from the sticky shores of Karachi, standing on the bulkhead and bristling with excitement. He imagines that his racing heart has set the currents a pace with which his Captain is pleased, and the ship sails smoothly towards his new future. On their fourth day at sea, word spreads through the ship. The very severe Captain Jessop has caught wind of an issue involving more than half of the crew. The men have stolen boxes of O’Henry chocolate bars that were left behind by the departing American soldiers in Karachi. It is true that never has there been a sweeter tooth than that of a seaman. Captain Jessop issues a ship-wide search with threats of broaching cargo, a most severe charge. In a panic, the crew toss the incriminating evidence out of port holes and over the sides of the ship. As Third Officer Stuart Philips looks out across the ship’s wake, there is a trail of yellow and red O’Henry boxes like the long coastal lights of a shoreline at night. They bob amidst the froth and foam, confetti scattered amidst an endless landscape of dark blue, drifting further and further away, slowly swallowed by the tasteless tongue of the sea.

Seema packs her single bag with what few items she owns. She sits on the damp wooden floorboards and writes a letter to her aunt, thanking the woman for the kindness of taking her in and for giving her a roof under which to sleep. Though the woman has done little more than that, Seema is not ungrateful for it. She tucks the letter away, crawling into her bed. The house creaks, casting shadows and Seema finds it hard to fall asleep with so much ahead of her.

It is April 13th. Under the cover of darkness, the SS Fort Crevier docks in the Bombay Harbour, where it spends that first night with all occupants accounted for. At 8 am that following morning of April 14th, Captain Jessop, having issued the threat of charging several of the men with broaching cargo, leaves the ship and goes ashore. He files the report with the relevant authorities, and seeking further retribution for his men’s insubordination, sends an officer to secure the ship and ensure that no crew disembark. Captain Jessop then hangs the corner out the gates of the Bombay docks and disappears into the city, a grim satisfaction about his person.

10 am. Third Officer Stuart Philips lies in his bunk with his back propped on the bag he has packed light, containing only his extra uniform trousers and two dress-down shirts. Neatly folded in the other half of the bag is a simple silk dress that he is certain will be modest enough to suit Seema’s very subtle character. He does not wish to overwhelm his bride-to-be, keenly aware that Seema has been an orphan for most of her life, a sort of afterthought within the walls of her aunt’s house. He is eager to steal her away to something better, to begin their new life together. It makes his palms sweat.

Noon. With no sign of Captain Jessop, Third Officer Stuart Philips roams the top deck surveying the Bombay docks for the first time. From the SS Fort Crevier, he can see that the tidal dock gates have been closed, no further ships can leave or enter until the tide returns. The mess of brown water slaps up against the metal bodies of thirteen giant ships, all pressed together inside the port. The largest ship in the dock is the SS Fort Stikine, a freighter of impressive stature, which sits just four hundred yards across from the SS Fort Crevier. As Third Officer Stuart Philips observes the war-time freighter, thick billowing clouds of black smoke seep from her decks. Alarmingly, the water around the ship appears to be boiling, steam hissing against her sides. Cranes and crowds of workers clutter the dock around her and it is obvious that the SS Fort Stikine is in distress.

2 pm. Crew from the SS Fort Stikine board the SS Fort Crevier, informing the Ship's Mate that the larger ship has been on fire all morning. Efforts to out the flames have failed and the source of the fire cannot be isolated. The officers advise that the Stikine is carrying fourteen hundred tons of explosives along with two hundred and forty tons of torpedoes, mines and munitions.

3:50 pm. All neighbouring ships in the harbour, including the SS Fort Crevier, are ordered to begin evacuating their crew immediately.

Third Officer Stuart Philips rushes back to his bunk to grab his bag and begin evacuation. As he returns above deck minutes later, he observes the calamity that has become the SS Fort Stikine. Shouts rise from all the neighbouring vessels, firemen and small-service boats traffic personnel in every direction. The entire half of the dock has been engulfed in black smoke so thick it seems almost a solid mass all its own. So vast is the swell of acidic fumes, that crew are wrapping their faces in wet cloths. Someone is handing Third Officer Stuart Philips a rag of his own when there is a grinding sound that seems to rise from the ocean floor vibrating across the harbour and clawing at the very sky. It is the sound of metal stretching and shattering from the inside.

Fourteen hundred tons of explosives combust and at 4:01 pm on the afternoon of April 14th, 1944, when the SS Fort Stikine finally blows up, the blast sweeps the Bombay docks. It lifts Third Officer Stuart Philips thirty feet across the deck of the SS Fort Crevier, slamming him into the bulkhead, shattering most of the major bones in his body and causing his immediate death.

It is April 16th. Seema sits in the Seadhal Tram Station all day. Third Officer Stuart Philips never arrives. She goes back for two consecutive days and finally concludes that he has changed his mind at the very last. She spends the next few months reading and re-reading his letters. Just six months later her marriage to a young man from Calcutta is arranged and she accepts the last remaining option for escape. Even after the birth of her daughter, Seema cannot forgive her husband for his inability to be Third Officer Stuart Philips, and when that daughter finally marries a fair-eyed foreigner and is swept across the sea, a part of Seema goes with them.

The churn of lives lost, the dreams we dream that are snatched away. There are other dreams, of course. My mother standing in her garden of hibiscus and bougainvillaea, my fair-eyed father beside her. My grandpa on his motorbike with a Charminar cigarette hanging between his lips. There are no pictures in our family albums of British Third Officer Stuart Philips, even though in my dreams, he is handsome and brave and kind, racing across the ocean on a tide of O’Henry chocolate bars. But there is a single black and white photograph of my grandmother at sixteen years old, sitting beneath The Great Banyan and wrapped in a soft sort of melancholy. Sometimes, there is a reprieve, and in those dreams, there is a man sitting beside her in an officer’s uniform, and she looks happy in a way that I have never seen in the waking world.

While this is a fictional story, the explosion of the SS Fort Stikine in the Victoria Dock of Bombay on April 14th, 1944 is a real event.

Short Story

About the Creator

Trish B

Writer of fantasy, fiction and the occasional brooding poem. Willing accomplice, experienced antagonist, flip-flop Jedi, lover of words, forests, dragons and gummy bears.

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Outstanding

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  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (16)

  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶17 days ago

    Congratulations! This is beautifully written and tragically beautiful.

  • D.K. Shepard17 days ago

    This was a captivating read from start to finish! Congratulations! Very well written and the crafting of each scene was deftly done! The ending was so wistfully beautiful!

  • JBaz17 days ago

    Back to say congratulations I was happy to see this in the winners circle.

  • Wooohooooo congratulations on your win! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • Christy Munson18 days ago

    Congratulations! As a Virginian, you had me from the first til the last. I especially love: "Sometimes, there is a reprieve, and in those dreams, there is a man sitting beside her in an officer’s uniform, and she looks happy in a way that I have never seen in the waking world." Brilliant.

  • TANIKA SMITH WHEATLEYabout a month ago

    Fabulous - thoroughly enjoyed your story

  • Nathal Nortanabout a month ago

    Thanks Tricia, I was really enjoying your piece, hope to hear more of this, thanks.

  • Rasma Raistersabout a month ago

    It's certainly worthy of Top Story. You swept me away into this dream,

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    Congratulations on TS!! 👏👏👏👏👏

  • Andrea Corwin about a month ago

    OMG near the end I thought it was true and am so glad you added your note. I loved how it moved along quickly and all the little but mighty descriptions brought it to life. I can See him floating on the O’Henrys - is that true because it is so great in the story about how they threw them overboard!! I loved Your story and am subscribing to you. 💕💕 I hope you like some of my stories and poems.

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  • JBazabout a month ago

    This read like a historical fiction story loved it Congratulations

  • Khanabout a month ago

    Congratulations on the top story ❤️

  • Ameer Bibiabout a month ago

    Wow, what a wonderful writing I am wondered how you people manage to arrange such data Congratulations

  • Esala Gunathilakeabout a month ago

    Congrats on your top story.

  • This is a wonderful story and I love the imag eyou chose to lead us in

Trish BWritten by Trish B

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