She could visualize the picture she had presented, particularly the battered papier-mache kitbag at her feet. In Europe or in America people would have smiled; but in Singapore—the half-way port of the world—where a human kaleidoscope tumbles continuously east and west, no one had remarked her.
She would never forget the agony of that first meal in the great dining room. She could have dined alone in her room; but courage had demanded that she face the ordeal and have done with it. Every eye seemed focussed upon her; and yet she had known the sensation to be the conceit of her imagination.
The beautiful gowns and the flashing bare shoulders and arms of the women had disturbed and distressed her. Women, she had been taught, who exposed the flesh of their bodies under the eyes of man were in a special catagory of the damned. Almost instantly she had recognized the fallacy of such a statement. These women could not be bad, else the hotel would not have permitted them to enter! Still, the scene presented a riddle: to give immunity to the black women who went about all but naked and to damn the white for exposing their shoulders!
She had eaten but little; all her hunger had been in her eyes—and in her heart. Loneliness—something that was almost physical: as if the vitality had been taken out of the air she breathed. The longing to talk to someone! But in the end she had gone to her room without giving in to the craving.
Once in the room, the door locked, the sense of loneliness had dropped away from her as the mists used to drop away from the mountain in the morning. Even then she had understood vaguely that she had touched upon some philosophy of life: that one was never lonely when alone, only in the midst of crowds.
Another picture slid across her vision. She saw herself begin a slow, sinuous dance: and stop suddenly in the middle of a figure, conscious that the dance was not impromptu, her own, but native—the same dance she had quitted but a few minutes gone. She had fallen into it naturally, the only expression of the dance she had ever seen or known, and that a stolen sweet. That was odd: when young people were joyous, they had to express it physically. But native! She must watch out.
She remembered that she had not gone to bed until two o’clock in the morning. She had carried a chair into the room veranda and had watched and listened until the night silences had lengthened and only occasionally she heard a voice or the rattle of rickshaw wheels in the courtyard.
The great ordeal—that which she had most dreaded—had proved to be no ordeal at all. The kindly American consul-general had himself taken her to the bank, where her banknotes had been exchanged for a letter of credit, and had thoroughly advised her. Everything had so far come to pass as the withered old Kanaka woman had foretold.
“The Golden One knows that I have seen the world; therefore follow my instructions. Never glance sideways at man. Nothing else matters.”