Dancing Bare

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 3


An ocean liner is a small town replete with gossip, intrigues, and scandal, fuelled by enforced idleness. When these floating cities set sail from New Zealand for Europe, the nervous and somewhat prim young passengers wandered around an almost empty ship.

On arrival in Sydney, hordes of noisily confident young men and women invaded the bars, saloons and decks, determined to remain in a drunken stupor for the entire voyage – spending more on booze than the fare.

For a young male intent on spending nothing, it was a month of waiting for meals sprawled beside the pool, swimming, dancing every night, walking briskly round the deck every morning, avoiding becoming too intimate with people determined to make friends in case they needed one so far from home, and fending off the relentless advances of young women rendered skittish by the intoxicating whiff of freedom. Excitement! Adventure! Romance!

In order to spend as little of their capital as possible during the voyage, most girls managed to snare escorts to shout them to entertainments, cocktail hours, bars, dances; paying for it with sex in his or her cabin, a life boat, or a quiet spot on the deck, considering it wasteful to just sit on the little goldmine between their legs. But they weren't prostitutes! Just smart with money.

I had the good fortune to share a cabin with an extremely shy, pale, overweight, and abundantly hairy young man who seemed to spend the entire voyage, apart from mealtimes, glued to his bottom bunk, sweating profusely and reading spiritually uplifting tomes while surreptitiously eyeing my flesh when I came in to change. His constant presence was invaluable because it made it impossible to take a girl back to the cabin for a fuck.

His incredulous delight on discovering that I had not the slightest prejudice against his religious inclinations, ensured our journey together was free of stress and, as ogling was clearly the outer limit of his sexual desire, in the four weeks we shared the tiny space I ensured he had plenty to satisfy his interest – it seemed little enough reward.

The Patris was very old; on its 13th reincarnation someone averred, and desperately tired. We were passed several times by the P&O liner Canberra, whose jeering passengers arrived in all ports of call before us, and left after. If there was a tail wind, we were asphyxiated by clouds of smuts belching from the funnel, and a twenty-degree list prevented the pool from being properly filled and made it seem, when in it, as if the water was defying gravity, being piled up against one side. We ran aground in Aden – marooned on a mud bank for most of the hours we should have been savouring the delights of that exotic British outpost.

In the gossipy hothouse of heterosexual lust that is the intended norm on every cruise ship and ocean liner, those interested in less conventional pastimes have little to occupy their time. The fancy-dress ball – advertised as a wicked romp – was the usual tediously sedate Greek event. Encouraged by poolside acquaintances, I'd decided to go as Adam in my Cupid fig leaf, but was manhandled out the door by two breathtakingly handsome sailors before the first dance was over. The Captain did not approve.

I told the others I'd be back, but a sudden pique sent me to the pool where cigarettes glowed from half a dozen deck chairs. Their occupants called me over, admired my costume – or lack of it – and, after I'd explained the provenance of the fig leaf, they persuaded me to perform in someone's huge first-class cabin on the promenade deck. I hadn't realised such luxury existed.

During an impromptu, somewhat erotic dance, my hosts became rather too frisky. Middle-aged, decaying bodies lusting after a piece of my flesh were intimidating, not arousing, so I left them to it, deciding that future audiences could watch but never touch. Sex would always be one-on-one, and only with someone reasonable looking, slim, fit, clean, healthy, sexy, near my age, and fascinated by me; a restrictive list that ensured I'd not have to confront my sexuality in the near future.

Leaving them to their fantasies, I slipped back to my cabin, observed by no one except a gaggle of spinsters playing bridge. They wolf-whistled, so I blew them a kiss. I never retrieved the fig leaf.

After the debacle in Aden, I thought it better to take the land route through Cairo, rather than risk running aground in the Suez Canal. It was worth the dust and hours in a bus. Not for the pyramids, which to me seemed about as interesting as any large pile of rocks, but to become embroiled in the chaos and exotic turmoil of the bazaars and teeming narrow streets of old Cairo.

At sea again, the captain announced that he'd decided not to go further than Piraeus and we'd all be given ferry tickets to Brindisi and rail tickets to London. It seems the ship was in such a poor state it wouldn't have made it.

I went to the cinema in Athens to get warm, as it was well below zero outside. Inside, I was enraptured to discover a unisex audience. Females were not permitted in many Greek cinemas in those days. It was wondrously relaxing. To my chagrin, however, these modern Greeks bore no resemblance to the heroic statues that had sustained me in my youth. They were dark, stocky, and bundled up in dark overcoats. Where was Discobolus when I needed him? Even the acropolis is not inspiring in a blizzard. It was Europe's coldest winter on record.

My first encounter with squat toilets and refugees was on the ferry to Italy. While my companions griped about cramped conditions, poor food and inadequate lighting in our warm little cabins, families of economic refugees were huddling under tarpaulins on deck, splashed by wild seas and frozen by glacial air surging down from snow-clad Albanian mountains, the sight of which was impressive from Corfu, but failed to compensate for the biting winds. New Zealand's Southern Alps had competition here, I realised.

With profound relief, we boarded a heated train in Brindisi, arriving in Calais after a stopover in Milan, smelling like a herd of camels, according to French customs officials. On the trip, my six travelling companions had decided who was going to share with whom in the flat we were going to rent together in London! As I had no wish to hurt their feelings, desperate measures were called for. In Dover, I had the good fortune to be selected for a full search by Customs Officials suspicious of my lack of luggage – I had but one small suitcase and a camera.

The inspection process only lasted a few minutes, so, leaving my bag in their bemused care, I raced out to the platform to inform the others that the Customs Officials were being officious and I'd have to catch a later train – but we would meet up in London.

I then returned to sit beside a slender, handsome young Kenyan who had also aroused serious misgivings in Official minds by arriving in their land bearing a suitcase packed with very smelly dried fish and not much else. His cute smile and perfect teeth were more than adequate compensation for my not having been considered sufficient threat to warrant a full-body-search. I had to wait until East Berlin to experience that delight.

Discovering that our attraction was mutual, we shared a compartment in the next train and swapped names – his was Mik, an abbreviation for something very long and complicated. He was on his way to Manchester to meet his cousin. However, thanks to the search he had missed his connection so we would share a hotel room in London for a night.

Although this was my first visit, that great city was not new to me – Monopoly had been my favourite game for years – but I was unprepared for the vastness. The miles and miles of monotonous housing estates, grey wet streets, row upon row of terraced housing that we hurtled through at a hundred miles an hour.

Victoria Station disgorged us into heaving traffic, and rank upon rank of black taxis. Rows of red double-decker buses going to places I had heard of but only dreamed of visiting, and more people in one place than I had ever seen before – all knowing exactly where they were going and why.

Panic filled all my empty spaces. I had no idea where I was, where to go, or what to do! We bought a couple of pies, and then, following directions from the information kiosk, wandered through narrow streets behind the station. Most cheap hotels were full. After about an hour we found one grotty establishment with a vacancy, but the fat old tart took one look at Mik and snapped, "No blacks!"

The next place was cleaner and the bloke didn't even look up from his telly as he took our money, handed us a key, and pointed up the stairs.

It was half-past four and already getting dark. Mik, exhausted from not having slept for days on the deck of a ship from Alexandria, and then standing on the train all the way from Marseilles, crashed on his bed.

My impatience to see all those Monopoly names come to life, overcame fatigue and I raced for the nearest underground. The train seemed to be going very fast, but it was only about ten miles an hour.

Quivering with excitement, I stepped out onto the platform of Piccadilly Circus, gaped at the vast bank of escalators rising through the gigantic cavern, drifted up through the circular concourse, and raced through the exit tunnel to emerge in front of Eros – who looked exactly as he should, encircled by endless traffic and backed by the gigantic Wrigley's sign.

Wet streets reflected a myriad of lights and the endless whirl of traffic. A thrilling muted roar resonated in my chest. My hair stood on end. Goosebumps erupted over my entire body and I drew a deep breath of diesel fumes. I was at the centre of the world!

After wandering along Coventry Street to Leicester Square, down the Haymarket to Trafalgar Square, and back to Piccadilly Circus, I re-entered the underground dying for a piss. A bowler-hatted pinstripe suit followed me and held open the door to the toilets with an engaging smile. I nodded graciously. Before leaving New Zealand, I'd been warned not to expect the denizens of London to be as nice as people back home. "They'll cut your throat as soon as look at you, Rigby," I'd been warned. Huh! No one had ever held open the door of a toilet for me in New Zealand!

He followed me into the vast white-tiled space that appeared to be a popular meeting place. Groups stood here and there – usually several older men with a younger fellow. Pinstripe stood beside me at the urinal, which surprised me, as there were at least twenty free spaces. I ignored him and concentrated on the job in hand, which was rendered slightly difficult by the activity two stalls away to my left – a boy, scarcely more than fourteen, was being masturbated by an older bloke while several others looked on.

I guess I was surprised, but astonishment ran a distant second to the prim thought that it was scarcely a hygienic spot for such an activity. It was arousing, nonetheless, and my own spout sprang to attention.

"Mmm… nice."

I looked up in alarm. Pinstripe was staring. Pissing was impossible. My brain stopped.

He reached out and grasped it. I pulled back involuntarily. He grabbed at it again and hung on. "How much?"

"What for?"

"A fuck or a suck. Half an hour for two quid?"

As the average weekly wage was between seven and ten pounds, that seemed pretty fair. However, I was terrified. Images of being dragged into a cellar and raped and dismembered flashed through my head. Within seconds, he had strangled me, sold me as a sex slave and… I looked at his hands. They were clean but huge. He was about forty, thick-set. Educated accent but rough around the edges. I gazed around. Dozens of men milling. Nobody taking any notice. I shook my head in denial. This had to be a nightmare! Should I scream or run for it?

"You're scared!"

I nodded.

"I only want a fuck – not murder you."

That did it! I was a virgin! The only thing that had ever passed the wrong way through my rear entry was an enema Mother had given me when a kid. Still unable to speak, I buttoned up and, bladder undrained, raced for the escalators, risking my life by running down three at a time, found the right platform and concealed myself behind a pillar in trembling trepidation until the next train.

Mik was still asleep and the room was an icebox. I stripped, washed in the basin, slid between the grubby sheets, felt something sharp and leaped out. The bed was full of broken glass! I checked the window directly above – no wonder the place was freezing! Mik woke. It was only eight-thirty. I said I'd have to go down to the reception for new linen.

"Forget it. Come here."

He opened his sheets and I slithered in. Wrapping him in my arms, I told him my adventures. He laughed and reckoned I was a scaredy-cat… I should have earned an easy couple of quid.

I confessed my shameful state of virginity – my year with Waita had been one of tender kisses and mutual masturbation. Mik admitted to being a rent boy in Nairobi; it was how he'd earned his fare. But at twenty-four he was now too old, so had come to England to work on the buses in Manchester, like his cousin. The revelation silenced me. I felt very ignorant. Very stupid. Overprotected and obscenely innocent.

By morning, I was a virgin no longer, and my heart and head were bursting with the sheer wonder of living, despite the somewhat painful parts of the initiation that I was in no hurry to repeat. I couldn't decide whether to burst into song or tears.

In the end, it was tears. Mik was catching the next train to Manchester. Oh, the irony! Having plotted, planned, and succeeded in arriving solo in London, unencumbered by others… I was already prepared to throw away my freedom.

Mik was made of more realistic stuff and we waved a lump-in-the-throat farewell at St. Pancras that afternoon, having done a whirlwind tour on the top storey of a big red bus, seeing everything you have to see if you don't want to seem like an idiot when encountering other colonials.

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