At the stroke of twelve one night
I carried my luggage down
Big suitcase and a heavy backpack
Both shades of golden brown

Friendly cabbie smiled’n’helped
Me hoist it into the boot
Warm farewells to the wife’n’kids
And I was ready to scoot
Heading on the motorway
To catch my flight at two
Sleep deprived and heading west
Keeping pace with some flight crew
On the avenue…
Listen to a Seaman’s Blues

The check-in counter at Terminal Three
Had a long line already in place
I hauled my bags and stood in line
And joined the travellers’ race
All set to go somewhere
To work, visit or learn
Passports’n’ papers in hand
Some never to return
Wondered how many seamen were
In the crowd in front of me
How many were bound for distant ships
And the call of duty
In the queue…
Humming a Seaman’s Blues

The idiot at the counter said
With an ingratiating smile
‘Check-in your bag all the way
To Sao Tomè, sir, in style!
Never mind the domestic leg,Jee,
At the end… nothing to fear!
The bag’ll be waiting there for you
When you arrive in good cheer!’
‘Ethiopia in transit,’I said,
‘And then Angola too,
I should clear baggage at Luanda,
Then fly domestic, dude!
Wouldn’t you?’
Dealing with a Seaman’s Blues

‘Fear not, Sir Jee,’ idiot said
I sceptically listened to him
Muttered a silent prayer while
Acceding to his whim
Boarded the flight to Addis Ababa
Surprisingly was on time
Saw Ethiopian staff face to face
Welcoming in a line
Sharp features’n’high cheek bones
Smiling and nodding too
Food was good and the service not bad
Must give them their due,
And say what’s true
Part of a Seaman’s Blues

Dozed off in the sky as best I could
Resigned helpless to my fate
Reached Addis Ababa early morn
Luckily it wasn’t too late
But found the loos were makeshift
The airport a sorry mess
Passengers herded like cattle class
Authorities couldn’t care less
Though flight took off an hour late
Was relieved to be up in the air
Six hours more to the next stop
Tried to sleep but where?
Just couldn’t snooze…
Coping with a Seaman’s Blues

Reached Luanda that hot afternoon
Immigration had a long queue
Wondered why Angola drew so many
What so many came here to do
At the counter to my dismay
Papers not in order, was told
Nobody spoke English, of course
The militia, stern and bold
Herded to a corner, asked me to wait
Like a criminal, with others too
While the clock ticked away half an hour
Boardin’ time of my flight too
Near drew…
Sufferin’ a Seaman’s Blues

Made frantic calls east and west
Hoped someone somewhere would care
Stranded in a strange Third World land
Not recommended, I swear
Got through to my agent at Sao Tomè
Where I was supposed to go
Got him to explain to the airport staff
What they should already know
Finally I was escorted to
The Domestic Counter by staff
They made sure that I checked in
As if I’d stay – what a laugh!
To Hell with you!
Endurin’ a Seaman’s Blues

Asked about my checked-in luggage
If it was already on board
Got two thumbs up at the check-in counter
A bright smile for the road
But saw no bag o’mine in the sea of bags
On the tarmac as I boarded the plane
I asked, but was told to get in quick
Or I’d be left behind in the rain
Dejected and fearing the worst
I boarded the small aircraft
High in the sky but my spirits low
A hard landing at last
Bones shaken loose…
Story o’ a Seaman’s Blues

Sure ‘nuff, when the belt came to a stop
There was no sign of my missing bag
Nobody spoke English, nobody cared
When I tried to show my baggage tag
Forced the agent who’d come to pick me up
To file a ‘Missing’ complaint
He did reluctantly ‘cos he was scared of’em
And would have to deal with’em again
Pickup van took me to a seedy hotel
Was the best in town, I was told
Showered and changed into the same old clothes
Had a strange meal soft’n’cold,
Drowned with a li’l booze…
Welcome to a Seaman’s Blues

The ship was comin’ in two days later
So I had hope’n’time on my hands
Wandered round the sorry li’l town
A stranger in a distant land
Poor black folk, not too friendly
Spoke only Portuguese
No point trying to mix with them
We were chalk’n’cheese
The bag wasn’t traced for the next two days
The hope faded from my heart
Bought some clothes from a clothing store
Tryin’ not to fall apart,
Awaitin’ good news
Listen to a Seaman’s Blues

The ship arrived, but not my bag
There was just no turnin’ back
Climbed the gangway with just my sorrow
And my heavy little backpack
Sailed away soon in a couple o’hours
Once the earlier crew had gone
Folks on board were kind enough
To lend me their hand-me-downs
Seven days passed and no sign o’the bag
Nobody concerned takin’ a look
In Delhi,Addis or Luanda how come
Nobody was being brought to book;
I felt abused…
Moping to a Seaman’s Blues

I raised a stink with all involved
‘What the hell was going on?’
Sure enough, on the ninth day
My suitcase had been found
Lying somewhere in Luanda airport
They rushed it to Sao Tomè
We were already in Nigeria by then
But not so far away
My office allowed me to return back
To that island en route
On my way to a Brazilian port
Just to pick up my ‘loot’!
‘Sirs, thank you!!’
Singin’ a Seaman’s Blues

So my story has a happy ending
Even if it’s a bit too long
(Hope I didn’t bore you too much)
Now just to finish this li’l song
It’s no fun workin’ on a ship
Without your clothes’n’stuff
Spendin’ months away from family
Yep, in any case kinda tough
Guess it’s part of this nomadic life
That ups’n’downs ensue
No sunrise finds us at the same place
Where sunset left us to
Start a day anew….
Listen to a Seaman’s Blues!

(Based on personal experience)

Written by Beetashok Chatterjee

Beetashok Chatterjee is a seaman by profession. This old sea dog is also a wannabe poet/writer, avid reader, music lover, movie buff, cricket enthusiast and a restless spirit.