Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Queen of Kookamonga (I)

I asked the Archie man to come nearer and collect the money for my coffee and cookies, but he didn’t accept it:

- It’s on the house, sweety, on condition that you come back tomorrow. Have a nice start at work and don’t take any notice of what I said before. –he said-
- About the missing persons and weird things happening in that ship? –I asked-
- Right. That was just a joke. You shouldn't believe everything I say. Sometimes I’m a bit of a smartass.

He laughed. But I didn’t think it was funny. Once you say something, you can’t take it back. What is said just cannot be unsaid. So “what the hell is wrong with the Ice Flower?” was the question I couldn’t get out of my head since he warned me about the weird things that he said were actually happening there. But he had decided to keep his mouth firmly shut.

- Ok Archie. Thanks for the coffee. I promise to be back tomorrow if I haven’t vanished off the face of the earth.

I walked towards the Ice Flower, now all covered with banners announcing the III Annual Kynkybooks Awards. It was a beautiful ship and had a touch of extravagance and distinction. I slipped in the reception area by accident and stood right in the middle of it, dumbfounded and dazzled by the glittering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, the panoramic glass elevators and the walls covered with perfectly polished walnut panels.

I enjoyed the scenery, but couldn’t go too far. A security guard stopped me and asked:

- Can I see your papers, Miss?
- Of course! Mr. Falkenberg sends me; I’m looking for Mr. Diederick Panekooeke, the kitchen manager.

- Mr. Falkenberg who?

My words didn’t seem to impress him in the slightest bit. I gave him my documents and he had a thorough look. He took his list, ticked my name and said:

- Bixby… yes, you’re here. Take the lift downstairs to level four, where the kitchen is –he said, pointing at the staff door-.

The Ice Flower had nothing to do with popular cruise ships like the Jewel of the Waters, or the King of the Oceans, where half of the South Sandwichian middle-class families –including mine- had spent their summer holidays swimming, playing golf and gambling at the casino at affordable prices. But the Ice Flower was much more than a normal cruise ship: it had class.

The journey consisted of sailing on a short trip to the remotest harbours in the North Sandwich islands, reserved for a selected few. But I was not among them. I was there for work, not for pleasure.

So I crossed the staff door and when I found the kitchen, I witnessed an amazing scenery. The atmosphere was frantic: boiling pots steaming and pressure cookers whistling; cooks giving instructions to kitchen assistants; kitchen assistants sprinkling exclusive spices in huge saucepans; huge saucepans where gallons of oil heated and splutted.

A zillion helpers chopped meat and vegetables. Waiters and waitresses tray carried fast like there was no tomorrow.

Diederick Panekkoeke the Great managed everything from his watchtower. It was easy to tell who he was. He didn’t miss anything. That skinny, tall, pale guy gesticulated nervously; he carried a big log book and noted everything, shouting orders to everybody around. When he saw me, he asked:

- Are you the new waitress?

Without even waiting for my answer, he rushed down the stairs and said:

- Come over here, dear. Put a uniform on and start tray carrying to the passenger’s cabins. They’re waiting for their breakfast.
- Ehm… sorry, but I’m not the new waitress, sir. I come for the kitchen hand job. Mr. Falkenberg sends me.

Diederick Panekkoeke stared at me, as as if he hadn’t heard what I just said, pulled a long face and said very slowly with a dirty look:

- Who do you think you are? The Queen of Kookamonga? Put. That. Uniform. On. NOW.

His threatening voice sounded scary as he pointed at me with his finger, failing to touch my nose tip by just an inch. At that very moment, several questions came to my mind:

Firstly: was Falkenberg really the ship owner’s brother? Nobody seemed to know him there, and what was worse: he didn’t appear to be either powerful or respected in the ship.

Secondly: was Diederick Pannekoeke supposed to be the nice guy who would hire me and never overwork me, in Falkenberg's words? He sounded rather more like a tyrannical SOB who would exploit all the kitchen staff without mercy.

And last, but not least: Was I going to be a one-woman band, good at everything but expert at nothing? First a waitress and then a kitchen helper? Or maybe a dry cleaner? That was not exactly what I had been told.

With friends like those, I didn’t need enemies.

Diederick’s eyes threw daggers at me for having objected to his organisational scheme. I didn’t even dare protest, so impressed I was by his imposing presence. One of his hoodlums came up on the spot with a complete waitress outfit hanging from a coat hook.

- There you go, sweety. –said Dierderick-. Remove those horrible old baggy trousers, white t-shirt and faded black cardigan. This is your new kitchen outfit: a cute short-sleeved white blouse, princess style; a soft black velvet short skirt with white lace petticoats; white stockings, garter belts and black buckle shoes. Oh, and don’t forget the cap on top of your beautiful hairstyle. It’s a very sexy outfit, worthy of Cinderella. Now MOVE. There’s a lot to do.

Deiderick’s assistant escorted me to the dressing room. I changed clothes and when he saw me in the waitress outfit, he said:

- Great, but I’ll give you a smaller size. You’ll look even more sexy and get better tips in tight clothes, shorty.

How thoughtful. I wore the smaller size, but the buttons looked like they would be going to pop and break as soon as I’d try to breathe inside that junior petite uniform. What would the Waitress’ Unions think about this?

- How does it grab you? –he asked-
- I can’t breathe –I answered-
- Don’t talk nonsense. You look absolutely cute.

And that was that. I had to wear the Barbie waitress uniform because he bloody well said so.

I was told to take the tray marked “Deck 4, Level 2, Suite 20”. A beautiful ceramic tray with an energy breakfast worthy of a king: coffee, milk, orange juice, a toasted bread and pastry basket, cold meat and sausages, scrambled eggs, fruit jam and a honey bowl. The dishes and glassware were made of china and fine crystal. The silver cutlery shone like a star. The napkins were made of the softest Egyptian satin cotton. There was a delicate porcelain jar with a beautiful red rose in the middle of all these tasty delicacies.

I lined up behind my co-workers carrying that heavy tray. Everybody was given precise instructions about the rooms to be served. We all crossed the flip flap door at the speed of the light towards the elevators. We were told to line up and get organised by decks and levels. I had to take the fourth elevator.

"Eggs and sausage" (Tom Waits)


Jimmy Bastard said...

In the tradition of the literary sea, this great rolling tale grew legs as it galloped along at the most tremendous of paces. Once again I found myself speeding towards the words, greedily gobbling up and half digesting the glorious use of names bizzare, merely to seek out the crux of your writing.

I drew snippets of a talent so rare, I tasted spoonfuls of Roald Dahl at his most exorbitant, and found myself smiling along with the antics of the characters so carefully created.

Superbly written, and the basis of a novel that will go on and on in its greatness of tale.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I'm glad he didn't touch your nose. You would have had to touch his nose back to avoid bad luck. There's also a danger of getting cross-eyed if you stare at his finger.

sage said...

Cute outfit and I hope that ship has a smoky lounge where Tom Waits is the featured entertainment. Well done, now I'm wondering what happens when she gets to the room on the fourth deck

Grass said...

That Cosmo waitress outfit is going to be a problem so brace for more adventures/troubles sis. The thought of you in that ship is similar to my idea of a cute kitten trapped in a cage of tigers. Maybe you should have followed Max's advice before that try to snag a bread knife or something for your defense.

@ Jimmy, wow, your comment blew me. Quite a writer you are to have described Leni's works in ways I would have wanted if I have your talent.

@ Gorilla: funny and witty comment as usual. You made me laugh!

@ Sage: Tom Waits would be a good entertainment indeed. I was imagining that they'd be playing Phantom of the Opera in that ship; real creepy despite the classy atmosphere.


max said...

Grass is right, Leni. If only you had followed my advice... (don't talk to strangers, not even to horses...).

Jeez, with those nice comments above, you will go all silly very soon, LOL. No, seriously, I love your chapters. They're cool and very funny.

And I'm a great fan of Tom Waits too! Thanks for the tune!

Borah said...

intruiging, again. Especially about the ultra tight costume...

But what's up with Diederick Panekooeke's name? You spell it differently every time! I've seen Pannekoeke, Panekkoeke, Deiderick, Dierderick... It happens so often I assume there must be a reason, but I can't dream of one...

(It sounds very Dutch, by the way. As a Dutchy I'd expect it to be written Diederick Pannekoeke - pannekoek meaning pancake, but I'm sure you knew that.)

Leni Qinan said...

Dear friend Jimmy, I really appreciate your sweet words and they make me blush like a beetroot. I’m just a humble apprentice, as I told you once.

My serialised writing is quite crazy and close to the absurd at times. Roald Dahl is a great fav here –I’ve read all his books!- and surely one of my most important influences. All these characters are quite unpredictable and absolutely lack common sense most times. This is a crazy land with a crazy population.

The serious writing is something different. ;)

Take care, my dear friend, and thank you for this comment. You made my day!

Leni Qinan said...

Dear Mr Bananas, let me tell you a secret: nobody is allowed to touch my little nose, unless I ask for it. And I would never ever touch his, either.

I’m a bit superstitious sometimes and in these situations I prefer to avoid personal contact (unless I needed to use my knee to hit some private parts in an emergency case, but luckily that doesn't happen very often).

Leni Qinan said...

Hi Sage! The outfit is cute but not really comfortable for work.

Tom Waits would be perfect for a night private concert at a cruise ship, don’t you think so? He’s an absolute favourite!

There’s something really unexpected at the fourth deck! Wait and see!

Leni Qinan said...

Hi Grassy!

As you often say, i attract problems and weirdoes like a magnet, so imagine what can happen with the waitress outfit. Some guys have the wildest fantasies about it. But this time I don’t think I’ll need a knife from the kitchen, just wait and see.

((As for your @ backsies commentsies, I do really have the best commenters in the blogsphere, don’t I? That includes you too!))


PS.- I hope everything is alright with you + Gugu

Leni Qinan said...


Adventures are the spice of my life, my dear. Can you imagine me sitting in a boring office, working from 9 to 5? No way! They sacked me from there already!

((This is to show you that I’m afraid I’ll continue to talk to strangers, even if they’re horses)).

Thanks for coming back and always read faithfully my chapters. This is the best reward I could expect.

I’m glad you liked Tom Waits’ “Eggs and sausage”. He’s great.

Leni Qinan said...

Hi Borah! Nice to see you again!

The ultratight waitress outfit shows how chauvinistic a boss can be, just for the sake of getting more money. I bet we could ask waitresses at many fast food chains and they would agree on that.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but Diederick Pannekoeke is 100% North Sandwichian –perhaps of Dutch descent, maybe I should ask him next time I see him-.

You probably have seen “pannekookies”, an invention of the Burdish owner of the Café where I stop for breakfast before heading to the ship.

My Dutch is abysmal, but I knew pannekoek = pancake; and they do delicious ones in the North Islands.

Tot ziens!

underOvr (aka The U) said...

Hi Leni,

I enjoyed reading about your kitchen duties, the photos helped to really set the mood for me until it triggered a past memory.

I have one memory of being on a cruise ship: staring out my cabin window with thoughts of Christopher Columbus sailing by the winds and my ancestors lying in the belly of a ship with no motor, little food and water and being chained to someone else for weeks. I can see a Snickers commercial (sick as that sounds) with a slave looking around at all the other faces and unwrapping a Snickers bar when he hears the words, "Not going anywhere?" Anyway, after many nights of repeating this ritual, I said, "Never again.

I cannot read about ships and cruises without rekindling those thoughts.

I do love me some Tom Waits music though and you have my thanks for that very nice song.


Leni Qinan said...

Dear U,

You really have a wild imagination, triggering in your mind during your cruise ship trip how life at the 3 Columbus ships was. That was really brave, to sail to the unknown in those days.

The Snickers commercial made me smile; it’s funny, though nowadays I’m afraid it would be very politically incorrect.

About Tom Waits: I like him a lot, as a singer and as an actor. His voice has turned husky and hoarse, but his songs –provided that they’re not sung by the charming and beautiful Scarlett Johansson- remain like precious gems.

rebecca said...

Hm...I wonder who awaits in Suite 20? I've a feeling it's going to be someone we know...oh, this is sounding juicy...

Leni Qinan said...

Yes Rebecca, I'm 2 chapters ahead with my writing now and i can tell you things are getting thrilling!