Readers in the UK will probably be aware of the recent exploits of a student backpacker called Eleanor Hawkins. For those not in the know, Miss Hawkins, along with several travellers of other nationalities, found herself in hot water after stripping naked atop a mountain summit in Malaysia. It seems that the immodest act not only incensed the mountain’s mortal residents, but also angered the local god, who expressed his displeasure with an earthquake a few days later. Miss Hawkins potentially faced some serious jail time, but happily was set free after paying a fine, and is now back with her family in England.
The following story is not about Miss Hawkins or any of her fellow travellers, nor is it specifically set in Malaysia, but it is inspired by said events. It’s also my first fiction writing in half a year, so I’m a bit rusty.
“This is an outrage, a disgrace! Completely unacceptable!” Tessa Montague-Fawkes ranted as she paced up and down the narrow gap between the pair of bunk beds (as best as one could pace in such a confined space). “What makes them think they have the right?”
Stretched out on her hard, narrow matress, Sarah Steadman sighed as she surveyed a spider at work in the springs of the above bunk. “Who knows what got into them? Maybe being the police in this area makes them think they have the right to, uh… police things?”
“Well wait til my daddy gets here. Then we’ll see who polices who.” Tessa picked up an earthenware drinking vessel from a squat table between the bunks. “PLEUGH!!” She spat through rasped lips. “This water is warm!” She marched to the cell door. “Room service!”, she called sharply. “Hello, anyone there? ROOM SERVICE!!”
Sarah cringed. “Tess, this is a prison, not the Ritz. Be thankful that your human rights are being respected… unlike those of most visitors to the UK.”
Tessa harrumphed. “It must be against my human rights to have to wear rubbish like this”, she complained, scratching at her hessian prison uniform.
Tessa, 18 years old, stood six feet tall with a large yet lean frame – attributes that had served her well in the rowing team of her Surrey girls’ school – and an ample endowment in the chest department. Straight, flaxen hair flowed from a centre parting down to her mid-torso, framing a face that still bore week-old sunburn. She had wide-set blue eyes, a small, hawkish nose, and full pouting lips. The daughter of businessman and Tory MP Sir Stanley Montague-Fawkes, Tessa was using her father’s money to “see the world” before commencing a course in business and management at the University of Exeter.
Sarah, a prospective linguistics student at UCL, was also 18, but that was where similarity with Tessa ended. The daughter of a couple of leftist academics, she had been raised in West London on a stodgy diet of neo-Marxist theory, washed down with Palestinian olive oil. But for all her proletarian bluster, Sarah’s family were in fact even wealthier than Tessa’s – something neither of them liked to acknowledge. Shorter than Tessa but taller than the female average, Sarah had a leggy figure and a modest but perky bust. Her face was a pleasing heart shape, blessed with high cheekbones and beset with deep chestnut eyes, and her brunette hair was styled in an unfussy shoulder-length cut.
Rain lashed against the prison walls, now a barely-noticed background noise after several days of incessant downpour. A fine mist wafted through a small, barred window, delivering the fresh fragrance of sodden vegetation as a welcome counterpoint to the jail stench. Intently watching the moonsoonesque deluge were the emerald eyes of Imogen Fraser. The 19 year-old possessed an exquisite petiteness and baby-face that necessitated her carrying proof of age wherever she went, though the subtle signs of womanhood were there to be seen by anyone who perused her figure. As she knelt on her bunk beside the window, her curly flame-red hair draped down over back, ending just shy of her tight and tiny bum. Hailing from the Isle of Skye, Imogen was lined up to study English Lit at St Andrews after her gap year.
“Fer the rain it raineth every day”, she brooded.
However, it was not supposed to rain every day in this part of the world. Not like this. And herein lay the girls’ troubles.
A gong sounded from somewhere inside the jail, marking the hour with three dull chimes.
“That’s one hundred hours”, came the voice of the room’s fourth occupant, Laura Johnson, who was languishing on the bunk below Imogen.
“Ye what?”, asked Imogen.
“We’ve been incarcerated for one hundred hours”, Laura replied. “Or four days four hours, if you prefer.” She paused. “Or nine and a half Saturnian days. Or 295 half-lives of carbon-11…”
At 22 years old, Laura was the eldest of the improbable group. Having already obtained a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge, she was taking some time out to travel before starting a PhD at CERN. In principle, she could have kept a responsible eye on her younger companions, but in practice she was too absorbed in a world of facts and figures, which she could recall and compute with astonishing speed. A dark-skinned afro-brit from Birmingham, Laura was 5 feet 8 tall and had a healthily curvy figure. Her long black hair was braided, and true to her geek persona she wore a pair of unfashionably large, round spectacles.
“…Or eighteen million strokes of a hummingbird’s wings.”
“It’s TOO BLOODY LONG, that’s what it is!”, barked Tessa, marching back to the door. It was at that moment that the door groaned open and Tessa found herself nearly colliding with a burly guard.
“Room service at last!” Tessa ranted. “Look at this water – it’s warm! What do you think you’re playing at!?”
The impassive jailer made no acknowledgement of Tessa’s existence, but instead ushered two visitors into the cell. The first was a wiry Caucasian man in a checkered shirt and khaki shorts, looking like he’d stepped out of a colonial timewarp. A shock of grey hair, roughly brushed into a side parting, sat above a sun-addled face, the centrepiece of which was a moustache that must have had hours of twizzling in the making. Behind him stepped a diminutive woman, scarcely reaching five feet, bearing the darker skin-tone and Asiatic facial features typical of the local population. A pinstripe skirt-suit clad her tight body, and her black hair was cut into a short style that bordered on the severe at the back and sides, but was tempered by a feminine quiff at the front.
“Good afternoon, Ladies”, the man spoke in a classic tea-and-tiffin accent. “I’m Lionel Fairfax, from the British Consulate. And this is my personal assistant, Miss Ann Chung.”
Fairfax bent over and kissed each prisoner’s hand in turn – much to Sarah’s chagrin – and Chung followed up with a surprisingly steely handshake for such a slight woman. The prisoners had initially gauged her to be thirty, but a closer inspection of her youthful visage betrayed that she was barely older than themselves.
“Have you come to free us?”, demanded Tessa. “About time!”
Fairfax regarded Tessa with a crooked smirk beneath his twizzled moustache. “I must say, Miss Montague-Fawkes, you’ve grown into a big girl since your christening.”
“You were at my christening?! So you know Daddy?”
“Why of course – I fagged for Monty at Eton”, Fairfax revealed with a mixture of embarrassment and pride.
“Is he at the consulate? Can’t wait to see him!”, beamed Tessa. “Hope you have the Bolly on ice!”
“Your father isn’t in the country”, said Chung coldly, in an RP accent as clipped and crisp as Fairfax’s. “And I wouldn’t count on leaving this jail any time soon.”
Fairfax nodded grimly. “You ladies have got yourselves into a nasty spot of bother with your mischief.”
“Give me a break”, huffed Tessa. “All we did was flash our bits at some old monument.”
“Aye, ye see lasses wi less on fer a night oot in Glasgy”, added Imogen.
“It wasn’t ‘some old monument'”. Chung fixed Tessa with icy contempt. “You desecrated the temple of Wam-pie-goo, one of our most sacred sites.”
“Indeed”, nodded Fairfax. “And I’m afraid the priests took a rather dim view of your behaviour.”
“Those patriarchs?”, snorted Sarah. “Must feel threatened by the female form if you ask me.”
“Yeah, who cares what a few old beardy-wierdies think?”, chimed in Tessa.
“Unfortunately, it’s a bit more serious than that”, said Fairfax, gesturing to the meagre window. “See this weather? Most untypical for the time of year. It’s flooding homes and playing havoc with the crops. And the locals blame you for it.”
“Huh?” Four jaws dropped simultaneously.
“They believe that your actions have angered the god, er… what’s his name again?”
“Wam-pie-goo”, Chung filled in. “This rain is his retribution for your immodesty. Water is a speciality of his, you see.”
“But that’s ridiculous!”, piped up Laura. “Don’t the locals realise that the anomalous precipitation we are presently experiencing is caused by a low-pressure vortex interacting with an occluded front?”
“No, they don’t”, replied Fairfax, who evidently didn’t either.
“I guess if we cause offense in other countries we stand to be judged by their belief systems”, reflected Sarah. “Are we looking at jail time?”
Fairfax scratched his chin and looked at the floor. “In your case, Miss Steadman…”
“… and also in yours, Miss Fraser and Miss Johnson, a likely sentence is two years. Eighteen months if you’re lucky.”
There were gasps from the trio. Imogen began quietly weeping.
“Only for those three? So I’m getting off with it?”, grinned Tessa. “I knew Daddy would sort it out. So long, suckers!”
“Not so fast, Miss Montague-Fawkes”, said Fairfax. “Your companions only exposed their upper halves, whereas you went the whole hog, as it were. That’s a far more serious crime, and carries a much stiffer sentence.”
“What?” Tessa’s grin evaporated. “How long?”
“I hope you don’t have plans for your twenties”, Chung simpered.
Tessa was shell-shocked. “This can’t be happening!” She resumed her pacing of the cell. “This can’t happen. Not to a British person!” She turned angrily on Fairfax. “What’s Cameron doing about this? Daddy needs to get onto him to take action!”
“Unfortunately, we’re outside of British jurisdiction, so there’s not much the PM can do”, Fairfax informed her.
“This is a sovereign nation, Tess”, added Sarah.
“Nonsense! Send in the RAF and we’ll see who’s boss!”, Tessa ranted. “Give ’em twenty-four hours to release me or we nuke the place!”
“Erm, wouldn’t that kill you?”, frowned Laura.
“Ladies, let’s not get carried away!”, said Fairfax. “Luckily there is an alternative to jail, as Miss Chung will explain.”
“I’ve been in discussions with the priests and they are willing to pardon you”, said Chung, “so long as you revisit the temple and each perform an act of penance to Wam-pie-goo.”
The news brought much cheer to the despondent girls. “Why didnae ye tell us that before?!”, cried Imogen.
“Whatever, I’ll do it”, Tessa nodded.
“Jolly good!”, smiled Fairfax. “Then if we’re all agreed, Miss Chung will arrange for the penances to be performed tomorrow.”
“Wait, I’m an atheist”, said Sarah. “As much as I respect their beliefs, it’s against my principles to take part in organised religion.”
“Suit yourself, Steadperson”, shrugged Tessa. “If you want to spend a couple of years in a jail cell with only your principles for company, that’s your call. As for me, I’m doing this silly penance thing and getting the hell out of this tin-pot country.”
“But we don’t know what the penances actually entail”, Laura pointed out.
The four looked expectantly to Chung.
“The exact nature of your penance will be decided on a individual basis by the priests. But let me warn you: it won’t be as easy as saying a few prayers.”
“This isn’t good old C of E, I’m afraid”, Fairfax chipped in.
Chung continued. “The penances are designed to teach humility, and you will duly find yourselves… how shall I say, publicly humbled by the experience.”
“Publicly humbled? How exactly?”, asked Sarah warily. “Can you give a specific example?”
“Maybe a demonstration would be best.” Chung battled to contain a smirk. “With your permission, Mr Fairfax?”
“By all means, Ann”, nodded Fairfax.
Chung spoke with the jailer in their native language, then turned back to the prisoners. “Follow me.”
The four girls followed Chung and the guard down the corridor, until they came to a door leading out to the muddy courtyard, the opposite side of which was barely visible due to the driving rain. Chung stood to one side of the door. She motioned Tessa, who was first in line, to step through.
A gust of wind caught a sheet of the rain and blew it inwards at Tessa, causing her to flinch as it wetted her front and face. “Go out there? Not bloody likely!”
“You don’t have an option.” Chung shoved Tessa through the doorway, again showing surprising strength for her size. Tessa bleated in indignation as her feet splashed in the mud. The full force of the rain beat down upon her head and torso. In quick succession, Chung cajoled Tessa’s three companions through the doorway.
“What the fuck ye dain?”, exclaimed Imogen, as the girls turned round to see the door slam behind them. Within seconds they were soaked. The rain blasted their hair against their scalps, flattening Imogen’s curls, weighing down Laura’s braids, plastering Sarah’s bob against her face, and turning Tessa’s wheatfield locks a dull woody brown. The rough hessian uniforms imbibed the rainwater like sponges, hanging uncomfortably against the girls’ bodies, and threatening to slip off completely.
“Let us in! How dare you! YOU BITCH! LET US IN!”, Tessa hollered and pounded on the door. Laura, Sarah and Imogen resigned themselves to their soggy fate and huddled together as best they could protect themselves in the barren courtyard. Within half a minute, all were fully saturated, yet the ordeal wore on. The barrage from the heavens almost seemed to force its way through their skin.
Whether minutes or hours later (actually, Laura timed it to 5 minutes 21 seconds), the door finally reopened. The bedraggled prisoners squelched their way inside, their shoulders remaining reflexively hunched as they sought refuge in the dry. Water ran from their prison uniforms in rivers. By this time, even Tessa had lost the will to speak, and the four stood staring at Chung in shocked silence.
“What th… what the hell did you do that for!?”, Sarah eventually spluttered.
“I thought you were going to demonstrate a typical penance.” Laura shivered, removing her glasses.
“But I did”, said Chung with mock surprise.
“That wa’ the penance?”, frowned Imogen. “The penance is to stand aroond gettin’ drenched?”
“Not exactly”, smirked Chung. “The penance is likely to involve something more… substantial. Consider this a taster. Now, back to your cell. Hope it doesn’t take too long to dry off.”
Imogen, Laura and Sarah were too incredulous – not to mention bedraggled – to argue, and waddled off obediently with the guard escorting them. As usual, it was Tessa who stayed behind to pick a fight.
“That your idea of a joke?”, Tessa hissed, rainwater continuing to drip from her hair and her nose as she accosted Chung in the doorway. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“No who the hell do you think you are?”, Chung rejoined. “Half of my consular work is cleaning up after loutish tourists. Smarmy, spoilt, boozed-up brats who think the rest of the world is their urinal to piss all over. But you – you put the rest of them in the shade, Miss Monty. You think the whole world revolves around you. Well guess what? Tomorrow it will, but you’re not going to like it. All of the world’s media will be at the temple tomorrow, and I’m going to make sure you get a worse punishment than the other three girls combined. You’re going to get the humiliation you deserve, Miss Monty, and there ain’t nothing ‘Daddy’ can do about it.”
“Why you little bitch!”, growled Tessa, barely able to believe her ears. “Let’s see how you like being shoved out in the rain!” Tessa grabbed Chung by the lapels of her suit and made to push her through the doorway. But the Asian wouldn’t budge. Despite Tessa’s considerable size advantage – and all that rowing training – her petite adversary remained rooted to the spot. This made Tessa even more furious, and she shouted and swore as she ineffectually threw her weight against Chung.
Chung didn’t break a sweat. “You want to be careful”, she purred. “You might slip and get a faceful of mud.”
Tessa felt her legs being kicked out from beneath her, and began to fall fowards against Chung. Chung leapt to one side, leaving Tessa with a clear trajectory through the doorway, and then gave Tessa a shove for good measure. Time slowed down for Tessa as the slick of light, clayish mud that coated the courtyard loomed up towards her. There was nothing she could do; she was going down. She opened her mouth to scream…
SPLUT!! Tessa’s slo-mo descent came to an abrupt end with a wet, cloying slap to her face and front. The mud flowed into her open mouth and obscured her eyes. She could feel it permeate her already sodden hair and flow inside her uniform, oozing along her cleavage.
“GREEEUUUUGH!!!” Brown-faced and mortified, Tessa staggered to her feet, spitting out the rank muck. Between the mud in her eyes and the lashing rain, she couldn’t see a thing. She felt a draught around her legs and realised that her trousers had slipped down to her ankles. Cursing as she spat, she began to bend over to pull them up…
THWWACKKK! A sharp blow was delivered to Tessa’s chest, sending her sprawling backwards. She landed in angel formation, sending mud splurting in all directions.
“EUUGHHH!” Tessa slowly levered herself up through the rain. Her hair, back and legs were completely coated.
“Having fun down there?”, Chung’s smug voice chimed somewhere above Tessa.
“YOU EVIL, WICKED BITCH!”, roared Tessa. “Wait til I get my hands on you!”
“Oh, you want some more do you?”, retorted Chung.
Floundering in the mud and rain, Tessa managed to manoeuvre herself into a squatting position. BOPPP! Chung’s foot connected hard with Tessa’s backside. Tessa jolted forwards and landed once more on her front in the mud, aquaplaning across the courtyard. The sopping, cloying mud washed over her face and hair, and piled up in what remained of her clothing.
“What’s all this commotion?”, Fairfax’s voice approached. “Oh my golly gosh!”
“She tried to escape, but she slipped over”, explained Chung, “I do hope she hasn’t hurt herself!”
“Miss Montague-Fawkes, behave yourself!” exclaimed Fairfax. “Playing silly beggars isn’t going to help your case!”
Tessa raised her face from the morass. “She’s lying!”, she spluttered. “The bitch is lying! SHE DID THIS TO ME!”
“That’s quite enough, Miss Montague-Fawkes. You expect me to believe that a tiny lady like Miss Chung could do that to a big girl like you? Pipe down at once and return to your cell… or I shall have to have words with your father.”
Fairfax’s closing threat seemed to have a pacifying effect on Tessa, who meekly crawled out of the rain and staggered to her feet. Chung and the prison guard regarded the soaked, mud-caked girl with amusement, exchanging wisecracks in their native language. Tessa turned to stare daggers at Chung, but then did a double take; Chung had not a single drop of mud or water on her. Not one fleck. Her pinstripe suit was spotless, her tights were bone dry, her shoes gleamed like mirrors.
How could this possible if Chung had been out there mauling her in the mud? Had it been someone else? But Tessa was convinced that it was Chung’s voice she had heard towering over her.
Chung smiled sweetly as Tessa’s eyes swept incredulously over her petite figure. “See you tomorrow for your penance, Miss Montague-Fawkes. I’m looking forward to it.”