I was scampering around the old Raja’s castle.
Climbing up the steep embankment was an old fart.
He could have been the ghost of the white Raja for all I cared.
‘I’m a descendant of the Stuarts,’ he’d later tell me.
So poo haa to that thought.
And I’m the great-great-grandson of the James Brooke.
It was the James Brooke gallery now, though in former times it was his castle where he planned jungle attacks against headhunters and unfriendly Sultans. It was Brooke’s way or no way.
A bit like this old fart who was making his way up a steep grassy bank.
At this rate, he’s going to be tumbling down the hill. I could see that a mile away. The grass around here is a sponge and just keeps on sucking the water in until it’s a waterlogged bog, waiting to suck you in and down, back into the mulch.
There’s Saint Thomas’s church, founded by Brooke. There’s the courthouse, another testament ot Brooke’s Rule Britania. And the Old Tavern, a frequent watering hole for the old Raja.
This town has Brooke written all over it.
The adulation of him is endless.
I was mates with Charles Darwin’s great great grandson. It was a burden to the poor guy who couldn’t resist telling anyone who cared that he was related to the father of the Origin of Species. I could tell it got in the way of his true self. He just wanted to be a regular bloke and sow his wild oats.
He actually pegged me as a writer, in the early days, when I was bumming around San FranCisco. They were a kind bunch, always cash in hand jobs at antique stores. How could they resist an impressionable Australian bum doing his Jack Kerouac thing?
By paying me under award wages, that’s how. Not that I was complaining. A fiver would always get me a burrito and a drink downtown at the Mexican district.
Chris went onto to write a book. It was ghostwritten. He started the Social Climber’s group. He just couldn’t get away from his aristocratic ancestry. He wanted nothing more than to be loafer like his famous relative. Surely Charles sponged off the Wedgewoods, I would have.
The book was tragic, in some ways. The love of his life fell to her death while climbing Mt Everest. She also accompanied Chris on a previous trip to the Himalayas where the social wankers set up a dinner table on the summit for their ritualistic dining in dangerous and remote locations.
If Chris had of went with her on her last trip, would he still be around? Or did she go with another man? Was it a case of unrequited love? I was only reading between the lines.
Was the book Chris’s or the ghostwriters’? Chris could never escape the long shadow of his great great grandfather.
The book was a tear jerker.
It was of a man wanting to break free from his lineage.
It was written in his DNA to repeat, ‘I’m Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson.’
Now I meet this American bozo who thinks he’s descendant of the King of England. Huh, delusion at it’s best.
He scoffed at the idea that I was a writer too. Quid pro quo, you say?
Chris’ book was never Kindled. It was another reminder of his aristocratic heritage.
He only wanted to break free.
I saw the real Chris.
He was a loner, caught in a web of flattery. In some ways escaping to the mountains was escaping from himself. Yet it always came back to haunt him.
‘You really need help,’ said John, the American tourist I ran into. He says he’s been traveling for five years and that he’s seventy years old.
‘Yep, got my parents to thank for my good genes.’
I said Levi’s was really overrated and that I was a tracksuit kinda guy.
‘You really need help.’
He’s floating around Asia.
He’s going to write a book, he says. He’s always thrown two drafts in the bin.
‘Rewrites can be good,’ I said, not bothering to encourage him.
He was never going to write that book and no one would ever read it if it was published. He really didn’t have much to say.
Except that he walked ten kilometers every day.
He was one of those annoying sanctimonious tourists I do my best to avoid.
And trust me, I’m being really charitable.
I first met Chris at the Sydney Convention Center, where we both were waiting tables. To hear him tell me that he was the great great grandson of Charles Darwin only made me silently scoff at the outrageous claim.
It was a letter and a little book by Hemingway that he sent to my San Francisco address that changed my life in some ways.
‘You really do write well,’ he said.
I’ve been cursed ever since. Thanks, Chris.
The book was The Snows of Kilimanjaro.