Frank can see her mind is not on the Nepali lesson. She's sitting beside him, on the edge of his bed, and uttering Nepali words for him to repeat, but he’s distracted by the way her fingers are fiddling with a small piece of tightly folded paper. He asks her what she's fiddling with, but she won't reply. She just looks at her own hands as they twist the paper this way and that. The lesson’s abandoned. She's frowning, as if on the verge of tears.
“What's the matter?” he asks. No answer.
“Come on Sunita! I know something’s wrong.”The gloom intensifies. The unutterable answer lies in the piece of mangled paper.
“Can I see?” he asks. The fingers close more tightly around the paper. They sit in silence.
“Come on! Let me see.” He holds his hand out. Silence. The twisting has stopped, but her fingers still grip the paper. He considers making a grab for the paper, but thinks the better of it. Having got her into his flat, he doesn't want to alarm her. Newly arrived in Kathmandu as a volunteer administrator in the U.N. office, he doesn't yet know the rules of engagement. All he knows at this stage is that Sunita, the secretary who does his typing, is young and beautiful, and he is flattered that she finds him worthy of her attention.
“You'd better go,” he says somewhat irritably. “You're obviously not in the mood to continue with the lesson, but won't tell me why, so I can't help you.” She doesn't move, but he notices that her fingers have loosened their grip on the note. He prises it gently from her, and opens it, fold after fold. It says: Mr Pradhan is against us
Mr Pradhan, the office fixer – the man adept at the black arts of extracting permits and visas out of the hands of corrupt and obstructive government bureaucrats - is against them?
“Why?” Frank asks. No answer. But it's obvious really. He would not have asked Sunita to teach him Nepali in the privacy of his bedroom, if he hadn't wanted to find an excuse to be alone with her. She would not have been there, risking gossip and censure, just to teach him Nepali. He places his hand over hers, and she starts entwining her fingers with his. Nepali lessons are at an end. He turns her bowed head to face him, and now they are both on an equal footing - as novices in the arts of love. Impelled by that human yearning to surrender to and become part of something greater and transcendent, their lips meet.
As if mere flesh could conjure that alchemy.
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