Throughout the working day, hurriedly scribbled notes are surreptitiously dropped as Sunita places Frank's typing into his in-tray, or when he places hand-written drafts into hers, or pressed into each other's palms as they pass in the corridor. All the while, they maintain a futile public show of total indifference to each other, believing, as lovers do, that they are invisible.
They are beginners at the game of love, but the cultural gap that separates them works to their advantage. Sunita knows so little about Western manners that she is prepared to accept anything Frank does or says to her. This enables him to overcome a barrier which he thought was insurmountable in England - the fear of seeming melodramatic and ridiculous. The chasm between acquaintance and intimacy has been too wide to cross until now. Since Sunita’s only knowledge of passionate love comes from cheap romances, she offers no resistance to the exploration of his hands. She is eager to participate in the amatory rituals she has read about, and presents very few barriers to sexual consummation. Their whole affair is a Victorian melodrama, but without the inhibitions, and their notes to each other read as if they are taken from 19th century bodice rippers. She needs him to satisfy her craving for romantic love, which her own society has worked hard to keep her from, and he needs her to satisfy his youthful craving for intimacy and sex.
But, to his embarrassment, he fails her on two separate occasions. He fears he will never be able to do it. He worries she will give him up. They can't discuss the problem. It’s too embarrassing to talk about, and so they resort to notes. He writes anxiously: Could you marry me even if I cannot do it? Love, Frank xxx
. Marriage? This is a desperate ploy. The thought of marriage has not, until this emergency, entered his head.
An hour or two later, she passes him by anddrops a note on his desk which reads: Of course I cannot marry you if you cannot do it. Sunita
He is left in a state of misery during the following week. It looks as though he has blown his first chance, maybe his one and only chance ever, of experiencing the pleasures of the flesh. And Sunita is not just anyone. She is gorgeous and willing. Does he love her? If love is desire, then he loves her. If it’s thinking obsessively about her, then he loves her. If love is aesthetic pleasure, then he loves her. He dares not write any more notes, fearing the replies he might get. Their working relationship necessarily continues, but there are no encouraging signs from her about the state of her feelings for him.
After a week, he can resist no longer. He writes: Don’t you love me anymore?
He passes the note along with some typing, and waits. He has by now resigned himself to a lifetime of celibacy. She comes to his office to deposit the typing. She says nothing, but beneath the official letters is a piece of folded paper. He looks at it for a long while, dreading the message it contains, but when he finally opens it his heart leaps: I am yours for ever
, it promises.
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