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Published: June 20th 2013
Too often his time with the Lopchans was spoilt by the arrival of others. Frank enjoyed chatting to Tashi and Kalpana by themselves, and always resented the presence of outsiders. On this occasion he had them to himself, and shared supper with them in the kitchen. Afterwards, once the children were settled, they sat on the bedroom floor, Kalpana facing Tashi and him, and chatted and joked about inconsequential things. Tashi reached out and grabbed one of Kalpana’s toes, saying: “See how long her toes are!” Frank's own fingers, under their own volition, took hold of another, and Tashi tensed momentarily as though to strike him. It was no more than the slightest of movements, cancelled as soon as it was made, but the light-hearted banter was replaced by a moment of embarrassed silence.
The arrival of a visitor was, for once, a welcome distraction. Sujeev, one of Tashi's singing friends, dropped in and the tension dissipated as they incorporated him into the conversation. It was bed-time, and an inappropriate time for a visit. Frank had the impression that Sujeev wanted to confirm his suspicion that he slept at the Lopchan's at the weekends, and wanted to sabotage an arrangement that gave him a more favoured status with Tashi than him. He succeeded. It was a Friday night, and Frank had expected to stay the night, but after a short while Kalpana turned to him and said:
“It's going to rain. You'll get wet.” He understood that she was telling him to leave.
“Yes, I'd better go now,” he said and got to his feet. Neither Tashi nor Kalpana appealed to him to stay, and so he followed Sujeev out into the yard.
“It's late,” Sujeev said. “You can stay at my place.” He tried to turn him down, but he was so insistent it would have been rude to persist. It had started raining, and so Frank followed him precariously on his bicycle, holding his umbrella with one hand. He stopped at one of those Newari red brick terraced houses and led him into to his tiny one-room flat. Frank realised that Sujeev was expecting him to share his bed with him, but did not know how to extricate himself from this unwelcome situation without causing offence. He resigned himself to a very unpleasant and embarrassing night's sleep in a cramped bed with a man. The fact that Frank hardly knew him seemed the least part of the embarrassment.
Before they turned in, Sujeev told him that Tashi was a philanderer, and slept around with other women frequently, even with married women whose husbands hired them out. Frank didn't want to believe it, and was annoyed with him for telling him. Surely Tashi wouldn't risk hurting her by sleeping around? She didn't deserve such treatment.
He was unable to sleep, what with Sujeev poking him in the ribs and snoring, people in the adjacent household muttering on the other side of a wooden partition, and the mosquitoes zinging around his head, so he painstakingly inched his way out of the bed so as not to disturb Sujeev and crept out of the flat and cycled home in the very early hours of the morning. Fortunately, the rain had stopped. He clamped his folded umbrella to the back of the bicycle, and set off to his flat. Within minutes, he was stopped by three khaki-clad policemen, swinging their lathis
in a menacing manner. As he stood, straddling the bicycle, the senior constable explained in surprising detail, and with numerous repetitions, that he was breaking the law by riding without a light, and that he must always have one when riding at night. He let him go with a warning, and it was only when he got back home that he realised that the umbrella had been removed.
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