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Published: June 21st 2013
Frank is standing on a corner waiting for the taxi to pick him up.
It's a jeep, and Sunita, her sisters and their mother are already seated in the back so that Frank can sit apart in the front. He turns and makes the usual prayer-like gesture of greeting to the mother, a fragile figure encased in a modest sari, who reciprocates with an almost imperceptible, unsmiling nod, and then looks away. He recognises her as the grey-haired lady who had opened the door briefly as he sat in the guest room of her house waiting for his meal. The girls address him in a decorous manner, but their smiles and glances betray their pleasure in seeing him.
Sunita stays with them for a while, before going through passport control, and she chats excitedly with her sisters about the things she will bring back to them from France. Frank stands slightly apart from the family, not knowing how to behave. The mother stands sadly, not participating in the chatter, and, from time to time, when she thinks his attention is elsewhere, glances at him. The time arrives when Sunita has to make her farewells. This is done in an undemonstrative fashion with just a few quiet words. She does no more than give him a glance, and his heart sinks, and tears sting his eyes. Is that all he is worth? She has reached the security cubicle. She turns and, giving them one last look, disappears from view.
They stand for a few moments gazing at the curtained barrier between them and her. A GI, no doubt fresh from Vietnam on a rest and recuperation visit, approaches Sabitha and invites her to a dance. Sabitha is thrown into a state of confusion, as her mother looks on. Here, possibly, is the answer to her dreams, and there is no way she can respond.
“Her mother’s here,” Frank says, helpfully.
“So?” says the GI aggressively. Frank backs down, and they all troop out, leaving the GI wondering why he had got nowhere with his invitation. Not even a rejection. At least Frank's intervention to protect her daughter's honour should earn him credit with the girls' mother.
He is suddenly struck by the thought that he has lost his play mate, and he has to blink away tears as they travel back into town. He catches Yesha drawing her mother's attention to his lachrymal state with a nudge.
He is invited into the guest room for tea and an omelette, and Sabitha is assigned to be his hostess. She reassures him that Sunita is devoted to him, and promises her support in obtaining a satisfactory outcome. He revels in the sympathy, but is not much encouraged by her words. She explains that even though her mother is bound to forbid the marriage, she will do her best to further his objectives, and he is not to worry. She charms him, and he enjoys talking to her just for the sake of locking eyes with her as she offers her earnest analysis of Sunita's predicament. He is less concerned with what she is saying as with how she is saying it. She is curious to know what impression she and her sisters made at his flat, when they had literally sung for their supper to the delight of his friends. He lays it on thick, assuring her that they found her and her sisters beautiful, and glamorous, and sexy. She clicks her tongue disapprovingly and unbelievingly, but can't hide her delight, and presses him for more details before she lets him go.
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