Hira, Frank’s maid, was the one person in his life who witnessed all the goings-on in his dank and dark apartment: his trysts with Sunita, and others, and the emotional turmoil that inevitably followed them. She was young and attractive, and cheerful for the most part, and took his wayward bachelor behaviour in her stride. Their relationship was not uneventful. Frank always had an uneasy feeling that she was exploiting his less than perfect knowledge of the market prices of the foodstuffs she bought with the money he gave her, and most weeks she had to put up with his accusations of foul play over the accounts. Nor was she always as committed to her duties as he felt she should have been. When she had something better to do than the tasks he had set her, she would disappear. When she chose to re-emerge, the next day or so, she would accept the inevitable reprimand without showing any evidence of contrition.
When necessary, she would take command of a difficult situation. On one occasion, she had, in a sudden flurry of movement, pinned a giant rat against the kitchen wall with a metal pole. She couldn't finish it off single-handedly and called him to help her. Frank froze in horror when he saw what was expected of him. “Sahib! The spade!” she shouted at him, as she struggled to keep the rat in place. Frank got hold of the spade and, turning his head away, plunged the blade half-heartedly into the poor creature, holding his body as far away from the blade and the unfortunate rat as possible. He had not killed it, and Hira urged him to finish the job. Not wanting to be thought a coward, he closed his eyes, and plunged the spade in again, and once again, and finally the deed was done. She took the mangled corpse into the garden while Frank lay in shock on his bed. What would Lakpa say about that?
He not only had to admire her for her self-assurance, her down-to-earth personality, and guts, but he also had to contend with the undoubted fact that she was physically attractive. On one occasion, he made a pass at her. She rejected the approach in a firm but tolerant way, and his respect for her increased in direct proportion to the shame he felt. But this incident may have encouraged her to give him some assistance, at a time, with Sunita away, his love life had dried up.
The Lopchans had once lived in the part of town where Frank now lived. One day, a mother and daughter, old neighbours of theirs, turned up at their house. The mother asked Kalpana to look after her daughter, Mira, and to train her in domestic work, and some reading and writing, in return for Mira's help in the house. Kalpana and Tashi had known the girl when she was a toddler, and so felt obliged to humour the mother. All went well at first. She worked hard and seemed a 'good' girl. They knew Frank was looking for a partner, and thought that a domesticated girl like Mira would make a perfect wife for him. Frank had to point out that an illiterate and rather plain girl, however well domesticated, was not his idea of a life's partner.
Mira thought otherwise, and began a flirting campaign which ended in a considerable amount of bodily contact when no-one was looking. Frank was not averse to that, if that is what she wanted, though her forwardness surprised him. He contracted 'flu, and while he was sleeping on the mattress at Kalpana's house, Mira sat near him and touched and stroked him until he had almost forgotten his temperature.
At his request, she accompanied him back to his flat to cook for him in place of Hira, who had gone for a few days to visit relatives outside Kathmandu. Tashi arrived early to escort Mira back to his house, putting paid to any designs Frank might have entertained to pursue the dalliance. He had an appointment with the doctor's, and Tashi said he would wait until his return so that Mira could cook him supper. When Frank got back, the meal was ready, and after he had eaten, Tashi and Mira departed.
Mira continued to visit Frank after he had got over the 'flu, but only when Hira was there, and they fondled and kissed whenever Hira chose not to look, which was often. On these occasions, Hira would wear an enigmatic smile as she busied herself in the kitchen. Frank learnt that Hira and Mira were neighbours and knew each other well. It followed that Hira was acting as Mira's informant on his private life, and was assisting in the doomed campaign being orchestrated by Mira's mother to get herself a wealthy son-in-law. She must have thought that Sunita had left his life forever, and that her friend Mira was in with a chance.
It was not clear whether Mira actually enjoyed her role in the seduction. She had the disconcerting habit of spitting after they had kissed. Frank flattered himself in reasoning that her aversion was not personal, but reflected concern over the spiritual consequences for her that kissing a cow-eater would entail. Kissing him, and then limiting the spiritual uncleanliness by spitting, was her solution to the problem of courting a foreigner, but it was not a practice that was destined to win him over.
Tashi would turn up unbidden from time to time during this period, just to say 'hello' he said, but his visits always coincided with Mira's visits. Hira would warn them of his arrival, giving them a chance to compose themselves before he entered. Hira would make tea, and the four of them would chat for a while before Tashi offered to take her home. Frank suspected that Hira had advanced warning of Tashi's arrival.
Later Frank heard from one of his volunteer friends, who had come to visit him while Frank was at the doctor's on that first visit of Mira's, that he had spied through the window Tashi and Mira in a clinch. He had crept away, unnoticed by the two lovers. When Frank related this incident to Tashi, he shifted uncomfortably and at first denied it, and then offered the explanation that he was just seeing whether or not she was as forward as Frank had claimed. Frank drove home the advantage he had of commanding the moral high ground by reminding him of the loan he had given him to pay off the girl he had got pregnant. Tashi paid up.
“What happened to the girl?” Frank asked.
“She ran away with another man as soon as I gave her the money. Thank goodness.”
“Why 'thank goodness'?”
“I was afraid she would blackmail me,” he said.
Mira's interest in working for the Lopchans soon fell off when she found she could see him without having to work, and she became lazy and lethargic, showing more interest in showing herself off to a boy who lived next door, and who used to stand in his open window for hours flexing his muscles, than in housework. Kalpana became disillusioned with her. Tashi concurred that she was not the innocent girl they had imagined her to be. When, after a long period of absence, supposedly caused by sickness, Mira returned to their house in the company of her mother, Kalpana told the mother that as Mira was not keen to work and learn, she was not willing to keep her on.
But the amorous visits to Frank’s flat continued.
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