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Published: July 16th 2013
Frank is sitting with Lakpa on the carpet under the window struggling to get his recalcitrant fingers to cover the correct holes of the wooden flute. Lakpa takes it and shows him how, making it look easy and him foolish. The sounds he makes are as bleak and as wild as the Tibetan plateau he and his fellow refugees dream of returning to. Hira is tidying the room around them, and laughing at Frank’s musical efforts.
Suddenly, Sunita enters the unlocked door. She has not fore-warned him, and they are thrown into confusion. They jump up, and Lakpa mutters inappropriate apologies, and calls Frank 'sir', before making a hasty exit. Hira is more self-possessed, albeit surprised, and welcomes her with a few polite words, but takes her leave within minutes of her arrival. Sunita and Frank look at each other at a distance of six feet, as though they are assessing whether or not to buy a rare work of art. At last she speaks: “You love bhotiyas
, don't you?”
“I don't dislike them,” Frank says. “Some are nice. Others're not. Just like any other people.”
“They're dirty,” she says.
“They're poor.” He gestures towards the mattress where he and Lakpa have been sitting. “Come and sit down.” But she sits primly on one of the wooden chairs. Although it's bright outside, little light enters his gloomy flat. She shines in the darkness. He pulls up the other chair and sits opposite her, their knees touching. He picks up her unresponsive hands, and they resume their silent inspection.
“I'm glad you came back,” he says at last.
“Are you?” she replies unsmilingly.
“Yes, truly. I missed you a lot. Did you miss me?” She shakes her head. He intertwines his fingers with hers, and smiles. She doesn't mirror his smile, but looks at him quizzically.
“You're a badmash
,” she says, using the Nepali word for a wrong-doer.
“What d'you mean?” He’s not entirely sure which misdeed she has in mind. Dancing in the Soaltee Hotel? Making a pass at Sabitha? Or is it his friendship with Kalpana? Most likely all of them. He hopes she hasn't got wind of Mira.
“Nothing,” she says closing the subject. She's looking beautiful, and he wants to end the talking. He tries to pull her out of her chair and into his arms, but she resists. He asks her to tell him about her time in France, and although she answers his questions briefly, he senses she’s relaxing. As they chat the thin veils of her French persona fall away one by one: her French-accented English becomes less pronounced, her Parisian mannerisms give way to her instinctive Newari ways, and in spite of her determination not to smile, he’s able to make her giggle.
“What about this boyfriend of yours?” he asks.
“Yes, he’s very nice, and handsome. My mother and my brother introduced us.”
“But do you love him?”
“Of course!” she says brightly. “He’s not a badmash like you.” Ouch.
“Do you love him more than me?”
“Maybe,” she says.
“Or maybe not?” he suggests. She shrugs.
“East and west can’t marry,” she says in a manner that suggests she was stating a simple matter of fact.
“Who says east and west can't marry? Mr Pradhan? What does he know?”
“Not just Mr Pradhan. My mother says so. And my brother.” Frank decides not to ask her if her sisters concurred. He fears the answer.
“There’re lots of mixed marriages in Europe. They work out even better than same-race marriages,” he says without any supporting evidence. “I’m sure we'd be very happy together.” He tries again to gently pull her towards him, and this time she falls forward into his arms, and they briefly hug each other. She starts to unwind herself slowly out of her sari, after which she removes her blouse and bra. Frank watches the ritual, and she glances at him from time to time, observing his response. She's chilly in the dank darkness of his room, and so gets into the bed and waits. He remembers to lock the door and to hang the old table-cloth over the window before joining her. He turns the light on so his eyes can continue to caress her. She sighs as his body slides under the sheet against hers. It's been a long time. He reaches down and pulls his hand back in shock.
“Why did you shave it?” he asks irritably. She looks distressed.
“I thought you would like it,” she says, hurt. He looks at her and understands that it is something she has picked up in France. He’s touched that she did it specially to please him.
“I'm just not used to it,” Frank says smiling, and reaches down once more to the de-forested area.
They linger together, comforted by the feel and warmth of their still entwined bodies.
There's a tentative knocking at the door. And then a familiar voice in Nepali:
“Frank! Are you there?” His heart jumps. It's Mira. He shouts: “I'm not feeling well. Hira's not here. Come tomorrow.” He leaps out of bed and turns the light off. She hesitates, and then they hear her depart. Hira had obviously not had time to warn her of Sunita's unexpected appearance.
“Who is it?” Sunita whispers.
“Oh, just a friend of Hira's,” he says, grateful to be able to give a truthful answer to her question. Fortunately, there is something on her mind that overrides her usual inquisitiveness.
“I will take you to our family’s bajay. You know, it means ‘astrologer’. He’s famous. He’s the King’s bajay. He will advise us.”
That weekend she led him to the King's astrologer for the consultation that would set him off on his pilgrimage to Chandrapal Pokhari
and the pursuit of truth.
Frank never saw Mira again.
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