I promised to write to them and apologized that I must do so in English as I wasn’t fully conversant with the Urdu script. Throughout the evening I had noticed how my halting Urdu had amused them. I also promised to have Faiq’s mother write to them as well. However, when I got up to leave, I knew deep in my heart that I was neither happy nor satisfied with this meeting. I noticed that everything which might be even the least bit offensive to look at had been deftly removed from the scene. Soon upon entering the room I had spotted items of laundry left to dry on the clothesline on the balcony. But when I got up to greet the lady, my eyes fell accidentally on the clothesline and I was mildly surprised to find it bare. It was as though somebody had in the meantime crawled to the balcony unnoticed and pulled the laundry off the line without attracting attention.
After talking with Faiq I crossed another item off the checklist.
The pictures had been sent out to be developed. I expected them back within a few days. I would then send Amand the pictures of his family as well as the baby overall with the zipper which I had promised him.
Amand’s family had given me coarse reddish bread of rice flour to eat and a single fish to go with it, which he had borrowed from a fellow oarsman and fried for me. Color photos were not the only things I had promised Amand. I was going to send him an overall, too, for his baby who was spending the last trimester in its mother’s womb. Bundled up in the overall, the baby would be freed from the danger of catching pneumonia from the lake’s cold winds.
Most of Amand’s children had suffered from acute bronchial pneumonia—I had guessed as much from the description he gave of their illnesses—but he and his family firmly believed their ailment to be the work of some evil spirit, which, in fact, as they thought, had even claimed a couple of Amand’s children’s lives.
Even in their wildest dreams, Amand and his family couldn’t have imagined such an overall, let alone owning a brand new one. This overall was going to be the expression of my gratitude to them for their hospitality and care.
The list began to shrink—slowly, gradually.
In time I crossed off Amand’s name, too; as well as that of the old Catholic lady who taught school in India to whom I had mentioned having seen the first resting place of Saint Francis Xavier at Malacca—that rectangular pit from which his body was later exhumed and carried to Goa and reinterred there. “I’ll do anything you want,” the old woman had entreated me most solicitiously, “if you could, perhaps, send me a photograph of that pit.”
And I had promised that indeed I most certainly would.
I did some stocktaking of myself after crossing the old lady’s name off the list. I had been back in London for a good fortnight now and had started work on my new book. My life had swung back to its normal rhythm, the one it had before I began my travels to the East: reading newspapers, writing, other chores, study, visits to the library, afternoon strolls, then TV and sleep.