The Summer of Dust

  • 10 Apr - 16 Apr, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

While reminiscing the past, he all of a sudden remembered what he had gone through.

For the remainder of that summer I had very little to complain about. I could put it more strongly and say that those were probably the happiest few weeks of my life. Balgeet exceeded all my fantasies as a lover. There was no limit to the love and warmth she could give to both of us, or to the depth of the tenderness that she left me with when I was utterly dreaming just about her. Just the memory of sitting together, chatting and feeling her heartbeat so close to me, can still bring tears to my eyes when I think about it. In the daytime I wanted to hold her hand all the time, to maintain physical contact, touch her glossy hair. I really couldn’t leave her alone. I don’t think I’ve ever been like that with anybody else.

I got through the work very quickly. After a bit of experimentation I became a minimally competent plasterer. My greatest triumph was getting the beastly stuff to stick to the ceiling, against all the laws of Newton and Einstein. The trick was to do it in very thin layers, allowing each to almost dry before applying the next. I got a book out from the library that explained how to get a proper flat surface. My work wasn’t perfect but it was acceptable and I was immensely proud of it.

He then quickly came out of his thoughts. “Mr Danny,” he began, speaking more quietly than I had ever heard him speak before, “I don’t normally discuss family business with anybody, but I believe that you are a good man, and out of respect I will try to answer your questions.”

I sank back into my seat and he flipped onto the centre of the couch, his bulk almost

filling it.

“Nobody has forced Balgeet to do anything,” he began. “This marriage is a way of giving her back her good name. It restores her respectability. It means she becomes a member of this community again. I’m talking about other people now, in my eyes Balgeet has never been anything but a wonderful girl.”

At last I found my voice. “I want you to tell me,” I said coldly. “I want to know…” I couldn’t use the word but King knew what I meant.

“You think very badly of us, Mr Danny. No, it wasn’t anybody in the family. In her early teens she went a little bit wild. Yes, just like any other teenager. Just like a British teenager. Pop music and discos and all that fun I guess. All-night parties and god knows what kind of drugs getting handed around. Our community is no better at coping with those things than yours is, Danny. Does that surprise you?”

“I…suppose it shouldn’t…”

“No, it shouldn’t. Everything is coming apart; the whole world is changing for everybody. Maybe good things will come out of it, I don’t know. Maybe thereÊwillÊbe love and peace. Maybe your generation won’t have to fight a World War like my generation did. I can’t see into the future. All I can do is try to hold things together right now, while we’re waiting, and try to stop people from getting hurt.”

“And…you say that Balgeet really chose this marriage…I can’t believe that. How could such a thing be?”

“This way, Balgeet keeps her options open. If she wants to turn her back on this community in the future she can. We won’t try to stop her. We’re not Martians, Danny – or monsters. Bad things do happen in our community and sometimes we’re stubborn and bigoted, but we don’t treat our women like cattle. You’re wrong about that.”

“I’m sorry,” I stammered, “I shouldn’t have said that.” He dismissed it with a wave.

I tried to understand the enormity of what had happened. “She could come back to England with this husband, couldn’t she?”

“Of course she could, if that’s what they decide to do.”

I watched him closely. “But you don’t think that’s going to happen, do you?”

“Anything could happen. They might divorce. Or they might live perfectly happy in India. The point is, now she has the choice. She can decide whether she wants the Western ways, or our ways. The time is coming when we’ll all have to make that choice. All I did was lay out the options, as honestly as I could.”

He paused but I could think of nothing to say.

“About your rent – there is none. Our arrangement continues until you want to move on. Don’t thank me for that. It was Balgeet’s idea. We can’t refuse her anything, either of us, can we?”

You must know by now that you were my last little fling before I settled down. Every girl is allowed one of those, isn’t she? At least that was what I wanted it to be, but it got a little bit out of control.

I’m really sorry for hurting you. I know that I did. I don’t think I realised back then that men have feelings too. Even Western men. What chance has a Martian of understanding an earthling?

I can tell you about my life in a couple of sentences. It has been very simple, very ordinary. I still have the same husband and we have three girls. It’s funny, most Indian men want boys, but my husband only ever wanted girls, and that’s what we’ve got. King was right; he’s a good and honest man. And his plastering is a little bit better than yours.

I never finished my degree.

I suppose I could have, but other things just got in the way and I never did. And that brings me to my reason for writing. My youngest daughter is going to your College to study Information Technology. It’s the big thing over here, everybody wants to get qualified. Her name is Asha. She’s very like I was back then, so I wanted to ask you not to manipulate her.

Only joking – I want to ask you to look after her, like King looked after me. Will you do that for me, Uncle Danny?

I was going to end with ‘love’ but that wouldn’t be appropriate for a respectable married Indian lady, would it? So, I’ll just say that not one day of my life has gone by without thinking about you, and I don’t suppose one ever will.

Your Balgeet.