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Sarah relaxed, and looked into my face.
“Thank you,” she said simply.
I smiled, and held her close to me.
I glanced across at Amy and Laura. “Looks like they did need some sleep, after all.”
“I think you relaxed them,” grinned Sarah. “You feel like a nap?”
I nodded. She shifted position so her back was to me, and I put my arms around her. After a while I heard her breathing slow, and I knew that she was asleep. I closed my eyes and let myself drift off too.
When I woke, it was dark outside the cabin window. I glanced at the map display glowing dimly on the wall.
I kissed Sarah lightly on the ear, and whispered, “We’re only an hour or so away from Dubai. Think we get something else to eat soon.”
She nodded sleepily. I slid out of bed and put on one of the complimentary dressing gowns, then went back into the cabin. After a couple of minutes, I heard the expected tap on the door.
The stewardess brought in trays with a light meal. “Been getting some sleep?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “The girls have been out of it since not long after we took off.”
“It’s a good idea,” she said. “You have another long flight after this, don’t you?”
I nodded. “Not quite as luxurious as this one.”
“Well, the Airbus will be on more routes soon,” she promised.
“Sadly I think this may be our last long trip for a while,” I said.
“Well, we look forward to seeing you again whenever it is,” she smiled. Then she was gone.
Amy and Laura came through into the cabin, spotting the trays.
“Goody — we’re starving!” said Amy. She filled a plate, went to her couch, and started to eat. Laura did likewise.
A few moments later Sarah joined us.
“Everyone feeling refreshed?” she asked.
“We probably had a couple of hours sleep, the girls a little more,” I said. “We should plan to sleep again on the next flight or we’ll be wiped when we get to Kolkata.”
As we finished eating, a chime sounded.
“Guess that means we’ll be descending soon,” Sarah said.
We retrieved our clothes and dressed, once more securing ourselves in our couches. The note of the engines changed, and soon the lights of Dubai appeared on the screens.
“Look, there’s the Burj,” pointed Sarah. The huge tower passed below us, and we sank towards the runway.
When the wheels touched down, I said, “That’s always my least favourite bit, because it means we’re not in the air anymore.”
Sarah turned to me. “I feel exactly the same. Still, we have a couple more flights to go on this trip — and remember, I’ll be the one flying you to Kolkata for work whenever I can make the schedules fit.”
“Maybe we can come along too,” said Laura enthusiastically. “We can go shopping and stuff while Tim’s at work.”
The plane taxied to a halt and we made our way down the stairs to the exit, thanking the stewardesses for a great flight. We followed the signs for transit, and soon found ourselves in the vast concourse with its shops and places to eat.
“We don’t have long here,” I said, “but there’s time for us to have a look around if you like.”
Amy and Laura headed off towards the duty free shop, holding hands and laughing as they talked animatedly.
“They’re good girls,” I said, watching them go.
“Definitely,” said Sarah. “Anything special you want to see?”
“Not really. Let’s just get a coffee and sit. We can people-watch for a while.”
We found a small café, and settled down with our drinks to watch the other travellers.
“Do you think any of them have secret lives like ours?” asked Sarah after a while.
“Who knows?” I said. I looked across the table at her. “I don’t take what we have for granted.”
She reached out a hand to mine. “India will bring a lot of changes. But whatever happens, remember, I love you.”
Suddenly there were tears in my eyes. “I love you too, Sarah. I’m sorry I don’t say it all that often.”
“You don’t need to,” she reassured me. “And it makes it extra special when you do.”
I saw Amy coming towards us. “Found you,” she grinned. “Laura’s not far behind, she was buying a couple of things.”
Then she looked at my face. “Is everything OK?”
“Definitely,” I said. “Happy tears.”
I paused. “Amy, there’s something I don’t say quite often enough. I love you, and I’m grateful for everything we’ve had these last couple of years.”
She hugged me. “I love you too, Tim.”
I went on. “Sarah reminded me that being in casino şirketleri India will change things, but whatever happens, I’ll try to do what’s best for you. That goes for Laura too.”
Laura appeared carrying a couple of small bags. “Gosh, you all look serious.”
Amy leaned over and hugged her. “Nothing’s wrong — I’ll tell you all about it later.”
We walked to the gate for our next flight, and were soon aboard. This time we were on a 747, and the first class cabin was in the upstairs section. When the plane was airborne, I reclined my seat. “Give me a nudge if I’m not awake when we’re coming in to land.”
It seemed only a moment before I was woken by the touch of Laura’s lips on my cheek. I glanced around the darkened cabin; everyone else seemed to be asleep.
“Don’t worry,” she said, noticing me looking around. “Who’ll care if a daughter is affectionate to her dad?”
I grinned. “Have you officially adopted me, then?”
“Amy told me what you and Sarah said in Dubai. I just want you to know — I love you too, and Amy, and Sarah. Things may change, but that won’t. And yes, Amy and I have both definitely adopted you — that’s official!”
I kissed her cheek, and she smiled. “Think we’re landing — I’d better get back to my seat.”
The plane touched down, and came to a halt by the terminal. There was no gate this time, and we came down the covered stairs to the tarmac.
“What time is it?” I asked Sarah. She glanced at her watch. “I make it about seven in the morning, local.”
“Good job we slept, then,” I said.
“Don’t worry — when we get to Kalaikunda we can crash out in the flat for as long as we like. I still have a couple of days before I have to fly.”
Just then we heard a voice. “Sarah!” A tall man in a pilot’s uniform approached us and leaned over to kiss Sarah lightly on the cheek.
“Hi, Paul,” said Sarah. “Want you to meet my fiancé Tim. Tim, this is Captain Paul Green, he flies for the company too.”
Paul’s handshake was firm. “And who are these two lovely young ladies?”
“Amy is my niece, and Laura has lived with us for a while. Since my first wife died, they’ve pretty much adopted us, rather than the other way around.”
“Well, Amy, Laura, I’m pleased to meet you,” said Captain Green. “Your luggage will have been loaded, so shall we board?”
He indicated a nearby Learjet.
“That looks a little bigger than the one we flew in with you, Sarah,” I said.
“Size isn’t everything,” Sarah said playfully. “Paul usually flies a 45, whereas mine is a 40 — we have a friendly rivalry over which is better.”
I remembered Sarah’s aerobatic display the last time she had flown into Satpura, but decided not to mention it in case Captain Green was more ‘regulation’ than he looked.
We climbed the metal stairs into the luxurious cabin, and Captain Green went forward to start his pre-flight checks.
“It’d be nice to go up front and take the controls,” said Sarah. “But I did help finish that bottle of wine on the flight over. That’s the rules — no alcohol for twenty-four hours before flying.”
Captain Green’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, please strap in for takeoff.”
The plane was quickly in the air, and we watched the changing colours below as we headed north, crossing areas of forest, fields, and dry river beds. I looked toward the horizon, and caught a glimpse of mountains in the distance as the plane started to descend.
Suddenly I almost jumped out of my skin as two menacing-looking planes in military green shot past within feet of us.
“Wha-” I managed.
“Relax,” grinned Sarah. “Just a couple of hotshots from the base having some fun — they like to buzz the civilian aircraft just to remind us who really owns the place.”
The plane descended to a smooth landing, and taxied to a halt past a line of MiG’s, their cockpits open.
Captain Green opened the aircraft door, and Sarah walked down the stairs into the heat. I followed her, with Amy and Laura behind me.
Waiting for us was a khaki-clad Indian, short but wide, with a handlebar moustache.
Sarah pressed her palms together, her thumbs touching her sternum, and inclined her head in a deep bow.
“Tim, allow me to present Wing Commander Sridhar,” she said. I did my best to imitate her gesture.
The Commander smiled. “Welcome to Kalaikunda,” he said in impeccable English. “We are pleased that Captain Sarah has found companionship. She is a casino firmaları great friend of ours.”
He extended his hand. “Please come. My orderly will put your luggage in the jeep.”
The luggage was loaded, and we got into the military vehicle.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” the Commander urged. “Come for drinks tonight.”
The jeep drove off, and we passed through several heavily-guarded gates. Finally we reached a compound with a high fence, and pulled up in front of a white-painted bungalow.
We got out of the jeep and Sarah went ahead, pushing open the screen door.
“Home sweet home,” she said. The orderly brought in the luggage, putting it in the hall, and left, roaring off back in the direction of the runway.
“Well, here we are,” said Sarah. “Bedrooms here, living room there, bathroom at the end of the hall. I don’t know about anyone else, but I want to get clean after such a long trip.”
She called out in Hindi, and after a few moments a young Indian woman appeared. Sarah greeted her and spoke to her for a while, then turned to us.
“This is Sita — she looks after me and a couple of the other officers. I’ve explained to her that now you’re here too, she’ll be helping us full-time.”
The young woman smiled broadly and placed her palms together in the same gesture of respect I’d seen Sarah use. Then she turned and went out through the back of the bungalow. I heard clattering.
“What’s she doing?” I asked.
“Heating water so we can wash,” Sarah replied.
“I think you’d better give us a bit of an orientation,” I grinned.
“Simple, really,” said Sarah. “No running water — there’s a pump in the yard. We have a Western-style toilet, you flush it with a bucket and refill it for the next person. For washing, Sita heats up water — there’s a shower room where you just soap up and then chuck water over you till you’re clean.”
She paused, then added, “And whatever you do, don’t drink the water, at least not till you’ve been here six months.”
“What about food?” asked Laura.
“Hungry again already?” teased Sarah. “Sita cooks for us, or we can eat in the officers’ club.”
“It sounds like quite a hard life for her,” Amy queried.
Sarah nodded. “But there’s an upside for her. She has a place to live, and food, and she gets to learn the skills she’ll need to run a household of her own. And — very unusually — she’s paid a wage. The money is kept for her, so when she’s of an age to marry, she gets something to start with. That’s very important in her culture.”
“Can we help her?” asked Laura.
Sarah grinned. “You’ll have to work that out with her,” she said. “It’s easier for her in a way if we stick to the roles that are expected, but maybe when you get to know her.”
Sita reappeared and spoke briefly. I thought I recognised the Hindi word for water.
“OK, girls, you can go first,” said Sarah. “Don’t worry if you use all the water, Sita will already have put another pan on the fire.”
The girls went into the bathroom, and soon we heard giggling and splashing. Sarah and I went through into the living room, and Sita brought us cold drinks.
“I could get used to this,” I said, sipping.
“It’s great up to a point,” said Sarah. “Most ex-pats just do their jobs and enjoy the easy life. But I can’t do that — Sita and the other locals I know are real people, with lives and concerns of their own. I can’t help getting involved.”
I looked into her eyes. “Sarah,” I said, “I will always trust you to do what’s right, even if I don’t understand at first.”
The girls returned, wrapped in towels, their hair wet. “That was fun!” said Laura.
“We’d better unpack at least a little,” said Amy, “if we’re going to drinks with the Commander later.”
I took their suitcases into what was obviously the guest bedroom, and left them unpacking.
I met Sarah in the hall. “Ready for a wash now?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Is there anything I need to be aware of culturally about us being together? I don’t want to upset Sita.”
Sarah thought for a moment. “Sita knows we’re engaged. They have a slightly different concept of that over here, as you can imagine — for them it’s more binding, if anything, because an engagement usually involves discussions between the families about money and land.”
She paused. “So many things that Westerners do are strange to these people. I’ll talk to Sita this afternoon, make sure she understands.”
We went into güvenilir casino the bathroom and gratefully removed our travelled-in clothes. Sarah picked up a jug and scooped up hot water from a large bucket, then tipped it over my head.
I spluttered, and she laughed. Then she grabbed a bar of soap and began to lather me, scooping up more water every so often.
“Shampoo,” she indicated, and I rubbed it into my hair. I used some of the shampoo on my face, and quickly shaved with a disposable razor I found on a shelf.
“OK,” Sarah decided, “you’ll do.” She rinsed me off with more jugs of water.
“My turn,” she said. I tentatively poured water over her head, then began to soap her.
“Everywhere,” she insisted, shifting so that I could soap her most intimate places.
She used the shampoo, then I rinsed her down with more water until the bucket was empty.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” she said.
“Actually, very refreshing,” I said. I picked up a towel and wrapped it round her, then took one for myself. We went through to the hall; the girls were still busy, so Sarah and I started to unpack in our bedroom.
Sarah found her favourite Indian outfit and put it on, then brushed her hair straight.
“Somehow that outfit looks different on you now we’re here,” I said.
She grinned. “Sadly the men here mostly wear just trousers and a shirt, unless it’s a special occasion.”
I found clothes in my case and dressed as she’d suggested. But I hung the Indian outfit Sarah had bought me in the front of the wardrobe; I had a feeling that special occasions would be fairly frequent here.
When we’d found a place for everything, Sarah said, “I think it’s lunchtime. I’ll show you the kitchen.”
She led me out of the back of the bungalow and across a wide verandah. Set slightly apart was a rectangular building, constructed of palm thatch on a concrete frame, with a corrugated iron roof. A thread of smoke was rising through an opening in the roof, and Sita was standing in the open doorway.
Sarah spoke to Sita, who nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.
“Why don’t you go and get the girls,” said Sarah. “We can eat on the verandah.”
I went back inside and looked into the girls’ room.
“Well done.” I said, “Looks like you’ve got everything squared away.”
“What shall we wear?” asked Laura.
“Depends if you want to change to go for drinks,” I said.
“Hmm, good point,” said Amy. “We brought shorts, didn’t we, Laura?”
They pulled on shorts and t-shirts, and we went out to the verandah. Sita was just bringing food from the kitchen.
“What have we got?” asked Laura.
Sarah pointed at the various dishes. “Spiced vegetables there. This one’s daal — careful, they make it really runny here. Chicken curry in this one, and rice in the big bowl. I’ll show you how it works.”
I watched, fascinated, as she served herself, then deftly took a handful of rice and mixed it into a ball with the daal and curry and brought it to her mouth.
“I’m impressed,” I said.
She grinned. “I’ve had a lot of practice. The thing to avoid is getting food on your palms, or further up your fingers than the second knuckle. But I’d suggest you use Western utensils until you’ve had time to get used to it, otherwise you’ll either be very messy or very hungry — or both!”
The girls and I started to eat. “This is very good,” I said. “Seem to be quite a lot of bones in the curry, though.”
Sarah smiled. “That’s how they do it here — pluck the chicken, take out the giblets, then whack! Dice the rest with a cleaver. No waste.”
I nodded thoughtfully.
We finished eating, and Sita came to take the dishes away.
“Coffee?” Sarah asked us.
“Sure,” I said. Sarah spoke to Sita, who nodded. She took the dishes, and returned after a few minutes with a tray.
I sipped my drink. “Mm, this is good. How does Sita make it?”
“It’s just with boiling milk,” said Sarah. “Wait till you try the tea — that’s boiled too, with spices and sugar.”
Amy yawned. “Even though we got quite a lot of sleep on the way over, I think I could still do with a nap.”
“Well,” said Sarah, “it’s the hottest part of the day. Go and lie down until it’s a bit cooler if you like.”
“Come with me, Laura?” said Amy. The two left for their room, and Sarah and I were left on the verandah.
All the Indian cultural references in this part of the story are based on my own experiences visiting India and living with people there, and with my (definitely imperfect) understanding of my experiences and what my Indian friends told me. Please bear with any mistakes I’ve made; I love India and the people I met there, and the last thing I want is to offend anyone.
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