“How are you doing, lad?” Dad asks once we have left the town where he works and are on the road home.
I am wondering what he is on about. He asked me if I had had a good day when I met him in his office at knocking-off time. Before I can ask what he means, he continues.
“Not just your work experience course. I meant more generally. You sounded a bit down earlier on. Is something bothering you?”
I suppose I was a bit non-committal when he asked earlier. And Dad is right, I am feeling a bit down. Yes, the training course he organised for me and working at the Indian in the evenings have both helped take my mind off my exam results due at the end of next month, but they don’t leave me much time to be with my boyfriend, Tony. I unload on Dad.
“When you’re working, you can’t expect to see him as much as when you’re at school,” Dad replies. At least he sounds sympathetic. “You can still see him during the day at weekends, and you’re not working every night at the restaurant.” He pauses briefly to reflect on that. “Are you?”
“The uncles have said I can have Tuesday’s off, but that’s the night Tony has Scouts.”
“They take a break for the summer soon, don’t they? Anyway that still leaves the weekends.”
“Only the mornings. Tony’s dad has got himself a regular tee slot at the golf club Saturday and Sunday afternoons and expects Tony to caddy for him.” Then I think of something else. “And we go to see Aunt Doris every other Sunday.”
Dad takes his time replying. We have reached the twisty bit where the road runs through the woods and he has to concentrate on driving.
“I think that’s a bit unfair of Bert. That’s assuming Tony has said anything to him.” Dad starts to chuckle. “At this time of year, I guess first tee will be something like seven a.m. Tell Tony. He and his dad could get their round in before you get up! I bet the green fees are less at that time, too.”
I don’t think it would bother Tony’s dad, but trust Dad to see a way to shave the cost.
Dad goes quiet again as he steers close to the hedge to avoid an SUV coming the other way, half across the white line.
After a few choice epithets he resumes our conversation.
“As for your Aunt Doris, I’ll have a word with your mother. See if we can agree something.”
I must sound too grateful.
“Er. Don’t think you’ll get away without going at all. You will have to show your face occasionally. Apart from anything else, I’ll need your help when she dreams up some job she wants done.”
Which she does nearly every time we visit!
“I had a word with your mother last night,” Dad reports the next day as we are driving to work. “If you and Tony have anything you want to do on the Sundays she wants to visit her sister, that’s fine. Although if Doris has a job that needs two people, you’ll be expected to help.”
I don’t like the idea of having to stand Tony up if Aunt Doris suddenly decides she has a job requiring my help. About to comment, I turn to look at Dad. He’s grinning!
“Best bit is,” he says, “if Doris comes up with a two man job, our visit has to wait for the following weekend, giving you a week’s notice, and me a week’s reprieve.”
We both chuckle at the thought, but I can’t resist joshing him a bit.
“Come on, Dad. You know you like doing jobs for her. Keeps you busy and out of the way while she and Mum are gossiping.”
“Hmph!” Dad grouches, before turning it back on me. “And you like helping me for the same reason.”
It’s true; I do like helping him with odd jobs and not just when we are at Aunt Doris.
“Your mother also said she’s going to her W.I. meeting tonight. So we have to get our own meals. Do you want to have fish and chips from the chippy at lunch time and just have a snack tonight? Save time before you have to go to the restaurant.”
No thought required; “Yes, please!”
What does require thought is why Mum is going to the Women’s Institute meeting tonight.
“She’s not been to W.I. for months. What’s special about tonight?”
“Something about talking to one of the officers. And she said the visiting speaker could be interesting.”
Dad’s boss wants some info at the last minute making us late leaving work. To save time and not be late at the Indian, I tell Dad that I will get my snack there.
“Samosas and onion bhajis, no doubt. I suppose I’ll have to make do with a cheese sandwich.”
Although Dad’s tone is joking, I still detect an element of jealousy!
With a quick turnaround, I am actually early getting to the restaurant. When the uncles ask why, I explain and mention that I could do with a snack before service gets under way.
“It’s most auspicious that you’re early,” one of the uncles says. “Raj tells us that you are good at D-I-Y. We’ve got a little job we would like you to do, if you would please?”
“We’ve been given some pictures to hang in the restaurant. If we tell you where they are to go, can you put them up while we cook you some snacks and get on with prep for this evening?” adds the other uncle.
They show me where the pictures are to be hung and then dig out a tool box from behind the reception counter. Fortunately the box contains the few tools and other bits-and-pieces I need.
The pictures look like dancers or actors. To me they seem an incoherent group as the costumes are of wildly differing styles. The make-up on the artists varies too. From very little to extensive body art. One character even has a bright green face. At least the uncles have me hang them in pairs of similar style.
They might be an eclectic collection but, when I have hung all the pictures, I can see they add interest to the room.
I put the tools away in the box behind the counter then duck my head through the kitchen door to report job done. The uncles are pleased with the results when they come into the restaurant to inspect. While we are looking around, I ask them what the pictures represent.
“They illustrate the various classical dance styles from around India. For example this one,” the uncle points to the one with the green face, “is representative of the Kathakali tradition from Kerala, South India.”
The uncles say my snacks are ready. Yup, onion bhajis and some of my special extra hot samosas!
The uncles are taking a break from prep and are enjoying watching me enjoying the food. I notice they are holding hands.
“How is your boyfriend Tony?” Sabhya asks.
“I haven’t seen much of him this last couple of weeks, since I started work at Dad’s and here.”
I get a sense of deja-vu as the conversation continues much the same as with Dad yesterday.
“We did say you could have a day off. We would prefer today Tuesday, but we could probably change that to Mondays if that would help,” says one uncle.
“Either way, tell that boyfriend of yours to get organised so you have some time together,” the other instructs, effectively closing the topic.
I finish my snack and we all get busy with prep.
“Did you say you were given the pictures?” I ask for something to say.
“Oh, yes!” both uncles chorus. The have grins on their faces.
“Is there a story there?”
They start to laugh.
“If you want to know, ask Naveem when he comes in!”
The boys come into the kitchen from the restaurant about ten minutes later. Raj is smiling, Nav isn’t.
“I see the pictures are up,” Raj announces then turns to me. “Did you put them up? I told the uncles to ask you.”
“Yes,” I confirm, and then call across to Nav “Hey, Nav. I gather there is a story behind the pictures and I have to ask you.”
“Since you find it so funny, you can tell him!” Nav grumbles. He finds something to do to look busy.
“Do you remember we have an uncle that runs a gay sex store in Brum? We got the leather gear from there when we did those sketches for the youth group,” Raj asks.
“Well, he often comes here with his boyfriend, so he’s been several times when Virginia is also here. He noticed how Nav drools over her and gets all flustered. He’s also overheard that she is doing drama and dance at college.
“He put the collection together and brought it here, telling Nav that it would give him and Virginia something to talk about and that he should bone up on Indian dance.”
I pick up the double entendre. “Nav doesn’t need any encouragement to bone up where Virginia is concerned.”
Four of us laugh and Nav tells us to stop taking the piss and sends us a two fingered salute.
“Nav is only uptight about it,” Raj continues, “because he knows the reason the uncle knows he fancies Virginia is because the uncle and his boyfriend both fancy him and their eyes follow him all the time.
“He does all right though. When he serves them, they always leave him a bigger tip than if I serve.”
“Which I share with you,” Nav protests.
Lilat tells the boys it is time to open the doors and service gets underway.
The restaurant and a steady stream of take-away orders keep us busy. About an hour after we open, Raj comes into the kitchen.
“Mrs O’Reilly is in with two girls; I think they are Donny’s sisters. It may be a while before they order as they are studying the new pictures. I will try and hurry them up though.” Raj picks up a take-away order for a waiting customer and disappears back into the restaurant.
I am working with uncle Lilat.
“If Mrs O’Reilly is in, you’d better put a treat out for the cat,” he instructs. “Get the small bowl from the shelf by the back door and break a piece of Bombay Duck into it. Then put it outside to the right of the step.”
“You may find she has left an offering or two on the step,” Sabhya adds.
I get the bowl ready and open the door. Merkin is there, sitting upright, self-satisfied, and guarding a dead rat. She looks at me as if to say ‘what you doing here?’ The feeling is mutual. I thank her for her trophy as I put the bowl down. She shrugs in acceptance of my presence and gets on with eating her reward.
“How did you know Merkin would be there?” I ask Lilat when I have washed my hands and returned to my workstation.
“The night that Mrs O’Reilly came with you last year, Raj found the cat guarding an assortment of mice and rats on the doorstep when he put the rubbish out at the end of the session. He realised it was the cat from school, and knew that it got Bombay Duck as treats from Mrs O’Reilly. So he put some out as a reward. The cat was here presenting her kill for a reward every night at first. Now not so often, but always when your teacher comes for a meal.”
“We are so glad the cat has included us in its hunting territory,” adds Sabhya. “Don't mention it to anyone else, but we had trouble with rodents the first year we were here. They had got established in the premises before we moved in. Now, Merkin has them under control. A few pieces of Bombay Duck seems a very small fee for the cat’s services.”
We get back to concentrating on our work.
Raj comes in and places an order on the board.
“That’s the order for Mrs O’Reilly’s table,” he says. “We’d have been waiting forever if I hadn’t broken into their conversation. They were discussing body art. I heard the girls asking if it was used in pre-Christian Celtic or Saxon rituals.”
“Talking rituals? They’re definitely Donny’s sisters!” I chime in. “Donny had better watch out or they will use him as the body.”
It is busy all night and we are shattered at the end of service. One of the uncles makes a staff curry from the remaining unused ingredients while the rest of us clean up the kitchen and restaurant.
The curry is an opportunity to sit down, relax and discuss how the evening went.
“Those two girls with Mrs O’Reilly made me nervous. They seemed to be watching me the whole time,” Raj reports.
“Now you know how I feel when uncle Porn and his boyfriend are in,” Nav smirks.
“Uncle Porn?” Uncle Sabhya tuts and waves a finger of admonishment at Nav. The uncles are both grinning though.
“They were watching you, too,” Raj adds.
I can’t resist to joining in. “Donny says they are always looking for fresh meat!”
“If theres two of them, thats one for each of you,” Lilat teases.
“Don’t you start matchmaking!” Raj is clearly appalled at the thought. “We have enough trouble with Mum and Dad trying to marry us off to those cousins from Birmingham.”
“At least Donny’s sisters are good looking,” Nav gives his opinion. “That lot in Brum are a foul as a bag of frogs.”
The uncles’ fingers are wagging again but the grins are there too.
“Which is why, if you want to, you need to make you own choices before your parents do it for you,” Sabhya is in teaching mode.
“Even if it causes friction in the family like we did,” adds Lilat. “We’ll support you, but your dad will probably come round to accept your choice anyway, like he did with us — setting us up with the restaurant.”
“For which we are both very grateful and especially to you for giving him the idea.” Sabhya waves his hand to include me in his thanks.
Nav goes back to talking business.
“Did they leave a tip?” he asks.
“In our jar,” Raj replies. “They also gave me an order for Uncle Advik.”
There are puzzled faces around the table before Raj goes on to explain.
“The girls had seen body decoration with henna in the pictures. They want to try it and asked where to get the henna. Mrs O’Reilly said that they could probably get it on-line, but they needed to be sure it was the proper natural henna as some of the synthetic types, especially coloured versions, were known to be dangerous to health. She asked me if I knew anywhere that sold natural henna. Uncle Advik has it in his novelty shop. I’ve seen it there. If he has water-based body paints, they want some of those as well.”
“Ring Advik first thing,” a grinning Sabhya instructs. “Your uncle Porn is coming for a meal tomorrow night. He can collect it from the shop for you. I’ll let him know.”
On Saturday morning, I meet Tony at our favourite cafe. The one in the shopping centre. The one with Simon, the cute waiter. Except Simon isn’t there. His dad is instead.
“Morning, Tom,” we chorus when he comes for our order.
“Simon not in today?” I add. Just call me Captain Obvious.
“Hi, guys. I thought I recognised you. You’re the ones who were there for Simon when things got nasty at the wrestling match at your school, aren’t you?”
We acknowledge that we are and Tom continues.
“They’ve taken Simon’s little brother, Thomas, to Crich Tramway Museum again. Apparently there is a special event on this weekend.”
“They?” Tony and I are back in unison.
“Simon and his new boyfriend.”
We must have concerned looks on our faces.
“Don’t worry,” Tom adds hastily. “We approve of this one. We’ve met his parents and his two sisters and they are all nice, although he complains his sisters tease him a lot. Thomas thinks he is great, because they include him in anything they are doing — if it is suitable.”
“That’s good news,” Tony says. “Please tell Simon we were asking about him.”
“Do you think it’s Donny?” I ask Tony when Tom has taken our order and left.
“The new boyfriend? Could be. He has two sisters that are always teasing him.”
“Yeah. Simon met them that night. And don’t forget Donny found Simon’s picture on that wrestling website and had it on his phone.”
“Except he seemed to lose interest after the wrestling match.”
Tom brings our order, halting the flow of our thoughts.
“I’ve got some news,” Tony says after we have sampled our drinks. “Dad has changed his golf tee time to seven a.m., which means I have Saturday and Sunday afternoons free to be with you. The downside is I have to get up early to go with him.”
“What prompted that?”
“He said Mum told him he was ruining my social life as the weekend was the only time we could meet up.”
“Thank your mum for me, please.”
“I already have. Except she told me I should really be thanking your mum as she bent my mum’s ear after the WI meeting the other night. Mum had wondered why she was there as she hasn’t been for ages.”
“Dad and I were wondering why she went, too. Now we know.”
We both take a sip of our drinks.
“Did you ask the uncles about having Tuesdays evenings off?”
Tony had texted me a couple of days ago to tell me that Scouts had finished for the summer.
“Yes, no problem.”
“So we can meet up next Tuesday? Anything you want to do?”
I waggle my eyebrows suggestively.
“Other than that!”
“We could go to the pool. I haven’t been swimming for ages. It’s open late during the week, isn’t it?”
“Nine o’clock, Tuesdays to Fridays.”
We agree that I will text Tony when I am on the way home with Dad on Tuesday.
We finish our drinks and are ready to leave the cafe when I realise Tony has gone quiet. Pale too.
“I thought we might find you two here,” comes a voice from behind me. One I have no trouble recognising. It’s Virginia. I forgot she is home from college. That explains Tony’s colour.
“Shove round and let us sit down,” a different voice instructs. Mel.
We do as we are told.
Tom comes over to take the girls’ order. He asks us if we are having another drink as well.
“Yes, they are,” Virginia replies before we have a chance to say anything. “They’re going to keep us company, like the gentlemen they aren’t.”
“That’s you told!” Tom remarks in our support. He goes away to get our orders.
The girls ask us what we are doing during the school holiday. Tony says he is doing his corvee. (Apparently it means labour in lieu of payment especially tax). His dad has him remodelling their garden and there are his caddy duties as well. The girls are both impressed and encouraging when I tell them I have two jobs.
Once our drinks arrive, we find out why the girls have intercepted us.
“You know Donny has a job at the supermarket?” Mel asks.
“Yes, he was stacking shelves when we went in last week,” I reply.
“Well, he was on the tills yesterday. He had a silly grin on his face. Like the cat that got the cream,” says Mel.
“More like he looked as though he’d finally got his end away. Has he got a boyfriend?” Trust Virginia to be blunt about it.
“Not that we know to,” I admit.
I’m not going to mention our guess that he might be Simon’s new boyfriend. We could be wrong. Like Virginia was last year when she thought Tony had dumped me.
“Have you looked on his social media?” Tony asks.
“We all know how that can be misinterpreted, don’t we?” I give the girls some side-eye. It was a post to Tony’s media feed that made Virginia think he had dumped me.
Both girls look a bit sheepish at the reminder. Not enough for Tony to notice and ask why. Virginia moves things on by asking for news — correction: gossip — of our other friends and acquaintances.
When we leave the cafe, the girls go their separate ways. I tell Tony that I need something from the supermarket and start walking in that direction.
“You only want to see Donny to check if Virginia is right!” Tony guesses — correctly.
As we walk around the shop, I pick up some bits and pieces that Mum asked me to get, but there is no sign of Donny. He must be on his break or is he having a day off?
When we have finished shopping, I suggest to Tony that we go to my house for a snack lunch. On the way I think of something I meant to ask him about earlier.
“If you are going to be playing golf on Saturday mornings, will we still be able to meet at the cafe?”
“I managed it this morning, didn’t I? Let’s get to your place and have lunch. We can have the whole afternoon together. What time do you have to be at the Indian?”
On Tuesday evening, I text Tony while on my way home with Dad. We agree a time to meet at the swimming pool.
There is a boy about our age already in the changing room when we get there. I realise it is the lad that Grandad and I met in Sheffield.
“Hi, Ewan,” I say. “We haven’t seen you around for a while. How’s things?”
“Oh, hi you two. Okay, I suppose.”
“You don’t sound too sure.” Tony remarks. Ewan looks a bit pensive, too.
“I’m good. Although I’m a bit worried they might not let me swim today.”
“Why ever not?” we both ask.
We all start to get changed into our speedos. The last thing Ewan takes off is his shirt. It’s then that we realise his skin is different pastel shades all over except for his face and neck.
“See what I mean?”
“What happened?” I ask as both Tony and I step towards him for a closer look.
“Somehow I got talking with my boyfriend about body art, and I said it might be fun to be decorated. I’d have a tattoo but don’t like the idea of it being permanent. I know I would regret it sooner or later. My boyfriend is quite artistic and loved the idea of using me as a canvas. He got hold of some body paints and he painted me today.”
“Was it fun?” Tony asks.
“His design was fantastic and having him working his brushes and sponges across my body was really erotic.” Ewan blushes a nice pastel colour to match the rest of his body. “Well, it was at first. It took him five hours. You can’t keep erotic going for five hours. At least, I can’t.”
“We can tell the design was great,” says Tony who has been studying it closely. “But how come it looks washed out?” Tony indicates that I should also take a closer look.
“‘It should wash off,’ I was assured by my boyfriend,” Ewan grouches. “He said he had done a quick trial yesterday without any problems. But when it was time for me to have a shower, this is the result.”
“Anything you can do about it?” I ask as I study the design.
“Not really. I’ve been on-line. Apparently even the best quality water based body paints can stain if left on for long periods. If I keep washing, it should fade away in a day or two.”
From the style of the design, I can guess who the artist is. If I am right, the paints will have come from Uncle Advik’s novelty shop and not a specialist place selling the best.
“At least he didn’t do your face and neck,” I comment.
“We ran out of time.”
“We have to shower before we get in the pool,” Tony reminds us. “That might get some more off. If we then walk to the pool in close-order single file with you in the middle, you might be able to get in the water without being noticed. With luck the chlorine in the water will bleach the rest out before any of the staff see you.”
As we leave the showers, Ewan starts to chuckle. We ask him what’s funny.
“Just thinking. My boyfriend has two sisters. While he was asleep, sometime on Saturday, they gave him henna tattoo. I’ve seen it. A superb Celtic knot design all over his torso and arms. Apparently that will last two weeks!”
Tony and I join in the laughter.
“By the way, where is he?” Tony asks.
“Working late shift at the supermarket.”
“Donny wasn’t interested in Ewan when they met last year,” Tony says once we are alone. “Yet that art work was definitely Donny’s style.”
“I agree. Do you think Donny is trying to run two boyfriends?” I ask. “Cos I think that is a good way for someone to get hurt. I wouldn’t want that to happen to any of them, especially Simon after his experience with that shit Jefferson.”
“Nah. I don’t think Simon’s boyfriend is Donny — I can’t see Donny being willing to go to Crich to see some old trams.”
Copyright © Pedro January 2023
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