In Merrie Olde England (Pt.3)

A very tall guy answered the door when Tom pushed the bell.  He greeted Tom, glanced at me, and looked over the two girls as they passed by.  We were ushered into a small but cozy living room where perhaps five couples were sitting on various pieces of furniture.  The noise level was deafening as they all were talking at the same time.  My eyes smarted from the cigarette smoke.  It seemed as if every one of them had a lit smoke of some kind.

Our host, Reginald (call me ‘Reggie’) pointed to me and indicated that my name was Tom also.  It was agreed that for tonight I’d me known as ‘Yank’.  How they knew that without me saying more than five words I’ll never know.  Maybe it was the way I dressed or something.

The group turned out to be quite cosmopolitan.  Among them were me, a yank, two from Wales (wherever that was), four from way up north in Liverpool, a very tiny, dark, Indian girl who sat in a corner, and one guy with a Dutch-sounding name that I didn’t quite catch.  Everyone called him Vannie.  A glass was shoved into my hand and I was waved over to the table upon which sat a huge collection of booze, mixer, ice, and munchies.

I opted for just a glass of some dark type of soda.  It turned out to be grape of all things.  With a small dish of stuff to nibble on, I found a place to sit between the Indian girl and a large guy from Liverpool.  He gave his name again, Alf, and turned back to the girl he was chatting with.  I leaned over and tried to talk to the Indian girl.  She never once looked at me, but said her name was Gin.  I had her repeat it but it definitely was ‘Gin’.  I assumed it was the short version of her actual name.

She told me she was from a place called Sirideo Beach on the west coast of India.  Her parents ran an automobile dealership there and sent her here to London to school.  I was very surprised to find she was two years older than me; almost nineteen.  Never assume, I repeated in my mind; never assume.  I told her I lived in Germany and was just here for a vacation while my dad went to a conference.

As we talked, she gradually lost some of her shyness.  Once, when she looked directly at me, I saw she had almost black eyes.  They were beautiful and captivating.  Before I made an ass of myself, I thought, I’d better check on the whereabouts of Connie – ostensibly my date.  When I spotted her, she was crowded into the corner of a couch with a guy sitting entirely too close to her.  She appeared nervous and kept tugging down the hem of her skirt, which was short to begin with.  The way he had her sitting, it rode up on her thighs; a lot.  Gin followed my gaze and stood to excuse herself.  As she walked by, I actually caught the smell of jasmine.  Which, as it turned out, was my favorite cup of tea.  I hoped fervently that I hadn’t made her mad.

I mingled with the rest of the gang.  I had a very hard time decoding accents, but, over time, I seemed to at least get the gist of what they were saying.  My evening consisted of a lot of ‘uh huh’s and ‘yes-no’ answers.  They probably thought I was an idiot.

The birthday girl, Gwen, stood to our toasts and giggled.  She had been steadily sipping on a special bottle of wine on the table and had killed almost all of it.  She was pretty tiddly by the time it came to open presents.  She had a small pile of them around her feet as she sat back down on the couch.  After opening the second gift I knew that they were supposed to be gag gifts.  The first one was a nightgown about six inches long.  Just enough material to cover her shoulders.  The second one, which never got out of the box, appeared to be very embarrassing because she turned scarlet and hastily put the lid back on.

Tom leaned over and said “that was mine.  I got her a peek-a-boo bra.  The kind where the nipples stick out through little holes.  Not that she really needs it though.”

He was right.  Gwen wasn’t very well endowed chest-wise.  She was pleasant to look at though and that wouldn’t have matter to me at all.  But, according to Tom, she was going out with Reginald.  Maybe she’d wear it for him.

People drifted in, had a few drinks, and then drifted back out.  Time passed quickly and the original group thinned somewhat as members left – mostly two by two.  Gin came over and sat next to me on the love seat.  When she touched my arm I jumped.  Her hands were like ice.  When I asked her where she had been, she pointed down the hall.

“There’s a small room at the end of the hall where Reginald doesn’t allow smoking.  I had the window open.”

“Oh, really?  I could definitely use some fresh air,” I remarked starting to rise.  “This smoky room is getting to me.”

“I will go with you,” she said, rising also and putting her arm across my back to steady me because I wobbled a little.  “Mind the rug, Tom.”

I loved the way she said my name.  She would say the ‘o’ long instead of short, drawing it out to an ‘oo’ sound; making it sound like ‘tome’.  Have I mentioned she was very pretty?

We went down the hall and into the smoke-free room, closing the door after us.  It was dark, but she turned on a small light next to a desk.  I went to the window, opened it a little, and took several deep breaths.  I could feel my head clearing.  As I looked out the window I could see down two rather large roads.  Bright headlights were in a continuous river but they looked odd until I realized that they were on the ‘wrong’ side for me.  I chuckled.

Gin came over and looked at me.  I explained what had made me laugh.  She looked at me quizzically and asked me why that was different?  I started to explain and then remembered that they drove on the left in India also.  No wonder she didn’t see the humor of it.  I was the different one here.  She told me that she would be terrified to drive on the right side like we did.  This echoed my first impression when I left the London airport.

She stood closer yet, put her hand on my shoulder, and leaned out the window to point.

“Down that way is a very nice park.  Down where no light show.  And over here where all the bright lights are…” she pointed, “… is Linford Christie Stadium.  Do you follow football?”

I did the mental translation from English ‘football’ to what we Yanks call ‘soccer’ and told her no I didn’t.  I added that the Germans called it ‘Foosball’.  She giggled at that.  She could put so much into a single noise like giggling.  It suited her.

I noted that she hadn’t dropped her hand from my shoulder and took a chance.  I slipped my arm around her very lightly on the pretense of working the window winder lever.  She didn’t pull away from me at least.  I left my arm there and tightened it just a little.  We stood that way for a moment and then she turned away to sit back down.  I thought that I’d blown it until she patted the cushion next to her on the love seat.  She reached out with both hands and I covered them with my own, warming them.  Her fingers were still like ice.  I rubbed them briskly and for some wild reason I bent down and kissed the back of her hand.

I heard an intake of breath and thought that now she would get up and walk out of the room.  But, she didn’t.  She instead looked directly at me and in an unblinking gaze moved her face close to mine and kissed me right on the lips.  I was stunned.  I swallowed a couple of times, lowered her hands to her lap, and returned her kiss.

An indistinct sound, footsteps down the hall, and a knock on the door interrupted us.  It was Tom, come looking for me.  Before I could give Gin any indication that I’d prefer her company, she stood up and smiled at me again.

“We must get back to the party.  I would find it most enjoyable to stay here, but I am not free from obligations.”

‘Oh, no,’ I thought to myself.  ‘She’s married?”

“I am soon to graduate and go back to India to be my father’s bookkeeper.  He has arranged for me to marry one of his managers.”

‘Nuts,’ I mused internally.  “Oh I am sorry to hear that Gin.  Could you just stay a little longer?”

“I, too, would like to remain, but I must go.”

Meanwhile, Tom had tapped again a bit stronger and added that he knew I was in here.  She slowly removed her hands from between mine and turned to the door.  I followed dejectedly.

When I opened the door, Tom stepped back to let her by.  Then he told me that we’d better be going back to the hotel as the trains only run every hour after midnight.  I glanced at my watch and found that it was nearing eleven thirty.  We did need to get moving.  I made the rounds of everyone who was left and wished Gwen a happy birthday.  I didn’t even see Gin before Tom handed me my jacket and almost pushed me out the door.

“Hey, wait a minute, Tom.  What’s the big hurry?”

“Gin’s an untouchable, man.  That’s what’s wrong.”

“What?!  Untouchable?  What do you mean?”

“Her dad has spies all over the place.  Everywhere she goes is reported back to him.  He takes her marriage contract very seriously.  None of us guys can even get her alone and you manage to do it in one night.”

“Yeah, but, untouchable?  That’s nuts.”

“Part of the culture, man.”

“But we only kissed a couple of times.”

His eyes got wide and he stopped suddenly.

“Oh, cor!  Don’t tell anyone that.  Nobody at all.  Right?”

“Well, okay.  If you say so.”

“I say so.”

We resumed walking towards the tube station.  Down the steps we went and waited on the platform for the train.  Right at midnight it appeared and we boarded for our trip back to the hotel.  Twenty minutes later, we arrived.  I said my goodbyes to Tom and went on upstairs in the creaky old elevator.  He headed home because he was on duty again tomorrow, or today, at noon.

A great party and an introduction to yet another culture; for me, strange, but to her it made perfect sense.  I thought that maybe some research into arranged marriages might help me figure it out as I drifted off to sleep.

T.O.M.

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