by Jenny Pellett
The last thing Phyllis packed was the photograph album, its black pages slightly worn at the edges, the pictures within fading to grey and white. She sealed the box and began dressing for dinner. Already the room felt alien to her, pictures missing from the wall, a shadow of her father’s regimental sword highlighting the ancient flocked wallpaper. Her old silk taffeta dress still fitted perfectly, its muted green complementing her once auburn, now greying hair. She added her mother’s string of pearls with its emerald and diamond clasp and went to find Teddy on the veranda.
Passing the kitchen steps, where wafts of coconut and cardamom were permeating the house, she paused for a moment then descended into Kamul’s territory. Touched beyond expression when she saw that he too had dressed for the occasion in his black jacket with gold buttons, his sandal-flattened feet squeezed in to unfamiliar old, but beautifully polished leather shoes, she spontaneously removed the necklace and held it out to him. Seeing him hesitate uncomfortably, she knew from a life time of shared experience that she was crossing a line but it didn’t matter now. She held Kamul’s gaze and for split seconds an understanding spanning half a century flickered between them.
“Memsahib,” he said solemnly “I am accepting your gift most graciously. Now, it is sundowners for you and Edward Sahib, outside?”
Phyllis smiled sadly and nodded “Yes, as usual, Kamul. Thank you.”
Teddy, in white tie and tails was standing at the wooden railing, absently watching silhouettes of fruit bats flit with blind precision beneath the distant trees. In a few weeks, when they would be far away, the monsoon would come, drenching, replenishing, re-nourishing, sending rivulets of red mud through the rows of orange pekoe to the valley below, nature’s cycle ending and beginning. Occasional cracks of gun fire, far away to the north, were all but drowned out by the choir of crickets starting their nightly practise. A gecko scuttled between the planks, startled by Phyllis’s footstep.
Kamul arrived, white gloved, carrying two cut glasses of gin fizz, a twist of lime skin in each, on a silver salver, white lace mats to place on the table. He bowed slightly, formality restored, and withdrew. Later, he would serve them a supper of curry and rice, before they returned to the veranda to wait for morning. They would sit together in the creaking rocker, gently swaying, watching their hillside disappear into darkness. The dawn would arrive, sending its dusty fingers towards them, a guiding light for the car that would collect them and start them on a journey to somewhere they would never call home.
Teddy reached for his glass, raised it to Phyllis and, clearing his throat, said with exaggerated gaiety and gentle affection, “Stiff upper, Old Girl!”
She knew he felt the same as she did and somehow they would get through this together. That’s what they always did. She raised her glass in return and sipped.
Jenny Pellett has just entered the confusing world of blogging and is hoping it will all become clear one day.