The White Man was boarding a plane for the first time in his life. It was an international flight: Paris to Kochi in southern India. He had no expectations. Born and bred in France, he was happy to be going on holiday to a far-away mysterious India.
Once he landed at the airport, everything was taken care of, including a cab and personal guide waiting for him. Nothing to worry about – lean back and enjoy the ride.
He spent a few days exploring Fort Kochi with its rich colonial heritage soaked in the vibrant ambience of the present. Photo exhibitions and many installations in cafes of Kochi made the White Man think that India is not all that different from France after all. However, the White Man didn’t like drawing any conclusions and was simply absorbing what was there around him.
The backwaters of Kerala were waiting for him after his time in Kochi. Did he have a good experience there? – Oh yes, he did. Floating on a house boat, with an intricate wooden interior, down the soothing greenish waters and observing lives of natives unfold while sipping some of the best red wine India could offer, what more could he ask for? He visited a few islands where he was genuinely greeted by the locals and got treated to the most delicious fish he had ever tried in his life.
Moved by the unpretentious, simple nature of rural people, the White Man was looking forward to the next stop on his itinerary – tea plantations in Munnar. The White Man was more of a coffee addict than a tea lover but he had always been open to new experiences, and therefore, was ready to learn all about tea.
Those endless hills rolling with verdant tea plantations were an astounding sight. The White Man was happy to be there – closer to nature and in tune with lush greenery all around as far as the eye could see. He felt his body was longing for the healing energy of the nature, and he would spend hours trekking amidst the greenery getting lost in the bracing smell of freshly plucked tea leaves. Sometimes he would sit in the shade of trees on some remote hill and peer into the beauty of the nature – it felt as if he could not get enough of its refreshing touch.
The lush beauty of the nature was further added to by the kind smiles of the local people. They would invite him to their modest homes and offer the best of the very little they had. With every encounter in villages, the White Man could feel kindness and compassion expanding within him. As he was walking in the town of Munnar or around the tea plantations, he would very often halt for a second just to notice that he was wearing a gentle smile on his face. It had never happened to him before.
There was something special about the way local people smiled at the White Man. At first, he could not perceive what exactly it was. Soon he grasped it: it was not a stock mouth smile one was used to seeing in cities. People’s eyes were smiling. Smiles were coming from within and that is why they were so shining and enriching for the White Man.
One day the White Man found himself lost in the maze of tea plantation plots. He spotted a puzzle of neatly planted colorful houses in the distance and headed that way. Before he entered the village, he saw a girl playing with a kitten in the field. She acknowledged him with a quick look and continued her play with the small cat. The White Man asked for directions hoping the girl would understand English. To his surprise she answered him in fluent English yet with a distinctive touch of the Indian accent. The girl didn’t throw back at him any of the usual “Your country” or “What is your name” questions. So, the White Man thanked the girl and smilingly set his foot to leave when he heard her clear and confident voice, “Would you like to see my home?”
He turned around. The girl was wearing an inviting look on her mischievous young face and her eyes were sparkling. The White Man could not help but stare into those beautiful eyes. They were of a brown color but with a slight shade of turquoise mixed in. Her eyelashes were thick and long. The Girl had a captivating look. Before he knew it, the White Man’s hand was gently clasped by the Girl and he found himself being led to her home.
The house was very small. It consisted of a living room decorated with many Jesus posters and flowers and an adjacent smoky kitchen, yet the Girl was chattering away, “My parents are still at work and my brother should come home soon”. The White Man was wondering how all of them could fit in this house, simply – where they were sleeping. It turned out there was a hidden niche in the kitchen wall – it looked like a big built-in shelf – that was the bed for the parents. Girl’s older brother would occupy the double bed in the living room, and the Girl had her private tiny corner hidden behind a hanging blanket in another wall niche.
The White Man learnt that the Girl’s parents were migrant workers from the nearby state of Tamil Nadu who came to Kerala in search of better living. In Munnar, the tea growing corporation gave them housing and jobs at tea plantations (even though very low-paid) and their children could attend a good school for free. The Girl told the White Man her school was conducting a project in Russia and she had been chosen to go on a school trip there the following month.
Meanwhile, the Girl started the fire in the kitchen and the smoke filled the small house. She was preparing a coffee for her guest. The White Man accepted it with gratitude. He remembered he had bought some home-made chocolate earlier and gladly gave it away to the Girl as he could feel his heart growing lighter with compassion.
When the coffee was finished, the White Man thanked the Girl again by putting his hands together in front of his chest and wobbling his head as a gesture of appreciation. He thought it was time to leave. He squatted to put his shoes on and as he was lifting his head up, his face leveled up with the Girl’s, unexpectedly very close to him now. She kissed him on the cheek. Abruptly. The White Man felt a rush of sweat going through his body. He was still motionless and was peering into those beautiful eyes. She gave him a smack on the lips. The White Man straightened up fast to feel his head was spinning.
“I want to be your wife”, uttered the Girl. The White Man shook his head in both disbelief and attempt to get rid of the fleeting dizziness. “I am already 15, and my mother got married when she was 13”. The White Man vaguely recollected someone telling him that early age marriages were still quite common in rural areas in India.
“Take me away with you. I will study in your country and will always take good care of you”. The White Man smiled and patted the Girl on the shoulder. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist and looked up to meet his eyes. The White Man lowered his head and she kissed him. His lips answered. Before he knew it, they were making love on the double bed in the living room with the face of Jesus gazing benevolently from the wall poster.
It was getting darker in the room. The sun was about to go down. They dressed silently. In silence, they went out of the house. The White Man was looking into those beautiful eyes of the Girl as she asked him, “You come tomorrow?” He paused for a moment, gently ran his long thin fingers through her undone hair, smiled and slowly walked away.
When he came to see her the following day, he brought some freshly baked sweets and a turquoise silk scarf for her. She put it on immediately, and the entire room lit up with pure happiness radiating through every cell of her body. She was pure in every way.
The White Man rearranged his travel itinerary. He could not remember what other places were there for him to see – his destination was determined for a week before his return flight – the Girl. He would come every day right after she’d get home from school and while her family were still at work. They would go for a walk to a nearby meadow or forest and find a remote little place where no one could disturb their serene time together. It felt as if time ceased to exist when they were next to each other.
The Girl would often be lost in dreaming away about her future studies and life in the city while the White Man would lose himself in her beautiful shining eyes and her sweet voice flipping the pages of her imagination. Sometimes he would talk about life in the city, and her face would adopt an inquisitive look, her gaze distant and reflective, her eyes wide open or at times the opposite absorbing every little detail he parted with.
They would make love every day. It would never be a hasty hungry kind of love. Each act would be filled with tenderness yet full-bodied passion. It was the passion of the very essence of existence. The White Man could it feel rising from the depths of his inner Self and overtaking his entire being. He admired every trait and every gesture in the Girl. Like the way art lovers absorb the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, overwhelmed with awe, the White Man would be captivated by the Girl and every time he’d very carefully reach to her body to feel the touch of her smooth dark skin and inhale her unique fragrance. He would always reach out to her slowly because he feared she might evaporate into the air any minute.
The Girl had just finished her bath after she got home from school. Facing the road hill, from where the White Man would usually appear, she was brushing her pitch black hair with a wooden comb on the front porch of her small house. She would jump into his arms to hug his broad shoulders once he stepped inside the house and make his dried-after-the-hill-climb lips wet with her sensual kiss. That was the routine. One hour passed, yet the White Man hadn’t appeared. Two hours were gone. The Girl sat motionless staring into one spot.
At the airport, the White Man had just done his check-in and was taking slow heavy steps towards the boarding gate. He had to go back to work. He had been guarding this lavishly decorated mansion in Paris for a few years, ever since a rich gentleman, who was passing by the White Man’s begging hat, kindly offered him a room and food in exchange for work. The trip to India was a birthday present for the White Man from his generous Master.
P.S. Many many thanks go to Sarah Ann Renfrew for her support and inspiration and editing this story. I love you, my sweetest toots!