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Authors: Evelyn Anthony

The Tamarind Seed

BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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The Tamarind Seed

Evelyn Anthony

To Bobbie Neville with love


He had sent his secretary off duty; she was a conscientious girl, who loved her work and never minded staying after hours. He had often described her as invaluable, but that evening her eagerness to stay late and help him was a maddening attribute. There had been a little battle between them, which left him victorious and alone in his office. He waited for a few minutes till he was sure she had gone. Then he went and turned the key in his door. It was dark and the windows were spattered with snow; he pulled the curtains and switched on the desk lamp. There were papers on his desk; it was their untidy presence that had worried his secretary, who felt it was beneath his dignity to wander through the building and return them to filing. These were of no interest to him. He pushed them aside, and unlocked the centre drawer of his desk, using a key that hung on a chain attached to his waistcoat. It was the only key to that particular drawer. He took out a file, with a red sticker across the top left-hand corner.

He placed it directly under the desk lamp, and then, page by page, he began to photograph the contents, using an object that was in fact a miniature camera.

At one moment he had stopped, frozen to immobility by the sound of someone walking down the corridor past his office. His eyes were fixed on the door handle. He had a moment of crazy panic, common to the fright experienced in a nightmare, that he might have broken the habit of years and forgotten to lock the door. If the footsteps stopped, if there was a knock on the door and then it opened … But nobody knocked, nobody turned the knob. The feet went past and the sound of them grew muffled, until he knew that what he was hearing was the bounding of his own excited heart. Within five minutes he finished taking the pictures, rearranged the papers, closed the file; only then did he permit himself to go to the door and make sure that disaster could not have overtaken him. He tried it, and he smiled. It was secure. He had not forgotten.

When he left his office, the desk was clear, the middle drawer locked, the unimportant documents returned to their place in the filing room, and the file with the top security red sticker lodged in the safe on the floor below.


‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are now approaching Barbados. We shall be landing at Seaways Airport in approximately ten minutes.'

The pilot sounded bored; a small child in the rear of the tourist class stopped crying for the first time in two hours. Judith knew because she had timed it by her watch; the irritable weeping rose in pitch and then just as abruptly stopped, as if the disorientated baby understood that the journey was at an end. It couldn't have felt less enthusiastic than Judith Farrow. The other passengers were leaning towards the windows, craning to see the island in its cushion of bright blue sea. She glanced across her neighbour and saw the small landmass, incredibly green in what must be burning sunshine. In spite of herself, a little interest, even a suggestion of excitement, stirred at the sight. It was said to be very beautiful. Very peaceful, remote from the hustle of the larger Caribbean islands, a sleepy paradise, where someone like herself could re-assess the chaos of her life and try to create some kind of order. At twenty-eight her pattern of living had disintegrated into a sordid undignified mess. Take a holiday; that was the advice given by her boss Sam Nielson. Get right away from UNO, New York, your friends, the whole background. He was a kind man and they had a pleasant relationship in which he was able to indulge a harmless paternalism towards a woman only a little older than his own daughter, Nancy, with whom Judith shared a flat.

Nancy, tough, determined, as unemotional about her numerous love affairs as any male sophisticate, had suggested the same remedy. Flight.

And without wanting to or really caring, Judith did as they advised. They assured her she would feel better after the first few days. She would begin to see it in proportion. She saw the island slip from view behind the aircraft's wing as it banked before the final descent to land. Like hell she would feel better. Like hell a holiday restored lost faith, illusions, self respect. And yet the Nielsons might be right; when real tragedy struck her four years earlier, she had pulled up all her roots from England and gone to a new life in the United States. The death of her husband had been a tragedy in the accepted sense of the word; certainly in the conventional sense. The loss of the man she loved and had been living with for six months was only a trifle by comparison. Her affair with Richard Paterson didn't deserve more than fourteen days' healing time.

The landing was smooth; the passengers were filing out towards the exits, the baby had begun to cry again. Judith had been married for two years, but she had never had a child. Never even started one. She had married Patrick Farrow when she was twenty-two; he was a rich man, with the charm and humour of the Irish, an unappeasable appetite for travel, for trying out new places and collecting new people. He had collected Judith during a trip to Morocco where she was staying at the British Embassy. Her uncle was counsellor there, and she had met Pat Farrow at a dinner party given by the Ambassador. He had married her a month later and they began a two year paper chase across the world. At the beginning Judith had insisted that she was happy, that living their kind of life was fun. It was fun to go to Kenya, to fly on from Mombasa to Nepal, where Pat was bored after a week or so, and besides somebody had suggested a trip to Tokyo to see the cherry blossom.

Farrow was generous and affectionate, but there was no settled home, and even the most luxurious hotel suite looked much like the last when the novelty wore off. But certainly he was happy. He was the luckiest man alive, as he often announced at yet another all night party, with a glass of champagne in one hand, and his arm around his wife.

They were in London for a short spell which would take in the first major meetings of the Flat Racing season, and Judith had gone down to see her father, leaving Pat Farrow to go racing without her. On the way back from Newmarket he crashed his Jensen into the back of a stationary lorry and was killed instantly.

Her father had been kind, but he was a dry, withdrawn man, whose wife had left him early in the marriage, and he had expended too much feeling on that old calamity to have much left for his daughter. So Judith arrived in New York, with an introduction to Sam Nielson from her uncle, who had exchanged Morocco for Ottawa.

She missed Pat Farrow; it seemed impossible that so much vitality and enjoyment of life could be snuffed out for ever, but there was less grief than guilt, for she knew that she had fallen out of love with him by the time he died.

He had left his estate equally divided between Judith and a woman living in Ireland who had borne him an illegitimate son. There was no shortage of money, but there was less substance than his style of living had implied. Judith had applied for, and got, the job as personal assistant to Nielson, who was Director of the International Secretariat at UNO. That was four years ago. A number of men had tried to have affairs with her, a charming but serious-minded lawyer in Nielson's department had asked her to marry him. Judith said no to everything. And typically, when she did say yes, it was to the wrong man. She hadn't been any better at choosing a lover than she had a husband.

The heat when she stepped out of the plane was like a blanket, out on the tarmac she blinked in the blinding sunshine. There was a balmy sense of warmth, of penetrating heat, relieved from any feeling of discomfort by a gentle trade wind which kept the temperature constant and took the burn out of the tropical sunshine.

It was a very small airport; there was none of the sense of urgency and frustration which she always associated with flying. The bags were unloaded at leisure, the passengers filed through Customs and Immigration, passing a burly coloured policeman in white tropicals, with campaign medal ribbons on his chest, and a village constable's air about him. Nobody seemed to mind that they were waiting, even though there were no duty free shops or tourists' gimmicks worth looking at. Suddenly, miraculously, the frantic pace of American life had slowed to a near stop.

Judith passed through the Customs, and stood waiting for her bag. Unlike most women she preferred to travel light; all she would need was in one suitcase, and that was made up of last year's summer dresses and two bathing suits. She wouldn't know anybody and she wasn't planning to go anywhere outside her hotel.

Richard Paterson had tried to telephone her the day before she left. Nancy Nielson had answered. Judith had gone away for a while, she said. The receiver went down on him before he could even ask where Judith had gone. Now, walking through towards the exit, with a black Barbadian carrying her case, Judith felt an overwhelming feeling of relief. It was all so different, from the first moment she had landed at the airport. A policeman in a bright white uniform looked at her and smiled. He was young, and it had never occurred to Judith before how magnificent a coloured man could be as a physical specimen.

He wasn't very dark; though not as mixed as other islands, Barbadians had mingled, and the beautiful youth in his Colonial inspired uniform was the result of some integration a generation or more before his birth.

‘Welcome to Barbados,' he said. ‘The taxis are just here.'

‘Thank you,' Judith said. It was the first time she had smiled for days. ‘Thank you very much.'

The island was ablaze with flowers. Hibiscus, pink and white oleanders, the glorious purple bougainvillaeas rioted over walls and rooftops, and most beautiful of all, the scarlet poinsettias, usually seen as a spindly plant in a florist's at Christmas time, flared in a great bushes, hedging the roads with banks of blazing colour.

BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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