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Authors: Evelyn Anthony

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BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
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‘I'll order the coffee,' Sverdlov said.

She was lying on the canvas lounging bed with her arm up, covering her eyes against the sun. She didn't hear him come back on the soft sand and he walked slowly, looking at her. He had never liked big women, or women with the motherly breasts which were considered so erotic in his own country. It occurred to him that his people were as obsessed with the mother figure as the Americans. Perhaps neither societies gave enough security at the start of life, hence this mania for suckling that disguised itself as a sexual stimulus. To Sverdlov, the body of the English girl was truly beautiful. It had shape and delicacy, a warm brown colour, with a line of white along the pelvic bone, where her bathing briefs had slipped. He stood looking down at her.

‘If you will tell me the size of your shoes, I will go and buy them for you,' he said. She sat up; he stood over her, not moving.

‘I won't intrude on you,' he said. ‘I will get the shoes, but I won't intrude. You mustn't cut your feet. It would spoil your holiday.

‘Please sit down—they're bringing our coffee now.'

‘Thank you,' he said. ‘I would like to drink it with you. If you are sure you don't mind?'

‘No,' Judith said, ‘of course not. It's very kind of you to worry about the shoes. I'm sorry if I sounded rude.'

He was not a handsome man; the slight twist of his mouth to one side gave his face a dour aspect, which completely altered when he smiled.

‘You were not rude,' he said. ‘You were telling me I went too fast. I understand. Here is the coffee. Will you give me three spoons of sugar please?'

‘You have a very sweet tooth,' Judith said. She realised that she had relaxed with him. The assumption of authority had been disturbing; more so because she had responded to it so naturally. He was used to giving orders.

‘What do you do in the Embassy?'

‘I am a military attaché. I work with General Golitsyn. Does his name mean anything to you?' He had been looking out to sea when he answered Judith's question; he turned and the light grey eyes had the same intent expression that made it difficult to look away.

‘No,' Judith said. ‘Why should it?'

‘He's been in America for nearly three years. You said you knew Washington.'

‘I know someone who lives there—works there, I mean. I used to go down for a weekend sometimes and stay with friends. I don't mix in Embassy circles.'

‘They're not exciting,' Sverdlov said. He sipped his coffee. ‘The same faces all the time. I would have remembered you if I'd seen you. What do you do in the United Nations? Or is your work a secret that I mustn't know?' The twisted smile was mocking her, but with friendliness. He had followed her thoughts so accurately that Judith reddened.

‘I'm a secretary, personal assistant. My boss is Sam Nielson, he's with the UNO International Secretariat. There's nothing secret about what I do.'

‘I know him,' Sverdlov said. ‘Canadian, Director of the Legal Department. Very clever. He is usually able to prove that one side is more in the wrong than the other.'

‘He's the most impartial man I know,' she spoke up quickly in Nielson's defence.

‘You think it's possible to be impartial?'

‘It's an absolute necessity in
his
work. Sam would never take sides.'

‘You are a very loyal assistant,' Sverdlov said. The steely look was gone; he was making fun of her for getting on the defensive.

He was really enjoying himself. ‘Would you like a Russian cigarette?'

‘No thank you,' Judith said.

‘I promise you, it isn't drugged,' he said. The amiable tone rebuked her.

She shrugged. ‘So long as I don't wake up and find myself in Siberia …'

He leant across and lit her cigarette.

‘Or a prisoner of the K.G.B.,' he said. ‘If I go away now and leave you in peace, will you sit at my table for lunch?'

‘Well,' Judith hesitated, ‘well, yes, if you like …'

‘It would be very pleasant for me,' Sverdlov said. ‘Now I am going into Bridgetown. I will wait for you by the bar.' He made a little bow, and shook hands with her again. She lay back in the sun, stretching her body in the sensuous heat, and finished the strong-tasting cigarette. It was an extraordinary situation. He was the first Soviet Russian she had ever met. She found her book in the beach bag, and opened it; she had forgotten to mark her place, and she admitted that it wasn't very interesting. Military attaché in Washington. He would know Richard Paterson. So the less they discussed that the better. Now that he had gone, Judith wished she hadn't agreed to have lunch with him.

The shoes he brought back for her didn't fit. He was waiting by the bar when she came down from the beach, with a paper bag in his hand. ‘Please,' he said, ‘try them. Then we can walk out over the coral this afternoon.'

Judith had put one on, and realised immediately that it was too big. ‘How stupid!' the Russian exclaimed. ‘How stupid to try and make it a surprise for you. I should have asked. Those are no good at all. I will change them this afternoon. I am so sorry!'

‘Oh don't bother, please. It was so nice of you to go all that way … I wouldn't dream of letting you go back again. I can change them tomorrow.' He looked at her and shrugged; he seemed irritated by his mistake.

‘You must not swim far out,' he said. ‘There are sea urchins in the rocks; they are like hedgehogs, very poisonous. You must have shoes.'

‘If you go on much longer, I won't go into the water at all,' Judith said. It was oddly fussy and obsessive; unless she changed the subject he could go on about it through lunch.

He seemed to anticipate what she was thinking. ‘I should not lecture you,' he said. The smile returned for a moment, he touched her arm, turning her towards an empty table by the pool. ‘I am going to buy you a drink first.'

The waiters were slow; Judith had noticed the easy pace that people moved, the lack of tension and the pervading sense of hustle which ran through American life like an electric current. The Barbadian indifference to time didn't worry her; she waited for meals, for her coffee, for her breakfast tray in the morning, and it never occurred to her to feel irritated. It surprised her that as soon as the man beside her raised his hand, one of the staff came over immediately.

Sverdlov ordered a double Scotch whisky, and a rum punch for her. She watched fascinated, and a little alarmed, as he drank it straight down.

Again the same waiter appeared, with a second glass. Sverdlov raised it to her. ‘I learned to like this in America,' he said. ‘It is a very good drink. Better than vodka.'

Judith couldn't resist it. ‘Isn't that treason?'

‘High treason,' Sverdlov agreed. ‘If you report me I will be sent home and shot. How is the punch? Do you like rum?'

‘I like it out here,' she said. ‘It tastes different. I think it needs to be drunk in sunshine.'

‘It improves most things,' Sverdlov said. He hadn't enjoyed himself so much for months—more—a year … It didn't matter what he said to this girl. He could make jokes, he could sit in the shimmering sun and say whatever came into his mind. Within limits, of course. She was a pretty woman; now, after the drink, she looked less miserable than in all the time he had been watching her. She had a self containment that interested him. She hadn't wanted to talk to him; he had made her do so; it would amuse him to go on making her do things she didn't intend doing. He had plans laid for the rest of the week. An excursion across the island, a trip deep sea fishing, dinner on successive nights at two other hotels, where there was a barbecue and a cabaret.

‘That is a very pretty dress,' he said.

‘It's a year old.' Judith offered him a cigarette. He shook his head; he preferred his own. ‘I just packed and came out. I must say, it's lovely here. The people are so nice.'

‘Nicer than on the other islands,' Sverdlov remarked. ‘That's one of the interesting things about slavery. It either makes them hostile and violent, or it takes the spirit out of them. They become passive, easy to manage. Like here, in Barbados. The Jamaicans are not the same at all.'

‘Whatever it does or doesn't do, it was a revolting business.'

‘Our people were slaves until 1861,' Sverdlov said. ‘I wonder what effect serfdom has had upon us—a sociologist ought to make a study of it. One of those clever Americans who know all the long words and none of the answers to their own questions …'

‘You might find,' Judith said, ‘that they wouldn't be interested. They'd probably say there wasn't any thesis, since nothing had changed.'

He leaned back in his chair, and laughed. ‘Very good. You argue well. I enjoy that very much.'

‘I nearly didn't say it,' Judith said. ‘But if you crack at the Americans and the West, I warn you, I shall crack right back.'

‘No,' he held up his hand. ‘No, peaceful co-existence. That is the way now. Please don't declare war on me.' The eyes were fixed in that demanding scrutiny; they insisted that she look at him and give her full attention.

‘I've never declared war on anyone,' she said. ‘I'm the kind that runs away.'

‘Ah,' Sverdlov said. ‘I don't think so. I think you would be a brave and beautiful capitalist heroine.'

It was the first time he had heard her really laugh. They ate their lunch at the table by the bright blue pool; he drank a succession of whiskies, and bought wine for Judith which she didn't want. The afternoon grew very hot; for a brief period the ubiquitous breeze dropped and the air hung still and brazen. Most of the lunchers had gone to their bungalows to rest; a couple of small children splashed in the tepid waters of the swimming pool, watched by a sleepy mother lying in the shade. Suddenly, Judith couldn't keep awake. The rum, the wine, the intense heat all combined to make her head weigh like a lump of lead. Her limbs ached. ‘I'm going to lie down,' she said. ‘I'm just tired out.'

He got up and held out his hand. ‘I am so sorry about the shoes. Will you sit at my table for dinner tonight?'

‘Only if you promise not to apologise about those shoes again.'

‘I promise. I will be at the table. Unless you wish to make friends at the bar? All the Canadians will want to buy you a drink …'

‘No thank you,' Judith said. ‘I'll come to the restaurant.'

He watched her walk away, climbing the short flight of steps towards the bungalows. He decided not to follow her. The mother of the two children had lifted her head and was watching Judith Farrow. The husband had come down to join her, he was settling down on a lounging bed beside her, rubbing sun oil into his over-weight body. Sverdlov stripped off his shirt and moved into the full sun. He leaned back with his eyes closed. He liked her; an intelligent woman, with a sense of dignity. Her reserve amused him, he couldn't help sniping at the prejudices which he knew were there, bristling like antitank traps in her mind. It was a temptation to prod and tease the enemy. Enemy. His eyes opened for a second into the burning yellow glare. She was a pretty girl, who made him feel like making love. Enemy … That was how Golitsyn would have seen her. He hadn't thought about Golitsyn once, since he had gone swimming with the English girl that morning. And he hadn't thought about his wife either.

The Canadian couple were drowsing in the shade of beach umbrellas; their children called to each other from the safety of the swimming pool. The man watched Sverdlov as he passed them on his way down to the beach. He saw him go into the sea and swim out.

‘You notice those two at lunch,' he muttered to his wife.

‘Aha,' she said, not looking up from her book.

‘Didn't take long for them to jell.'

‘Yeah,' she answered. Her husband was a talkative man; she enjoyed long, explicit sex novels, with laboured anatomical descriptions.

‘It's so hot, honey,' she said. ‘Why don't you go to sleep?'

CHAPTER TWO

‘Rachel, if you don't hurry we'll be late.' Richard Paterson tried to keep the irritability out of his voice. They were going to a reception at the French Embassy. His wife always took hours getting ready, and it was a trait that infuriated him. He thought it was rude to be unpunctual, an indication of a sloppy routine and careless thinking. He came to the bedroom door and watched her. She turned round from the chest of drawers where she was hunting for something, and smiled at him. She was a pretty girl, fair haired and fresh skinned, very English in type. She looked very good in country clothes, and nothing fancy really suited her. She had an unfortunate feminine love for the inappropriate, which she indulged when they went out at night. Richard had good taste, and the gleam of bead embroidery on the baby blue cocktail dress made him wince.

‘I'm coming, darling. I'm just getting a handkerchief. It's only 6.30.'

‘The Ambassador likes to get there at seven,' he answered. ‘I just don't want to sweep in at the same time. Look, come on for Christ's sake. Haven't you got a tissue?'

She struggled into her coat, and followed him down the stairs and out to the front door. In the days when they were living in London and he was at the Air Ministry, the exchange would have ended in a row, with her staying behind in tears. But things had changed since she came over to the States and made the effort to keep their marriage going. After the first two years they had begun to grate on each other; when they weren't bickering they had drifted in different directions, she relying more and more on her own family and friends, he absorbed in his career. When he got promoted to Group Captain and was offered the post in Washington, the prospect of leaving home and living with him in a strange country was too much for Rachel. She had misjudged badly, by giving him a straight choice between going to the States and staying married. He had chosen to go to Washington. When he had gone the atmosphere in her own circle was disapproving. Family and even friends made pointed remarks about poor old Dick being lonely, until she began to feel miserable with guilt. Also she missed him. As the months passed life seemed very aimless, without a husband, and their smart little London house more like an empty box than ever.

BOOK: The Tamarind Seed
9.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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