Authors: Deborah Moggach
Read on for an extract from
Something to Hide
East is East and West is West...
Fresh from London, Christine and Donald Manley have come to the alien swelter of Karachi: Christine to conceive a child, Donald to sell the Pill for a pharmaceutical company. Among the ex-pats already there is straight-talking Duke Hanson, whose all-American values cannot prevent him falling, then sinking, helplessly in love with a sophisticated Pakistani girl. In the ensuing tangle of Anglo-American-Oriental relations, the strangest things for those who have come out East are revealed in the very people with whom they arrived...
Deborah Moggach is the author of fifteen novels, including the bestseller
, and two collections of short stories. Her TV screenplays include the prize-winning
Goggle-Eyes, Close Relations, Final Demand
and the highly-acclaimed
Love in a Cold Climate.
Her movie adaptation of
Pride and Prejudice
was released in 2005. She has two more or less grown-up children and lives in North London.
You Must Be Sisters
Close to Home
A Quiet Drink
Driving in the Dark
To Have and to Hold
Smile and Other Stories
These Foolish Things
To Enjum, with love
Too hot for
the ladies,' said his grandfather. âToo blessed hot. Had to send 'em away.'
Donald, who was ten, twisted his feet around one way then the other. He wore grey socks darned by Granny.
âSend 'em into the hills.'
A sensible idea. Girls were no use, spoiling things and making you feel foolish.
âMurree, Dehra Dun, Mussorie. Simla, of course. Good old Simla, good old English flowers. Lupins, dahlias, you name them.'
Donald could name nothing but he knew the noises so well. Gandhi, Murree, this-wallah, that-wallah; sometimes he didn't know which were people and which weren't. They were part of the wallpaper of this house, its patterned carpet, the things upon which he gazed as his grandfather spoke.
It was June 1955. Outside the day was hot, but not as hot as India. The sun lay across the carpet, warming its weave. The room was stuffy. Overhead a plane droned. He never noticed the drone except in summer; it was part of the heat, like the hum of the bees.
When he was younger he had thought all old people came from India. Talk of natives and punkahs became, like blotchy hands, part of the process of ageing. Perhaps you collected India like a pension. Or perhaps the words were just in old people's rooms, like Grandad's brass boxes and stuffed mongoose on the lounge shelves. He was ignorant then. Later of course he worked it out and separated his grandparents from the others. They were special. This made it more noteworthy, sitting here long after the tea had grown cold.
Grandad had forgotten his cup on the arm of his chair. Old people took so long. Outside it was all right; you could dawdle and explore, they did not make you hurry up because they were going so slowly themselves. Indoors it was different. But he did not like to get up, his mother and grandmother both being out.
They called him an obedient child. People were always patting his head. This was only because he lived with his grandparents (well, Mum too, but it was an old person's house). He couldn't be cheeky like he was to his mother, because they didn't catch on. He couldn't run off because they couldn't even start to find him. They probably hadn't even noticed he'd gone.
âWhen they'd gone, things shook down. Just the chaps together. Settled in for the summer, had to sweat it out didn't we. Not much choice about that one. Those days, you did your duty. Had some laughs too. Just the boys together â bit like you and me, eh, old chap?'
Donald nodded. But his mother and Granny were not up in the hills, they were down at the shops. They said they'd bring him back a Crunchie.
Donald fingered the rim of his comic. He had tucked it down the crack in the armchair. He had never met an Indian, though he had seen pictures of them in Grandad's books. They were different from Red Indians, he knew that much. But then he had never met Desperate Dan either, and he was real enough. When the women got back he would take
into the garden and sit in the bit nobody mowed behind the tool shed.
âAnd I'll tell you something else. Sweat it out's putting it mildly. The sun would go down and you'd still be standing in front of a blessed great fire. That's what it felt like. Women couldn't take it. Didn't have the constitution.'
Outside another plane droned overhead. Donald wiggled his feet. He loved Grandad. He was listening to Grandad's voice, and listening for the click of the gate.
May 1975, and
Duke was driving his wife to the airport. It lay in the desert, nine miles from the centre of Karachi. The airport road was always busy; even at two a.m. he was overtaking taxicabs. Up in the sky a light winked; it was moving with them.
Is that my plane? He expected Minnie to ask this but she remained silent. She sat beside him, smoking, small and tense, her carton of Kent and her documents in her lap â her U.S. citizen's passport, her tickets in their plastic envelope he had prepared for her. She was already removed; she was in the plane, she was changing flights at Kennedy, she was greeting their boys. Already the abstraction of the traveller was upon her â she, Minnie, usually so close and anxious, clinging to his arm. He missed her already.
âSahib?' They had arrived. Faces were pressed against the window. âRemember me, sahib?' Porters pushed to the front, pointing to their badge numbers. These fellows were smart. They knew all the businessmen; after seven months they recognized him. One of them got the door open, shouting bossily at the others to keep away. Duke bellowed in his terrible Urdu and pointed to the luggage. Free enterprise: he who tries hardest reaps the rewards. This was his personal motto too.
The airport building was crowded day and night, bodies pressed against the glass to watch the drama of arrivals and departures, people standing on the roof watching the spotlit DC 10s being fed by tankers small as toys. Surrounded by scrubland and shabby suburbs, it was the big concrete theatre where everything happened. In the corridors families, waiting for local flights, slept in their bedrolls. Deep inside the building, within the smartened-up Transit Lounge, people sat in rows of chairs waiting to resume flights to Singapore and Hong Kong. To them, Pakistan was one hour of gazing at the closed tourist booth with its folk dolls â Sindhi, Baluch, Punjabi â sheathed in plastic.
Sitar-style Muzak played. They stood in the Departure Hall.
âDuke, I'm a little nervous.'
âHey, hon, you'll be there soon.'
âThat's what scares me.'
He took Minnie in his arms. Behind him the porter put down the suitcases. âHell, Min, I wish I could come.'
âThat would be crazy. Besides, I've got the boys.'
Minnie was returning to Wichita to escape the summer heat, to look after the boys in their college vacation and to have her womb removed. She stood aside while he checked in her ticket. She looked like the smallest of his sons. So slight, she was, with her black cropped hair and tanned face. Through a cloud of smoke she was gazing gravely at her cases, moving away along the rubber belt. She wore the sleeveless pink pants suit that she had not worn since they had arrived here â her creaseless travelling gear. Soon she would be beyond his help, in limbo land the other side of the Departure Lounge door; she was now a Pan-Am passenger he was unable to follow, with a boarding card and passport ready for its stamp. Like a patient, injected now and ready to go through the double doors beyond which nobody else can enter.
He kissed her, holding her against him. He ran his hands up and down her thin, dry arms. Behind him the porter hawked and spat. He kissed her again, oblivious of the spectators. The buttons of her blouse pressed against his chest; behind the polyester, deep within her lay the mysterious place where his sons, now all over six foot, had lain growing.
âIt'll be okay,' he whispered pointlessly.
He watched her leave, pause at the desk for her passport to be stamped, then disappear through frosted doors marked
There she would stand, husbandless, while a P.I.A. girl, head modestly swathed in a dupatta, patted her front and rear, searching for weapons.
It was three a.m. but Duke was not tired. He was a big man, no beauty, strong as an ox. Prod him anywhere: muscle, all muscle. He believed in keeping trim. Soon when the sun rose he would be jogging, thudding along the dusty verges of K12 Housing Society. Pariah dogs would run out, yapping; they lived in the scrub of the empty plots. Past high white walls he would trot, past closed gates with their lozenge lights still bright though the sky was brighter. Gatemen would be sitting, propped up like dolls. No sound but his own feet, his own harsh breaths, and the murmur of air-conditioners outside closed bedroom windows. His business friends thought he was crazy; these Pakistanis did not take exercise. But he loved the early mornings, the distant loudspeaker calling from the mosque, and the air fresh before the heat closed in. He had urged Minnie to join him, these beautiful dawns. She seldom did. In the three months she had been in Karachi she had not settled; she could find nothing to say to the American wives and the slums reduced her to tears. In one small, uncomfortable way it was a relief she had gone. He had felt responsible for her, returning early from work when he had so much to do, trying to take on to his shoulders her burden of distress. Besides, she had missed their boys. He would ache for her but life would be simpler; without women it always was. This was what they used to do, apparently, out in these parts. Business did not stop for the heat.
Minnie was three dots in the sky. They disappeared. Up there she would be settling back on her pillow. A stewardess, blonde and comprehensible, would be passing round the blankets sealed in cellophane. Duke was standing on the roof. Even at this hour of the night, the concrete ledge was warm. Another jumbo, a British Airways 747, had landed; in the spotlight, toy people climbed down the steps and made their way to the bus. Some paused. He knew what they thought: that the heat came from the exhaust jets of the plane. Only when they moved away did they realize that this fire was not something you could leave behind so easily. It would last from May through September.