A Red Light

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9. Across the World


The Iran Air jumbo jet touched down at Heathrow Airport on a cold, damp day in the middle of November. Farid and his five fellow cadets watched the descent to the runway through the windows of the plane. They were unimpressed by the bleak, grey skies which confirmed the rumours they had heard about the drabness of the English climate.

“Is it always like this ?” cried Bahram mournfully.

“No. The sun does visit the place every seven years !” teased Reza.

“They must have a lot of indoor activities,” said Amir sardonically.

“Yeah ! Especially with girls !” said Reza, rubbing his hands.

“Why not ?!” exclaimed Dariush, winking. “What better way is there to learn the language ?!”

“With lots of practical exercises,” added Farid emphatically.

The others approved wholeheartedly. Only Kamal had sat quiet and withdrawn during the flight. The cadets had had first class seats reserved away from the general public, but had not otherwise appeared conspicuous. They had been asked to present themselves at the airport, smartly attired in suit and tie, and had not gone through the usual departure channels. Kamal was already waiting when the others arrived, as custom dictated, with droves of relatives and friends to see them off. He was alone and looked gauche and out of place. His shabby suit contrasted sharply with the well cut suits of his fellow cadets, and the expensive clothes and jewellery of their families. Farid felt acutely sorry for him as Kamal clutched his case and concentrated his gaze on the departure board.

During the seven hour flight, he had ventured to ask Kamal why he had turned up at the airport alone. Kamal had told him quietly that his family was very poor. His father was an invalid and a registered heroin user. His mother kept the family by knitting and selling jumpers. It didn’t bring in much, but just about covered the rent they paid for two rooms and a communal latrine, food for two adults and eight children, and in part the heroin which Kamal’s father was dependant on. It didn’t leave anything, he said in a low voice, for their fares to the airport to see him off, or indeed, decent shoes or clothes to compete with the fashionably clad jetsetters who normally thronged the airport arrival and departure halls. Whilst in England, he intended sending most of the allowance he would receive from the Navy to his parents to ease his mother’s long hours and give her cramped fingers and tired eyes some welcome relief.

“My mother worked through the night many times so that I could finish High School instead of going out to work,” he told Farid. “So, I owe her this.”

“Why is your father an invalid ?” Farid had asked him.

Kamal told him that his father had been a construction site worker, and one day had been crossing the building site when a giant crane toppled over. Its heavy load had swung forward and struck him in the back leaving him a cripple in constant pain. There had been no compensation from the construction company, and they had had no money to engage a lawyer to sue the company for negligence. His father’s only solace was the devoted care of his wife and children, and the government statutory allowance for registered addicts to help with the purchase of the drug from a local hospital in order to ease his pain.

Farid was shocked. He knew, of course, that there were poor people - as poor as Aunt Helene - but he had never imagined a degree of poverty such as Kamal’s family endured, nor that even greater penury existed, not in Tehran or, indeed, the whole of the country. Not with the colossal revenue which Iran’s oil and mineral deposits brought in…

He was aware that primitive conditions still existed in rural areas. They had gone on a two week exercise to observe and assist graduates doing their military service spearhead a national campaign to educate the population, and decrease illiteracy. They had lived without gas and electricity, telephones, televisions or other modern conveniences, but Farid had seen no signs of deprivation amongst the healthy, well-fed peasant population.

His well-intentioned thoughts of sympathy for those less privileged than himself, however, had been interrupted by the arrival of the free drinks trolley, and he had pressed Kamal to accept a drink and enjoy himself. The plight of the poor seemed less urgent after a couple of vodkas…

As they emerged from the customs hall, they espied a person holding up a large notice written in Farsi, which stated simply ‘Naval Students This Way’. The man introduced himself as the Iranian charge d’affaires, and herded them through the swing doors of the arrival hall into a minibus waiting outside.

The bus wound its way through the traffic congested roads from the airport to central London, and the Iranian embassy in Kensington. Inside, they met the Iranian Ambassador and the naval, military attaché, who briefed them on their course, outlined the standard of behaviour expected of them, advanced them each a week’s allowance, and wished them well in their studies. Their immediate destination was the seaside town of Hastings on the south coast of Sussex, where they had been enrolled at an English Language school to improve their English, and pass the language proficiency exam set by Britannia Royal Naval College.

The steady drizzle which had heralded their arrival in England had gradually ceased and given way to a weak, November sun shining forlornly through the broken clouds scudding across a grey sky. The cadets were disappointed that no time had been allowed for a quick wander through London to appraise the entertainment potential, but they promised themselves a return visit at the earliest opportunity.

The charge d’affaires had accompanied them down to Hastings to meet the families they would be lodging with. By the time they arrived two hours later, it was nine in the evening, and they were tired, hungry and slightly apprehensive. The families were already waiting outside the language school, and the charge d’affaires wasted no time in introducing the cadets to them so that they could disperse to their new homes for food and rest as quickly as possible.

Farid found himself being introduced to a plump woman and her teenage daughter.

“Allo, luv. I’m Mrs Jenkins an’ this is me daughter, Julie. You mus’ be tired after comin’ all that way.”

Farid had managed to grasp a few words, but he found the woman’s accent difficult to understand. Nevertheless, he extended his hand to hers saying, “I am pleased to meet you,” perceiving by the smile on her face that he had chanced upon the right reply. He repeated the same words to Julie and similarly proffered her his hand, even daring to tickle her palm as her hand grasped his.

“Let’s be off then, or that taxi will cost us a bleedin’ fortune,” uttered Mrs Jenkins turning to leave. Farid saw Julie blush and suppress a giggle as he released her hand.

Well, that’s what I call a good start, he thought to himself as he picked up his cases and followed Mrs Jenkins and Julie to the waiting taxi.

The drive to the Jenkins’ home only took three minutes. Farid helped Julie and her mother alight from the cab, and followed Julie to the house with his luggage whilst Mrs Jenkins paid the cabbie. The small, terraced house looked tiny. Farid wondered if there was anyone else in the family, and how there could possibly be any room for him.

The front door swung open as they reached it, and they were greeted by another girl wearing a grubby, lilac housecoat, pink curlers in her hair, and a half smoked cigarette in her hand.

“Cor, if I’d known ’e wuz so ‘andsum, I woulda got dressed an’ done me ’air,” she exclaimed.

Farid hadn’t understood a word, but as he followed Julie through the door with his cases, her sister held out her hand to him, “’Allo, my name’s Elaine.”

“Hello,” Farid replied and nodded his head politely, unable to put his cases down.

“Dinner’s ready, Mum,” said Elaine as her mother scurried up the path and closed the front door.

“Put yer cases down ‘ere, luv,” said Mrs Jenkins. “An’ you can ’ang yer coat up ’ere ter dry,” she continued pointing to a coat rail.

Farid stood his cases at the foot of the stairs and took off his raincoat, hanging it from the peg which Mrs Jenkins had indicated. He then found himself ushered to a seat in a poky dining room. A large, blackened roasting pan, full of steaming, mashed potato, stood in the centre of the table, and Elaine waited in the doorway of the kitchen holding a saucepan in one hand and smoking a cigarette.

Mrs Jenkins spooned a portion of the potato onto a plate which she handed to Farid. He looked at it in surprise as he noticed mince and a brown liquid swimming under the mash.

“Shepherd’s pie,” Mrs Jenkins informed him as Elaine proceeded to tip the saucepan over his plate swamping it with peas.

“Thank you,” he said to both of them, and waited whilst the others were served.

“Go on, luv. It’ll get cold,” urged Mrs Jenkins.

Farid tried the first mouthful. The food was totally insipid. The meat tasted like rubber drops, and the mashed potato had hard, uncooked lumps still inside. Farid tried a few peas. They were stuck together and almost cold. The others, however, seemed not to notice as they devoured their supper coated with lashings of tomato ketchup.

“Oh, doncha like it, luv ?” asked Mrs Jenkins, catching sight of his full plate.

“Yes, very nice,” lied Farid, who had understood the word like, and seen the enquiring look on Mrs Jenkins’ face, “but I am very tired.”

“Did you clear that room an’ get the bed made up, Elaine ?”

“Yes, Mum,” replied Elaine. “Shall I show ’im to ’is room, then ?”

“No. I’ll do that. You an’ Jules can clear away if yer’ve finished.”

“Come on. I’ll show you to yer room, luv,” said Mrs Jenkins, turning to Farid. “I expect you’ll ’ave a better appetite tomorrow.”

Farid shivered as he stepped out of the dining room into the unheated hallway, and followed his landlady upstairs with his luggage. At the top of the landing, she stopped and opened the door of his room and switched on the light.

“’Ere you are , then. You’ll sleep like a log tonight. The bathroom and toilet are jus’ opposite. See you in the morning.”

Farid looked around the room in dismay. It measured about three metres by two metres, with a narrow bed in one corner, an old, wooden wardrobe with inset, cracked mirror at the foot of the bed, and a solitary plastic and metal chair. A single, naked light bulb hung from the yellow, stained ceiling, casting a halo over the marbled patches of damp. The dingy wallpaper, loosened by mildew and condensation, hung precariously from the walls. The paint on the window sill and frame was blistered and cracked, and a broken pane in the lower sash had been stuffed with newspaper.

The sooner I get out of here, the better, he reflected to himself. He opened his small suitcase to get out his toiletries. Lying on top was a new pair of warm pyjamas. He had argued with his mother that he never wore them, but now he was extremely grateful for her insistence that he take them. After he had changed, he slipped into the bathroom to brush his teeth, and on returning to his room, switched off the light and got into bed without taking his dressing gown or socks off.

“This bed hasn’t been aired,” he muttered through clenched teeth as he pulled the sparse bedclothes over himself. “There’s only one way to warm up in here.” So saying, he stretched an arm across to the chair, grasped the duty free bag standing on it, and took out a bottle of brandy.

I wonder how the others are doing, he thought to himself as he felt his body warming from the ingested sips of alcohol. Outside, the rain had resumed and lashed against the window pane, and a strong wind howled over the roof tops fiercely shaking anything which tried to resist its force. Farid gradually felt a numbing drowsiness creep over him, and prudently placed the brandy bottle under his bed. His last musings as sleep finally won, were that he hadn’t seen Mr Jenkins at the dinner table.

He was roused from his dreams the following morning by a baby crying. He yawned and looked at his watch. It was a quarter to eight on Saturday. Saturday, he thought with alarm. Time to get up and go to the language school. Then, just as quickly, he remembered that Saturday in England was the start of the weekend, and not Thursday and Friday as in Iran. He snuggled back under the bedclothes, and stretched lazily contemplating whether to brave getting out of his warm bed. The room was still cold, and looked more depressing and dismal than it had at night. For a moment he felt homesick as he thought of his bright, clean and warm room in Tehran, and the bustle in the kitchen and courtyard as the domestic staff prepared for another day. He had got used to living in barracks away from home, but here, he had neither his family nor the jovial camaraderie of his fellow cadets.

After savouring the warmth of his bed for a few moments longer, he braced himself and turned back the bedclothes. A quick rummage through his large suitcase revealed a new pair of jeans and one of his thick, ski sweaters. Farid laid them on the chair and went across to the bathroom for a quick wash. Somewhere a baby was still crying, and it almost seemed as if the sound came from downstairs…

When he was dressed, Farid made his bed automatically with military precision, locked his suitcases and went down. He knocked lightly on the kitchen door before going in. The kitchen was warm and steamy. In one corner stood a clothes dryer with damp nappies draped over it, and next to it stood a high chair. Its blond occupant was engaged in banging his spoon on a plastic bowl, but as Farid entered the room, he stopped and his blue eyes became riveted to the dark stranger. So, there was a baby here. Farid had not been mistaken.

Mrs Jenkins was seated at the kitchen table pouring out a cup of tea. “Good morning’, luv. Did you ’ave a good sleep ? Was your bed alright ?”

“Yes. Thank you,” answered Farid slowly.

“Oh, good. Would you like a cuppa ?”

“Cuppa ?” repeated Farid puzzled.

“Tea. A cuppa tea.”

“Oh, tea,” said Farid, grasping at a familiar word. “Yes, I would like some tea, please,” he managed to say.

Mrs Jenkins poured him a cup, and set it on the table in front of him. He stared at the liquid with a frown. It didn’t look like the tea he had at home. Of course ! That was it ! In England, they put milk in their tea. Mrs Jenkins had already put milk in before adding the tea and sugar, but after the first mouthful, Farid decided that it was quite unpalatable.

“Would you like toast or cereal ?”

Farid didn’t understand and looked at her enquiringly.

“Er, what would you like to eat ?”

“Oh, some bread and butter, please.”

Mrs Jenkins fetched a loaf of sliced bread and a plastic tub of margarine from the fridge, and a plate and knife out of the cupboard.

“Help yourself,” she said, and sat down again to drink her tea.

The baby was still staring at him.

“He is your baby ?” ventured Farid.

“Oh, no. That’s my gransun.”

Farid wasn’t sure what ‘gransun’ meant, until Mrs Jenkins added, “e’s Elaine’s baby. ’is name’s Gary.”

So Elaine was married, thought Farid. He wondered if he would meet her husband.

“Where is Mr Jenkins ?” he asked as he buttered a piece of bread.

“Oh, ‘e left us years ago,” said Mrs Jenkins. “Good riddance an’ all. Peace an’ quiet it is without ’im.”

At that moment, Elaine came into the kitchen, but today she was dressed in tight, pale blue jeans and a pale pink sweater. Her hair was free of curlers, and an overpowering scent accompanied her into the room.

“’Allo,” she said to Farid. “We don’t know what ter call yer yet.”

“Excuse me,” said Farid not understanding her.

“Wot’s yer name ?” asked Elaine.

“Oh, my name is Farid.”

“Did you ’ave a good night ?”

“Yes, yes, thank you.” He was going to add that the room was cold but decided against it.

“Is it long way to town ?” he asked instead.

“No, about ten minutes, innit, Mum ?”

“Yeah, ’bout that,” confirmed Mrs Jenkins.

“Do yer want me ter show you the way ?” offered Elaine.

“No, thank you. It’s OK,” replied Farid, thinking that maybe her husband wouldn’t be too happy with the idea.

“I don’t mind. It’s no bother,” she persisted.

Farid really wanted to go on his own and find his bearings. He hoped that his friends would do the same.

“No, thank you. I want learn direction myself,” he managed to say.

“Alright. I just thought I’d offer,” said Elaine seeming somewhat put out.

“We eat at twelve thirty and at six o’clock usually,” Mrs Jenkins informed him as Farid rose from the table.

“Please, maybe I do not come to eat today.”

“Well, as long as you know it’s all in the price, you can do as yer like, luv.”

“Is possible to have key if I come to house late ?” asked Farid.

“Yes, luv. I was jus’ goin’ ter give it to yer.” So saying, Mrs Jenkins took a key out of her purse and handed it to him. “Now, mind you don’t go an’ lose it,” she warned him, “or yer’ll ’ave ter pay fer a new one.”

“Thank you,” said Farid. He waved to Gary, nodded his head slightly towards Elaine, and went out of the room. His raincoat had dried overnight, and he slipped it on ready to brave the November day outside. So far, there was no sign of Julie. She probably slept late like Samira, he thought to himself. As he stepped out of the front door, the bracing sea air made him draw his breath in sharply, and he remembered that he’d forgotten to ask directions into town. The terraced street seemed quite high up, and Farid deduced that the best course would be to follow the road down. He passed a deserted, overgrown cemetery, and presently saw a bakery with a variety of breads and cakes delectably displayed in the shop window. That was a place worth remembering, he thought to himself, and noted the name written over the shop - 1066 Bakery.

Another few hundred metres brought him into a square of decaying, Georgian town houses from where he had an unspoilt view of the sea. The fierce wind had provoked it, taunting the waves higher and higher until they tumbled over themselves in a raging, seething mass on the shore. Farid walked down towards the sea front. He loved the sea, and could watch it all day. The sea gulls swooped and soared above the water, uttering shrill cries before plummeting down again to prise silvery fish from the foaming brine. He sat watching them for a while on the sea wall. There were not many people about on foot, but the streets were already full of traffic. If this was the weekend, then everyone would be busy shopping today, and he would be sure to bump into his friends if he stayed near the shops and coffee bars. However, as it was barely nine o’clock, he did not expect to run into them for some time yet.

The stone, sea wall had become uncomfortable, and the shrieking gulls a sound too repetitive to listen to for long. Farid continued his walk along the promenade, and upon turning right, perceived the sign for International House, the language school. Further along, he saw where the main shopping area was, hidden away behind the hotels along the sea front. Here at least, the weather had not deterred the shoppers. The shop windows were full of expensive gifts and toys, and decorated with brightly coloured tinsel and glitter. It was almost as if some special occasion was close at hand. Of course, he thought to himself - next month was Christmas. He wandered into a stationery shop, and decided he would buy some writing paper and cards to send home. He had promised Aunt Helene a letter as soon as he was settled. He chose some Christmas cards, picture postcards and writing paper, and handed them to the shop assistant. As he turned away after paying, he bumped into someone standing directly behind him.

“Bebakhshid,” he murmured.

The person looked at him quizzically.

“Oh, excuse me,” he said, realising that he had apologised in Farsi.

“That’s quite alright,” a soft voice replied.

Farid stared at the girl he had bumped into. She had straight, blonde hair down to her shoulders, and pretty, brown eyes. Her nose was a little pink from the cold, and her cheeks were flushed. She had also purchased some cards and was about to hand them to the cashier when Farid had collided with her. She smiled and stepped past him. Farid thought to invite her to have coffee with him, but as there were several people within earshot, he reluctantly decided against the idea in case she declined his offer. Anyway, he might meet her again…

Outside, the streets were starting to throng with Christmas shoppers. The neon lights reminded him of shopping in Tehran, and his mood lifted as he mingled with the crowd. In one window he noticed pictures of houses - an estate agent. Maybe they had a flat to let. Farid went in and was greeted immediately.

“Good morning, sir. May I help you ?”

Farid explained slowly that he was looking for a flat to rent.

“Yes, sir. We have several. How much do you wish to pay ?”

“Fifty pounds a month,” answered Farid.

“We have a flat for one hundred pounds a month if you wanted to share with a friend.”

Farid didn’t know what ‘share’ meant, but he guessed that the agent meant a flat for two people.

“Where is the flat ?” he asked.

“Oh, about ten minutes walk from here, sir. It’s at the top of a family house. It has one bedroom, a sitting room, a kitchen and a shared bathroom. But it won’t be ready for another week.”

Farid pondered a while. He definitely didn’t want to stay with Mrs Jenkins, but he remembered Aunt Helene’s advice about getting some English friends and not speaking Farsi. Still, it didn’t mean that he had to stay in with his flatmate all the time.

“Yes, OK. I take it,” he told the estate agent. He was sure one of his friends would want to move in with him.

“Wouldn’t you like to see it first, sir ?”

“Is it nice flat ?”

“Yes, sir. Very nice and clean.”

“OK. I see it on Monday at five o’clock, but you keep flat for me.”

“If you care to leave a deposit, sir, it will be reserved for you.”

“Sorry, I do not understand.”

“A deposit. Money for the flat, sir.”

“Oh, how much ?” asked Farid. He had come out with only fifty pounds cash.

“Ten pounds will be sufficient, sir.”

Farid was relieved. He drew a ten pound note out of his wallet and handed it to the estate agent.

“May I have the bill, please ?”

“You mean a receipt, sir. Yes, certainly.”

He wrote out a receipt for the deposit, and handed it to Farid, together with his business card.

“Pleased to have been of assistance. I look forward to seeing you here on Monday afternoon.”

He held out his hand to Farid. Farid thanked him, and after shaking his hand, he walked out feeling very pleased with himself. Across the road, he saw a coffee bar, and decided it was time to warm up with a hot drink. As he pushed the door open, he was delighted to see Kamal sitting at a table engrossed in a map.

“Hey, Kamal. How are you ?” he exclaimed as he sat down opposite him.

“Farid, hi. I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”

“Have you ordered yet ?”

“No. I only got here two minutes ago, and no one has come over yet.”

Farid looked up and beckoned to a waitress.

“What will you have, Kamal ?”

“Coffee, please.”

“Do you want anything to eat ?”

“No, thanks. I’ll wait till lunch time.”

Farid ordered two coffees. “What are you looking at ?”

“Oh, this ? It’s a street plan of Hastings. I want to get to know the place.”

“Good idea,” enthused Farid. “I’ll have to buy one, too.”

“No need. You can share mine.”

“Thanks very much. Well, how is your English family ?”

“They are very pleasant, but the food is awful, and my room is so cold !”

“Sounds just like mine,” commiserated Farid. “But in any case, I’m not staying there. I’ve just found a flat to rent, and I can learn to cook my own food. I’ll ask my aunt to send me her recipes.”

“I don’t suppose you’d like a flatmate who can already cook ?” asked Kamal tentatively.

“Why ? Are you offering ?”

“If you’re agreeable. I don’t think I could stay where I am. How much is the rent ?”

“It’s one hundred pounds per month. That’s fifty each and it will be ready in one week.”

“Can we see it ?”

“Yes. I’ve arranged to see it on Monday at five after college.”

“Are you sure you want to share with me ?” asked Kamal diffidently.

“I wouldn’t have agreed if I didn’t,” Farid assured him. “I know you are serious about your studies and prospects, and so am I. I don’t want to share with someone who just wants to play around.”

“No. Neither do I,” came the reply.

“Let’s shake hands on it then.”

Kamal eagerly grasped the hand stretched across the table, and Farid instinctively knew that he was the right person to curb his playboy lifestyle and frivolous ways, and to keep him on the straight and narrow. Still, he thought cheekily to himself, a fling here or there could only earn him a reprimand now and then !

They sat drinking their coffee and looking at the street plan of Hastings for the next half hour, until a sudden surge of shoppers sought shelter from the cold, and the coffee bar became too crowded.

“Let’s have a wander round,” suggested Farid. “Are you ready ?”

Kamal nodded, and they both rose from the table. Farid insisted on paying the bill, but outside he was sternly rebuked by Kamal.

“Look, Farid. You have helped me in the past, and I am very grateful. But, let’s get one thing straight. I will receive exactly the same amount of money as you, and if we are to share a flat, all expenses except personal ones must be divided down the middle. Otherwise you can count me out.”

“But of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Don’t be so touchy. It was only a coffee and you can pay for the next one.”

“OK. Just as long as you know,” replied Kamal appearing appeased.

“Yes, sir. Anything you say, sir,” retorted Farid good naturedly seeing Kamal’s face relax into a grin.

“Well, why don’t you start by buying everyone in your family a nice present. The clothes here are incredibly cheap compared to prices in Iran.”

“Are they really ? Yes, I’d love to send them all something. I can just imagine their faces when the parcel arrives.”

Then his face clouded over as quickly as it had lit up. “What if the parcel doesn’t get there ?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. You can insure it here, and ask your parents in a separate letter to write and tell you when they receive it. If they don’t, you will be compensated and you can try again. It can’t get lost every time.”

“What about the duty they’ll have to pay in Iran ?”

“Look. If you’re worried about duty, send it via my family. They won’t have to pay any duty, ‘parti bazi’ (influential friends) you know, and I’ll ask my Aunt Helene to deliver the parcel for you.”

Kamal could find no further pitfalls in sending gifts to his family, and happily went round the department stores with Farid choosing dresses for his mother and sisters, and trousers, shirts and jumpers for his father and brothers.

When they finally staggered out of the umpteenth store, having selected the last gift, it was nigh on one o’clock, and they were both ravenous.

“What I wouldn’t give for some home cooking,” said Kamal his parcels held precariously in position by his chin.

“Me too,” groaned Farid longingly. “But I don’t expect we’ll find any Iranian restaurants here. How do you fancy some Indian cuisine ? It’s not too bad as long as it’s not hot. One of our servants cooks us some curries sometimes.”

“If it’s with rice, I’ll take it,” murmured Kamal, not daring to open his jaw too wide for fear of relinquishing his hold on his goods.

They almost fell through the door of the first Indian restaurant they came across. The waiter led them to a corner where their parcels would not be in the way, and stood at a respectful distance while they studied the menu.

“I can’t understand much of this,” Farid whispered to Kamal.

“Neither can I.”

“Well, if I ask him for lamb curry with rice and not too hot, will that be OK for you ?”

“Yes, great. And salad too.”

Just as Farid was beckoning the waiter, the restaurant door opened and their four compatriots marched in.

“Make that for six,” said Reza cheekily as he caught sight of Farid about to place an order. “We saw you right down the street, but we couldn’t catch up with you in time !”

The waiter obligingly pulled up another table and took the order. The food appeared very swiftly and all chatter temporarily ceased.

“That’s the first decent food I’ve had since we landed,” sighed Bahram, pausing between mouthfuls.

“Mmm,” agreed Dariush, waving an empty fork in the air.

The others were too engrossed in the gastronomic feast to do anything more than nod their assent, and Bahram, after an amused look at his fellow diners, refrained from any further comment until they all sat back in their seats groaning at the amount of food they had consumed.

“I thought women were terrible for buying things, but it looks as if you two have bought the town out,” remarked Amir.

“It’s Christmas next month,” replied Farid.

“We don’t celebrate Christmas,” retorted Reza.

“Since when have you let an excuse for a party slip by ?” Farid asked.

“Well… yes, but what’s with the parcels ?” Reza persisted.

“One of my friends has an English wife, and he asked me to send some things over so that he can surprise her,” Farid replied.

“Oh, right,” came Reza’s reply, his curiosity appeased. “I thought maybe you had fallen in love with your landlady at first sight,” he teased as Farid’s arm shot across the table.

“Steady on,” spluttered Dariush, almost choking on his coke as Reza knocked into him trying to avoid Farid’s arm.

“Sorry,” Reza apologised, and brushed Dariush’ jumper with a paper serviette as he grinned broadly at Farid.

Farid decided to bide his time and to wait for a suitable opportunity to play a practical joke on Reza. He gave him a knowing smile and instead beckoned the waiter to bring them the bill.

Outside, they all agreed to meet up that night by the pier and go together to a disco.

“What can I do with these parcels, Farid ?” Kamal asked him when the others had gone. “I don’t want to take them back to my room. I didn’t tell you, but I left my large suitcase in the hall last night, and when I went to take some clean socks out this morning, I knew someone had been through it.”

“Are you sure ?”

“Yes, positive. You can always tell if someone’s been through your things.”

Farid thought for a moment. “I know just the place. Why don’t we go to the station and get a luggage locker ? Then, on Monday, we can parcel them all up at lunch time, and send them from the Post Office.”

“What a good idea !” exclaimed Kamal. “I’ll get a taxi.”

Having safely deposited the presents in a locker, Farid and Kamal decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Hastings and getting to know their way around. By seven, they were both hungry again, and bought themselves a burger from a café by the sea front.

“Did you tell your landlady you might be late ?” mumbled Farid through a mouthful of food.

“No, I forgot,” answered Kamal looking alarmed.

“You should phone her,” suggested Farid. “There’s a phone box over there. Let’s try.”

Inside the phone box, they laboriously studied the dialling instructions and sifted through their change for the correct coins.

“I can’t get this money in,” said Kamal, trying to push a coin through the slot.

“Maybe it’s blocked.”

“No, look. There’s nothing there.”

“Well, maybe it’s the wrong coin…”

“No, it says 5p. That’s what I’ve got here.”

“Let me try,” said Farid, taking the coin. “No. I can’t get it through either.”

“Look. There’s someone coming. Ask her, “ said Kamal.

Farid stepped out of the telephone kiosk and addressed the person approaching him. “Excuse me, please.”

“Yes ?”

“Please. You can help to us with telephone ?” asked Farid staring at a face with pretty, brown eyes and shoulder length, blonde hair.

She smiled. “What’s wrong ?”

“The money does not go in.”

Farid stood aside as she entered the kiosk and took the receiver from Kamal.

“What number do you want ?”

“ 8-6-8-2-7 .”

“Well, you must dial the number first. Then you listen. There, it’s ringing. In these kiosks, the money only goes in if someone answers the phone. Push the money in now.” She handed the receiver back to Kamal and stepped out of the kiosk.

“Thank you,” Farid called after her as she walked away.

Kamal finished talking to his landlady and put the handset down.

“Let’s go to the pier to meet the others,” said Farid as Kamal joined him, “and sample the night life of Hastings !”

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