Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Crooked hands, crooked legs, pleading eyes, hunchback, he could have escaped the pages of a fairytale thriller.
I got talking to Andrei when I saw him settling for the second time in a row to a plate of roti and honey.
He used to sit by our table at the beach every day.
This time he saw me looking. I was watching the honey slide down his palm from the rolled roti, I think. He closed his eyes, his eyeballs rolling up before the eyelid actually shut. He opened his eyes to form a complete grin and smiled right at me. Oh hell, I thought, that was just for me. Disconcerting.
I looked back at my book.
The next morning I saw him on my way out to the beach, clearing all the ashtrays in the restaurant into a plastic bag. He had the same quality of fairytale shiftiness I'd seen the day before. He smiled his big smile at me. Too familiar. I nodded, adjusted my bag, and looked out at the sea. It was raining. Nothing doing, I had to sit and wait, the camera'd get wet. I watched him openly this time, as he emptied the tobacco out from the used butts crushed in the ashtray. He kept talking while he cleaned them out. Hands under the table at work with the cigarettes through it all. No one was up for miles around except the two of us.
His brother had taken care of him when he was growing up. It was he, who'd suggested he come over to India on a holiday. It was expensive but Andrei had saved. The Russian government gave him an invalid's pension. It was too cold to get out much in Moscow either way. It hurt him when it was cold. It wouldn't be long before his brother would be back from the beach across the hill he said. He'd almost run out of money, he said, laughing. Did I want a puff of his joint he asked. He mixed all the tobacco pickings with the little buds. It rained a little harder outside.