Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 47


The night had been cool and there was still an hour before sunrise. Frankie could only imagine how cold it must be now up at the monastery. The destroyed monastery. He couldn't feel sorry. Such places may have been, or still were for that matter, retreats from the unpleasantness of the world, but they were also mind-bending institutions in which for centuries reclusive men have preached about how those outside their walls should live. But the effect of all those words, all that self-denial, chanting, meditating, contorting and self-flagellation has been zero. Not one single thing about human nature or behaviour has been altered. So what was the point? None, as far as Frankie could see. If individuals were too stupid to see for themselves what makes their life worthwhile or unhappy, then let them put up with what they get.

Twenty minutes before the train to Chennai was due to leave, the platform was already filled, mainly with excitable Indians going on holiday - if the amount of their luggage was anything to go by. Groups of foreigners were also milling, chattering loudly in both American and Australian English, especially the girls who apparently needed to know the personal details of every other foreign national on the train. Their boyfriends only whispered together. To avoid being approached he decided to buy a Hindu newspaper that he'd pretend to read if they came close.

While pushing through the press of bodies around the newspaper seller, he felt a short sharp tug on the satchel he'd draped over his shoulder, instead of wearing it diagonally across his chest. He spun around but no one nearby seemed to have noticed anything. The thief had disappeared into the throng so he shrugged, bought his newspaper and boarded the train, feeling stupid and careless but not concerned as there was nothing of value in it. Even if he split his trousers his shirt was long enough to hang over his bum. And the clothes bought in Kolkata only a few days before didn't seem so suitable now. All the young people his age here were in longish shorts, T-shirts and sandals. And as he was heading south to the warmth, he imagined there'd be an even more casual approach to clothing.

Once the train had left the city behind, the view was mainly rural. He'd read that more than half of India's population lived in poverty, much of it dire, and the glimpses of towns and villages from the speeding train suggested they did. Building maintenance seemed long overdue and litter was everywhere. As they descended from the hills to the coast it became noticeably warmer. The coastal plain was an endless succession of tiny villages, larger towns, fields of crops, smallholdings, groves of bananas, and seemed to go on forever. He was sorry they were too far from the coast to see the sea, but, from the few glimpses he had of busy roads, was glad he wasn't driving a car.

During a half hour stop in Ongole, six hours after leaving Hyderabad, Frankie took a fast jog into the town, not surprised to see streets jammed with cars and motorbikes, no obvious footpaths, spider webs of electricity wires, and three to four storey concrete or brick, square, flat roofed shops almost hidden behind large advertising signs. An attractive white temple was beautifully maintained, but spoiled by a ramshackle lean-to stall set up against one front wall. Litter was everywhere and, on the other side of the street, a line of tin roofed shanties sold food. But then he looked over a wall and saw a beautiful garden, elegant houses, and then other streets that were neat and clean, lined with trees and positively charming. India was not to be pigeonholed.

After another eight hours in the train he was hungry and desperate to stretch his muscles. The sun was setting as the train pulled in to Chennai Station, a beautifully maintained, bright red, symmetrical three storeyed building with square towers at each end, a tall, square clock tower in the centre and white stone mouldings around the arched windows. It wouldn't have looked out of place in Venice.

Floodlights were being turned on, transforming an ordinary parking area and bus stop into a charmingly exotic, warm space, enhanced by women in colourful saris. Frankie stood in the parking area watching the crowds, trying to decide which direction might lead to a non-touristic hotel. A slight pluck at his shirt sleeve was accompanied by a deep voice speaking what he assumed would be Tamil. He turned to see a dark, shirtless young man in a white lungi and leather sandals. Frankie scanned the fit smooth body, lean face, quick eyes, black hair and perfect teeth exposed in a shy smile, and took a deep breath. 'I apologise. I do not speak your language.'

The young man placed both hands together, bowed, and in charmingly accented English said, 'My apologies, sir. My name is Nayaka, and I am asking if you are seeking the Goodnight Hotel.'

'Why did you think I might be looking for it?'

'I see an Indian gentleman travelling alone without luggage. I am accustomed to meet such men who are seeking our hotel.'

Frankie smiled. 'You didn't think I was a foreign tourist?'

'Oh no, sir. You are too polite and well dressed. Foreign tourists travel in groups, make a lot of noise, and are not beautiful to look at.'

'My name is Frankie.' He held out his hand, which Nayaka shook.

'I am delighted to make your acquaintance Mr. Frankie.'

'Just Frankie will do. Is your hotel one of those modern ones for tourists?'

'It is certainly not modern!' He replied with such engaging seriousness that Frankie wanted to kiss him. 'And it is certainly not for tourists. It is a simple Tamil guest house for single men.'

'No women?'

'No, sir.'

'Then I would definitely like to stay there!'

The young man looked doubtful. 'Are you certain, sir? There is no television, telephone, air-conditioning, room service, lifts, bar or restaurant.' He shook his head and frowned, then looked up and smiled, causing Frankie's heart to pump. 'But we do provide breakfast.'

'Do you live there?'

'Of course. It has been in my family for many generations.'

'Then I definitely want to stay there.'

A slight bow. 'Then please to follow me, Frankie.'

Even with directions it would have been impossible to find. After traversing three streets lined with two and three-storeyed shops and offices plastered with garish signs advertising everything from Sanitary Ware to Auto Enterprises, some of them topped by giant hoardings on roofs, they turned down an almost invisible, unlighted cul-de sac that ended in a gate that opened into a courtyard containing a vegetable garden and a two-storey stone building in need of new stucco and a lick of paint. Double doors opened into a pleasant lobby smelling of polish and spice and containing four rattan chairs and a low table. A surly, well-dressed man sat reading a newspaper. A lean, dark, dashingly moustached man of indeterminate age wearing an identical lungi to Nayaka, entered and handed the man a cup of coffee. He turned, saw Frankie, placed his hands together and bowed.

'Father, this Frankie. He wants to stay here.'

The man nodded an excuse to Frankie, pulled his son over to the reception desk and spoke rapidly in Tamil. After a brief exchange of opinions, at times heated, he smiled, beckoned Frankie over, and in a voice remarkably similar to his son's said, 'Welcome, Frankie. Nayaka has convinced me you will not find fault with our establishment. The charge is two thousand rupees per night, and that includes breakfast. How long will you stay?'

'May I see the room?'

'Certainly, sir, but if I may ask, where is your luggage?'

'Stolen at the station in Hyderabad.'

'I am not surprised, Hyderabad is uncivilized and full of thieves.'

Nayaka led Frankie upstairs to a small clean room with polished wooden floors, a thick colourful square carpet, an easy chair and windows looking over the vegetable patch. The sheets were crisp and clean, and the double bed very firm. The bathroom was just down the corridor. Frankie was delighted, returned to pay for two nights and asked directions to a non-tourist restaurant.

The coffee-drinking man stood, nodded to the room and silently left the hotel.

The father took Frankie's money, then paused with a calculating look in his eye. 'You find Nayaka handsome, I think.'

Frankie wondered nervously what the father was getting at, having imagined his covert glances at the young man had gone unnoticed. He knew homosexuality was a crime, but surely lustful looking wasn't? He decided to be honest. 'Yes. He is very handsome. And so is his father,' he added with a cheeky grin.

The father preened and bowed, then proudly informed Frankie that his son was an excellent masseur, so would Frankie care to employ him.

'How much?'

'One thousand rupees for the excellent number one massage; two thousand for the even more excellent number two stress relieving service,' he said as lightly as if giving the price of a haircut. 'You will be one hundred percent satisfied and sleep like a baby,' he added with ludicrous seriousness.

When Frankie hesitated, wondering if the offer was what he thought it was, the father added, 'Without extra charge, Nayaka will show you to an excellent restaurant and shops so you can replace what was stolen.'

Frankie looked at Nayaka whose smile sent blood pounding and almost prevented Frankie from breathing. He who hesitates is lost, he reminded himself before whispering, 'Thank you. I accept your very generous offer, and I invite your son to eat with me at the restaurant.'

The father nodded calm satisfaction while placing the money carefully in a drawer.

When Frankie turned to go, Nayaka had disappeared, only to reappear seconds later, this time in white trousers and a long jacket, feet in neater leather sandals. He looked positively regal.

'Why did you change clothes?' Frankie asked. 'You looked spectacular in the lungi, as does your father.'

'They are for working. Now I am not working so I want to look like a gentleman.'

A ten minute walk took them to an outdoor restaurant that satisfied many of Frankie's fantasies about India. Women in colourful saris, waiters in traditional garb, polished brass and glassware, garlands of fairy lights strung between the trees and someone playing a sitar. Nayaka ordered and Frankie sat entranced as a fresh green banana leaf was placed on the table between them as a receptacle for mounds of rice, small bowls of spicy lentil stew, coconut paste, dry fried vegetables, cucumber and onion salad and several more or less hot sauces. This was followed by tea with small round sweet cakes.

He had never had much interest in food, and would have been just as happy with bread, a boiled egg and cheese, but the face opposite made it a meal to remember. And compared to Australian prices it was insanely cheap. He left a generous tip to the attentive waiter, which delighted Nayaka.

Not far from the restaurant they found a market where Frankie bought a lightweight, slightly scuffed leather satchel that could be slung over a shoulder or worn like a backpack, and filled it with a packet of disposable razors, a toothbrush, a couple of cheap, white cotton bikini briefs, and the same type of knee-length shorts and shirt that local youths were wearing.

'You will look like a poor Indian,' Nayaka laughed.

'That's my intention, so thieves won't target me.'

Both young men were silent on the way back to the hotel; Frankie wondering if he was making a huge mistake, and Nayaka contented at having enjoyed a free feed and at last having a young customer.

Two very dark, tough-looking men in beards, jeans, work boots and T-shirts were sitting chatting in the lobby drinking coffee when they returned. They looked up, greeted Nayaka as if he was their best friend, chatted briefly, then returned to their seats as Nayaka led Frankie through a door behind the desk to a small lounge where his father was sitting in what Frankie imagined to be a yoga position. With no apparent effort he rose to his feet, adjusted his lungi, asked how their meal and shopping went, nodded his pleasure and took from a bureau a small bottle of oil that he handed to his son, and two foil-packed condoms, which he gave to Frankie. 'Make sure you use them,' he said seriously. 'My son is clean, but we don't know about you.'

'Very wise,' was all Frankie could manage, unable to credit what was happening.

Nayaka disappeared through a doorway and Frankie returned to the lobby where the father was greeting the two men warmly before leading them upstairs.

Almost immediately, Nayaka reappeared in his 'working' clothes and also led Frankie upstairs where they showered before retiring to the bedroom. After towelling each other dry, Frankie lay on his stomach while Nayaka gave his muscles an excellent going over, leaving no square millimetre unmolested before flipping him over and starting on the toes. Each leg was massaged to glowing health, with special attention to inside thighs, scrotum and penis, which was ready to burst before it was finally permitted to rest, while belly, chest, arms, neck and temples were relieved of all tension.

Then, straddling his client's thighs, Nayaka opened a foil packet, professionally rolled a condom on his client, slid forward and lowered himself onto Frankie's ready-to-explode member. Expert sphincter contractions, however, prevented early release and it was some minutes before the young masseur was bucked and bounced and almost tossed from the bed during his client's orgasmic frenzy.

Nayaka held the condom up to the light and laughed. 'This is nearly full!'

It wasn't, but there was a substantial amount and it hadn't leaked, which Frankie realised was the real purpose of holding it up.

They lay side by side on the bed in silence, Frankie's right arm under Nayaka's neck, his left hand stroking his thigh.

'Do you want me to leave now?' Nayaka asked sleepily, or shall I stay and we can do it again later?'

'I'd like you to stay all night.'

Nayaka smiled in relief. He had wanted to impress the handsome young foreigner, and clearly had succeeded.

'How old are you?' Frankie asked.


'How long have you been… massaging clients?'

'Since I was fourteen. I didn't massage then, I wasn't strong enough. Just sex.'

'That's young! Didn't it hurt being fucked by strange men?'

'No, because my father taught me how to relax all the muscles down there, and move and manipulate myself and the client so it didn't hurt.'

'How did he teach you?'

'By massaging me and doing what the clients would be doing, but very carefully, so I wasn't damaged.'

'Your father fucked you?'

'Of course! How else could he teach me? It is a father's job to teach his son his trade. He is the best masseur in this business. He took over from my grandfather. The Goodnight Hotel is very well known for this service, that's why I thought you were looking for us at the station. Didn't your father teach you something useful?'

'Yes. Yes he did. And you are right. What does your mother think?'

'She is very happy with the money we earn.'

'Does your father still have sex with clients?

'Of course, he is very popular. It is our job.'

'So that man drinking coffee when we arrived was…'

'He had just been satisfied.'

'And those two waiting when we returned?'

Nayaka laughed. 'They always come together once a month. They like to watch each other. Usually I service them but as a special favour to me my father took my place tonight so I could be with you.'

'Your father is a very nice man and this is a very civilized establishment.'

'You are right.'

'But isn't it illegal to have homosexual sex in India?'

Nayaka sat up in shock and turned to Frankie. Clearly very agitated. 'We are not homosexuals!' his voice held an edge of panic. 'All our clients are married men. Real men like you, whose wives are not sexy with them any more. We are not acting like females and wanting to dress like them or be like girls! We are normal men. You are not homosexual, so why did you say we were?'

'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' Frankie pressed the distraught young man back onto the bed and stroked him gently. 'I was confused. You are correct, you and your father are real men and you are very, very good at your important work.'

Nayaka relaxed and smiled nervously. 'Thank you. Yes, it is important work. My father says we stop men from killing themselves. But you are the nicest client I have had.'

'And you are the nicest and best masseur I've had.'

They smiled, fell quiet, then drifted asleep, not waking until daylight turned the pale cream walls to gold. They had just removed the second condom after a muscle-stretching, arousing and exciting exploration of positions Frankie had no idea could be adopted while part of him was embedded in another man, when the father came in with breakfast on a tray.

They ate the spicy, batter-encrusted rice balls with chutney and coconut cakes while sitting side by side in bed, then showered, dressed and enjoyed a cup of coffee in the entrance lobby.

Unfortunately for Frankie, but fortunately for Nayaka, the young masseur had several clients that day, and also that night, so Frankie followed directions to the main shopping and business district, bought a map and guidebook, found a park, and read up on what to see and where to go so he wouldn't waste time getting lost.

Having never heard of Chennai he was astonished to learn that its metropolitan area is the fourth largest in India with a population of nearly ten million, most of whom are Tamils, with a population density of nearly thirty thousand per square kilometre. No wonder it seemed so crowded. The city stretches over a hundred kilometres north and south along the coast and fifty kilometres inland. It is a wealthy industrial city with a thriving automotive industry and some shipping. Temples from seven major religions are sprinkled across the city, which boasts the fourth highest population of slum dwellers in India—twenty percent of the population. The British called it Fort St George, then Madras, and then the Indians reverted to the ancient name of Chennai, derived from a small town called Chennapattanam. Frankie's most pleasing discovery was that about four hundred years ago, Nayaka was a Telugu King.

He planned his route carefully, marvelled at the Mahamaham Tank attached to an exquisite temple with dozens of people cleansing themselves on the steps, then wandered through leafy districts of businesses and apartments, past shopping centres, old and new buildings side by side, and in a small square a Christian church competing with Hindu and Jain temples. He crossed a white bridge that spanned a tidal river with underfed people washing themselves and their clothes on the banks beneath. A park with a waterfall tumbling over smooth rocks cooled the surrounding air. More business streets, this time not so neat - four and five story apartment buildings with flat roofs, mostly in shades of tan and brown.

Every street was crowded and bustling with cars, vans, busses, and thousands of helmetless riders on motorbikes zipping between other traffic and parking in great swathes along the edge of the roads. But vastly outnumbering all other forms of traffic were the pedestrians. More men than women were out and about, most dressed casually in long shorts or trousers, with shirts or T-shirts hanging out, feet in sandals. Colourful saris everywhere. Large tropical shade trees hung over roads from small parks. Wherever he looked he saw the ubiquitous kiosks, street vendors and giant colourful advertising hoardings.

Often there was no obvious demarcation between roadway and footpath, so walking was at times a precarious business, especially with signs stuck in the middle of what should have been a path, or hung precariously from poles, draped from buildings, waving like banners, obscuring traffic signs that had been placed so discreetly they appeared to be apologising for their presence; perhaps because no one seemed to be paying them any attention. And over everything was draped a loose lacework of electricity wires from poles that were usually vertical.

Frankie rested his feet, drank tea and ate a delicious sweet cake at a kiosk tucked into the edge of a shaded park just off a busy street. It was hot so it was a relief to arrive at the Marina Swimming Pool. A vast body of almost clear water filled with men and boys, most in board shorts, most overweight, most with perfect skins in varying shades of brown, most with straight black hair charming smiles and perfect teeth. Not a female in sight. The water wasn't deep and no one was swimming but all were playing, jumping in, splashing and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Frankie didn't want to wet his shorts, so cooled his head in the showers where the only slim man in the place was cleaning the floor.

Not far from the swimming pool was a very wide, slightly sloping, brown sandy beach occupied by clumps of men and their girlfriends or wives, looking like participants in an office picnic, taking photos of themselves, standing and looking at others, mostly dressed in western style jeans, shorts, shirts and sunglasses. All were carefully avoiding the small wavelets of the sea, which looked marginally cleaner than the pool. They seemed friendly and pleased when Frankie asked about fishing, tides and climate. But everyone he spoke to was a tourist and knew almost nothing about the city. Many were on guided tours of Hindu temples, of which Chennai has many fine examples of the 'must see' variety.

On the horizon, container ships slid by. Frankie removed his sandals and wandered down to paddle in the water where a group of skinny young boys in brief togs dived into the tiny breakers, splashing and having fun like boys everywhere, their fully dressed parents sitting nearby on the sand keeping careful watch. They were slimmer, darker, better looking and, when approached, seemed just as, friendly as all the other Indians he'd encountered. Delighted to be congratulated on their healthy children, they said they were locals, which is why their children were playing in the waves. Everyone else on the beach was probably a tourist from inland and therefore couldn't swim and were afraid of the water.

Spaced all along the beach, about fifty metres apart, mobile kiosks were selling Kwality Walls Ice Creams to people who really shouldn't be consuming any more calories.

Frankie wandered beyond the popular part of the beach to an area where giant jute sand bags had been placed in the water and against the bank to prevent the erosion of a line of trees and a narrow strip of sand; all that was protecting rows of expensive houses less than a metre above sea level from the anger of the elements. He imagined the owners were getting very nervous at the prospect of rising seas and an increase in scale and frequency of wild weather.

At an abandoned concrete structure that looked as if it had once been a luxury club and restaurant on the seafront, but was now half submerged behind vast whale-like bags of sand, Frankie checked he was alone, stripped and ran into the swirling water. It was refreshing, relaxing and gave him the energy to continue his trek, this time inland to where poverty met wealth, and a tidal stream meandered through flat land lined with tall palms and water weeds, and people were washing themselves and their clothes on the sandy, grassy banks. It looked idyllic; men and boys in the water removing their lungis to wash themselves, their women spreading washing over the grass to dry. The whole scene overlooked from the opposite bank by expensive apartment blocks nestling among tropical gardens.

A middle-aged man wandered up, stood beside Frankie and asked why he was there. When he discovered Frankie was interested in conservation and had observed the beach erosion, he seemed relieved to tell someone genuinely interested, about the problems facing the city.

'My name is Anand and I am a member of the Environmentalist Foundation of India,' he announced, offering a firm hand that Frankie shook while introducing himself.

'Are you interested in the environmental problems facing this area?' he asked hopefully.

When Frankie assured him he was, Anand frowned, cleared his throat, gazed down at the waterway and sighed.

'Chennai has, or had, three clean rivers,' he began thoughtfully, 'and more than three hundred fish-filled, unpolluted lakes and marshlands, not one of which has ever received any form of environmental protection. As a result not one water source is now fit to drink. Instead of being a global leader in lake preservation, all freshwater sources in Chennai have been permanently destroyed through the dumping of rubbish, septic tank waste, religious refuse, and being used as drains for neighbourhood and industrial waste. Some lakes are so toxic they actually catch alight and burn. To compound the problems, leachate from landfills is polluting groundwater sources, and the permanent layer of dust of the dried out lakes, blows into great clouds that spread across South Asia.'

Frankie shook his head in horror.

'In 2015,' Anand continued, 'many parts of Chennai city were inundated by floods, because instead of containing the excess water, the lakes remained bone dry because all inlets leading to them have been filled and built upon, causing floods in the city and wasting precious rainwater. Within the span of a few years, lakes that had provided fresh, clean water, food and health for thousands of years, have vanished into the ugly concrete jungle.'

'But that is terrible!'

'It isn't only Chennai; it is the same in Delhi, Coimbatore, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, and I believe the waterways of Kerala are also seriously polluted.'

'That's horrifying,' Frankie said shaking his head. 'You mentioned religious refuse, what's that?'

'Religious and spiritual debris includes sacrifices, plaster of Paris idols, polythene wrapped icons and souvenirs, non-permanent temples… even the wrappings of visitors' meals and snacks. Tamil Nadu has many fine temples that attract many millions of tourists who all buy mementoes, take part in processions and admire the temporary temple structures that are just dumped afterwards. Unfortunately, pro-environmental voices are labelled 'anti-religion'. But they're not 'anti' anything, they're 'pro' environment. Personally, I believe that nature worship is the greatest spiritual experience and the public needs to be convinced of that.'

'I totally agree with you, sir,' Frankie declared. 'But it isn't only India, the whole world is the same. Australia has destroyed vast areas of prime farmland through erosion and fracking for gas, virtually all forests have been destroyed for logging, with consequent erosion and silting of waterways. And fisheries have been destroyed through over fishing, erosion, fertiliser and chemical runoff. The Great Barrier reef is all but gone. No river, stream or lake is fit to drink. Sprawling city suburbs occupy the best agricultural land.' He shrugged his hopelessness.

After a short chat about less controversial topics, they bid each other a cordial farewell and Frankie headed back to the city along wide, busy roads with grass in the centre and along the sides, not much litter and an illusion of space. He was heading for a large, white building on a hill, the Indian Maritime University; a wonderful mixture of Classical and Hindu architecture. He admired, then stood in front of the almost Greek temple and gazed at the view of hundreds of square kilometres of flat roofed, pinkish, three and four storey apartments and commercial buildings stretching as far as one could see. It was well worth the walk as a reminder of things to come in Australia if the population isn't curbed. Australia may be vast, but India has many thousands more hectares of usefully productive land.

Legs aching, feet sore, hungry and thirsty, Frankie continued his trek through a commercial area in which men and women in white shirts and caps identifying them as Vigithon, were conducting a peaceful parade against corruption. He wished them well. The sun was setting when he arrived back at the restaurant of the previous night, where he ordered the same meal from the same waiter, who remembered him, smiled and provided the best service anyone could want. Because of that, but also because the waiter wasn't handsome, being tall and gangly with a slightly asymmetrical face and premature baldness, Frankie tipped him twice the price of the meal, slipping it secretly into his hand so he wouldn't have to declare it to the boss.

Ready for an early night after what he figured to have been at least a fifty kilometre hike, he surprised himself by finding his way back to the Goodnight Hotel at the first try.

The following morning Nayaka brought in the breakfast, which they again shared sitting on the bed, while Frankie related his adventures. He was pleased that the friendship had been real, even if the sex had been a purely commercial transaction. And then it was handshakes and cheerful farewells and suddenly Frankie was entering an even more exotic and well-kept edifice than the one at which he'd arrived. Egmore Railway Station looked to be straight out of an Arabian Nights fantasy, and Frankie hoped his voyage to Rameswaram would be as interesting.

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