Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 48


The train was very long and it took several minutes before Frankie found his seat. As in the previous two trains, each carriage contained twelve rows of comfortable armchairs; two on one side and three on the other, with large, clean square windows giving excellent views. The overall effect was attractive, modern, clean and efficient. In Frankie's row, a North American male and female occupied the two seats on the left of the aisle, and a similar couple occupied the first two seats on the other side, leaving Frankie the window seat, which pleased him. The two couples obviously knew each other as the females had taken the aisle seats and were talking in harsh nasal voices.

They watched him place his bag on the rack above.

'Not much luggage,' observed the nearest woman, a buxom creature in her late twenties—early thirties, obviously single and desperate as she was wearing too much lipstick and too few clothes.

'You are very observant.' Frankie said without smiling, trying to sound like Nayaka. He must have been successful as she asked, 'Are you from here?'


'We're Americans,' she announced as if expecting Frankie to tug his forelock.

'North, South or Central?'

'Whaddaya mean?'

'America is composed of two continents joined by a narrow strip of mountainous land,' he said as if to a child. 'Which bit are you from?'

The woman shook her head, pulled a face at her friends as if to say, fuck these locals are dumb, then said abruptly, 'north.'

Frankie smiled brightly. 'Canada or the U.S.A.?'

'The United States. Boston to be precise.'

'Yes, it is always good to be precise. Did you know,' he asked innocently, 'that just south of your country is the United States of Mexico?' Frankie's smile bordered on the idiotic as the woman shook her head in disbelief.

'So fucking what?'

'It amuses me that people from your country expect others to know that when they say the United States they don't mean The United States of Mexico.

'Yeah, you're a funny man. Anyway, I'm Margaret, this is Anna,' indicating the woman across the aisle, 'that's Robert, Anna's husband, and this is Lucien,' nudging the man next to her in the ribs. 'We're on a three week train trip across India.'

'And only half way through, unfortunately,' complained underfed and colourless Anna from across the aisle.

'You are not enjoying yourselves.' Frankie appeared pleased.

'I'm loving it,' chunky Robert volunteered. 'Everything's so different, so colourful, so… I don't know… so...'

'So overcrowded,' Anna added sourly.

'We've done Kolkata, Varanasi, Agra, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai,' Margaret informed the entire car.

'What have you done to them?' Frankie demanded seriously. 'Not bombed them I hope!'

'She means we've visited them,' Lucien sighed, avoiding Frankie's eye.

'And now we're heading to the southern tip then up the west coast to Goa, Mumbai, and somewhere I've forgotten, and then home to Boston, the most civilized city in the world.'

'I suggest you don't tell that to Parisians, Romans, Madrilenos or Edinburgers,' Frankie said thoughtfully.

Margaret brayed like a donkey, causing her friends to shudder, Lucien to tell her to keep it down, and the rest of the carriage to interrupt their own conversations, turn their heads and frown.

Frankie was enjoying himself. 'And what do you think of India?'

'The food's too spicy and oily,' complained Anna.

'Too many people!' Margaret's whisper was nearly as loud as her laugh. 'Crowds everywhere pushing and jostling. At night I dream I'm being crushed to death in a crowded room.'

'I feel cheated at having to bribe to get anything done,' Robert said sourly. 'I know they aren't paid well and its how they survive, but I still feel as if I'm being cheated.'

'I was expecting wise gurus oozing simplicity, serenity and calm, not noisy parades and temples with kitsch garish statues and colours,' Lucien stated petulantly. 'It's like a theme park, a mad house. And the air! I couldn't breathe in Delhi. We had to wear air filters. And the beggars.' He shuddered dramatically and lapsed into silence.

'You have to find tranquillity inside your own head,' Frankie intoned with irritating pomposity.

Lucien giggled, looking sideways at Frankie as if wondering if he was serious. He appeared to be several years younger than Margaret.

Having vented their spleen, the odd quartet fell silent. Frankie turned away and stared out the window, watching town give way to countryside, almost mesmerised by the passing scene. Fields, huts, distant villages, plantations of palms and bananas, crops, grass, a few oxen, mostly flat land. Distant towns and temple towers and hills arriving and departing as they raced along the lush wide valley to Madurai.

He closed his eyes when the couple beside him began to argue in whispers, adjusting his position to appear obviously asleep, and to ensure one ear was free of obstruction and facing the right direction. The muffled whispers became clearer.

'Why didn't you come to my bed last night?'

'Didn't feel up to it.'

'You haven't felt like it all trip! Do you realise how insulting that is?'


'When a woman offers herself to a man, Lucien, she expects him to accept the offer with gratitude! How do you think it makes me feel when you say, no thanks?'

No response.

'Am I so ugly?'

'No. No you're… Ok, I…'

'Ok! You scrawny little shit. Why do you think I invited you on this trip?'

'Because your boyfriend couldn't come.'

'I broke up with him three weeks ago because I thought you fancied me, and I wanted us to get to know each other better. You're a man, you're fit, you've got balls and a cock, why the fuck don't you make use of them?'

'No need to be vulgar.'

'I'll give you vulgar you snivelling excuse for a male. Either you shape up tonight, or I tell everyone at work when we get back that you're a useless faggot who couldn't even get it up!' She got to her feet, stomped on his foot, then told Robert to go and sit with Lucien so she could talk to Anna.

'What did you say to her, Lucien? She's ropable.' Robert could barely contain his pleasure.

'I didn't want to come on this trip; she ambushed me into it. I'd never even spoken to her until a few weeks ago. She sat beside me at coffee break and told me about going to India. To be polite I said it sounded interesting. Then she joined me every break, and a week later announced to everyone in the office that we were going on this trip of a lifetime! Not wanting to embarrass her in front of everyone, I waited till after work to tell her I wasn't going, but she said it was too late to back out, she'd made all the arrangements and if I didn't go I was a faggot. Not a real man. I told her to stuff her trip up her fanny, so she apologised and said she was stressed because her best friends were coming, that's you guys, and it was all booked for four and she had already paid for it out of her own money and there were no refunds and did I want to utterly ruin your holiday through my selfishness? And then she said I'd said I wanted to go, that's why she went to all the trouble and fuss and…. And then she cried! Fuck I hate it when females cry. You know it's fake but you can't help yourself. And you can't argue with someone who invents facts and dismisses reality. So I forked out the money and wish to hell I'd never spoken to the bitch.'

'Yeah, but you're enjoying it aren't you?'

'Not when she's around.'

'At least she's a good fuck.'

'How do you know?'

'We were fuck buddies for a year at university. That's how we met. Neither of us wanted more than sex. Then she found herself a boyfriend and I met Anna.'

'And now the boyfriend's dumped her and I've been shanghaied.'

'Come on, Lucien. She's no oil painting, but you don't look at the mantelpiece when you're poking the fire.'

'I've a gas heater!' Lucien muttered, and they lapsed into silence.

The landscape changed slightly. Time and a large lake passed slowly, then the Americans went in search of food, toilets and exercise.

Frankie fed from his store of bread, pickles and water, and thought about what he was doing, why he was travelling, and why it wasn't more satisfying. Should he stay in one place for a while instead of moving on after a couple of days? But why stay somewhere if you've seen it and you don't know anyone so are not really interested in it? He wasn't homesick for Australia, so what could it be? Perhaps he wasn't such a loner as he'd always thought. Was that why he kept attaching himself to other loners? And then he thought about Lucien having to spend another couple of weeks with that harridan and felt pleased to be alone. Poor bugger! He wasn't bad looking. Healthy and fit. Strange he hadn't travelled with someone more suitable. No, not strange. Most people never consider the consequences – they just act, then complain when it goes wrong.

They were still zipping past green fields, palm and banana plantations, crops, small villages in the distance, oxen, motorbikes, farmers in fields. Perhaps if he were an anthropologist he'd be more interested. He was still sort of looking forward to seeing 'Adam's Bridge' and the mountains of Sri Lanka across the sea. After that, he supposed the southernmost tip of India had to be visited, although logically it was of no more significance than the east-north-easternmost tip, or any other place where land met sea.

If he was lucky he might see Kushti wrestlers, although he knew the Indian Wrestling association wanted to ban the three thousand year-old sport so the men would take on Olympic wrestling instead and win medals. 'Fucking Olympics,' he whispered to himself. 'If all that money was spent on local sporting facilities, clubs and equipment, the western world would be a much healthier and happier place. The desire to win international sporting events was like a religion and just as destructive.

He'd seen a couple of videos of the amazingly muscular and often beautiful young Kushti wrestlers who eat, sleep and train together in a semi monastic fashion, dedicating their lives to their sport, eschewing sex. Frankie couldn't see how they could feel satisfied with such a narrow existence. But then that was more or less how great pianists, dancers, sportsmen lived. Not something he'd be prepared to do.

And the lot of all the poor peasants they were hurtling past was no better. Perhaps Westerners had too much choice of where and how they wanted to live, and that was what was making them depressed. Most people would probably be happier in a more structured environment. It might be better to go back to village life. Dig up the roads and railways. Become isolated, and live off one's own efforts. No. A bully would surface and make everyone slaves, and then a witch doctor would join him and put the fear of devils into their heads. He shook his head. Humans were too stupid to ever do anything right.

He sighed. Here he was in a country totally different from Australia, so why wasn't he more excited or interested in just travelling? Because, he decided after several minutes thought, at their core all humans are the same. Like every plant, animal and in between, all they really need is food, shelter and sex. And every species will do whatever they are capable of to ensure their own survival. Plants crowd each other out, starving competitors so they can grow, and grow, and grow. Humans and all other animals are at constant war with competitors and none of them have an "off switch". As for buildings, they differ only in façade. Inside they're just collections of boxes. And all organised religions have the same core beliefs, demands and purpose. And grand temples only made him think about other ways the money and effort could have been spent. Imagine if instead of building a giant cathedral, that vast amount of money and effort had gone into providing good clean housing for every citizen, fresh, clean water, and the infrastructure to keep them warm, dry and healthy. Then religion would be a force for good, instead of a force for irrationality, war and misery.

And that made him think of the U.S.A. where two centuries of constant wars had become the state religion and staggering amounts were spent on them. The Iraq conflict alone had cost a trillion dollars, but a measly five percent of that—a mere fifty billion dollars could have provided stand-alone solar power to every house in the States.

Thinking about religion, set him comparing the benefits of the religious monastic life with what Nayaka and his father were doing. Religions sowed doubt, guilt and fear. Nayaka and his father relieved doubt and guilt and left the client feeling relieved and whole again. They were undoing the harm caused by religious obsession with nudity and sex.

And that made him smile. And that made Lucien, who came to sit beside him, see Frankie as a sympathetic soul on whom he could offload his grievances.

'You didn't tell us your name.'

'You didn't ask it.'

Lucien nodded. 'I can't place your accent. Who and what are you?'

'My name is Frankie and I am a man.'

'Ha! A privacy freak.'

'I am not a freak.'

'We're all freaks. I suppose you heard me sounding off about Margaret?'


'What do you think I should do?'

'Do what makes you happy. Try not to do what doesn't.'

'But… I can't leave her here alone.'

'She won't be. She has her friends. Are you sharing money? Food? Anything?'


'What about hotels; how does that work?'

'We each have a hotel voucher that can be cashed anywhere that will accept them. If there are two of us it's usually enough for a twin room. If I was on my own I'd have to top it up a bit. It's a stupid system because it means we can only stay at international hotels and I'd prefer to stay at local ones.'

'Will you be able to cash in unused vouchers?'


'Have you access to money?'

'Yeah, no problem; this country's dirt cheap.'

'Then get off the train at Madurai and come to Rameswaram with me.' As the words fell out of his mouth Frankie knew, deep inside, that he would regret the offer. Here he was again, taking a guy with problems under his wing. What was the matter with him? He decided not to answer that question.

'She'll make a stink.'

'She already has. And if you think that's the last time she is going to stomp on your toes, think again. Once women know they can get away with violence they're just as bad as the men they're always complaining about.'

'And then?'

'Then I'm going to the southern tip and you can continue your trip on your own, discovering if you're as useless as you think you are. And if you are not then you will be able to meet them for the return flight, if it's booked for a particular day.'

'It's Ok for you, you live here, but it's a bit… you know, travelling on your own in a strange land.'

'It is you, not India that is strange. Don't you trust yourself?'

'Of course I do.'

'How old are you?'

'Twenty- five.'

'Become a man and take charge of your life. We'll arrive in Madurai in an hour. Two hours later the train for Rameswaram leaves, and four hours after than we'll be there.'

'Should I tell her?'

'Only if you don't want to leave the train. She's tougher than you because she has no interest in what you want. Leave a note on the seat. I think this train only stops for about ten minutes, so you can wait till it's just about to leave, then grab your luggage and jump off.'

At that moment Margaret arrived and forced herself between Lucien and Frankie. All animosity apparently gone.

'What are you two talking about?' she asked brightly.

'I can't see it is any of your business,' Frankie replied coolly.

'You're a very rude person.'

'Did I burst between you and your girlfriend over there and demand to know what you'd been talking about?'

'You wouldn't dare.'

'I wouldn't do it because it would be very bad manners.'

'Oh, aren't we hoity-toity.' She turned to Lucien. 'Come on, Lucien. Let's get away from this creep.'

'Why are you travelling with your mother, Lucien?' Frankie asked sweetly.

'I am not his mother.'

'Then why are you acting like one?'

'I'm his girlfriend.'

Frankie sniggered. 'Wrong word. It's a very long time since you were a girl, and friends treat each other with respect.'

'Why you…'

Frankie smiled. 'Please hit me, then I have an excuse to defend myself.'

'Lucien! Don't just sit there! Defend me!'

'Fuck off, Margaret.'

And she did.

'Wow! Look at those towers! We should have gotten off here to see them!' Margaret exclaimed as the train pulled out of the station. 'Hey! There's Lucien!'

The three friends peered out the window.

Lucien, with his rucksack on his back, was walking across the platform towards the exit.

Robert and Anna turned to each other and smiled.

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