Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 51


During the train journey back to Madurai and south to Kanyakumari, Frankie mulled over his weeks in India, astonished at how wrong his preconceptions had been. Instead of a degraded and worn out, chaotic land of ungovernably overcrowded cities and poverty stricken hordes of slum dwellers and peasants, he'd seen vast swathes of natural land and forests, apparently limitless supplies of water in rivers, streams and lakes – both natural and man made. And a population of apparently healthy, friendly people who, if not contented with their lives, at least displaying a calm acceptance of it.

He'd felt just as safe as he had in Australia, and instead of a chaotic mess had been confronted by a riot of colour, gorgeous architecture, and astonishing efficiency in a religious culture that liberated and supported instead of engendering feelings of guilt and repression. Of course there was crime and corruption – but they are endemic wherever you find humans – Australia being no exception. Despite his increasing affection for the country, however, he knew he couldn't live there.

Lucien's time on the train was spent chatting up an American with bleached hair, loud voice, and tight jeans who introduced him to the constrictions of the toilet, where both managed apparently ecstatic orgasms. Lucien arrived back at his seat delighted to have been the cause of such lust.

'I can't believe how blind I've been,' he announced breathlessly as he sank into the chair beside Frankie. 'I've always wondered why sex was a bore, and now I can't wait to get back home and get fucked by every gay man in Boston.'

'And contract herpes, syphilis, chlamydia, genital warts, gonorrhoea, throat infections, a split anus, and goodness knows what else.'

Lucien fell silent. Then, 'You think I'm a slut?'

'Stupid, randy and impatient. Did you check his bits out first?'

'No room in those toilets.'

'No room in those toilets that are probably like those in America and Australia, ridden with every known form of hepatitis and other disease contained in faeces and transmitted on toilet seats and doors by unwashed hands.'

'Now you've got me worried.'


As Frankie had come to expect, the southernmost tip of the sub-continent was more interesting than he had imagined. Thousands of religious tourists, the men often wearing nothing but a white lungi and sandals, were to be seen literally everywhere in Kanyakumari; visiting the shrines, enjoying the beach and scenery, observing the rituals at temples. It is an ancient town with palm trees, tropical vegetation and climate, a charming residential area, fishing villages and fishing port, high rise modern apartments, a commercial port, shops and businesses, tourist hotels and clean beaches with golden sands with day beds for sunbathers. But perhaps the most spectacular sight is two rocky islands half a kilometre off the mainland, where the Arabian Sea meets the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. On the nearest island stands a giant, forty-metre-high statue to Tiruvalluvar, a Tamil poet and scholar. Just beyond that, a four-acre island rock has been carved into giant terraces on which stands a huge building.

Along with hordes of others they took the ferry and walked up a ramp to wide terraces, from which very grand steps led up to a vaster terrace and an elegant arcaded pavilion surrounded by a paved and balustraded area. Then another splendid set of wide steps brought them to the enormous, high domed sanctuary on the topmost plateau, dedicated to the memory of Vivikananda, a Hindu monk and scholar. The entire island is one more wonder of Indian ingenuity and architectural genius, thanks to a culture that admires equally both intellectual and spiritual greatness.

Even all the tourists didn't spoil Kanyakumari. The only unpleasant things were having to wear shorts to swim, and Argus eyed matriarchs in saris keeping a close watch on their men and children and everyone else it seemed while constantly gossiping.

While Frankie visited the Suchindram Temple, Lucien lazed on the beach and was picked up by a Frenchman. He arrived back at the hotel looking flushed and satiated. Frankie kept his opinions to himself, merely suggesting it must be time for Lucien to head north. But Lucien had decided to remain in Kanyakumari until the last minute before flying directly home from Trivandrum.

Determined to rid himself of the American, Frankie followed the advice of a young man in the tourist office and bought a ticket for a local bus to Papanasam, to experience the peace, clean air, mountains and national parks of the Western Ghats.

'I'm moving in with Guy-Michel,' Lucien announced the following morning. 'So you'll be rid of me at last. I'll settle my share of the hotel bill and…' he smiled uncertainly at Frankie who had not responded, 'Will you be Ok?'

Taken off guard by Lucien's apparent concern, Frankie's reply was more cordial than intended. 'No worries, I'm leaving for Papanasam in a couple of hours.'

The white bus with red stripes was almost full, the driver in his seat and the engine running when Lucien raced up and boarded. As there was no seat beside Frankie he had to go further back, grinning as he walked past. It took constant deep breathing until they stopped at the first tiny village to drop off and pick up passengers, before Frankie was able to calm down. Why had he told Lucien where he was going? He was his own worst enemy.

Calm at last, he pushed Lucien out of his head, determined to enjoy the ride, realising as they drove that this was the absolutely best way to travel. The worst is by air, because you see nothing. Trains are next, because they miss smaller towns and you see very little. Long distance busses are similar to trains, while local busses are perfect because they go into all the tiniest villages and towns, stop long enough for you to get out and look around, and the traveller can see, interact with and appreciate the diversity, the humanness of the people who live in these places that are so different from the vast cities. He didn't even consider driving a car – he wasn't insane.

In every village there was something interesting to see. His favourite was a dozen men with white marks on their foreheads wearing yellow lungis, walking in front of a decorated elephant on top of which was a man carrying a beautiful parasol. The procession that followed the edge of fertile fields, a banana plantation and palm grove was followed by cars and laughing children on foot.

The other passengers on the bus were friendly and pleasant, some offering to share their food carried in woven baskets. Palm trees were everywhere. The Western Ghats loomed hazy on the left. An old, enormously fat man in a white lungi was sitting outside his shop when the bus stopped to let off a passenger. The simple building was decorated with entire banana palms, roots and all, bunches hanging along the verandah. Sacks of grain stood at the entrance, and a post office box leaned against the wall. Village streets were sometimes unpaved, and shops were always covered in large tasteless signs for banks, digital equipment and other services. And of course motorbikes and an aerial network of electricity wires were everywhere.

Two hours passed quickly and too soon they were pulling into the Tirunelveli bus terminal. Frankie waited a few metres away till Lucien approached looking sheepish.

'Why are you following me?'

'When I got to Jean-Pierre's room he was in bed with an ugly great Norwegian. Fucking insult, so I went to the tourist office and asked about busses to Papa something, and they remembered you, so told me where to go.'

'Why can't you leave me alone?'

'Because I like you. And you owe me.'

'I owe you?

'Yes. You kept me alive, so my happiness is now your responsibility.'

'How do you make that out?'

'Did I ask you to save my life? No. You just assumed I wanted to live, and made sure it happened. More often than not I've wished I hadn't been born, and right now I would prefer to be dead. So if you'd just left me to die I wouldn't now be depressed, making the lives of all around me miserable.'

'Makes sense. Would you like me to rectify my mistake?'


Frankie stared at Lucien. 'You say that because you know that if I did, I'd end up wishing I was dead after the police and courts had finished with me.' He paused to stare into Lucien's eyes, then with dreadful intensity said, 'If I could wish you dead with no risk to myself, then I would do it immediately, but as I can't I guess I'm stuck with you until you have to go home.'

Lucien grinned. 'Come on, Frankie. I'm not that bad am I?'

Frankie didn't answer, instead turned on his heel and walked towards the old town to see as much as possible before the next bus left for Papanasam. He bought himself batter rolls and other goodies from a stall, and was amused by an enormous cinema complex covered in giant posters for upcoming films. Outside, queues snaked for hundreds of metres, beneath a gigantic, expertly painted cut-out fully three storeys high of the handsome male star holding a guitar. But he wasn't amused to see Lucien trailing him about a hundred metres back. He shrugged. Poor bugger. He was a mess. Perhaps he'd learned his lesson and would be different from now on. Everyone makes mistakes, how else do we learn?

Tirunelveli was a large country town with the usual busy roads lined with cars and motorbikes, three and four storeyed flat roofed apartment buildings in white, pink, ochre, blue; and of course business premises slathered in garishly coloured advertising. There were lots of green spaces, palms, gardens. It was sunny, exotic, friendly… but perhaps a little dull, possibly because there seemed to be as many Christian places of worship as Hindu. Making sure that life is a seriously dull business, is a Christian duty.

Frankie chatted to a couple of young men sitting precariously on the handrail of the bridge crossing a wide river. Both said they wanted to leave the town because they had too many relatives who thought they had the right to tell them how to live. They wanted to be free to be themselves. But where could they go? Frankie had no answer to that, so followed them to the front of a temple where they'd been working with other men maintaining and repairing crumbling parts of the structure. A large tree gave shade to lungi-clad men sitting, chatting, enjoying the peace. Frankie shook his new friends' hands, said he understood, and hoped they would find a way to not let others take over their lives.

Back at the bus terminal Lucien offered Frankie an ice cream.

'Ice creams contain similar bacteria to tap water, I don't want to get the shits, especially now I know you'd let me die.'

Lucien shrugged, smiled and ate both.

The ride to Papanasam was up hill, and the scenery became increasingly forested and beautiful. The town was a smaller version of Tirunelveli with similar crowds, motorbikes, parks, and commercial streets that gave the impression the place was teetering on the brink of chaos.

The hotel recommended by the travel agent was a delightful remnant of the British raj. An elegant two storeyed lodge with eight arches framing the front door and loggia, decorative plantings each side of red painted steps, a fountain in the centre of the sealed area in front of the hotel, multicoloured pennants fluttering from the roof, and thatched shelters for the cars. Everything beautifully maintained.

The only room available was a double, so they shared, and to Frankie's relief Lucien decided to sleep, so he took off on his own to discover that the air was fresher and cleaner in the mountain foothills, and the forests denser and more obviously tropical. Evening was approaching and street lights were coming on, making even the shops plastered with advertising look romantic. At a crossroads in the old centre, a wide flight of ancient stone steps led up to a paved, open space shaded by enormous trees. Young men were sitting on the steps chatting. Families wandered around the pleasant square, on one side of which stood a temple that Frankie decided was quite the nicest he'd seen. Not overpoweringly large. A beautifully carved portal and lintel surmounted by an arched miniature temple in turquoise and pink was the only touch of colour. Inside the shadowy, electrically lit interior, monkeys played around a gilded urn. The rest of the temple was natural sandstone, and the gopuram that seemed to be made solely of layer upon layer of statues of gods, was creamy white. From the street it looked like delicately carved ivory. To each side of the front porch, stalls were selling souvenirs, bananas and snacks. Across the clean paved area, a colourful awning protected another temporary stall selling trinkets and snacks. A large tree in full leaf arched above the decorative flat stone roof of a substantial open pavilion, supported on massive stone columns.

More lights were being turned on, creating a fairyland in which all was visible, but in a mysterious, romantic haze.

Five enthusiastic high school students in their uniform of sandals, dark trousers and white long sleeved shirts with red bands were discussing where to go next. Older, heavier men in lungis walked or wheeled their bicycles past. Then three slim young men with naked torsos and tight black trousers pulled up on motorbikes. Dark smooth skins, strong faces, good bodies. They looked at Frankie and flashed perfect white teeth in what looked like genuine smiles, triggering in him a surge of emotion somewhere between exultation and sadness. To an incurable romantic like Frankie, there was something about this ancient and enduring environment coupled with the young men's natural manliness that hinted at the possibility of a perfect society of such men who would be strong and fearless, noble and loving, honest and true. He sighed and looked around. Reality eclipsed the dream; sadness trumped exultation.

But he returned the smile and they asked where he came from. He shouted them soft drinks that they consumed in a nearby park, where they told him about their lives with such ingenuous honesty he wished they hadn't. That such godlike young men, despite reasonable education and serviceable English, were dependent on menial work if they could find it, saddened Frankie, although they seemed to accept their lot philosophically, looking forward to marrying and breeding. None had enough money to set up house on their own. All would have to live with parents for the foreseeable future. But they weren't depressed about it; that stupidity was Frankie's alone.

They were already seated again on their motorbikes when one of the young men called Rajeev asked if Frankie would like to go with him the next day to an ancient temple beside the river. Frankie certainly would, so they arranged to meet at the same spot the following morning around ten.

Lucien wasn't in the room when Frankie returned, so he ate in the hotel restaurant, and was asleep when he returned.

The following morning, mounted on Rajeev's pillion they rode sedately up forest roads into a valley where an ancient stone temple, wall carvings worn smooth by centuries of devotees' hands, had been built right on the rocky edge of a turbulent mountain river. Directly in front of the temple portico a weir created a shallow lake in which devout people were bathing and cleansing themselves. Older men in white lungis were wallowing, pouring water over themselves. Young men were holding their infant sons above the water, women in saris sat further up in the shallows, older children were playing in the fast flowing overflow. The golden brown torsos of the men blended perfectly with nature—although it would have been aesthetically even more pleasing if most of them had been slimmer.

The water spilling over the edge cascaded through rough stones before becoming a smooth river disappearing around a wide curve into dense tropical forest; tall, green, mysterious, inviting. It was deeply moving for Frankie to realise the place must have looked exactly the same for thousands of years.

With such idyllic places and approachable gods, it seemed no wonder to Frankie that Indians remained spiritual. He shuddered to think what Australians would do to such a place. First they'd fence off access forcing visitors to pay big bucks for entrance, because if something didn't make a profit then it was useless and would be replaced by something that did. Then they'd just keep a screen of trees each side of the river so it looked more or less the same, and bulldoze the rest of the forest, filling it with hotels and expensive housing. The temple would be steam cleaned, made to look as if it had been built only a few weeks earlier, and retro fitted with modern toilets and a souvenir shop.

When the only god people worship is Mammon, then nothing is sacred, nothing has value, and satisfaction evaporates.

How different this was from Australia where the sterile temples of the three Judaic religions invoked fear and trembling, unquestioning worship and self-sacrifice to an angry and jealous god ever ready to punish and slay those who disobey his edicts. Only when churches become like those of Hinduism; places to relax, gather, socialise, use, laugh and feel comfortable in, will they become and remain the centre of life.

From his saddlebags, Rajeev took two white cloths which they wrapped around their waists before removing their shorts and shirts, placing them in sight on the edge of the water before joining a group of young men in green lungis who were assisting elderly men. Everyone was friendly, smiling, intent on their own spiritual wellbeing. A perfect spot in which to soak away stress, massage the cool water into heated limbs, feet and head.

Floating gently Frankie gazed around at the large smooth rocks, tall grasses, palms, giant leafy trees, clear fresh water—a tropical paradise with forested mountains disappearing in the distance, dense vegetation crowding the banks; a scene unchanged for millennia, and prayed that no one would ever make a commercial horror of the place.

Rajeev took Frankie back to the hotel because he knew the manager and sometimes found work delivering and fetching stuff, or repairing small engines, as he was an expert mechanic. When they arrived, Frankie tried to give him some money, but he was charmingly offended, insisting that friendship had no price.

Frankie entered their room full of energy and goodwill and a decision to forgive Lucien and take him to see the temple. At first he couldn't work out what was happening, and then it hit him. Lucien was wrestling with a young man on the floor between the beds. Both were naked. The Indian on his hands and knees, whimpering with his arm pulled up painfully behind his back while Lucien was unsuccessfully attempting to rape him. They both froze when the door slammed, making it easy for Frankie to slam his fist into the side of Lucien's head.

The young man leapt to his feet and stood cowering in the corner. Frankie recognised him as the gardener's lad who was constantly weeding, pruning, watering, sweeping leaves, smiling, carrying chairs out to the patio for guests, always in a spotless white lungi and bare feet. Lean, glowing with health and wondrously dark brown. He looked about fourteen. Frankie picked up the lad's lungi, wrapped it around him and gently asked his name and if he was Ok. The boy had little English, but managed to nod and whisper, 'Ashok'. Placing a calming hand on Ashok's shoulder, Frankie snarled at Lucien who was groaning on the floor.

'What the fuck were you doing? Ashok obviously didn't want to be here.'

'He flirted with me in the garden, so I offered him some money and he followed me in. He was up for it all right. Don't blame me.'

'How much were you offering?

'Two hundred rupees.'

'That's about three dollars! You utter bastard. His English is virtually nil, so he obviously thought you wanted him to clean your shoes or do some small task. The kid's a charmer. He smiles at everyone so they won't kick him! He has a tough life. You make me so sick I can't bear to look at you.' Frankie went to Lucien's bedside table, took his wallet from his rucksack, removed all the paper money and handed it to Ashok, who recoiled.

Frankie looked into his eyes. 'Ashok. This is for you.' He pointed at Lucien and said, 'Bad man.' Then pointed at Ashok and said clearly, 'Ashok good.' Then he put a finger to his lips, shook his head and pressed the money into the young man's hand. 'No police, no boss, all for Ashok.'

Wide eyed in relief and disbelieving gratitude, Ashok nodded, tucked the money somewhere in the folds of his garment, and after an approving smile from Frankie and a pat on the shoulder, disappeared.'

Lucien was standing, holding his head and breathing heavily. 'You utter bastard! You've given him all my rupees, nearly two hundred dollars!'

'Shut up and be grateful. I saved you from rotting in prison for years and being fucked every day. Ashok is the darling of the staff and the manager here, so if you think he wouldn't have told someone that the nasty man in room forty-six lured him to his room and then tried to shove his dick up his bum, then think again.'

'You're such a puritanical prick. Fuck I wish I'd never met you.'

'The feeling's mutual. I'm going for a shower,' Frankie said softly. 'If you are still in this hotel when I return, I will ensure that you will be unable to walk, let alone abuse another young man.'

Frankie picked up his towel and his room key that also gave access to the bathroom on their floor and left the room. After stripping in the small changing space, he entered the shower, closed the plastic curtains and stood under the warm water for some minutes in an attempt to wash away the emotional stench of the selfish bastard who had better not be there when he got out. He didn't want to see him ever again.

Feeling better, he stepped out of the shower and dried himself. As he hung the towel on the hook he noticed his shirt was missing. The shirt with the secret pocket containing everything! Passport, debit card, money. He searched in panic in case he'd accidentally dropped it, but he hadn't. And then he realised. Lucien's key also fitted the bathroom. He must have crept in while Frankie was showering and taken the shirt, knowing what it contained.

'The bastard!' he whispered, throwing on trousers and sandals and racing down to the reception desk.

'Has the gentleman I arrived with left?'

'Yes, sir. He was lucky that a taxi had just dropped off some guests, so he left at least five minutes ago. Is there a problem?'

'Yes, he stole all my documents and money. Did he say where he was going?'

'No, sir. Shall I call the police?'

A motorbike revved outside startling Frankie into action. 'Not yet,' he called, racing out just in time to intercept Rajeev who was leaving as he'd not found work at the hotel. 'Rajeev, a taxi left here about five minutes ago.'

'Yes, I saw it.'

'Can you catch up to it?'

'Of course, Frankie. No problem, hop on and hang on.'

Wrapping his arms around the slender, smooth, naked waist of his chauffeur, Frankie discovered what a powerful, perfectly tuned motorbike can do in the hands of a competent rider. They leaned into corners, zigzagged between cars, left the ground when sailing over the top of rises, the wind pulling at their faces, stinging eyes if he looked forward.

They'd been riding for nearly half an hour and Tirunelveli was fast approaching. There were houses on each side of the road. In two more minutes they'd be in the city and the chance of finding Lucien without involving the police would be zero. Then they rounded a corner and Rajeev pulled alongside a speeding yellow taxi. One wobble and it would be death. But Rajeev didn't wobble, he signalled the driver to pull over. Despite being hit on the head by his passenger, he did, and the motorbike skidded to a halt in front.

The rear door opened and Lucien ran out, heading towards houses and the city. Frankie raced after him. Fitter, shorter, faster and stronger, he slammed into Lucien's back, hurling him forward into a ditch, still clutching his rucksack. Frankie wrestled it away from him, pushed his head into the mud, opened the rucksack, removed his shirt, checked that everything was still in there, then walked back to the taxi. After settling the bill for Lucien's ride plus a generous tip, he told the driver not to pick him up again as he was a known criminal. The driver thanked them and drove away. Ignoring the man limping towards the town, Frankie mounted behind Rajeev who took off in a cloud of very satisfying stones and dust.

Back at the hotel, Rajeev again refused payment. 'It was fun! A real car chase, just like the movies.'

'Fair enough, Rajeev, I agree that friends don't pay each other for favours, but are friends allowed to give each other gifts?'

'Well… yes, but…'

'Then, my good friend, I am leaving tomorrow morning and I want to give you a gift before I go.'

'Tomorrow? Then tonight we will have a farewell dinner at a restaurant, you me and my two friends.'

'I would like that, but on one condition; that I pay for everything.'

'No! No…'

Frankie shrugged, 'Then no go.'

'With a shy and relieved grin Rajeev shrugged and said, 'You are too good to me, Frankie, but please don't tell the other two that you are paying.'

'Of course not. So, how much will it be?' Rajeev told him. Frankie doubled it and handed it over. 'Until tonight then.' They shook hands and the motorbike purred away.

Using the hotel's computer, Frankie was able to book a seat on a bus the following morning from Tirunelveli to Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, where he would stay a few days to explore, then board a flight to Sydney via Changi. When the bookings were confirmed he relaxed for what seemed the first time since he'd arrived in the country. It had been fun, but he needed to… to what? Recharge? He felt drained. He'd proved he could travel on his own, no big deal he admitted with more or less unlimited cash, but he wanted to return to base and think about it. Process the data. See what, if anything, it all meant. And best of all, now the end was in sight he could enjoy the dinner with Rajeev. Surely nothing could go wrong during the next four days?

Rajeev was the perfect host at a restaurant in a quiet corner of a park. Someone was playing music not far away. The food was delicious; the other two men friendly and pleasant, and there were no females in the outside area where they ate. Perfect. Rajeev told his friends he'd had a rich client at the hotel, to explain his sudden good fortune, and they all wished Frankie the best for the future; a wish he reciprocated.

The following morning Rajeev took him to the Bus Station in Tirunelveli. They bid each other a warm farewell, then Rajeev drove back, discovering in his saddlebag when he got home, an envelope containing two hundred and fifty thousand rupees, enough to set him up in the business he'd always wanted, motorbike repair and second hand bike sales.

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