dodged this way and that, and then they reached the house.
It was a small flat house, covered completely by a crimson bougainvillaea creeper. The garden was a mass of marigolds, which had sprung up everywhere, even in the cracks at the sides of the veranda steps. No one was at home. Somi’s father was in Delhi, and his mother was out for the morning, buying the week’s vegetables.
‘Have you any brothers?’ asked Rusty, as he entered the front room.
‘No. But I’ve got two sisters. But they’re married. Come on, let’s see if my clothes will fit you.’
Rusty laughed, for he was older and bigger than his friend; but he was thinking in terms of shirts and trousers, the kind of garments he was used to wearing. He sat down on a sofa in the front room, whilst Somi went for the clothes.
The room was cool and spacious, and had very little furniture. But on the walls were many pictures, and in the centre a large one of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion: his body bare, the saint sat with his legs crossed, the palms of his hands touching in prayer, and on his face there was a serene expression: the serenity of Nanak’s countenance seemed to communicate itself to the room. There was a serenity about Somi too; maybe because of the smile that always hovered near his mouth.
Rusty concluded that Somi’s family were middle-class people; that is, they were neither rich nor beggars, but managed to live all the same.
Somi came back with the clothes.
‘They are mine,’ he said, ‘so maybe they will be a little small for you. Anyway, the warm weather is coming and it will not matter what you wear—better nothing at all!’
Rusty put on a long white shirt which, to his surprise, hung loose; it had a high collar and broad sleeves.
‘It is loose,’ he said, ‘how can it be yours?’
‘It is made loose,’ said Somi.
Rusty pulled on a pair of white pyjamas, and they were definitely small for him, ending a few inches above the ankle. The sandals would not buckle; and, when he walked, they behaved like Somi’s and slapped against his heels.
‘There!’ exclaimed Somi in satisfaction. ‘Now everything is settled, chaat in your stomach, clean clothes on your body, and in a few days we find a job! Now is there anything else?’
Rusty knew Somi well enough now to know that it wasn’t necessary to thank him for anything; gratitude was taken for granted; in true friendship there are no formalities and no obligations. Rusty did not even ask if Somi had consulted his mother about taking in guests; perhaps she was used to this sort of thing.
‘Is there anything else?’ repeated Somi.
Rusty yawned. ‘Can I go to sleep now, please?’
R USTY HAD NEVER SLEPT well in his guardian’s house, because he had never been tired enough; also his imagination would disturb him. And, since running away, he had slept very badly, because he had been cold and hungry and afraid. But in Somi’s house hefelt safe and a little happy, and so he slept; he slept the remainder of the day and through the night.
In the morning Somi tipped Rusty out of bed and dragged him to the water-tank. Rusty watched Somi strip and stand under the jet of tap water, and shuddered at the prospect of having to do the same.
Before removing his shirt, Rusty looked around in embarrassment; no one paid much attention to him, though one of the ayahs, the girl with the bangles, gave him a sly smile; he looked away from the women, threw his shirt on a bush and advanced cautiously to the bathing place.
Somi pulled him under the tap. The water was icy cold and Rusty gasped with the shock. As soon as he was wet, he sprang off the platform, much to the amusement of Somi and the ayahs.
There was no towel with which to dry himself; he stood on the grass, shivering with cold, wondering whether he should dash back to the house or shiver in the open until the sun dried him. But the girl with the bangles was beside him holding a towel; her eyes