An Unexpected Visitor

We were waiting for friends to arrive for dinner when the doorbell rang. I swung the door wide, expecting them, but it was a man who drops in once every couple of years, whom I’ll call Abraham. I invited him in, but I was wary. He can be amusing, but once he gets settled he’s hard to dislodge. He wants to talk, in a mumbling stream which is almost impossible to cut into, even to answer the occasional question. He loves gossip, and always arrives with some. On the other hand, he also wants to collect something to take to his next stopping-place. He’s like a bumblebee, picking up pollen here and depositing it there.

Abraham is a Syrian Christian from Kerala. I like the sound of Malayalam, though I can’t understand it: it is closely related to Tamil, but it has a softness and a lilt that Tamil does not. I also like the way some Malayalis, Abraham for example, speak English. The ‘o’s are especially elongated – phone becomes phwu-ooooone, and the lilting rhythm is soothing.

Abraham sat looking down at his lap, his body rocking very slightly. His shirt looked as though it hadn’t been ironed, though he can certainly afford to have it done. He started right in with a flow of words, as though we had met last week, not a year ago. He’d sold his house in Chennai to a computer company. One crore [a lot of money] per ground [about 1/16 of an acre, I think], and he had nine grounds of land. “I just have to settle up with my nephew. But I’m only going to pay him two and a half crores, because he doesn’t like me.” He smiled. “Then I’ll go and stay in my house in Coonoor. It’s a big house, and I like the view.

"C just took an old bathtub from me. An old-fashioned thing it was, and very dirty. He'll have to clean it with acid before he can use it. He’s having liver trouble, his stomach's all bloated up. He says he's stopped drinking: he only takes wine now." Abraham paused long enough to look up for the first time, and laughed slightly. “Wine won’t help him, but I didn’t say anything. I don’t want to be too friendly with him, because I’m afraid he’ll come and visit me in Coonoor. Anyway, I asked him if he was planning to come to Coonoor, but he said, ‘I can’t, my teeth are gone, and I have to spend all my time at the dentist.’”

C is very wealthy. Why did he want Abraham’s dirty old bathtub? Did it have any connection with his liver trouble? I tried to ask, but he wouldn’t let me interrupt him. And at last he bumbled off to the next flower, just in time for our friends to arrive.

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