“I asked for a taxi and you sent me a hotel car, you idiot“.
Kevin was having a bad morning or night or whatever it was. It was one o’clock in the morning in Chennai where he was and six in the evening in Manchester where he was trying to get too. At some point when you’re crossing time zones and moving bands of light and darkness, “morning” and “afternoon” cease to have meaning. He was stood in the reception of the Royal Hotel wearing a linen suit and loafers without socks that would not have looked out of place for an Englishman in India at any moment during the last two centuries.
“I’ve been coming to Chennai for 20 years. I take a taxi to the airport. Your cars are too damned expensive”. Next to him was a fellow traveller who had been attempting to sort his boarding card out at the travel desk before he’d cut in and demanded the clerk’s attention.
“Apologies for cutting in there old chap, I just need this sorting quickly if you don’t mind”. He looked his compatriot in the eye then up at the ceiling with what he assumed was a shared understanding. These native fools couldn’t organise a piss-up in the brewery. Couldn’t run their own country and couldn’t even book him a sodding taxi.
He had indeed been coming to India for a very long time. In his twenties he had worked out that paper lampshades could be constructed here for not even pennies, imported flat and lightweight, and sold on for pounds to middling department stores. The key to the success of his business – and it had proven very successful – was cheap labour. Over the years, Kevin had become very canny at rotating the staff – periodically flying in to move a factory or fire a shift. The replacements were too new to be organised and the remainder grateful to still be there. Unfortunately this trip had had to be cut short owing to a domestic situation.
“I can see there’s only one of you and you’re helping this chap so Get Someone Else”.
A couple of hotel managers quickly walked over to the desk dressed in their smart gold uniforms to see what the commotion was all about. Kevin just swore under his breath but loud enough to be heard and repeated his request, speaking loudly and slowly like he was talking to a child, in the time honoured manner of an Englishman abroad.
“I want you to Book. Me. A. Taxi. Or an Uber. Whatever. I need to leave in Five Minutes.”
He turned and walked halfway across the bright white marble floored reception of the Hotel before turning and walking halfway back again.
“GET ON WITH IT”.
8 hours previously……
Kevin was hurting at every level. The heat and dirt of India always gave him a headache which combined with the stress of trying to get the simplest thing done to break him out into a profound sweat day and night. To make matters worse he’d brought a can of antiperspirant with him that was near enough empty. Having no choice he’d had to go into one of the small local convenience stores – really more of a shack than a proper shop – and bought a can of the local stuff. One spray under each arm was enough to cause a skin reaction that initially cause him to feel like his armpits had eaten a Madras, and by the time the Madras tingle had ramped up to a Vindaloo burn he’d had to pour his bottle of water down his sleeves to rinse the foul spray off. To cover his embarrassment he’d had to yell at his driver for what he perceived to be a smirk.
On the way back to his hotel for his 3rd shower of the day, the text had come through from Kevin’s wife Emma:
“See you tonight D love E xx”
This made no sense at all. Emma knew he was away until the weekend. It was evening local time and morning back home in Leeds. What the hell was she on about? And D? Come to think of it, Emma was the kind of plain speaking Yorkshire lass who would cringe at the thought of sending kisses to her husband in a text message. Her phone must have been stolen.
He was about to text this back to her when he realised the absurdity of this – firstly, if it had been stolen, she wasn’t going to get the message and secondly, the “E” suggested that it had come from Emma.
Could the message have been intended for someone else?
He tried on the idea like a suit of clothes and found it an uncomfortably close fit. Truth was, they were not a terribly romantic couple. She looked after the house and two teenage boys whilst he was away, which was as often as he could be. He told himself and others it was because he enjoyed the travel although he plainly didn’t. When he was home, they’d share a house and begrudging intercourse – he joked with Dave that they were a “same sex couple” as in always had the same sex – but not much else. They had run out of fresh conversation about 6 months into the marriage.
Dave Milson – regional manager of a national stationary distributer.
“See you tonight D love E xx”
Surely not? Emma was a pretty girl, good enough to decorate his arm at the work’s Christmas do. Dave was, well, a bit of a mess frankly. He smelt of cigarettes and divorce with bitterness where his spine should have been. He lived in a semi that was too large for his needs now in the downtrodden part of East Yorkshire that was not hip like Leeds and not near the coast. Grim basically.
But this was an idea that once it was thought could not easily be dismissed. She’d actually spent more time than him talking to Dave since the divorce papers went through, principally because he just couldn’t stand the whining. Being a loser was infectious and he did not need the contamination. So Emma had taken him out a few times for dinner to cheer him up and that had been OK. Better her than him listening to that shite.
He went from denial to anger like a rally driver going through the gears. The bitch. The Fucking Bitch. The absolute ingratitude of it. What was she without him – a home maker and part time shop assistance? He bought her trinkets and jewels and watched those God-awful “comedies” that she loved when he was home. He was good to her.
There were going to be words when he got home which would be as early as the flights allowed and if he didn’t like what he heard she’d be out on her arse.
16 hours previously….
When you’ve been visiting a place for as long as Kevin you fall into a routine where you visit the same restaurants and beer-bars every time. It’s just easier to go where you know things are to your taste, particularly abroad where everything is just so foreign.
Kevin also had a favourite late night establishment where the price of a handful of beers back home would buy you the undivided attention of a couple of girls for the evening through to the morning if you desired. He’d been going there for 3 years now and was on friendly terms with the manager – whose name he’d still failed to learn. The manager however knew Kevin’s name and more importantly his tastes. English speaking, minimal accent, university educated, not too dark. Kevin liked his girls Fair and Lovely.
This evening he was enjoying the company of two girls in his usual manner – talking to them about himself and enjoying their rapt attention. He occasionally blew a little of his cigar smoke in their face just to watch them smile and pretend not to wince. It reminded him of what he was paying for. The girls were well trained enough to know not to talk too much but never break eye contact and smile and laugh whenever appropriate. Later they would do whatever else he asked for him. He never mentioned his wife as pretending to have picked up these girls was part of the fantasy they sell. He didn’t bother to move his wedding band however as that would have afforded them more respect than they were due.
This was a legitimate business expense for him so he wouldn’t even be paying the tax on the transaction. Instead a record of “Entertaining clients” would be provided for his accountant. This thought gave him pleasure too, almost as much what the girls would give him later. He worked hard, he deserved his recreation.
4 weeks later…..
Kevin was in bed with a girl who called herself “Tanje” from the country of “Eastern Europe”. They’d met in his local club when she’d sat down next to him on the black and white leopard striped sofas. She was a stunning blonde who was naturally comfortable being dressed in just red lingerie and he was one bottle of scotch into his evening before he even set foot in the establishment. Easy pickings for a skilled operator like “Tanje”.
Together, they’d run up a £1,000 drinks bill at the club on several bottles of vastly overpriced champagne that she received commission on. She’d let him do most of the drinking whilst having enough herself to keep the bottles coming. She was an excellent listener which was every bit as important a skill as stripping and fucking in her line of work but this was a particularly easy mark as Kevin cycled through excited, angry and maudlin in his telling of how his bitch of a shortly-to-become-ex-wife had shacked up with this fucking loser ex-friend and how he’d taken the taxi straight to his house from the airport, how he’d banged on the door at three in the morning and Dave didn’t have the balls to come out of his house like a man and the neighbours had called the police and that was the kind of fucking coward that takes a man’s woman when his back was turned. He’d been a good friend to Dave, been there when no-one else was during the divorce and tried to help him get promoted in his pathetic little job and even then he’d screwed it up. She even maintained her charm and silence as he explained somewhat gleefully how she’d miss him when she had to leave after Brexit.
Later he was out of steam talking so he bought himself a few dances from his Eastern European as he liked to “see the goods before he buys”. Judging her to be good enough for him, he’d made the necessary transaction for the night. She knew his type and made sure she had his money up front. Men like that who’d been drinking away sorrow were a common trope in her line of work and they invariably got angry when they found they were too far gone to take their pleasure. They often wouldn’t want to pay for the humiliating experience.
So there they were, lying naked in bed. He was lying on his back, talking and swearing mainly to himself now about how unfair it all was and she was making little circles in his chest hair with his fingers, hoping he would fall asleep soon so her night’s work would be over.