the-south-asian.com January 2003
JANUARY 2003 Contents
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'KNOCK AT EVERY ALIEN DOOR'
A BRITISH RAJAH
He had one of those hyphenated British names implying class, which always for me poses a striking semantic analogy between hyphen and hymen; the removal of either signifying something lost.
Colonel Nigel Thorne Smyth was his name; in appearance only slightly less impressive than his moniker. His slight frame was topped by a gnomish head, fringe-bald, with the piercing eyes of an inquisitor who would give no quarter. Except for a tempering glint of humor when he smiled, his look was that of a fanatic. My first encounter with him was sheer intimidation.
I had gone to his room -- a small ward ordinarily housing four patients -- to schedule him for surgery at Capt. Jaffee's request. The other beds Mark and I had pushed into a corner to insure his privacy. He was propped up in bed reading, a stack of books on his bedside table. His bed had been pulled near the only window for light. He put down his book and glared at me.
"Why are you here?"
"Sir, Captain Jaffee asked me to --"
"I want to see him, not you."
"But sir, he asked me to schedule --"
"Sergeant, this is between Captain Jaffee and me.
Tell him I expect to see him."
"I was only --"
"I'm sure you understand me. Sergeant."
That curt dismissal was all I needed. I left the room, a litany of imprecations boiling for utterance in me. Who was this arrogant ass, and what was he, an Englishman, doing in an American hospital. I really smarted at such treatment, especially since he was not one of our own and now acted as if he were in command.
When I found Captain Jaffee and
reported my encounter, he laughed.
"I can think of another name for him."
"He's really not a bad sort when you know him.
Rather interesting and quite learned. Written a book on Indian occultism, I think. Not my particular cup of tea."
"I don't understand why he's here with us. The British detachment is only a stone's throw away."
"He's not really in active
service, as I understand it," Captain Jaffee explained, leaning his
chair back against the wall. He raked the edge of his bushy black mustache
with a finger, and took a cigarette from his shirt pocket.
"How did you meet him?"
"At one of those British-American parties to promote better international relations. The only one I've attended, a month or so ago at the Grand Hotel in Calcutta."
I liked Captain Jaffee; we were friends. Since he was as unmilitary as I, there was never a problem with rank. We had been together in California before coming to India, at one point operating an infirmary in Pomona in the middle of an orange grove over the site of the LaBrea Tar Pits; the oddest assignment I ever had. He had badgered me for a while about not applying for OCS, and at one point had me seriously considering medicine as a career. I in turn had seen him through the worst Dear John syndrome I ever witnessed. He had met and married the daughter of a movie producer in Hollywood, a ballerina of striking beauty, and the second month of his stay in India she divorced him. For months he was barely functional, just this side of suicide. Even now I knew he still carried her picture in his wallet. His was Sturm und Prang of the worst kind.
I took the chair reserved for
patients, propping my feet alongside his on the small desk.
Captain Jaffee grinned, stroking
his bushy black moustache.
"Can't the British treat hemorrhoids?"
"Believe it or not, I think it's sheer embarrassment. I don't think he wants them to know. Can you beat that?" Captain Jaffee laughed. "He asked me to do it. You'd think it was a covert spy mission of some sort. It doesn't amount to a hill o' beans. So we'll defrock him in the morning at nine o'clock."
"I'll be there." I got to my feet and left the Captain thumbing idly through the newest medical journal.
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