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General N.’s guest room had only one large bed, in which the Young Man and the Brigadier both slept. At first the Young Man felt uncomfortable with this arrangement. Like most males from his country, he believed that close and prolonged proximity to an older man might well presage homosexuality. He did not like it when old men held his hand to guide him through the bazaars. He felt as a Pakistani woman might have felt if her husband had taken her hand in public. None of this was right or wrong. He who adapts insufficiently to an alien society is a sort of evolutionary failure, condemned to isolation, sterility and extinction; he who adapts too much defaces the self he was born with. The Young Man, being young, should have adapted substantially; he had less previous self to deny. He did his best. In Karachi he’d met two men who befriended him. They paid for his lunch (nan, oil and curried egg), bought him a leaf-wrapped packet of betel nut to chew, showed him the tomb of Mr. Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and took him on a bus ride to Clifton Beach, where in September the giant sea tortoises came to lay their eggs. “It’s a fascinating spectacle on a moonlit night,” the guidebook said. Unfortunately, this was the middle of a 125-degree afternoon (so it seemed) in the middle of June.

The buses were painted in a hundred gorgeous ways: blue and silver, like the turquoise jewelry of the American Southwest, red diamonds with yellow centers (buttercups in poppy fields, the Young Man thought), emerald-glazed ivy patterns … They never stopped. You ran behind one for a block or so, dodging the cars and motor-rickshaws and the carts of the spitting camel-drivers, until there was a wagon blocking the intersection ahead, or the conductor felt sorry for you, and then the bus slowed. The conductor held out his hand. You grabbed it as the bus picked up speed, got a foot in and jumped. Inside it was dark. The floor was wet with spittle. His two new friends, Akbar and Muhammed Ibrahim, stood protectively on either side. Muhammed Ibrahim insisted on carrying his pack for him. The Young Man, who’d spent hours in the heat trying to get his railway ticket to Peshawar, being bullied by people who wanted to do him expensive services, terrified by wailing beggar-women who pantomimed that they were dying of hunger (were they? how could he tell? why was it his fault?), cheek-stroked by smiling prostitutes, reviled by the men in official red uniforms (COOLIE NO. 17302) because he would not let his pack be carried by them; baffled by everything, thirsty, but afraid to drink for fear of disease (by the end of that first day in the country he was drinking a Sprite every hour and a half, plus water when he had to; he usually had to), sweating in crowded lines, always in the wrong line, until finally a man in the line got his ticket for him, saying, “You are a guest of our country; I must help you!”—all this with a gentle smile that confounded the Young Man with gratitude and guilt, for then his benefactor must go once again to the end of the line to get his own ticket; as for the Young Man, his train didn’t leave until ten that night and somehow he had to last till then, so he moved through the long confusion of that afternoon like a restless fly afraid of being swatted, knowing that whenever he stopped, the beggars, prostitutes, arrangers and desperate children would come; gasping, he hailed a rickshaw and roared off to the bazaars, those unknown fixed points devoid for him of any content; while the ride lasted it was marvelous because no one could bother him and he enjoyed the hot wind against his ears in that flimsy taxi, which was simply a Suzuki motor and two seats nested beneath an aluminum canopy painted with some movie star’s likeness; but then they got to the bazaars, and as soon as he got out the problem of not being left alone reasserted itself, so he couldn’t stop anywhere; didn’t know what to do, poor helpless yoyo; walked the sunny, steamy streets, making a show of looking at straw mats and lovely plastic water coolers, becoming more and more exhausted and afraid of having his blood sucked by all these people who grasped at him and whom he refused — the Young Man, then, was happy to be in someone’s keeping. — There were so many passengers on the bus that it was impossible to sit down. Strong-looking, swarthy men stood all around, rubbing their beards and conversing in low, serious voices. They looked at the Young Man, but left him to himself. Akbar and Muhammed Ibrahim smiled at him kindly. That made him feel guilty again, because he had presented himself to them falsely. Since he could be arrested for trying to cross the Afghan border, he’d told everyone who asked that his purpose was to visit Pakistan. When Akbar and Muhammed Ibrahim discovered that he did not intend to go on to India, they were astonished and touched by his interest in their country. The Young Man, who had never given much thought to Pakistan before he came there, decided then and there to make his interest sincere, and at the close of his journey he reckoned that that was one of the few good things that he had actually done. — The bus lurched on. — “Cal-lif-lif-lif-lif-lif, Cal-lif-lif-lif-lif-lif, Cal-lif-lif-lif-lif-lif, Ca-lifton!” the conductor sang out the door. Passengers leaped on and off. They passed a billboard for Sprite; the picture showed a veiled woman pouring the bubbling stuff into a glass. The afternoon had changed its character; feeling safe, he had begun to enjoy himself. — Here he was, in an Oriental city as fabulous as the Land of Counterpane, and he was riding toward the shores of the Arabian Sea; with him, two new friends; around him, exotic-looking personages in bright pajamas, talking in Urdu! (What else ought they to have been speaking, after all? But it must be admitted that the Young Man’s attitude was endearing.)

 

BEGGARS AND CHOOSERS [1]

 

Akbar directed his attention to all the most interesting things: over there, the pillars proclaiming the Islamic virtues of FAITH, UNITY, and DISCIPLINE; over there, the new hospital for tuberculosis patients; then the almost completed Holiday Inn. — “Cal-lif-lif-lif-lif-lif, Ca-lifton!” called the conductor. — Just ahead, a checkered cab smashed into a donkey. For a moment the great traffic-pulse seemed to miss a beat; and he could hear, as he had early that morning, the songs of tropical birds. — No, perhaps he had imagined the accident, for in less than an instant everything began again, the cab and the donkey going their separate ways; and now came half a dozen embellished rickshaws, nephews or cousins of the one he had ridden, all empty; and an old man dashed across the street, pulling behind him a wheelbarrow full of lemons. — The bus was passing along a wide street, evidently of Empire construction, lined with the canvas lean-tos of clothes vendors. The whining calls of these salesmen stung through the traffic like bees. — The Young Man’s sense of well-being began to dissolve. Everything seemed strange to him; he was so far from home! He dug through the compost layers of his education, looking for familiar correspondences, and though he found them it did not matter in the least. — A leper jumped aboard, moving his silvery cattish head from side to side. He took in the Young Man almost at once. The other men stopped talking, watching to see what would happen. — “He want you give him money,” Akbar said. — “Do I need to?” said the Young Man, wondering if he was being taken advantage of. — “No, no,” said Akbar politely, holding out a few paisa, and the leper took the money without saying anything and jumped off the moving bus…

 

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