A Nose for a Story (3)
Gopal also knew that he was getting older and might not be able to control the things that were written about Nyree. If he insisted on having a considerable degree of control over the finished book, he could make sure that what was written was the truth and not the rubbish that some would like to publish about her. Besides, Whitelaw seemed to be honest.
'And what kind of information about my sister are you looking for, Professor Whitelaw?' Gopal asked.
'I'm particularly interested in any unpublished work you might have - any notes, unfinished novels, letters... diaries, perhaps?'
Diaries! Gopal wondered if this was another of Raj's jokes. But Raj had made no mention of this man.
Then there was a knock at the door. Gopal opened it.
There was an attractive woman in a yellow trouser suit standing there. She was smiling and carried a handbag. He could smell her perfume. This must be the woman from the National Diary. Gopal smiled and let her in.
Desiree thought the old man was smiling for a different reason. 'He's attracted to me,' she thought to herself. 'I knew he would be!'
Gopal introduced Whitelaw and Desiree's heart sank when she saw him. She was not glad to hear of his plans for a book - he would be as interested in scandal as she was. Maybe she could take his mind off the diary. She put on her sweetest voice, but Whitelaw did not react as she had hoped. He didn't look once as she leaned over while reaching for some tea. She might just as well have been his mother. No luck there. At least the old man seemed to be giving her his attention.
She explained, still in her sweetest voice, why she was there. She said that she wanted to describe the human side of Nyree Singh in her magazine, the side that would show the world what a wonderful person they had lost. Was there anything that he could show her readers? Letters? A diary, perhaps?
'Come, let us all walk together in the garden. Then we can talk,' he said.
Gopal picked up an old metal box from a table, the kind with a lid and a lock, and carried it with him. He led them past the flowers by his sister's photograph and out to the garden path. There was an unpleasant smell.
At first the smell was not too bad. Then, as they went on, it got stronger.
'My sister was a secretive woman,' said Gopal. 'She knew many important people, many famous people. But she never said anything about her private conversations with them to me or to anyone. She respected her friends - even her enemies - and would never repeat to anyone what they said to her.'
As they walked the smell became almost too much. Desiree's face was turning pale and Professor Whitelaw, too, was looking very uncomfortable. Gopal went on.
'This box contains the only real secrets my sister ever kept from me. I once promised her I would never open it and I never have, even though I have the key.' He stopped and looked at his two guests, who were both trying their best not to be sick.
'This cesspit, which you see in the ground in front of us, is to be emptied tomorrow. It contains the sewage from the past month...'
They could see it in front of them. It was almost full, and the smell rose from it like an evil ghost.
Then Gopal did an extraordinary thing: he threw the box into the cesspit. It went through the air and landed in the middle. Desiree and Whitelaw looked on helplessly while the box sank slowly to the bottom, leaving only a few bubbles in the brown liquid.
'If you really wish to know the secrets in that box, they are yours. I will be at the Excelsior this afternoon. In fact, my good friend Mr Raj Patel will be arriving to take me there at any moment. The "person who brings me the box may collect the key from me in the lounge of the hotel at four o'clock this afternoon - just in time for tea. Goodbye for now, my friends. It was a delight meeting you both. Perhaps we shall meet again...'
And Gopal walked down the garden path and left them there. Their eyes went from him to the cesspit and then to each other. Both of them wanted the box and what was in it, and there it lay, separated from them by deep, bubbling brown sewage.
Raj Patel and Gopal sat drinking tea in the Excelsior lounge at three forty-five that afternoon. Music from a string quartet was playing. As they laughed together a third person came to join them.
It was Professor Whitelaw.
'I'm sorry, Mr Singh, but I just couldn't do it. Not for anything. I'm afraid I have rather a weak stomach. Still, I don't suppose anything in that box would have made much difference to a book about Miss Singh as a writer...'
Gopal smiled. 'Quite right. Think nothing of it, Professor Whitelaw. I hope you did not mind my little test of your... er... intentions! I can see you are a man with high standards. Now do sit down and join us for tea. Let me introduce you to my good friend, Mr Raj Patel; he is a very fine maker of Indian films.'
For the next ten minutes they all chatted about Whitelaw's ideas for his book, and Raj Patel's plans for Indian Summer starring Ravi Narayan.
It was almost four o'clock when Desiree Malpen arrived with an old metal box-in her hands. She was wearing a loose blue dress and smelled of strong perfume. But there was another smell mixed in with it, a bitter unpleasant smell which defeated all the efforts of the perfume to hide it. Her hair was still wet as though she had just come out of the shower. She smiled but it was an angry smile. She placed the box in the middle of the table, almost knocking over the vase of roses.
'Well, Mr Singh, here it is. I got it out. None of those taxi drivers would do it so I did it myself - ruined my clothes and had to pay for the damned taxi to be cleaned. God knows what they thought when I finally got back here! But here it is. Now are you going to open it?'
'Of course, my dear. At once,' said Gopal. He took a key from his pocket and didn't seem to mind that the box was not entirely clean. He turned the lock with a quick motion of his wrist and held the box out to her.
'Take it; it's yours.'
Desiree took the box and, looking very pleased with herself, opened it. She took out some old pieces of newspaper, which had gone brown and hard with age. She looked at them and stared at Gopal angrily.
'What on earth are these?'
Gopal Singh looked at the old papers.
'Cricket reports! We both loved cricket, but I hate reading results of matches I haven't seen - and Nyree loved collecting them. She was a sweet old thing, don't think?'
- THE END -