Friday, October 02, 2009

The Englishman

Annai, March 2005

The Englishman had two sons, both by his Brazilian first wife, who was now dead. The elder son, he said, was twenty or twenty-one. He was in London, a student, studying film. The Englishman’s voice softened when he spoke of this elder son. There was a photograph of him in the library of the ranch house, a black-and-white photograph in a silver frame. It was a formal portrait, taken in a studio. The son — his features delicate, his hair neatly parted in an old-fashioned style, his mouth barely smiling — looked something like a film-star of the 1930s. There was a soft sheen about him, almost like a halo, a silvery bloom like the manifestation of something like sanctity.

This son, the Englishman said, would be returning to the ranch in July with some of his film-school friends. They would have their cameras, their equipment. They would make a film about South America, travelling south by motorcycle, or perhaps Land Rover. He was a hard-working boy, the Englishman said, with two jobs in London to pay for his studies. And though he didn’t say it, it was clear this elder son would return to the ranch only for short visits. He had grown up here, but his life was now elsewhere, in the city his father had fled forty years before. The soft silvery halo of his black-and-white portrait somehow confirmed this, was somehow a sign of his translation into that city, that life across the ocean.

The Englishman’s younger son was named George. Or perhaps it was Jorge. But everyone called him Georgie — or “Jargie”, which is how it sounds in a Guyanese accent. Jargie looked nothing like his brother. His black hair was long and shaggy, and he had a scraggly beard. One of his front teeth was chipped. He had a dark tan. He rarely looked anyone in the eye, and he said little, at least while his father was nearby. He may have been nineteen or twenty, but he looked older. He had the heaviness of gesture of a man of thirty, easy in the ways of the world, but when he spoke it was like a boy, with a note of sullenness. He often seemed unwashed, at all hours, as though he had just been labouring at some heavy job involving dirt and grease.

Jargie seemed angry when his father was nearby, and eager to be somewhere else, at some task. The Englishman didn’t seem to notice this. “A good son, a faithful son,” the Englishman said. “I couldn’t ask for a more faithful son,” but when he spoke to Jargie it was in questions and orders.

“The plane came in this morning. Did it bring our package? Yes? Did you check it? No? So how are we to know what message to send back? You must check it at once, and come to my office to tell me if the part is there. Without it, how will we fix the second truck? Good? Off you go, then.”

Jargie replied in grunts, and hardly raised his eyes from the ground. He strode off.

“I couldn’t ask for a more faithful son.”

Later, driving the Land Rover, with his father back at the ranch, Jargie spoke confidently, almost boastfully, of his work at the ranch, the vehicles, the horses. The men of the village seemed to like him but also to be a little afraid of him. You could tell by the way Jargie spoke to them that he was proud of this.

He never mentioned his brother.

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