The Guide by R. K. Narayan

  “Oh, perfect, perfect!” he cried. “That Joseph is a wonderful man. I don’t see him, I don’t hear him, but he does everything for me at the right time. That’s how I want things to be, you know. He moves on ball-bearings, I think.”

  That’s what I thought when I saw Rosie demonstrate to me in her hotel room, her whole movement being so much against the fixed factors of bone and muscle, walls and floor.

  Marco continued his rhapsody on Joseph. “I can never thank you enough for finding me a place like this and a man like Joseph. He’s really a wonder. What a pity he should be wasting his talent on this hilltop!”

  “You are very appreciative,” I said. “I’m sure he’ll be elated to know your opinion.”

  “Oh, I have told him that without any reserve. I have also invited him to join my household any time he wishes to come and settle in the plains.”

  He was unusually loquacious and warm. His nature flourished on solitude, and cave frescoes. How happy he’d have been, I thought, to have had Joseph for a wife! My mind was busy with these thoughts as he was talking. Rosie went on like a good wife, saying, “I hope there is food to eat, and everything is okay. If there is milk may I give you all coffee?” She ran in and returned to say, “Yes, there is milk. I’ll make coffee for all of you. I won’t take more than five minutes.”

  I was somehow feeling not quite at ease today. There was a lot of suspense and anxiety at the back of my mind. I was nervous of what he would say to Rosie and really anxious that he should not hurt her. Also, at the same time, a fear that if he became too nice to her, she might not care for me. I wanted him to be good to her, listen to her proposals, and yet leave her to my care! What an impossible, fantastic combination of circumstances to expect!

  While Rosie was fussing with the coffee inside, he brought out another chair for me. “I always do my work here,” he said. I felt that he honored the valley with his patronage. He took out a bundle of sheets in an album, and a few photographs. He had made voluminous notes on all the cave paintings. He had filled sheet after sheet with their description, transcription, and whatnot. They were obscure, but still I went through them with a show of interest. I wished I could ask questions on their value, but again I found myself tongue-tied, because I lacked the idiom. I wished I had been schooled in a jargon-picking institution; that would have enabled me to move with various persons on equal terms. No one would listen to my plea of ignorance and take the trouble to teach me as Rosie did. I listened to him. He was flinging at me dates, evidence, generalizations, and descriptions of a variety of paintings and carvings. I dared not ask what was the earthly use of all that he was doing. When coffee arrived, brought on a tray by Rosie (she had glided in softly, as if to show that she could rival Joseph’s steps; I was startled when she held the cups under my nose), he said to me, “When this is published, it’ll change all our present ideas of the history of civilization. I shall surely mention in the book my debt to you in discovering this place.”

  I looked up at Joseph’s face as if to get a sign of how things were. But he seemed evasive. I asked cheerily, “How is everything, Joseph?”

  “Very well, sir.”

  “That man thinks so well of you!” I said to flatter him.

  But he took it indifferently. “What if he does! I only do my duty. In my profession, some may curse, and some may bless, but I don’t care who says what. Last month there was a group who wanted to assault me because I said I could not procure girls for them, but was I afraid? I ordered them to quit next morning. This is a spot for people to live in. I give them all the comforts ungrudgingly. It costs eight annas sometimes to get a pot of water, and I have to send cans and pots with any bus or truck going downhill, and wait for its return—but the guests will never know the difficulty. They are not expected to. It’s my business to provide, and it’s their business to pay the bill. Let there be no confusion about it. I do my duty and others must do theirs. But if they think I’m a procurer, I get very angry.”

  “Naturally, no one would like it,” I said just to cut his monologue. “I hope this man does not bother you in any way?”

  “Oh, no, he is a gem. A good man; would be even better if his wife left him alone. He was so happy without her. Why did you bring her back? She seems to be a horrible nagger.”

  “Very well, I’ll take her downhill and leave the man in peace,” I said, starting for the cave. The pathway on the grass had become smooth and white with Marco’s tread. I passed through the thicket and was crossing the sandy stretch when I found him coming in the opposite direction. He was dressed heavily as usual, the portfolio swung in his grip. A few yards behind him followed Rosie. I could not read anything from their faces.

  “Hello!” I cried cheerily, facing him. He looked up, paused, opened his mouth to say something, swallowed his words, stepped aside to avoid encountering me, and resumed his forward march. Rosie followed as if she were walking in her sleep. She never even turned to give me a look. A few yards behind Rosie I brought up the rear, and we entered the bungalow gate as a sort of caravan. I felt it would be best to follow their example of silence, and to look just as moody and morose as they. It matched the company very well.

  From the top of the veranda he turned to address us. He said, “It’ll not be necessary for either of you to come in.” He went straight into his room and shut the door.

  Joseph emerged from the kitchen door, wiping a plate. “I’m waiting to take instructions for dinner.”

  Rosie without a word passed up the steps, moved down the veranda, opened the door of his room, passed in, and shut the door. This utter quietness was getting on my nerves. It was entirely unexpected and I did not know how to respond to it. I thought he would either fight us or argue or do something. But this behavior completely baffled me.

  Gaffur came round, biting a straw between his teeth, to ask, “What time are we going down?”

  I knew this was not his real intention in coming, but to see the drama. He must have whiled away his time gossiping with Joseph; and they must have pooled their information about the girl. I said, “Why are you in a hurry, Gaffur?” and added with bitterness, “When you can stay on and see a nice show.”

  He came close to me and said, “Raju, this is not at all good. Let us get away. Leave them alone. After all, they are husband and wife; they’ll know how to make it up. Come on. Go back to your normal work. You were so interested and carefree and happy then.”

  I had nothing to say to this. It was very reasonable advice he was giving me. Even at that moment, it would have been all different if God had given me the sense to follow Gaffur’s advice. I should have gone quietly back, leaving Rosie to solve her problems with her husband. That would have saved many sharp turns and twists in my life’s course. I told Gaffur, “Wait near the car, I’ll tell you,” keeping irritation out of my voice.

  Gaffur went away, grumbling. Presently I heard him sounding the horn—as irate bus-drivers do when their passengers get down at a wayside teashop. I decided to ignore it. I saw the door on the other side open. Marco showed himself outside the front veranda, and said, “Driver, are you ready to go?”

  “Yes, sir,” said Gaffur.

  “Very well then,” said the man. He picked up his bundle and started walking to the car. I saw him through the glass shutters of the hall window. It puzzled me. I tried to cross the hall and go out through the door, but it was bolted. I quickly turned, ran down the steps, and went round to Gaffur’s car. Marco had already taken his seat. Gaffur had not started the engine yet. He was afraid to ask about the others, but marked time by fumbling with the switch-key. He must have been surprised at the effect of sounding the horn. God knows why he did it; perhaps he was testing it or idling or wanted to remind everyone concerned that time was passing.

  “Where are you going?” I asked Marco, taking courage and putting my head into the car.

  “I’m going down to the hotel to close my account there.”

  “What do you mean?” I asked.
  He looked me up and down with a fierce glance. “I do not have to explain. I took the room and I am closing the account; that is all. Driver, you may present me your bill direct. Have a receipt ready when you want payment.”

  “Is no one else coming?” ventured Gaffur, looking in the direction of the bungalow.

  The man merely said, “No,” and added, “If anyone else is coming, I’ll get out.”

  “Driver,” I said with a sudden tone of authority. Gaffur was startled at being called “driver” by me. “Take that man wherever he may want to go and bring me back the car tomorrow—and you will make complete settlement of all your bills with him. Keep a separate account for my own trips.” I could have made a further demonstration of arrogance by saying I had brought the car for my own business and so forth, but I saw no point in all that. As I stood watching Marco, a sudden impulse moved me even without my knowledge. I opened the door of the car and pulled him out of it.

  For all the heavy helmet and glasses that he wore, he was frail—too much frieze-gazing and cave-visiting had emaciated him. “What? Are you attempting to manhandle me?” he shouted.

  “I want to talk to you. I want you to talk. You can’t just go away like this.” I found his breath coming and going sharply. I calmed down and said, softening my style, “Come in and have your food and speak out. Let us talk, discuss things, and then do what you like. You can’t abandon a wife in this place and go away.” I looked at Gaffur and said, “You are not in a hurry, are you?”

  “No, no. Have your food and come, sir. Plenty of time still.”

  “I’ll ask Joseph to give you food,” I added. I felt sorry that I had not taken charge of the situation earlier.

  “Who are you?” Marco asked suddenly. “What is your business with me?”

  “A great deal. I have helped you. I have given a lot of time to your business. I undertook a lot of responsibility for you, these several weeks.”

  “And I dispense with your service from this minute,” he cried. “Give me your bill and be done with it.” Even in his most excited, emotional state, he would not forget his vouchers.

  I said, “Had we better not go into it calmly, sitting down and calculating? I have with me some money that you left with me before.”

  “Very well.” He grunted. “Let us be done with everything, and then you get out of my sight.”

  “Easily done,” I said. “But look here, this bungalow has two suites of rooms, and I can engage one perfectly legitimately.”

  Joseph appeared on the steps. “Will you be wanting a dinner tonight?”

  “No,” he said.

  “Yes; I may,” I said. “You may leave, Joseph, if you are in a hurry. If I am staying, I’ll send for you. Open the other suite and account it to me.”

  “Yes, sir.” He unlocked another door and I strode into it with the air of a proprietor. I left the door open. It was my room and I was free to leave the door ajar if I chose.

  I looked out of the window. The sun’s rays from the west were touching the tops of trees with gold. It was a breathtaking sight. I wished Rosie could see it. She was inside. I had lost the privilege of walking into their room. I sat down in the wooden chair in my suite and wondered what to do. What was it that I had done now? I had no clear program. I had no doubt successfully pulled him out of the car. But that took us nowhere. He had gone and bolted himself in his room, and I was in mine. If I had let him go, I might at least have had a chance to bring Rosie round and get her to talk about herself. Now I had made a mess. Could I go out and ask Gaffur to sound the horn again so that the man might emerge from his room?

  Half an hour passed thus. There was absolutely no sign of any speech or movement. I tiptoed out of my room. I went to the kitchen. Joseph was gone. I lifted the lids of the vessels. Food was there. No one seemed to have touched it. Heaven knew they were both starving. I felt a sudden pity for the man. Rosie must have completely faded out. It was her habit to ask for something to eat every two hours. At the hotel I constantly ordered a tray for her; if we were out I would stop all along the way to buy fruit or refreshment. Now the poor girl must be exhausted—and add to it the walk up and down to the cave. I felt suddenly angry at the thought of her. Why couldn’t she eat or tell me what was what instead of behaving like a deaf-mute? Had the monster cut off her tongue? I wondered in genuine horror. I put the food on plates, put them on a tray, walked to their door. I hesitated for a second—only for a second; if I hesitated longer, I knew I would never go in. I pushed the door with my feet. Rosie was lying on her bed with eyes shut. (Was she in a faint? I wondered for a second.) I had never seen her in such a miserable condition before. He was sitting in his chair, elbow on the table, his chin on his fist. I had never seen him so vacant before. I felt pity for him. I held myself responsible for it. Why couldn’t I have kept out of all this? I placed the tray before him.

  “People have evidently forgotten their food today. If you have a burden on your mind, it’s no reason why you should waste your food.”

  Rosie opened her eyes. They were swollen. She had large, vivacious eyes, but they looked as if they had grown one round larger now, and were bulging and fearsome, dull and red. She was a sorry sight in every way. She sat up and told me, “Don’t waste any more of your time with us. You go back. That’s all I have to say,” in a thick, gruff, crackling voice. Her voice shook a little as she spoke. “I mean it. Leave us now.”

  What had come over this woman? Was she in league with her husband? She had every authority to ask me to get out. Probably she repented her folly in encouraging me all along. All I could say in reply was, “First, you must have your food. For what reason are you fasting?”

  She merely repeated, “I want you to go.”

  “Aren’t you coming down?” I persisted to Marco. The man behaved as if he were a deaf-mute. He never showed any sign of hearing us.

  She merely repeated, “I am asking you to leave us. Do you hear?”

  I grew weak and cowardly at her tone. I muttered, “I mean, you are—or he may want to go down, if it is so—”

  She clicked her tongue in disgust. “Do you not understand? We want you to leave.”

  I grew angry. This woman who had been in my arms forty-eight hours ago was showing off. Many insulting and incriminating remarks welled up in my throat. But even in that stress I had the sense to swallow back my words, and, feeling that it would be dangerous to let myself stand there any longer, turned on my heel and went in a stride to the car. “Gaffur, let us go.”

  “Only one passenger?”

  “Yes.” I banged the door and took my seat.

  “What about them?”

  “I don’t know. You had better settle with them later.”

  “If I have to come again to talk to them, who pays the fare for the trip?”

  I beat my brow. “Begone, man. You can settle all that later.”

  Gaffur sat in his seat with the look of a philosopher, started the car, and was off. I had a hope, as I turned to look, that she might watch me from the window. But no such luck. The car sped downward. Gaffur said, “It’s time your elders found a bride for you.” I said nothing in reply, and he said, through the gathering darkness, “Raju, I’m senior in years. I think this is the best thing you have done. You will be more happy hereafter.”

  “Are you Railway Raju?”

  “Yes,” and then the fat paterfamilias, wife, and two children.

  “You see, we are coming from . . . and So-and-so mentioned your name to us as a man who would surely help us. . . . You see, my wife is keen on a holy bath at the source of Sarayu, and then I’d like to see an elephant camp, and anything else you suggest will be most welcome. But remember, only three days. I couldn’t get even an hour of extra leave; I’ll have to be in my office on . . .”

  I hardly paid attention to what they said. I knew all their lines in advance; all that I paid attention to was the time at their disposal, and the extent of their financial outlay. Even the latter did not re
ally interest me. It was more mechanical than intentional. I called up Gaffur, sat in the front seat, took the party about. While passing the New Extension, I pointed without even turning my head, “Sir Frederick Lawley . . .” When we passed the statue, I knew exactly when the question would come, “Whose is this statue?” and I knew when the next question was coming and had my answer ready, “The man left behind by Robert Clive to administer the district. He built all the tanks and dams and developed this district. Good man. Hence the statue.” At the tenth-century Iswara temple at Vinayak Street, I reeled off the description of the frieze along the wall: “If you look closely, you will see the entire epic Ramayana carved along the wall,” and so forth. I took them to the source of Sarayu on the misty heights of Mempi Peak, watched the lady first plunge in the basin, the man avowing that he did not care and then following her example. I then took them into the inner shrine, showed them the ancient stone image on the pillar, with Shiva absorbing the Ganges river in his matted locks. . . .

  I collected my fee, and my commission from Gaffur and the rest, and saw them off next day. I did it all mechanically, without zest. I was, of course, thinking of Rosie all the time. “That man has probably starved her to death, driven her mad, or left her in the open to be eaten by tigers,” I told myself. I looked forlorn and uninterested and my mother tried to find out why. She asked, “What has gone wrong with you?”

  “Nothing,” I replied. My mother had been so little used to seeing me about the house that she felt surprised and uneasy. But she left me alone. I ate, slept, hung about the railway platform, conducted visitors about, but I was never at peace with myself. My mind was all the while troubled. It was a natural obsession. I didn’t even know what had happened, what all the silence and unnatural calm meant. This was a most unexpected development. As I had visualized, I had thought in my dreamy-happy way that he’d present me with his wife and say, “I’m happy you are going to look after her and her art; I’d like to be left alone to pursue my cave studies; you are such a fine fellow to do this for us.” Or, on the other hand, he might have rolled up his sleeve to throw me out—one or the other, but I never bargained for this kind of inexplicable stalemate. And what was more, for the girl to support him with such ferocity. I was appalled at the duplicity of her heart. I agonized over and over again, piecing together the data and reading their meaning. I deliberately refrained from opening the subject with Gaffur. He respected my sentiment and never mentioned it again, although I was hoping desperately each day that he would say something about them. On certain days when I wanted him, he was not available. I knew then that he must have gone to the Peak House. I refrained from going near the Anand Bhavan. If any of my customers wanted a hotel I sent them nowadays to the Taj. I did not have to bother myself about them unduly. Marco had said he’d settle their accounts direct—well, you could depend upon him to do it. I came into the picture only to collect a commission from them, as from Gaffur himself. But I was prepared to forgo it all. I was in no mood to make money. In the world of gloom in which I was plunged there was no place for money. There must have been some money, I suppose, somewhere. My mother was able to carry on the household as before, and the shop continued to exist. I knew Gaffur’s account must also have been settled. But he never said a word about it. So much the better. I didn’t want to be reminded of the life that was gone.

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