This is a mobile proxy. It is intended to visit the IOMfAtS Story Shelf on devices that would otherwise not correctly display the site. Please direct all your feedback to the friendly guy over at IOMfAtS!


by Charles Lacey

Chapter 6

The hospital where Dad worked had all sorts of contacts, both formal and informal, with other hospitals not only in Britain but overseas. Occasionally staff exchanges were put in place whereby a doctor from each of two hospitals would swap jobs for a year or two. "They have invited me to exchange for two years with Dr Pawel Remigiusz," said Dad. "He's a consultant physician – at least, their equivalent – in the University Hospital at Krakow."

"Where's Krakow, Dad?" I interrupted.

"Poland. But don't you get over-excited. If I go there, you will have to stay here with Mum and Grandad, or at least with Grandad if Mum wants to come with me…"

"…which I do. I hope they can find me a job while I'm there."

"So Grandad will have to look after you. We can't possibly allow you to miss any of your schooling, not this close to 'A'-levels."

Grandad's quiet voice broke in.

"Actually, Edward, that's not going to work."

"Why not? Jack's no trouble, and you seem to be in fine fettle."

"Oh, I am, I am. It just that… oh dear, I was going to tell you about this shortly. It's just that… I won't be here to look after anyone."

There was a silence while we all looked at Grandad. He'd just told us he was in good health, so why might he not be here? I had just worked out the answer when he told us.

"My dears, I am going to India, to live with Pradesh."

"Father, you can't!..."

"Joan, my dear, I not only can, but I am going to. He is the love of my life, and we have been apart far too long. Who knows how much time we may have left to be together?"

"When do you propose to go?"

"Next week, if I can get a flight in time. The letter I had from him this morning made it clear that he will welcome me, quite literally, with open arms."

"My God! Father, you might have told us."

"I only made up my mind today. Of course, you will all be welcome to visit at any time."

"My God!" said Mum again, and there was another silence.

"Well," said Dad, "that puts the kybosh on the exchange idea. A pity, as I should have enjoyed the challenge. Perhaps I might be able to do one in three or four years' time when Jack is old enough to look after himself."

"I am already, Dad," I said.

"Maybe for a night, or even for a few days, but not for two years. No, it's no go. I'll let Tomlin know tomorrow, so that they can offer it to someone else."

I could see that Dad was really disappointed, but there really didn't seem to be anything to be done about it. I could see Grandad's point; if he stayed at home for two years to look after me, Papaji might die and I knew Grandad would never forgive either himself or Dad if they weren't together when that happened. So that was that.

Except that it wasn't. When Dad got home the following evening he told us that Sir William Tomlin, the Hospital Secretary, wanted to see him and Mum, plus myself, Sanwar and Sanjay, as soon as possible.

My heart turned to ice. They'd found out about me and Sanwar. Dad and Sanjay, and probably Mum as well, were all going to get the sack. It was an utter disaster. Dad obviously thought it was urgent, though, so he told me and Sanwar (who had come over to do some homework with me) to take the morning off school – he said he'd provide notes for both of us to hand in when we returned – and we were to see Sir William at ten o'clock the next morning.

That was a very strained evening. Sanwar felt the atmosphere – he was always very sensitive – and took himself off home as soon as we had done the exercises we'd been set, though he did give me a very long, close hug before going. At nine forty-five the next morning we were all waiting outside Sir William Tomlin's office, and at ten o'clock on the dot (Sir William greatly valued punctuality) we were ushered in by his secretary. He'd arranged five chairs around his desk for us. He was a small, neat, white-haired man who gave the impression of great vigour and energy. His face was shrewd and intelligent with bright blue eyes behind gold-rimmed spectacles and a ready smile. He'd been knighted in recognition of his work as Hospital Secretary; having a substantial private income of his own he had refused to accept a salary.

"Sit down, sit down, please. My secretary will bring coffee in shortly; would you two lads prefer a soft drink?"

Well, that didn't seem to be too bad a start. I relaxed, very slightly.

"Now, first of all, Edward, I am keen that you do this exchange. No, hear me out, please. It would be good for you to work in an academic environment for a while, perhaps even involve yourself in a research project. I think you would like to do that, too – am I right?"

"Well, yes, William, but as I explained to you yesterday, it's just not practical. My father-in-law is going to live abroad and there would be no-one to look after Jack."

"Well, well. Now, nothing said in this room today is going to go outside these four walls unless you want it to. No-one is taking notes…"

Here, as if to emphasize this point, his secretary entered with a tray of coffee and biscuits, put it on a side table and left, closing the door quietly.

"… and so we may all speak freely. Now, you may all think I sit in this office all day and push paper around, but I do have a pretty good idea what's going on around the hospital. I wouldn't be much use at my job if I didn't. And so, please answer these questions truthfully. I promise that your answers won't be passed on to anyone else."

He looked at me, straight in the eye, and then at Sanwar. I was beginning to get an idea of what was coming.

"Jack, and Sanwar, if I am not mistaken, you are very fond of one another?"

"Yes, sir," we replied in unison, looking not at him but at one another.

"And I think perhaps you would like to be even closer than you are?"

"Yes, sir."

"I rather thought so. Bill Hartley saw you together several times and had that impression. Well, now, I imagine you find the legal situation rather irksome, with the age of consent at eighteen?"

"Yes sir, very," we replied, this time looking at Sir William. He had a half-smile on his face, rather like someone waiting to impart good news.

"Ridiculous!" was his next comment. "It ought to be the same for everyone, not different just because you both happen to be boys. Bless us! When I was in the Army, during the war, we had a couple of soldiers in the regiment who were lovers. They were just ordinary troopers, but everyone respected them. Two braver men never lived. They both died in Egypt, side by side..."

He paused for a moment.

"Well, I'm going to make a suggestion. You don't have to answer straight away, but I'd like a Yes or No pretty soon, but by the end of the week at the latest because either way I am going to have to get things moving."

We looked at him expectantly.

"First of all, Edward, the exchange offer remains open for the moment. I think it would be good for you, and good for both hospitals, if you were to take it up. And Joan, I don't think there would be any difficulty in your finding a post alongside your husband. I know Matron would give you a first-class reference. If Edward agrees, I will make that a priority. The problem comes down to what to do with Jack while you are both away."

Dad nodded slowly, wondering what was coming.

"There is an excellent International School in Krakow, attached to the University. The teaching is partly in Polish, partly in English. No… please hear me out. The academic standard of the school is high, as you would expect. Jack wouldn't be able to take 'A'-levels there, but he would be able to sit the International Baccalaureate, which is actually at a higher standard, and if he needed actual 'A'-level certificates he would have no difficulty with the examinations on his return."

My heart sank. I was going to have to move to Poland with Mum and Dad, and leave Sanwar behind. How could I possibly live without him? Two years! It might as well be a lifetime. I am sure my dismay must have shown in my face, because Sir William nodded sympathetically, and Sanwar stretched out his hand and clasped mine.

"There is no reason, if Mr Khurana would agree, why Sanwar should not also go to the International School. As I say, the academic standards are excellent and the Baccalaureate would be an excellent grounding for a medical career, which I believe is your ambition, Sanwar? Jack's school fees would of course be paid by the University, and I dare say I can find a trust fund that would pay Sanwar's fees…"

Sanwar and I looked at each other. His eyes were shining as brightly as diamonds.

"…and what I think may be the deciding factor for you two young men: in Poland, the age of consent is fifteen. For everyone and for every kind of relationship."

By now I think my eyes must have been shining as brightly as Sanwar's.

"The only drawback is that you would have to learn at least basic Polish in a short space of time, because the exchange will begin in January. However, you can always get Linguaphone records if you decide to go ahead. Now, I have another meeting to attend in a few minutes' time. Please discuss this at home tonight, and if possible bring me an answer tomorrow, but at any rate by Friday morning at the latest."

Outside the door of Sir William's office, unmindful of the fact that his secretary was in the room, Sanwar and I flung our arms around each other. Dad looked at us and said, rather dryly, "Here are two people whose minds are already made up. Sanjay, please come and have dinner with us tonight, and bring your wife if possible. I'm sure my father-in-law would look after your children if you need a baby-sitter. He speaks some Urdu."

Mum did another of her roast chicken dinners that evening, but by the end of the meal the decision had been made. Dad would accept the exchange post; Mum, Sanwar and I would go with him on condition that Sanwar wrote home every week. Dad wrote a formal letter to Sir William Tomlin, accepting the posting, which he would leave the next morning with Sir William's secretary.

Sanwar stayed over that night, though neither he or I got much sleep. The spare bad had been moved back into my room. By then, of course, we were wholly uninhibited with each other, sharing bedroom and bathroom without the slightest concern. We were wildly excited about the prospect of moving to a place where we would not need to hide our love or to pretend that it was anything other than what it was.

Learning Polish was an interesting experience. Sanwar and I worked at it together, with Linguaphone gramophone records. We discovered that Herr Weissmann, the young German who taught that language at St Edmund's, was also fluent in Polish and twice a week he spent a generous half hour with us in the Library going through exercises and correcting our pronunciation. He also lent us some helpful books and told us about some of the famous people that we hadn't realized were Polish. The great scientist, Maria Sklodowska, for example, who is better known as Marie Curie. Another was Mikołaj Kopernik, usually known by his Latinized name as Nicolas Copernicus, who was the first astronomer to place the Sun at the centre of the Solar System. Frederic Chopin, the composer, was another – I'd always assumed he was French. And of course Karol Józef Wojtyła, who was then Pope John Paul II.

Herr Weissmann also told us, with tears in his eyes, about Irene Sendler, the Polish resistance worker who, during the war, rescued thousands of Jewish children. So we got the idea that Poland was going to be a good place to spend the next couple of years. And we were right. All these years later, we still have many friends in Poland and visit the country at least once a year, and never fail to have the warmest of welcomes.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead