'Tell me about the others,' I asked, wanting to keep her talking.
'The others?' she asked, frowning suddenly.
'The crew at Leopold's. Didier and the others. Tell me about Letitia, to start with. How do you know her?'
She relaxed, and let her eyes roam the shadows on the far side of the street. Still thinking, still considering, she lifted her gaze to the night sky. The blue-white light from a street lamp melted to liquid on her lips and in the spheres of her large eyes. 'Lettie lived in Goa for a while,' she began, affection playing in her voice. 'She came to India for the usual mix-- parties and spiritual highs. She found the parties, and she enjoyed them, I think. Lettie loves a party. But she never had much luck with the spiritual side of things. She went back to London-- twice in the same year-- but then she came back to India for one last try at the soul thing. She's on a soul mission. She talks tough, but she's a very spiritual girl. I think she's the most spiritual of all of us, really.'
'How does she live? I don't mean to pry-- it's what I was saying before, I just want to learn how people make a living here. How foreigners get by, I mean.'
'She's an expert with gems-- gemstones and jewels. She works on a commission basis for some of the foreign buyers. It was Didier who got her the job. He has contacts everywhere in Bombay.'
'Didier?' I smiled, genuinely surprised. 'I thought that they hated each other-- well, not hate exactly. I thought they couldn't stand each other.'
'Oh, they annoy one another, sure. But there's a real friendship there. If anything bad happened to one of them, the other would be devastated.'
'How about Maurizio?' I asked, trying to keep my tone even. The tall Italian was too handsome, too confident, and I envied him for what I saw as his deeper knowledge of Karla, and his friendship with her. 'What's his story?'
'His story? I don't know what his story is,' she replied, frowning again. 'His parents died, leaving him a lot of money. He spent it, and I think he developed something of a talent for spending money.'
'Other people's money?' I asked. I might've seemed too eager for that to be true, because she answered me with a question.
'Do you know the story of the scorpion and the frog? You know, the frog agrees to carry the scorpion across the river, because the scorpion promises not to sting him?' 'Yeah. And then the scorpion stings the frog, half way across the river. The drowning frog asks him why he did it, when they'll both drown, and the scorpion says that he's a scorpion, and it's his nature to sting.'
'Yes,' she sighed, nodding slowly until the frown left her brow. 'That's Maurizio. And if you know that, he's not a problem, because you just don't offer to carry him across the river. Do you know what I mean?'
I'd been in prison. I knew exactly what she meant. I nodded, and asked her about
Ulla and Modena. 'I like Ulla,' she answered quickly, turning that half-smile on me again. 'She's crazy and unreliable, but I have a feeling for her. She was a rich girl, in Germany, and she played with heroin until she got a habit. Her family cut her off, so she came to India-- she was with a bad guy, a German guy, a junkie like her, who put her to work in a very tough place. A horrible place. She loved the guy. She did it for him. She would've done anything for him. Some women are like that. Some loves are like that. Most loves are like that, from what I can see. Your heart starts to feel like an overcrowded lifeboat. You throw your pride out to keep it afloat, and your self-respect and your independence. After a while you start throwing people out-- your friends, everyone you used to know. And it's still not enough. The lifeboat is still sinking, and you know it's going to take you down with it. I've seen that happen to a lot of girls here. I think that's why I'm sick of love.'
I couldn't tell if she was talking about herself, or pointing the words at me. Either way, they were sharp, and I didn't want to hear them.
About the book:
Staged in India of 1980, Shantaram is a book based on Gregory David Roberts' experiences in India. A heroin addict and convicted bank robber in Australia, Gregory flees from prison to India. The novel is a portrayal of author's life in Mumbai (then Bombay), India.
Snippet from The Secret History
- Donna Tartt
Snippet from The Handmaid's Tale
- Margaret Atwood