Chapter 15: Bandit at 12 O’Clock
Cynthia never got used to Uncle Noby’s habit of inviting acquaintances to tea at short notice. His years overseas in the RAF had made him impulsive and very ‘un-English’ thought Cynthia.
“Oh, Cynthia love, I’ve invited Mr. Naik from the College over for tea. You know the bloke you went to see a few weeks ago. He needs to collect some application forms for my archery club."
“And when may we be honoured by Mr. Naik’s visit uncle?” enquired Cynthia whimsically.
“Oh... I’d asked him to come tomorrow, Saturday at 4 pm. That’s Okay with you pet isn’t it? You’re not off playing Golf are you?”
“Well I planned to go but I also need to get an answer from Mr. Naik," said Cynthia, "He still hasn’t got back to me on whether he can help Lisa and Patelji. I’ll have to cancel Golf. ”
Bandit had been on his best behaviour for weeks. Both his mistress Cynthia and Noby were pleased with the new Bandit. His incarceration in the backyard kennel had cured him of his ‘bad habit’. Life as a domesticated Border Collie, thought Bandit, was so different from that on a Yorkshire farm where there were sheep to keep in check. Humans were easier to coral, much easier to predict, and were not really much of a challenge. It was September and Cynthia was busy with her schoolwork again but this Saturday she was in the kitchen making high tea. Uncle Noby was in the backyard tending to the never-ending problems with the sliding framed glass roof of his prized greenhouse. Bandit caught a whiff of Cynthia’s Lemon Meringue pie, wandered into the kitchen, and lay down with his chin on the tiled floor. He kept one eye on the pie, that he saw browning through the glass window of the oven, and the other on Cynthia.
“Behave yourself at tea. We are expecting a visitor,” warned Cynthia. Visitor! That was music to his ears. That meant another gullible soul that could be charmed out of a few crumbs at teatime.
Bandit’s peaceful sojourn on the kitchen floor came to an abrupt end. His sensitive ears picked up footsteps on the sidewalk. They were a man’s footsteps moreover he sensed the visitor wore trousers with turn-ups. Bandit cocked his head and tracked the footsteps to the front gate. They turned and moved along the pathway towards the door. Bandit couldn't resist the urge to investigate. So, with a short yelp, he bounded towards the door. He went through a small movable flap at the bottom and barked widely as he saw the turn-ups on the visitor’s trousers. Bandit’s momentum and enthusiasm carried him well past his target. Like a combat aircraft, he prepared for a second sortie and ran a wide semi-circular path across the lawn. He decided tactically to attack from the rear, while he barked furiously.
To Bandit’s surprise, the stranger turned and confronted him. Bandit stopped short of his target by a few feet, eyed the nearest turn-up, and then looked up to see a pair of cold blue penetrating eyes glaring at him. Bandit sensed something was terribly wrong. Why doesn't this person panic or shoo him away or even do what usually amounts to a highland jig? Bandit’s bark reduced to a growl but he could only get himself to take a timid nibble at the nearest turn-up, a far cry from previous attacks where he had ripped the turn-ups off his victims trouser legs and then shook the piece of cloth vigorously, as if it were a piece of torn flesh. However, today he felt intimidated and bewildered and actually relieved when Noby rushed out of the backyard to admonish him.
“Bandy, you naughty boy! How many times must I tell you not to do that?” He turned to the visitor and said, “So sorry Mr. Naik, I’ll be with you in a minute. Lets put this rascal into the backyard.”
Bandit whimpered as Noby led him away by the collar, and even cast a doleful glance towards the Paresh, but there was no reprieve for him. Uncle Noby returned to usher Paresh Naik into the sitting room where Paresh almost bumped into his niece in the lobby. The commotion had brought her out of the kitchen with an anxious look on her face.
“You’ve met my niece Cynthia, I believe?” asked Noby.
“Yes” replied Paresh, ignoring Cynthia’s partially extended hand and walked to the chair offered to him.
Noby Clark sat in his favourite chair and pushed a sheaf of papers towards Paresh Naik.
“Here’s the application form for the Archery and Bowling Club, the club’s brochure, and regulations.”
Paresh studied the first page of the form with a furrowed brow and turned the page over at which point he sharpen his gaze at the requirements at the top of the document. He straightened himself and said, “This will not work for me.”
“Oh,” said Noby sounding disappointed, “What’s up? Anything I can help you with? If it’s the deposit, I can arrange to have you pay it in instalments ...”
“No...” said Paresh, as he seemed to be inventing an excuse, “Well, it’s just that I don’t know how long I will be around here so I don’t want to make any long term commitments.”
"I recommend the option to pay as you use the range. There are hourly range fees. Non-members use he ranges at off-peak times. The best time slots are reserved for members, league matches, and tournaments.”
“That would work for me. But I am not filling any forms,” said Paresh firmly.
“Well sir, you would have to go through an initial safety orientation session with our ranger and sign an insurance waiver since our club insurance only covers members. This means that you will need to show evidence of your own insurance arrangements.”
Paresh, had a harassed expression and said “Okay, fine then I wont be bothering you anymore about this. I’ll take you’re leave now Mr. Clark.” He then stood up to leave.
Just then, Cynthia walked in from the kitchen, pushing a tea trolley. The top shelf had her prized lemon meringue pie and her best china tea set with a steaming pot of tea. The bottom shelf had a number of goodies she had been over toiling all morning. These included cucumber sandwiches, scones, shortcake biscuits and jelly in various shapes and colours. Bandit followed on her heels but kept away from Noby. He slumped down closer to Paresh. He obstructed Paresh's passage to the door and still eyed the forbidden turn-ups. Cynthia, though busy in the kitchen, kept tuned into the conversation, sensed the tension in the room. She decided to diffuse the situation by doing a burlesque like removal of her apron and draping it playfully over Bandit. Bandit leapt up and ran around in a circle, to dislodge it, almost knocking against the trolley. Uncle Noby threw his head back, laughed heartily, and said, “Serves him right for bothering you, eh ... Mr. Naik.”
Paresh maintained an expressionless composure but conceded a little by just frowning less and nodding his head.
“We’re going to have a spot of tea. Would you care to join us Mr. Naik?” asked Noby. Paresh responded with a half-hearted nod.
Paresh felt trapped by the dog and his increasing curiosity about a woman who he met once just by chance and then again two weeks ago. Cynthia occasionally wondered into his thoughts. She stood there with a smile on her face half expecting a polite compliment, a remark of some sort from their guest for the fine fare just presented, or at least a cheerful comment about her antics with the dog. However, she was confronted instead by a cold gaze of a person who seemed to be preoccupied with something else more important to him. All these distractions appeared to obstruct a noble cause.
Uncle Noby noticed that his niece had put on her favourite tight fitting, black party dress with a white hand-embroidered silk blouse. She had also made an unusual effort with her makeup. He came to her rescue and said, “Looking particularly dapper this evening my dear.” And then added, “You weren’t expecting anyone special were you?”
“Thanks, uncle,” said Cynthia and to ensure that Paresh would not take offence she added, “One esteemed guest is more than I can handle.” Then turning to their reluctant guest she asked, “Would you like a cup of tea Mr., I mean Dr. Naik?”
“No, thanks,” said Paresh, “But may I have a piece of that pie?”
“Well, of course Dr. Naik,” said Cynthia, thinking they were finally breaking the ice with him. She placed a generous serving in front of him.
Paresh didn’t wait for the others to be served but instead grabbed the thick end of the wedge and took a big bite. He then indulged in a series of nibbles and while doing so began, what seemed to Cynthia, to be a curious movement of his head. It was a hybrid of a conventional nodding affirmative and a negative side-to-side shake. Aviation buffs would call it a 'Dutch roll'. Cynthia had seen a similar Dutch roll like head movement communicated between two Indian musicians on TV, at a point when they both appeared to reach some sort of unison in timbre and Taal. Paresh reached his own unison at least between himself and the rapidly diminishing pie.
While Cynthia observed all this with polite curiosity, she noticed with the corner of her eye that Uncle Noby was getting redder by the minute with a valiant effort to stop himself from laughing. This being contagious, she found herself struggling to stifle a giggle. To add to their collective discomfort, Paresh’s enthusiastic demolition of the pie left him with an unnoticed blob of cream on the side of his mouth.
“Excellent, excellent,” he pronounced to Cynthia and turned to Noby and said, “Many years ago, as a graduate student at Imperial College in London, I would often miss tea at the Department’s Cafeteria. There was a very kind tea lady who worked there. She would always save me a piece of her lemon meringue pie and bring it to my lab. I haven’t had such a good pie since then.”
“Perhaps, she fancied you,” bemused Noby and asked mischievously, “Would you like to have some more cream?”
“Oh, uncle!” rebuked Cynthia, coming to the rescue of the bewildered Paresh as he looked down at his empty plate, “Uncle meant pie,” she said and served him a slice of pie before he could refuse.
“There’s a serviette under the plate,” she prompted. Paresh used a serviette to wipe his mouth with an involuntary action before he commenced with the pie. He then looked at Cynthia and hesitated as he summed up the courage to say something. He finally blurted out, “Miss Amis...”
“Please call me Cynthia,” she offered.
“Yes…, er … Miss Cynthia,” continued Paresh, “With regards to the children that you brought to my office a few weeks ago. I have given it some thought. I think there may be something I can do to help. But I must warn you that I have no experience with teaching children or knowledge on how to devise a program of instructions for children with special education needs either gifted or those with learning challenges.”
“Oh thanks so much for reconsidering,” said Cynthia, as she clasped her hands together, slanted her head to one side in gratitude, and continued to say, “Lisa is a lovely girl, and you’ll enjoy working with her. She has had a troubled past so I am sure she could do with any help you could give her. She has dyslexia. We suspect she also has other learning challenges; reading, spelling, and comprehension are difficult for her. You just missed her. She lives here with us. I am her foster mother. She and Patelji go to the Bollywood Song and Dance Centre every Saturday afternoon. As for Patelji, he’s just brilliant but lacks social skills. He needs to stand up for himself and needs a role model. Also, the curriculum does not challenge him. He finds course content too easy and gets bored. If you give me your email address, I could send you a ton of stuff I have found on the Web. This includes the use of information technology to support dyslexic students and computer based projects for gifted children. Beyond that, I just don’t have the knowhow and computers to implement such intervention. All I have is a battered old school board supplied laptop that’s on its last legs. It’s good for not much more than email. I hope you can help.”
Paresh reached into his jacket pocket for a pen and then scribbled his email address on a paper napkin from the tray and pushed it towards Cynthia.
Cynthia picked it up and read it out slowly, “k-a-n-i-s-h-k-a @ Lincoln dot ac dot uk. Kanishka? What does that stand for? Is it a name?”
“It’s to remind me what I am here for,” said Paresh mysteriously and got up to leave.
Cynthia held Bandit back as Uncle Noby opened the door for him.
“So I’ll look forward to your email,” he said as he glanced at Cynthia and then with a brief nod to Uncle Noby, he walked briskly down the pathway.
“I’ll work on it right away,” said Cynthia enthusiastically after him.
Uncle Noby shut the front door and poured himself a stiff Scotch. He slumped on the sofa, looked up at his niece, and said, “That’s your typical Blue Eyed Poona Brahmin for you my dear. They very rarely leave the country. I saw more of my share of them. A more arrogant pompous lot you would never find anywhere. Indo-Aryan arrogance personified if you ask me. They had simmered down by the time I did my first stint for the RAF at an airbase in Poona in the sixties. I met British Raj Englishmen who retired there. They told me that in the old days, the Brits never ventured into the Brahmin area of the city because they got treated like untouchables.”
“But that was decades ago uncle. Much has changed since then. The sub-continent’s economy depends so much on foreign trade and investment now.”
“That may be so, but some people haven’t changed much. I first saw our friend at the Archery Club. He had walked in with the notion that he could just use the range as if it were his divine right. He was in a heated discussion with our membership director. I attempted to intervene and adopted a friendly approach. I found out he is originally from Poona. I told him of my work with the Indian Air Force in support of the Vampire to Hunter
conversion program, and more recently on the Hawk Trainer program. He seemed the least bit interested however, I persuaded him to show me his crossbow.”
“Crossbow? He has a crossbow?” asked Cynthia surprised and curious.
“Well yes, I must say it’s a thing of beauty,” continued Noby, “I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s made of composite material and is as light as a feather and even has sound damping. What’s even more interesting, it has a laser sight and a binocular sniper scope.”
“Sound damping is used to reduce the bow’s twang is it not, uncle?” “That’s right. So, if you miss your quarry with the first arrow, you can at least get off a second shot without having spooked it with the sound of the first release.”
“I’ve only seen conventional telescopic sniper scopes. What’s with the binocular scope?” asked Cynthia.
“The twin lenses produce a high definition image on a digital camera sized LED screen,” replied Noby and added, “I suspect they gather more light and give better depth perception. Crosshairs are superimposed on the electronic image. The laser sight produces a pinpoint of light on the target. This is used to adjust the binocular mount until the crosshairs intersect the laser dot illumination. This novel screen sight can be used like a smart phone camera; just line up the target with the crosshairs and shoot. He wouldn’t be permitted to use that crossbow for league competitions, including the special purpose arrows. Would you believe it, Cynthia, they have razor sharp tungsten arrowheads with a Kevlar shaft and carbon fibre fins. They seem to be aerodynamically optimized and balanced for long range.”
Cynthia, had seen her uncle adjust and repair longbows and crossbows, from the club, in his workshop. She was concerned about the motivation behind such sophistication in a club setting. She asked, “Did you ask him why he needed all these bells and whistles.
“I did and at first he ignored my question, just packed his gear and started to walk away. But when I persisted, he just looked back and said, ‘I don’t like to miss.’ ”
Just then, Noby happened to glance at the application form that Paresh had read earlier.
“Ah-ha,” proclaimed Noby as something caught his eye, “It’s the references that got him bothered. That’s what put him off. He either doesn’t have any good ones or couldn’t be bothered with bureaucracy. Cynthia, my dear, you were a bit hasty in putting our Lisa in his care. Who is this chap? We know nothing about him. Can he be trusted? If you ask me, I think he’s a bid weird.”
“He is dealing with culture shock and needs to adjust to English conditions. He’ll soon settle down. Give him some time. Just think how you had to adapt when you went to India,” said Cynthia in a conciliatory tone.
“Culture shock, my foot! He has lived in this country before and what’s more he’s Canadian. I don’t know what you find in him besides I thought you didn’t like that miserable sod.”
“Well, I never said I disliked him,” said Cynthia “I would like to keep an open mind besides, he offered to help me with Lisa and Patelji, and what’s more he likes my lemon meringue pie. So you think he is a Canadian visitor? Just think, now my pie will be famous in North America!” she said cheerfully and then asked, “What makes you so sure he’s from Canada?”
“That fancy crossbow bears a well known Canadian manufacturer's trademark. I know them from their Website and have ordered some accessories from the online store. They are located in a place called Guelph, near Toronto. He probably worked closely with them in order to customize a unit like that. What bothers me is that it is designed more like a weapon, rather than a conventional sporting and recreational bow.”
“Well, I admit that there does seem to be a dark, secretive side to his personality or perhaps we have made too much of a person who has awkward social skills and an unusual hobby,” said Cynthia.