three pairs of lovers with space


The following comes from English journalist Michael Davidson (1897-1976)’s Some Boys (1969), his memoir of his Greek love affairs.

The text is taken from pp. 33-49 of the unexpurgated American edition (New York, 1971).  This is the one chapter of the book from which erotic description had been significantly cut in the British edition.

Davidson says the episode recounted ended as he had to leave for Calcutta and thence Burma, and he says in The World, the Flesh and Myself (1962) that he arrived in the latter in April 1949.



AFTER A heavy Indian lunch, of the sort which both turns the thoughts towards erotic fancy and at the same time annuls the power of thought, I sat in the shuttered room of the Lahore hotel and drowsily watched the great blades of the ceiling-fan jerking round like the reluctant propeller of an aircraft.

It was one of the massive wooden rooms that one found in the splendid old Indian hotels of colonial days: solid, easygoing, subservient; a vaguely baronial mixture of saddle-brown and crimson and a ritual oblation to the dignity and the comfort of the British Raj; it was also, in the same tradition and for the same reasons, a bungalow-like "annexe," having its own front door and thus giving its occupant complete privacy and independence of the main entrance.

The light in the room was like the deep shadow beneath a huge old English oak in full leaf: it pleasantly reminded one of the blinding burning white sunshine outside. The furniture was austere and simple; but as solid and reliable and sensible as most of the officers and functionaries who used it. There was no real bath or shower; in a flagged alcove stood an upturned washtub over which towards evening "bearer" and "cleaner" would busy themselves with cans of hot water so that the sahib might bathe before dressing for dinner. I remember the room, and that afternoon, perfectly well, even after all these years—the State of Pakistan was still bloodstained and brand-new, and only a few weeks earlier the dusty street outside the hotel had still been strewn with the corpses of Sikhs and Hindus killed in the crazed religious slaughter of two decades ago. I remember the room with especial clarity because that after-luncheon somnolence was interrupted by one of those fulminant sexual fortuities which burst one's heart with their unexpectedness and yet, afterwards, seem so absolutely natural and inevitable and right that once again one's belief in the

                Lahore travel poster

Fates and predestination is restored. The Fates, when they mapped out their myriad human courses, devised a great deal of ingenious mischief; but they also dotted them with patches of intoxicating bliss. The sexual memory can be astonishingly enduring: the imprint of some erotic image from the past stays clearly in the mind's eye long after the circumstances have faded; the lineaments of a specially momentous cock are remembered when the face has long been forgotten—the recollection of some fortuitous fumble-and-tumble lasts on quite absurdly into a future until one's asking oneself where on earth it can have happened? The photographic memory seems to be furnished with an emulsion more sensitive to erotic phenomena (of the sort that come, that is, within the bounds of one’s sexual preferences) than to ordinary concerns that don't whet this particular appetite: this appears to me to be a natural truth which must be plain to anybody, even a bishop, who closely examines the working of his memory—a truth that is Nature's answer to St. Paul and others like him who worry about the purity of other people's minds. It seems to me that the natural preferences of the human memory, which are the memory's choice not the memorizer's, present a stronger argument than St. Paul's, which is the derivative of personal prejudice. Or is the memory's habit of storing away pictures of sensual delight merely evidence of original sin?

This is why, I suppose, the memory of that curious Lahore afternoon has lasted so exactly all these years fresh and vivid after twenty years and in spite of the sombreness of that shadowed bungalow, veiled against the violence of the sun outside. I tried to read with the not very serious idea of escaping from the sexual daydreams that kept pleasantly but unpromisingly crawling into my mind; but the wide, slow-whirling propeller in the ceiling, besides swirling the air round in a circle immediately beneath its blades, blew the pages of the newspaper about unmanageably—while outside the circle, where the paper stayed comfortably still, the stagnant air was unendurably hot: I could feel the trickling sweat on my ribs. So I simply sprawled under the lumbering fan, listening to the faint squeak of its jerking revolutions, and allowing my daydreams to tantalize as much as they wanted.

But a sudden knock on the wooden door scattered the daydreams, it was so unexpected: who could be knocking at this time of day? The hotel bearers wouldn't think of disturbing a visitor's after-lunch nap unless there were a special reason—perhaps a cable had arrived for me? I'd been sitting half naked; I pulled on a bush-shirt for form's sake, and opened the door on to the blinding sunshine.

*             *             *

His colour was a light bay: his skin had a young sheen like a well-groomed horse's coat: but at first sight, against the brazen glare of the afternoon sky, he looked dark—as one's own hand, held up, looks black against the light. Beneath a dirty old floppy linen hat, of the kind English children used to wear in summer, locks of lank, dank sable hair hung over his eyes: immense black eyes with yellowish whites peeped between tufts of hair like an animal's peering through foliage—but unlike an animal's, there was neither threat nor fear in them; only speculation and, I thought, a hope of friendliness. His age must have been thirteen or fourteen; he wore a cotton shirt with its tails hanging over a pair of dust-coloured shorts and broken leather sandals. He was carrying under one arm a small black valise like a very old-fashioned doctor's bag.

                    Boy scouts of the new Pakistan, 1949

"For orphanage, please," he said, and began opening the old brass clasps of the bag. I looked at his pale-dark face, the small, tender face, pert yet sweet, and the great soft eyes through the black locks. "Come in," I said.

He sat on a kind of chaise-longue, wicker and comfortable with cushions; and took an account-book out of the bag. There were columns of names, against each name a sum of money: two rupees, five rupees and so on. I don't think I bothered even to look at the name of the orphanage—I was too interested in this "inmate." I wrote my name in the book and gave him a ten-rupee note, which he carefully stowed in a pocket of the valise: if he were a confidence-trickster, he deserved to get away with it—the frankness in his eyes and the air of authority with which he handled his book and bag were so wonderfully convincing. "You give me smoke?" he said—his low, gentle voice was in the midst of breaking—and took a cigarette from a table beside him, adding, with a quick, amused smile, "please?" It was the first time he had smiled. Then he lay back cosily, smoking, with his head weighing refreshingly into the cushions, the long, smooth immaculate throat stretched taut and his bare brown thighs and lolling calves languid along the settee. He was enjoying this tiny interlude of comfort, I could see; yet I felt there was some unidentified element of amusement in his enjoyment. He smoked in silence, his black eyes looking upwards, dreaming, at the fan; I sat watching his face.

He wasn't pretty in any key; from a casual glance one might even have called him plain. But, watching him, I found myself feeling a growing and warming pleasure: the kind of pleasure one may find in the rarities of an unknown flower that's both oddly beautiful and excitingly sensual; he was like some strange pale-brown orchid—a faintly Semitic orchid—whose petals and fronds and shadowed cavities seem both to ogle and entrance. There was sweetness and tenderness in his face, and an air of sadness that I interpreted as need; as well as a kind of pouting fleshiness about the mouth and nose which might be the mark of a voluptuary and which to my eye seemed to point to a northern India origin: I told myself he was a Moslem. But above all, there was about his face an indefinable distinction: it seemed to communicate a difference that was not only unique—for every face is unique—but that also meant some fascinating quality of mind or character. I found myself wanting to know what this quality was: I found myself thinking that this might be the sort of quality I should like to fall in love with.

He saw me watching him, and blew out a lungful of smoke. Then he asked brightly: "You like boyfuck?" This was a bit of dialogue that has stayed with me for the rest of time and kept its impact freshly ever since. Other conversational fragments have lingered on, more or less intact, from down the years; but these three words still sound in my mind, just as they were uttered. The ripening voice had kept some treble overtones: there was something like a shrill sob in its touching instability. He said "boyfuck" without the hyphen, as if it were a cheerful little word as common in his daily vocabulary as "football" or "teatime" and he might have been asking: "Do you like asparagus?" or, perhaps, proposing blind man's buff to amuse the children. But the bright light in his eyes told me that he wanted to be amused himself.

"Yes? You like boyfuck?" he repeated. And now  could see, beneath the thin cotton of his shorts, stirring like a live creature awakening, the clear outlines of his rising, swelling penis, which moved while I watched as if it had an independent existence of its own: so flimsy was the stuff of his pants that when it was standing, fully taut yet held at an angle like a tensed catapult, the contours of it were clearly defined: in spite of an almost unbearable excitement, I noted that he was not a Moslem after all – he wasn’t circumcised: plainly, under the diaphanous cotton, the foreskin overlapped the flange of the penis – though not enough to amount to “blindness.” And, for his age and small stature, it was a cock which no doubt he showed proudly to his schoolmates: long and finely shaped and of large and even girth.

"It all depends," I said, "on what you mean by fuck"; and began to explain that I wasn't capable of buggery in either role: no matter of moralization – I just couldn’t do it.

"What you like," he said, "I like"; and squashed out his cigarette in an ashtray. In a flash I was beside him and half carried him over to the bed. The battered old hat fell off, and when he flopped down, the loose damp hair fanned over the white pillow like a wreath of black flame. I pulled his shirt over his head; for a moment he lay with his arms stretched back over the pillow, so that tiny beads of sweat showed in the tender hollows of his hairless armpits. I don't know why it is that certain parts of an adolescent boy's body seem so tender, so vulnerable and touching, so innocent, so much in need: the armpits, the nape of the neck, the hollows behind the knees, the heartrending narrowness across the shoulders. Why is this heartrending? Why should one be yearningly touched by the sight of these insusceptible and passionless corners of youthful flesh? I suppose it's because, with a frame and spirit that's growing and striving towards heftiness and heartiness and self-sufficiency, these seem cases of tender defenceless childishness that ask for love and protection: areas of innocence that appeal not to the fleshly sexual impulses but to the mothering and guardian-angel emotion which is or ought to be a part of every boy-lover's sexual personality.

                 Pakistani boy

He brought his knees up to his nose and had his pants off in a trice; there were no drawers underneath. Then he stretched his legs out, prone on his back, while his eyes watched me, a look of faint amusement dappling like flickered sunshine his puzzling expression. The beauty of his body, glabrous as parchment and now seeming the colour of dark honey, made me almost giddy: the lovely soft flatness of his belly, the tiny span of the hips, the moulded heaving arch of the fleshless ribs. I felt I had never seen skin so smooth and unblemished—hairless as marble except for the twin black whisps of fluff on either side of the groin. In spite of my own excitement I found myself regretting the erection that held his penis stiffly canted over his stomach: aesthetically, it was a false note – there is nothing beautiful about an erect penis: thrilling, absorbing, mouthwatering, mesmerizing, tantalizing, appetizing, heart-swelling, intoxicating – yes, all these things a stiff cock is, and a hundred others. But beautiful it is not: whereas the young penis in repose, nestling tender and helpless as if in sleep besides its inalienable complement, is a thing of beauty in itself – people too modest to look at the real thing may see (in the Naples museum for example) what feeling the antique sculptors put into the modelling of its delicate shapeliness.

I touched and fondle his pubic hair: it was dazzlingly soft, like the breast-feathers of a fledgling finch. I decided he wasn’t more than thirteen, perhaps only twelve; and asked him.

"Fifteen," he answered: "that's what they said at the orphanage." I could believe he was fifteen; especially when looking again at his face, I detected once more that elusive note of maturity behind the boyishness of his expression—although so young was he bodily that not a whorl of adolescent down appeared on his cheek. I thought of all the nonsense that's talked and written about the "early onset of puberty" in the Orient and other climatically benign regions of the earth: in a lifetime of observation I have found that in the Far and Middle East, in Africa and the Mediterranean, the beginning of adolescence comes about the same year as anywhere else, even allowing for boys' frequent vagueness in those parts about their actual age—anywhere between twelve and fifteen. The proportion of precocities or of dilatory developments seemed to me about the same as I'd come across in European climes. And so, I reasoned, fifteen was probably this sweet brown creature's age; orphanages were sure to get facts like ages right, if nothing else.

"You don't want to take your clothes off?" he asked a trifle fretfully.

*             *            *

I can't remember the details of the next hour (or half-an-hour or three hours or whatever it was: a tiny aeon of timelessness which no clock could measure). There remains only an impression: the kind of impression left by a fevered night of exquisite half-dream: a misty and undulating impression of slippery warmth and softness, of wet tongues and lips abandoning their separable selves in the dazzling sweet darkness of fusion—the distinction of "my tongue," "your mouth," dissolved into the amalgam of "ours"; of effluvium and flavour, and the passionate adventure of exploration; of the sweet pungency on the tongue of moist armpits; the voluptuous pressure of bloodwarm thighs smothering the ears in a satin embrace (oh, the dribbling kisses in the most secret cavities of the flesh, the elixir of the saliva's drenching of a tuft of downy hair!); of hands seeking—caressing, stroking, fondling, searching: endlessly flowing and straying with infinite tenderness, with worship for the body caressed and fondled and searched and for the boy-spirit within it; of the ecstasy of clasping and being clasped, soft belly merging into soft belly, the delicious tensities of erection defying distension: of wandering fingers spelling out in the glaring darkness of sensation the conformations of the adored bone and flesh—the ripple of the ribs, the tiny titillating nipples, the hidden warmths of the gorge between the buttocks; of a yearning to absorb and consume and assimilate; of the rapturous play of tongue and palate on which seems to the sensual imagination a volume of tumescence of priapic endowment and portent; of the ultimate supreme paroxysms, separate and secret yet shared in the concord of emotion; an impression of dementia and ecstatic flesh bathed in sweat, spittle and spunk—and a happiness beyond the range of thought or fancy.

How ridiculous these things look when written down! How ridiculous and often disgusting the doing of them seems when considered dispassionately! Yet they're the common stuff of lovemaking: often of the regular lovemaking between male and female. How on earth, or in heaven, can such happiness be wicked?

*             *             *

Afterwards, we lay and talked. He was perfectly at ease, showing none of the sheepishness or shamefacedness that too often follows a coming. My head was turned towards him: I felt I couldn't look at him long enough. Here, unreasoning romanticism was telling me, is the perfect love; but reason kept repeating: It's impossible, it's impossible. . . .

He spoke a serviceable orphanage-English; and I tried to lead him to talk about himself. But he was quickly worrying about the lateness of the afternoon; he had calls to make with his collecting book, he had to be back at the orphanage; he had time only for one question, and he kept harking back to it: "You take me with you?" was the theme. "Yes—yes? You take me to Kashmir, to Burma, to Japan to England?" (Oh God! How often have I heard this heartbreaking plea?) He would come to see me tomorrow, he said, at the same time; and I stretched over and stroked his sable head—I was dumb with happiness: I knew I couldn't take him with me, but I swore to myself then that somehow I should look after him—that by some miracle we should find a solution. We should talk it all over tomorrow; that evening I had to leave.

While he was dressing he began telling me about the massacres of recent weeks how the streets were red with blood and strewn with the dead bodies of Hindus and Sikhs—there wasn't a Sikh left in Lahore, he said, now that all who hadn't been murdered had escaped across the new frontier to Amritsar in India. Except, he added, a few Sikhs who were in hiding, in disguise. And suddenly he stopped in the middle of doing up a sandal, and looked at me.

"I Sikh," he said. "I too Sikh."

"You a Sikh? But how can you be—where's your long hair and your iron bangle? What about those special drawers the Sikhs wear?"

He had cut off his hair, he said; he'd buried the ritual bangle and dagger and drawers; he was in disguise. . . . He stood up, ready to go, the exercise-book and doctor's bag under his thin arm; he gave me no time to say anything more. I fumbled with money: "No, no," he said, "they find it maybe, they say I stolen. . . . Tomorrow, or next day when you take me away. . . ."

I could hear the bearers and cleaners starting on their evening business, the sound of water and the clanking of tin baths. It was late. "I go," he said, and looked at me once more: behind the flicker of sadness in the smile there seemed to me too (perhaps I was imagining things) an anxiety and a need. . . .

He was out on the sun-baked gravel—against its dusty yellow glare the olive-honey of his calves turned dark. He looked back once over his shoulder and said softly "Tomorrow, tomorrow. . . ." As he walked away the tail of his shirt drooped absurdly over his tiny rump.

*             *             *

Common sense, and the fact that life in the city was almost back to normal, told me there was scarcely the smallest risk: the slaughter was over, the blood was dry. Pakistan had "won": the Moslems had killed as many Hindus as they had been able and had exterminated the people they hated most, the Sikhs. Surely a boy, looking little different from hundreds of Moslem boys, and with nothing—in his shirt and shorts— to mark him as non-Moslem, couldn't be in danger? Even if the killing were still going on, which it wasn't, nobody could notice this small anonymous creature. . . . And yet he was a Sikh. . . . That was the dreadful fact that kept intruding into common sense's comfortable argument. But there was nothing I could do to help settle it, beyond turning to the whisky bottle I wisely had brought to my room, and longing for tomorrow to come.

                       Lahore 1946

Next morning I had work: government people to see, calls to make, a cable to send. But I worked skin-deep: instead of politics and the latest news I could think only of Sikhs—of one small Sikh whose stainless tender body and sweet, puzzling face filled my mind. When I looked at the bland, wary expressions of the bureaucrats or shook the plump and expository hands of the politicians, I saw instead the boy's face and it was his satin skin that my fingers seemed to touch. The people I saw in the streets were blank figures, behind each of which I expected to find that slim small form in the skimpy shirt and shorts. I felt I was being carried through the morning in a bubble of rather agreeable fever from which, like vaguely seeing something blurred against the sun, I watched myself going through the motions of my work.

Dust-brown, brick-red, mustard-yellow these are the colours I remember today from that morning of long ago; Lahore was an agglomerate of various tones of burnt sienna, garnished with blobs of the abrupt and irrelevantly over-bright greens of municipally watered foliage. The city was like an encampment lying at ease; one might have thought it asleep, if one forgot the pattering, babbling crowds milling through the dust. How could one believe that last week it had been a city of ferocious genocidal carnage? There lay over it the golden calm of a life that never changes: after the nightmare of slaughter, men, women and children had simply picked up what they'd dropped when it began. Catastrophe, where life is, human or not, seems generally to be followed by an astonishing and almost irrelevant resuscitation of the spirit: a beetle batted violently off the edge of a thirty-foot wall will lie dazed below for a moment and then, as if nothing had happened to it, resume its ordinary business on a brand new plane. People were going about their daily affairs as if they had never seen hot running human blood muddying this peaceful dust; Moslems and Hindus brushed by each other without a hint of difference.

But there were no Sikhs. The two or three said to have been left alive in the city after the great massacre and flight were hidden and disguised. But supposing, I kept thinking—oh God, supposing!— some rabid, fanatic Moslem, some madman whose eyes were still shot with hatred and the love of blood, were to recognize the boy as a Sikh: just one crazy killer was enough, like that famous single careless finger on the nuclear trigger. . . . And suddenly it occurred to me that I was calling the boy all the time in my mind "the boy": I'd been so engrossed in him yesterday that I hadn't thought to ask his name.

At lunch in the gloomily grandiose hotel dining-room, trying to read the London newspapers, I found myself thinking about the orphanage. Again I'd been a bloody fool: I hadn't found out where the place was or what it was called; there were probably several orphanages here—a city of more than three-quarters of a million. All I had learned about it was that it sent its orphans out begging for funds from British visitors, from official Christians, that is: it was, presumably, a Christian orphanage, run by (I was guessing) some Protestant missionaries—probably Methodists; an orphanage which, again presumably, picked up most of its orphans at birth or soon after and hurriedly Methodized them. It seemed odd, I thought, for a Sikh orphan to be in the place; and odder, if he'd been christianized, that he should so recently have been wearing Sikh emblems. His face, which by now was obsessing me, looked back at me from the gilt-framed mirrors on the walls: pale as wild honey, full-lipped and promising fleshiness later, features faintly Semitic. It was the face of a Sikh; which meant the face of a Punjabi—a face indeed that might have been bred anywhere along Alexander's route from Persia eastwards into India. . . . But christianized, surely, he wouldn't have been wearing those Sikh emblems. . . .? And was his name followed by the honorific "Singh" common to all men of his sect? I hadn't even asked his name. . . .

And suddenly I saw daylight: in a flash I was certain of one thing—the obviousness of it came to me with such a rush that I involuntarily gave a great sweep with the newspaper I was supposed to be reading, and swept the electroplated curry-dish on to the floor with a fearful clatter. I remember how the sedate men at the other tables turned to stare at me and then, being well-bred or wanting to seem well-bred, quickly looked away; I remember how horrid the curry looked lying on the "oriental" tiling. And I remember the look of obsequious disdain on the dark face of the "bearer," as grand in dress and bearing as a maharajah, before signalling for the subservient, shuffling "sweepers" to come and clear up the mess.

Of course: the boy wasn't a Sikh at all. He couldn't be: were he a Sikh, he wouldn't have been brought up where he was. The Sikhs, rich and powerful and clannish wherever they were, from Hong Kong to Aden and the east African coast but especially in their homeland of the Punjab, would never allow one of their offspring, whatever its circumstance, to be gathered up by Christian charity; as a community, they've money to burn, and would have their own institutions for their own young, supported by their own funds, inspired by their own pride. The shaggy Sikhs, whose manes, beards and bodily hair must be allowed to grow from childhood unclipped, are, like Samson, historically famed for strength and military valour; another birthright conferred by the Sikh faith is, oddly, a remarkable aptitude for moneymaking: the bulky forms of Sikh watchmen in Singapore and elsewhere, reclining on their trestle-beds on the shaded pavements and adding up their money-lending profits, fatten on weekly interest—and, enough capital garnered, they go on to become building contractors. Once in New Delhi I was given tea by five millionaires: all Sikhs, all contractors, and all British knights. These were the thoughts that brought me to the obvious: No, the Sikhs weren't the people to leave their orphans to subsist on door-to-door collections from Christians. The boy could not be a Sikh. . . .

*             *             *

There was an hour to go before his coming: an hour of impatience to be looking once more at that body of old ivory, to be touching again that sentient skin, to be loving instantly and for ever that face and flesh. Killing the hour I set about trying to work out this new perplexity—the enigma of a boy's mind who gives himself out to be a Sikh just when every Sikh in sight has been slaughtered, when everything the eye falls on seems tinged with the colour of Sikh blood. What role he secretly played in this crazy fantasy I couldn't guess: a heroical one perhaps—or did he in some murky emotional way, see himself in the sacrificial part of victim? I suppose the psychologists would find one of affection and gentleness and something like mothering … could only add this latest puzzle to those tiny symptoms which, scarcely heeded in yesterday's excitement, now seemed dark with meaning: his grown-up self-composure, almost brashness perhaps; the over-glib naivety (or was it canniness?) of his "You like boyfuck?"; the strange lines of maturity that elusively seemed to play over his almost quizzical boy's face; the plea or the uncertainty that I thought I could read in those yellow-black half-wild eyes: I told myself it all pointed to some lack, some need in the boy's heart and mind, which no institution like an orphanage—even if it gave him all the physical food he could eat—could fill but which I, perhaps, could. . . . a lack, surely, of affection and gentleness and something like mothering . . . things that I could try to give—things that I swore then I would try to give. . . .

The creeping seconds took an hour to make a minute; I opened the shutters and even a distant footstep had me running to the window. I couldn't read or even sit; I walked up and down and absurdly tidied up, by taking things from where they belonged and putting them elsewhere. I tried to think out a practical plan, a way of arranging for him to join me but rational thinking refused to work properly—its pieces kept scattering behind the image of a honey-brown body. . . . The waiting was becoming unbearable; when my watch showed that he should be here I went out into the glare of the gravel drive and willed him to turn through the gate from the main road. We most of us believe that if we look far enough for the longed-for person, the person will come; it's a bit of sympathetic magic, I suppose: if I go out to meet the beloved, won't the beloved come to meet me . . .?

*             *             *

This story has a beginning; perhaps a middle. It has no end. Today, twenty years later, it still has no end: I have only done twenty years of my life sentence.

The boy didn't come. Early that evening I had to leave for Calcutta, and from there fly on to Burma. I never saw him again; I never learned who or what he was. For twenty years it's been as if I'd never seen him—or seen him no more substantially than in some Elysian daydream; yet almost daily since that afternoon in Lahore, every incident of it has been re-enacted: sometimes in the waking imagination, sometimes in the vivid lunacy of nightmare. And I've never ceased to feel the guilt of my betrayal: true I promised nothing to him out loud, but I'd sworn to myself silently on his behalf. And all that time I have been harassed and nagged by one question: Why didn't he come? Was it simply because he forgot, or couldn't be bothered? Was it because he got into trouble with the orphanage authorities—those ogres of both sexes who run such places? Or was it because he was, after all, really a Sikh . . .?

*             *             *

At the time, once it was clear he wasn't coming, I knew there was nothing I could do: I knew that the worldly net which catches us poor fish was, as usual, too strong for us—and the higher one gets from the bottom of the net, the closer the mesh becomes. There was no escaping it. The people who employed me had spent a lot of money to get me where I was and where I was going; I owed them work against a deadline, and had already been paid for a good deal of it. I had to go. So there were two hours left in which to find a small brown boy whose name I didn't know, whose address I didn't know: whose age, whereabouts, religion, caste, race, parentage, origins and history I didn't know; and this in a country where census records and état civil registers were scant. I knew I could do nothing; I left Lahore, on time; and the boy, for ever.

Afterwards, when it was too late and the practical dilemma was behind me; when, free of the distracting imbroglio of hard fact, I could look at the moral or idealist conundrum from the side; when, no longer caught in that particular net of social reality, I hadn't got to make a decision—then, of course, I saw I'd been a heel: mean and treacherous or contemptibly gutless; I saw that I should have made a bonfire of all those staid pieces of comfortable furniture like common sense and practicality and regard for duty—I should have thrown everything up and set about looking after the boy. But what good could I have been to him without the means of looking after him, without an income? It's not often one can break out of the social net without hanging oneself in the mesh.

To every lover of boys comes this dilemma at least once in his life: the harrowing, heart-quickening appeal "You take me with you?"