This fictional story contains descriptions of relationships between people of different generations. It is not written to titillate and it does not contain graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. If that is what you are seeking then I suggest you look elsewhere.

If you shouldn't, don't. If you don't like it, stop. If you want to flame me, you're wasting your time.

Thanks too to my "critical & editorial team" of friends, HCFU, for their invaluable suggestions and comments. They have each helped me too much to relate, I love them all.

None of the above is responsible in any way for any imperfections in this story, that responsibility rest solely with me.

This is a work of fiction and the characters are purely inventions out of my own head.

Some of the characters have been seen previously in Martin's Story which was published about 18 months ago. This is not a sequel and is written from another's point of view.

Comments and constructive criticism are welcome at:

The entire story is copyrighted to malaka/mr malaprop 2004

Children of Gifts

by Mr Malaprop

What is hell?

Hell is oneself,

Hell is alone, the other figures in it

Merely projections. There is nothing to escape from

And nothing to escape to. One is always alone.

from Cocktail Party by T. S. Eliot

Chapter 1

I was on furlough from my job in the hills. I had had a rough time for a while; working the place as the sole manager was not easy. I had worked virtually 7 days a week for about 6 months and I had been on call out 24 hours a day; my only breaks had been two overnight trips down to the coast and back when I left a well compensated supervisor in charge complete with my phone number at the hotel in case an emergency happened. Luckily I had some very capable supervisors; even though I wasn't called out much I was still carrying the can. After all the supervisors weren't managers and, even with the compensation, they certainly weren't paid as managers; they weren't managers so all the real decision making was still up to me.

I was, frankly, exhausted.

Eventually the company had sent me an assistant; thankfully they sent someone who knew a bit about the business instead of some wet-behind-the-ears kid straight out of college, like I had been when I first appeared on the corporate scene.

After Barney arrived I hung around for two weeks clearing the backlog of stuff that I hadn't had time to tackle and leaving the day to day running to him. We met a couple of times a day to talk out what was happening and I was impressed with his grasp of the situation and also with his style of working. We could obviously make a good team, if he wasn't whisked away again as the good ones so often are. By the end of the first week we were meeting to chat as friends rather than to discuss the issues. He was quite capable of handling all the work stuff and we limited ourselves to one business meeting a day. The rest was just for us.

We were contemporaries, all but a few months; we had lots in common and nothing in common.

I shared stuff with him that I had never shared with anyone before. We sat there in the dark on the verandah of our shared bungalow, him with a bottle of the local firewater and me with my pot of tea. Not looking at him I poured out my despair and pain and loneliness and terror. He did likewise. Our lives had been different and yet we had ended up here. He had been married and divorced, he had a son back in England somewhere. I was a eunuch, figuratively if not literally - an anchorite might be better even if I did live surrounded by people. I had been leading an almost monastic existence all my life whilst his life had been lived to the full, or so it seemed to me.

He had worked his butt off to get where he was, I had had it all handed to me on a plate - and a fat lot of good it had done me! How I envied him his struggle little realising that a some of my own was so shortly to start.

He also had a grasp of the economics of the operation. One of the first things he said to me was about how we managed generating our own power by diesel generator. As he pointed out every time the price of diesel rose, the price for us rose by double that amount. Not only did we have to pay the standard increase but then we had to haul it up from the coast by train then from the railhead by wagon - both using diesel power which had just increased in price!

Barney, like most of us in the job, was a bit of an obsessive. His current obsession was small scale hydro-electric projects. Within two days of arriving and looking over the plant he was daily trying to convince me to think about it. We were in the hills; we had rivers and streams and waterfalls. I had to admit that he had a point.

So after two weeks I packed my bags and headed for the coast. I gave Barney a few pointers before I left, I also told him that he had my full confidence. I said that if anything untoward did occur he could get me at the Metropole for the first couple of nights and then whatever hotel I moved on to after that. I said I would call as soon as I moved on so he would know where I was. I said I would probably spend no more than a couple of days in town first before heading for the beach.

"There is no way I am going to be spoiling your holiday. We'll be fine, just come back in two weeks properly rested."

"Barney, humour me, please. Let me call you and give you the number. I don't want you to use it unless you have to but if the shit hits the fan I want to know before head office. Is that okay?"

"You're the boss, boss." At this he sprung to attention and saluted, cheeky sod. "Nah", he continued, "I know what you mean, and I promise I'll do it, but I don't want to if I can help it."

"Thanks, Barney, you're a pal. Erm, whilst I'm down there is there anything you want me to bring back?"

"An electrical engineer would be nice, somebody to have a look see at the hydro idea."

"God, I thought I'd got away with it today! And where the hell am I to find a consulting hydel engineer?"

"I only know of one, another Brit, Paul something or other, Jones or Hughes? Yes, Hughes. He does it. I've no idea where he's based but somewhere down there."

"You really want me to look for this guy?"

"Only if you get the chance - hell a feasibility study wouldn't do any harm, would it? And there can't be many Brit engineers down there!"

"Okay, if I can stay awake long enough, I'll look. Anything else?"

"A decent cook. Sarah's crap. How about a cook that will really clean as well?"

"Now you're being cheeky! I know Sarah's crap but I reckon we're stuck with her. Anything else?"

"Nah, that's it. . . . Well, if you're going, for God's sake go! If you don't put a move on you'll miss the train!"

The driver was already waiting so I threw my pack in the back of the jeep and headed off along what are loosely called roads in this part of the world. Let's put it this way, of the 25 kms we had to travel to the railhead 20 kms was dirt road and some of that through jungle. All the jeeps and wagons carried a chainsaw with them at all times as well as tow chains, etc. As we all learnt very quickly, if a tree fell across the road it could take a while to get past! A predecessor of mine used to carry dynamite in his jeep and just blow the buggers out of the road, but this tended to do little to improve the road surface!

I strapped myself into the passenger seat and we were off. We had about forty minutes before the official leaving time of the train - not nearly enough time to cover the distance - but then we knew the train never, ever left on time. It was very rare for it to get away less than an hour late. I also knew that Barney would almost certainly phone ahead to say I was coming. They would hold the train for me. It occurred to me that Barney was trying to get rid of me.

Next it occurred to me that I was glad to be got rid of.

A jeep ride like that is not the most comfortable way to start a holiday but I was content with it. I wasn't senior enough to warrant a helicopter ride, and anyway they always make me nervous.

The driver did really well and we made the trip to the main road in under an hour, the remaining few kilometres took just a few minutes. As the jeep pulled into the station forecourt the empty train was just pulling alongside the single platform, it would be at least twenty minutes before it left.

I grabbed my bag and shook the driver's hand. "Thanks Jackie, I'll see you in a couple of weeks."

"Okay Mr Sanders, have a good holiday."

Okay, it's quiz time. What do Winnie the Pooh and I have in common? Something that has dogged me all my life.

Do you give up?

The thing that Winnie the Pooh and I have in common is that we both live under the name of Sanders. With him it was just a sign, with me it was my family name. I am Sanders! Carl Sanders, to be precise. Being a pedant I am often precise about things. Don't worry, it drives me crazy too.

I walked into the station and the station manager came bustling forward. He had my ticket ready in his hand.

"Mr Sanders, I have a first class compartment for you. Please come this way." Then, turning to a porter who was old enough to be my father be bellowed, "BOY! Carry Mr Sanders' bag."

I knew it was no use protesting, it would just have embarrassed everybody so for the ten metres from where we were to the compartment being held for me my bag was taken from me. It was a light backpack, it may have just weighed in at 5 kilos but I doubt it. I gave the "Boy" an outrageous tip, outrageously small by European standards and outrageously large by local ones. Mr Ali, for that was the station manager's name, handed me my ticket and I handed him the local equivalent of four pounds to cover the ticket and the "consideration" for him arranging it for me. Once again this was something I could easily have done myself; hell, I was buying my own train tickets by the time I was eight!

It is 85 miles on the rail line from the station to the coast, a lot shorter in a straight line. The train meanders down gently in about 5 hours. This is very much an unhurried sort of place, gentle and relaxed. Very pleasant, I love it here. I have successfully fought off several attempts to move me into a bigger job. Area Manager is enough, I am left alone to get on with it. If I was district or regional manager then I would have to check on people like me and attend endless meetings. I might even have to wear and collar and tie! Perish the thought.

No, I'll stay here.

Eventually the train pulled out with me safely ensconced in one of the two first class compartments. This was a little bit out of snobbishness, I suppose, but mainly so I could breathe! Back there in steerage class it would be a fair impersonation of a sardine tin, except sardine tins do not usually include live chickens, live goats, live sheep, fruit sellers, water sellers, biscuit sellers, hot food sellers, cigarette sellers, soft drink sellers [not the same as water sellers!], pickpockets, prostitutes [male, female and probably something in between] going back to work after a few days with their families, family parties travelling to [or from] a wedding, elderly couples visiting distant daughters, travelling entertainers, travelling salesmen, squawking and screaming infants, grandmothers with travel sickness, off duty soldiers, farmers going to market, farmers going home from market, cleaning boys hoping to earn a few cents from sweeping the floors, beggars, ticket inspectors, armed railway police, etcetera, etcetera. All that in just five bogies, including the luggage van.

The 85 miles also includes about 20 scheduled stops. I used to know the number, I used to count them off but familiarity breeds a certain amount of contempt so now I just notice where we are and enjoy the view. The unhurried nature of the country has got to me over the years. I no longer fret about arrival times or being late. I know that we will get there in the end. There is no rush, the city will still be there with its lights and its pollution and its poverty.

At first we passed through rain forest, then tea gardens with occasional villages nestled around tea factories and then rubber plantation. With the world price of both rubber and tea so low we needed the economies Barney was after but I was still dubious. But then I am a planter not an engineer.

My mind drifted as we wound our way down to the coast. I was tired beyond exhaustion, the sort of tired that prompts consideration of the great questions. What did it all mean? Where was I going in my life? What on earth was I doing out here anyway? These are the sort of questions that are supposed to afflict planters sitting on their verandah at night listening to the noises of the jungle but they never really afflicted me then except these last few days talking to Barney. On the verandah I had worried more about the balance sheet and the continued effects on my stomach and my psyche of Sarah's lousy cooking. It was here, when I was tired to extinction that they came to haunt and torment.

Some of the answers were easy. I was stuck here because I had declined promotion. I was stuck here because I didn't think I would willingly choose to live anywhere else. My first trip to the tropics, as an exchange student back in my frightening and appalling schooldays, had fascinated and entranced me. After that teenage experience my ambition was always to get back into the heat and bustle and chaos.

And I had managed it. I had been in the tropics ten or fifteen years and I had never regretted it for a moment.

After an hour my reverie was interrupted by a companion landing in my compartment - a rather oily, unctuous Irish mission priest. He told me he was off to see the Bishop, thankfully only another hour down the line. There was an odour not quite of holy water about him, I don't think holy water carries quite that level of proof! He had the red nose and florid complexion of the drunk, he could easily have played Bardolph even if his bloated figure was a bit more like the traditional Falstaff. I tried to block out his drunken prattle but he would not be blocked. I was relieved when another clergyman, a mullah who I knew slightly by sight, got in shortly afterwards. The two were obviously old sparring partners so I left them to it and returned to my weary ponderings. I hardly noticed when I was left alone again as we passed through the district township.

What was the point of it all?

Oh God, I didn't know that. I hadn't a clue. Here I was ten thousand or more miles from the land and continent where I was born and my closest friend at that moment was a man I had met two weeks ago! Oh sure I had other friends, a few. People I wrote to every month or two. A desultory e-mail or air letter, perhaps a card at Christmas or Eid or Diwali but that wasn't close friendship, was it?

Other people had wives, children; hell, my execrable brother, just eight years older than me, was to become a grandfather soon! I had nothing, no-one. Suddenly I felt a wash of sympathy for the drunken priest, he would never have anybody unless he threw up the whole thing - his solitude came with the territory the day he turned his collar round.

By the time we got to the outskirts of the city, only two hours late, my self-pity had really kicked in. And with it my self-loathing.

I am good at both. At least PhD level. That's all I needed, another bloody doctorate! That's what started this whole mess anyway.

I wandered out of the station into "the big city" - not really big by anybody's standards but the biggest in these parts. I made my way over to the Metropole. It is hardly a classy hotel these days although it still has pretensions. Most of the big names and the tourists stay further out these days, down near the beach. I just wanted somewhere to lay my head for a couple of nights with the minimum of fuss. I wanted somewhere with a restaurant and a bar. The more I thought of the priest, the more I thought he had the right idea. Tonight I would have a meal then I would seek oblivion in the bottle.

The room was just about passably clean although I had to insist they changed the bed linen. The manager insisted it was clean but it didn't look it. The young room boy, new since my last visit, was friendly and obliging. He had a lovely smile. He looked twelve years old at most and was probably working twelve hours a day for bed, board and a little money to send home to his family. As is the custom here I tipped him early, I also tipped him generously, a pretty face sometimes affects me like that. He went and found some brand new bed linen still in its cellophane wrapper and cheerfully remade the bed for me. I offered to give him a hand but he wouldn't hear of it. I had always enjoyed the company of children, perhaps because I had lost my own childhood so early, and this boy was a delight.

"I need hot water for shower and I need a bottle of gin and I need a two big bottles of ginger beer. Can you get those?"

"Bucket water soon sir, first I get gin and ginger beer, sir."

"How soon the water?"

"Ten minutes, sir. Gin and ginger beer five minutes, sir. Do you want dinner sir?"

"Make the gin and ginger beer two minutes and I'll go down to the restaurant after my shower."

"Yes sir." He turned towards the door, then turned back and looked at me. "Gin cheaper at liquor store across the road, sir. Half the price, sir."

"How much for a litre?"

"Fifty, sir."

I handed him two fifties to cover that and the ginger beer. "Okay, can you still be quick?"

"Five minutes, sir."

And off he scooted down the corridor.

Remarkably he made it within the time. What a little gem he was. He must have run across the square and back! What's more the ginger beer had come out of the chiller. A veritable prince amongst room boys! He had also brought me a decent sized glass. A drinker's glass. I ruffled his hair and thanked him. I was rewarded with a beaming smile, beautiful white teeth in an oiled teak face.

I poured half a tumbler of gin and topped it up with the ginger beer and drank it off in one long swallow. Not a good idea with a gassy drink as it led to an enormous and uncomfortable belch. But the gin hit the spot.

The boy grinned again.

"I go get water, sir"

"Yeah, thanks. Er - what's your name?"

"I am Patrick, sir."

"Well, thanks Patrick, you're a gem. Hot water would be really good."

As he left I poured myself a second drink. I sat on the bed and sipped it. Well, a sip every couple of seconds.

Patrick took a little longer this time and by the time he staggered in carrying a huge bucket of steaming water I was feeling little pain.

"Are you okay, sir?"

"Yes, just very tired."

"May I help with your shoes, sir?"

"That would be kind."

One by one he removed my sandals and placed them near the door.

"Anything else, sir?"

"No, that is all for the moment. Thank you Patrick."

"It's a pleasure sir." And he scooted off about his duties.

I finished the second drink and struggled out of my clothes. I love the steamy heat on the coast but I was feeling very sweaty after a full day's travelling. I staggered into the bathroom and managed a sort of shower. At least I washed off most of the grime.

Then I found myself sitting there, totally naked and soaking wet on the bathroom floor with tears streaming down my face.

I felt so fucking empty! So bereft. So useless.

I also knew the answer. I crawled on my hands and knees back into the bedroom and pulled myself, still soaking wet, up on to the bed. With an unsteady hand I poured another third of a tumbler of gin and topped it up with ginger beer and proceeded to get well and truly blasted.

I forgot about dinner. I just drank my way through my misery and into oblivion. The trouble was the misery didn't go away, but I did eventually reach a comatose state - it wasn't a restful sleep but it would do.

It would have to.

I woke up with some fuzzy thoughts floating through the miasma my brain had become.

The thing is, the thing I knew before I started the night before, is that I am not a drinker. I don't like alcohol; I am not even a social drinker. If I go to see people and am offered a choice between a peg of whisky and a cup of tea I'll take the tea any time.

And I HATE hangovers.

Happily they are a rare occurrence, I probably hadn't had one for five years but boy, oh boy did I have one that morning. I woke up late, about 10.00, and I would happily have died rather than open my eyes to face the day. A bright tropical morning with a brilliant sun in a clear blue sky - I think I would have preferred black clouds, freezing temperatures and lashing rain.

As I said before, I am good at self pity - my performance of it that morning was beyond Oscar standard! Why, oh why did I do it? I was lying there wallowing in the "poor me's" when there was a knock on the door. I didn't shout "come in" or anything like that, I think I probably grunted. I was not in the mood for company!

Well, that is what I thought until a little angel appeared in my room. A little angel with huge dark eyes and a beautiful smile.

"Good morning, sir. Are you okay?"

"No. Too much gin and no dinner. I feel terrible."

He came over and stood at the bedside. He very obviously eyed the near empty gin bottle. He put his hand on my arm.

"Were you drunk last night, sir?"

"Yes, very drunk, Patrick."

"Drink not good, sir. Makes men crazy."

"I know, but I'm not crazy any more."

"Do you want breakfast, sir?"

"It will all be finished now." I had stayed here often enough to know that the kitchen worked very strict hours!

"I will make you some toast and some coffee, if you want."

"Patrick, you are a saint! I don't want to eat but if I don't I'll feel worse."

"Coffee and toast, butter, jam, sir?"

"No jam; just coffee, toast, butter."

"Omelette, sir?"

"An omelette would be wonderful!"

"Onion, chilli and garlic, sir?"

"That would be even better."

"Ten minutes, sir."

With that he was gone. A few seconds later his head popped round the door again.

"Hot water, sir?"

"No thanks, Patrick, a cold shower this morning, I think."


And he was gone again. His suggestion of a shower seemed a good one so I made my way to the bathroom, painfully and unsteadily. Once I stood up I realised that I still had a fair amount of alcohol sloshing round my system. I held on to the wall for support. Every time my head moved even gently it hurt like hell. My language was coarse as I walked those few metres. I turned on the shower that I hadn't used the night before and sat back on the floor under the cold water. Cold is an exaggeration, cool or even tepid would be closer to the mark. I reached up to the sink and grabbed the bar of soap and started soaping myself. My bladder was bursting but I couldn't be bothered moving so I just peed on the floor and let the shower wash it all away. I pulled back my foreskin and examined my dick as I washed it carefully - a redundant organ if ever there was one. Apart from peeing and showering I hardly touched it more than once a week and even then it was a desultory pleasure, the brief fire and fascination I had had as a schoolboy had faded long ago - it was always mixed in with too much fear as well. In the twenty, nearly thirty years since I was about eight and had started bathing myself I was the only person to have ever touched it! Perhaps it was natural; perhaps nobody over thirty had a sex life. It was just that I never had had a sex life! I soaped it again and it, and I, were just beginning to show some interest in the proceedings when a little face appeared at the open bathroom door.

"Breakfast, sir." And a huge smile.

One of the basic facts of life, one that is perhaps not fully appreciated, is that standing up from sitting on a wet ceramic tile floor when naked and not only hungover but also still somewhat drunk is not easy to achieve. Add to that a large measure of embarrassment at being caught playing with your willy by a room boy a third of one's age and the situation could well descend into farce.

It did.

I tried to stand up. I slipped and ended up back on my arse on the floor.


I couldn't work out which was hurt more: my arse or my pride.

Patrick came in and took my hand. I put the other on the sink and he tugged me to my feet. I was still, of course, stark naked, erect and dripping wet. My little angel handed me a towel which I wrapped round my waist and then he turned off the shower and followed me back into the bedroom. His little blue uniform was wet too.

He had cleared the old, scarred writing table and had laid a tray on it with a pot of coffee, a plate of toast covered with a napkin and a still steaming spicy omelette. Now that I saw and smelt the food I was hungry. Thinking back I had had breakfast with Barney the day before and then just a few morsels on the train. It was getting on for 24 hours since I had eaten - and the last meal was Sarah's cooking! And almost every meal for the last five years!

My salivary glands were working overtime. I turned and grabbed Patrick into a big hug and kissed him on top of his head.

"Patrick, you're my hero! That looks wonderful."

After a momentary surprise he grabbed me round the waist and hugged me back. He bent his head back and looked up into my eyes and beamed that smile at me again.


"Yes boss," I said.

I let him go but he took my hand and led me over to the table. I was still wearing just the towel. He sat me down and handed me a napkin. Had I been wearing a shirt I swear he would have tucked it into my collar! As I was picking up a piece of toast we both saw that my hands were shaking a little so he poured the coffee for me as well.

"Milk and sugar, sir?"

"No, plain black, no sugar."

He pulled a face, this obviously wasn't how he liked his coffee, but it was good coffee. It was just what I needed. The whole thing was just what I needed, it was excellent. The omelette was delicious.

"Did you really make this yourself?"

"Yes sir. You like it?"

"Like it? It's wonderful! Where did you learn to make an omelette like this?"

"At The Project, sir."

"Oh," I replied, having not the vaguest idea what he was talking about. "They taught you well."

"Thank you, sir."

I ate ravenously, I ate as if I hadn't eaten for weeks. I ate the lot, I damned near licked the pattern off the plate. Patrick sat on the bed and watched. Every time I emptied my coffee cup he got up and refilled it for me.

"Do you want more toast, sir?"

"No thank you. I'll eat again later."

As I stacked the plates I noticed in the corner of the tray two foil wrapped tablets of aspirin. Did this boy think of everything? Was he really my guardian angel? I picked them up and looked across at him.

"They are good for your head, sir."

"Thank you, Patrick." I held out my arms and without hesitation he came over and cuddled into me for his hug. As I was sitting we were the same height so I kissed him lightly on the cheek and he kissed me back on my cheek. We pulled away a bit whilst still holding on and smiled at one another.

"I am going back to sleep. Can you bring me some more coffee at one o'clock? Then I'll get up and have some lunch."

"I'll bring you lunch, sir."

"No, I think it'll do me good to get out and about."

"Okay." He glanced at the tray. "Can I take this, sir?"

"Sure. Do I pay now or later?"

"Later, sir. You sleep now."

Chapter 2

I woke to someone smoothing the hair back from my over my eyes. I opened them to see a beaming smile looking at me. A beaming smile from a sunbeam of a boy.

"Hello sir, I brought your coffee."

I had trouble getting him into focus for a moment. My head was still thumping a bit but noticeably, appreciably, wonderfully less than earlier.

"Patrick, are you a saint or an angel?"

"Pardon, sir? I don't understand."

"It's okay." I struggled to sit up. Being the tropics I was covered by just a thin top sheet to protect me from the draft from the ceiling fan. It was then that I noticed I was hard. Patrick just smiled at me as he handed me my coffee, then he leant across and kissed me on the cheek.

"Do you want me to bring you lunch, sir?"

"No thanks, I'll get up and go out. I think a walk will do me good." I put my arm out and round him so he came and perched on the bed next to me. I sat there with a cup of coffee in one hand and a boy in the other. It felt pretty good and from the smile on Patrick's face he didn't mind too much either! The boy leant back into me looking very much at home.

I finished the coffee and wanted to get up but he hadn't moved and under the sheet I was naked with a half hard dick. But then I figured he had seen me naked in the shower playing with it earlier so there was little need for modesty.

"Bathroom," I said, and staggered out of bed and went to pee. Whilst there I decided to have another shower to try to revive myself a bit more. It worked and I walked back into the bedroom feeling as close to human as I was likely to get for a while.

Whilst I had been about my ablutions Patrick had tidied the room, remade the bed, folded my clothes and got the tray stacked ready to take downstairs. He was standing there waiting for me when I came back into the room clad only in the towel.

"Anything else, sir?"

"No thanks, Patrick. You've been splendid; I'll just go for some lunch and a walk. Is that Thai restaurant still open down near the docks?"

"I don't know, sir. I don't go down there." As he said this I thought I saw a shadow of fear cross his face. I was momentarily appalled and wanted to offer him comfort but the moment passed and he smiled again.

I dressed as he watched and then I headed towards the door. He headed for the table to collect the tray but I intercepted him halfway and pulled him into a hug. I bent down to kiss the top of his head and then his ear as I whispered "Thanks" to him. He tipped his head back and beamed a smile up at me as he threw his arms around me. He stood on tiptoe and kissed my cheek. Just then the bell rang out in the corridor to summon him to another duty so we parted and I headed out for my lunch.

As I ate I considered another of life's little imponderables: Why was I on holiday? Why had I come here? What on earth was I going to do with my time for two whole weeks? Perhaps I should have flown somewhere. It was too late now, although a hop to South East Asia or Australia was still a possibility - if I went there I would still have the same dilemma of how to fill my time. I had been looking forward to lying on a beach for a bit, but knew now that would pall after a day or two. I am not good at inactivity.

This, I decided, was something I would tackle later. For the moment I would eat and relax.

And keep away from alcohol!

The Thai Green Curry was excellent!

I felt better after eating but was still exhausted. I could have done with a good walk but settled for a seat in the park down opposite the docks. This is a place I had sat many times before on my visits to town. Sometimes I sat there with joy at the tropical hustle and bustle and sometimes with frustration and fury and fear and despair. The difference wasn't in the scene but in me, the difference being the state of my mental health.

As often happens as I sat there and looked around I saw the kids playing, rich kids with their parents out for an afternoon stroll and poor kids, beggars' kids playing with a discarded shoe or an old box or just playing tag around the trees. The difference being that the poor kids always seemed to be having more fun than the rich kids! As usual I mourned my lost childhood - it is not that it was stolen from me, it was that I gave it away, I sold it for an illusion, a dream, an unreality.

I didn't even get a mess of potage.

It wasn't easy being a child prodigy. I often wonder if frail mental health is a necessary part of the package, I am sure that obsessive self analysis is.

Why me? The eternal question. The only answer feasible being, as always, why not? I know all this, I have known it for a long time but still in my exhaustion I went over it again. Sharing it with Barney had made some of the memories easier - but a lot still hurt. I used to blame my parents but they were victims as much as I was. They always loved me with a fierce protective love, they were doing what they thought was best - and they were so proud of me! They even tried to slow me down to let me experience being a child a bit more - but the pride was still there as well, the pride that their child was extraordinary.

What parent wouldn't be proud of a child who taught himself to read at three and was doing long division in his head at five? What child wouldn't love the attention such fame brings? My desire for attention became channelled into a desire to do bigger and better. And it worked. It was a long time before I realised I was a total fraud, and even then I didn't tell anyone else. I had a little cleverness and amazing recall but it was enough to get me the drug, the fame and adulation that I was craving by then.

I passed through primary school like a whirlwind - and I was such a good boy! Of course, I was good; I was too terrified of failing that I didn't dare be bad! How I longed to play in the mud or tease the girls or scream and shout and use bad words! My parents wanted me to be that little boy as well, I just didn't realise it, or wouldn't be it - I was so hooked into achievement.

At nine, two years early, I passed on to Grammar School. This was not just any old Grammar School but the local fee paying Grammar School who were happy to award such an extraordinary child a full scholarship - a good thing as my only-just-middle-class parents could never have afforded the fees. This is where the dream really started to turn into a nightmare - THE nightmare. Mentally I was functioning way beyond most of my top stream class but physically I was a scrawny kid the size of a seven year old! And, to make matters worse, I was a scholarship boy from a poor family. The rest of my class were all eleven, rising twelve and from solidly middle class backgrounds. I had to do gym, of course, and games - no exceptions were made for the "little boy." I was supposed to tackle as hard as them and accept tackles in "the spirit of the game". I hadn't fully learnt the lesson that boys don't cry so was made to suffer all the more when I did. It was in this brutish atmosphere [perhaps brutish only to me, it was a good school but . . .] that I learnt that not everyone likes or admires the clever child. I was junior school age, infant school size and was consistently top of the class - this did not lead to universal approbation - I was not a popular boy. I was a swot; probably the biggest swot in the school and swots are rarely popular. I deluded myself that my classmates didn't understand me and were jealous of me. In part this may have been true - but deep in my heart I knew even then that they didn't like me because I was a prig and an intellectual snob.

I didn't like myself very much either.

So I retreated into more study. I taught myself a couple of languages in my free hours after I had done my homework. I was on holiday with my parents once and we met up with a bus load of Russian tourists, all architects, so I struck up a conversation with some of the group, in fluent Russian of course - I was a great success, they adored me! I had read a few books about architecture and with my excellent memory I was able to recall bits to impress - it succeeded. So I studied more. So I became more insufferable.

The other thing about doing gym and games was the showers afterwards. This was a time of agony and embarrassment for me for all my grammar school days. It was not so bad when my companions were just 11 or 12, when there were few boys with obvious sexual development - although everyone was bigger than me in that department as well. The next year I was ten, looked eight and my companions were 12 and 13 so there was a marked difference - a difference that was commented on every shower time with words and ideas that I didn't understand - words that didn't appear in my textbooks. I knew they were talking about sex and I could look that up but it wasn't very helpful in decoding what they were saying. I didn't even have any friends I could ask - I didn't have any friends at all.

By the end of that academic year I had worked out what some of what the boys were saying meant and I had discovered the joys of masturbation. Joys for a while. Being undeveloped as I was I also developed an enormous fear of the whole thing - wanking was always accompanied by huge feelings of guilt and fear.

Academically I was doing so well that when I was eleven I was jumped another academic year so was now with 14 and 15 year olds, a year older than my companions of the year before. I was even tinier by comparison and my non-academic life at school became ever more hellish, I was ever more the subject of taunts and bullying - my undeveloped status the subject for much ribald "humour." This group had been together for three years already and had their established pecking order when an eleven year old walked in and usurps the position of the top of the class. Once again it did not make me popular. Still I had no friends.

So I worked harder, that way I didn't have time for friends.

At age twelve, four years early, I took 6 "O" levels. At age thirteen I took a further 9 "O" levels. At fourteen I took three "A" levels, at fifteen I took a further four "A" levels and moved on to university three years early. I was still pre-pubescent; I was a tiny 15 year old with an unbroken voice and a hairless body.

I went to the local university so I could carry on living at home - a 15 year old who looked and sounded 13 was not really made to be in a university hall of residence! The best thing about being there was no gym and no games so greatly reduced embarrassment - and in the academic atmosphere I was at least respected a bit more than I had felt in my years at Grammar School.

The most momentous occurrence of that first year of my university life, one night in the middle of the exams in May [14 May to be precise, a day marked down forever in my personal history] and shortly after my 16th birthday, was my first cum! It was preceded by a few weeks by the appearance of a few hairs around the base of my cock - scant few but a few all the same and I was proud of them! After this first ejaculation masturbation became obsessive - I don't know how I concentrated enough to get the answers down on paper in those last few exam sessions! I know now that this obsession is quite usual but at the time it just piled on the guilt feelings and the nameless fears, although the mind-numbing, overwhelming and paralysing fear of never reaching puberty was at last dismissed.

Life at university was a lot easier than school. Here I was admired for studying and singled out as an example - I wasn't quite so much the freak that I had been before, in my former life. Okay, I was still a freak but a bit less so. I also got one or two sort of friends there, people I could say hello to and perhaps study with or discuss the courses.

But having had little social life outside my family for the whole of my life until then I wasn't exactly socially polished; I lacked a lot of skills. Most of them, in fact.

At age eighteen I graduated with honours in Botany, a year later I finished my masters and two years later, when I was 21, garnering a post-graduate teaching diploma [I did my teaching practice in a very posh fee paying girls' school] in my spare time as well, I got my doctorate - and with it my breakdown.

One morning a few days after receiving my doctorate dressed in all my multi-coloured silk finery and funny hat I woke in floods of tears in a state of complete nervous exhaustion. I was frozen. It was as much as I could do to get myself into the shower and then back to bed. Getting dressed was impossible.

I had no course to go to, no academic mountain left to climb. I had been offered research positions and all the trappings of the academic life but I knew I would die if I remained in the ivory tower of university - or in the case of the one I went to, the ivory bungalow!

I longed to go out and make something of my life and face the world.

And I was terrified. Absolutely bone-numbingly shit-scared terrified!

A few days, or more truthfully a few weeks later when the drugs were kicking in and I had stopped shaking and crying all the time I started searching for a way out.

My mind went back to the summer when I was 14 and I had gone to Sri Lanka on the student exchange trip. The tropical attitude to life and climate and, well, everything, was so different from the grey urban British sprawl that was so familiar to me. Perhaps if I went back there things would be different.

After a while I started looking for jobs in the tropics for which I might be qualified and found an opening with a big multinational plantation and commodity company. To them I appeared as a gift, a PhD no less! The fact that I had few people skills seemed to be overlooked. To impress them further by the second interview I had enrolled for a distance learning MBA - in my manipulative thinking I thought this might help. It did.

I was taken on as a trainee manager and by pure chance was sent back to Sri Lanka, to the hill country near Hatton, to learn my trade. After my initial fear and trepidation at being out in the big bad real world I found that I loved it. I also began to learn how to relate to people. I wasn't good at it but I got better. And when my colleagues were unbearable [only to me] I retreated into my MBA. They viewed me as strange, this young wiz-kid who studied when they were getting drunk or whoring. I did get drunk with them all one night and said more than I should after which they made lightweight fun of my virginity. I justified it by saying I was waiting for the right girl to come along.

From Sri Lanka I was moved to Malaysia as Assistant Manager and then five years ago I moved here as Area Manager.

The right girl didn't turn up in any of those places.

I was successful, I had turned down further promotions so I suppose I must have been happy, after a fashion; and I was constantly on the edge of despair and disintegration. Perhaps I was just less unhappy! Perhaps it was fear that kept me here.

I was a mess.

I sat in the park with the tears streaming down my face, glad now that I never learnt the lesson that boys don't cry! At least I could see it, as a psychologist once told me, as part of the coping mechanism and not as failure.

A little body snuggled up to me and a little voice said "Are you okay, sir?"

I think I jumped a mile into space before landing back in the same place to find Patrick, my little angel Patrick, sitting beside me.

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

It was out before I thought about it, I regretted it almost before my mouth formed the words. He recoiled as if he had been slapped. He pulled away and started to stammer, "I, I'm s-s-s-sorry, sir."

I grabbed him and held him close. "I'm sorry, Patrick. It's not your fault, my mind was miles away. You gave me such a shock!"

As I apologized back to him he looked up into my eyes and then relaxed back against me. He cuddled in against my right side and took my hand.

"I - I - I didn't mean to frighten you, sir. But you looked so sad and you were crying."

I smiled down at him and wiped my eyes.

"I know but now you are here I'm not crying any more. Are you off duty?"

"Yes, sir. I have a few hours off so I come here to the park to speak to the boys. There are many sad and lonely boys here, sir."

"There are sad and lonely people everywhere, Patrick, and not just children."

"Is that why you were crying? Are you sad and lonely?"

"I am sometimes, aren't you?"

"Sometimes, sir, but not like I used to be when I was very young."

I wasn't sure that I was ready to pursue this topic so I tried to change the subject.

"Do you like ice cream? Shall we go and get one? I would like to buy you one."

"Are you sure, sir? Ice cream is expensive."

"I can afford it and I want one and I don't want to eat it alone. I would really like to buy you one, let's go." I stood and held out my hand. He still seemed reluctant. "Please." I said

He stood and we walked hand in hand out of the park and across the avenue to a café with outside seating. He sat down and I sat opposite him - this was not at all to his liking so he got up and dragged a chair round next to me so our legs were touching.

"What would you like?" He shrunk into his chair, I realised I was being unfair, he probably wasn't used to a lot of choice. I grabbed a menu and pointed out the various sundaes on offer. I could see that he was torn between his desire to taste it all and his desire to not embarrass me by costing a lot.

I decided to try another tack.

"Do you like chocolate?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you like vanilla?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you like butterscotch?"

"I don't know, sir."

"It tastes a bit like toffee, do you like toffee?"

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, do you want me to order something for you?"

"Yes, please, sir."

I called the waiter over and ordered two three scoop banana sundaes and a little jug of hot fudge sauce. This was completely over the top, more ice cream than I normally eat in a year, but if I can drink more than a year's supply in one night then I could do this too.

Whilst we waited I put my arm round him and pulled him to me in a side on hug. He snuggled in as he had done before.

"Patrick, I know that in the hotel you have to call me sir, but outside, it makes me feel uncomfortable. If we are going to be friends, and I would like that, could you try and call me Carl, please?"

He looked up at me again with those huge, dark, fathomless eyes.

"I don't know, sir."

"Try it, just for me. Please."

"If my manager heard it he wouldn't like it."

"He doesn't have to hear it, this is just for in private when there is nobody else around."

"But what if I make a mistake and he hears?" He was clearly becoming agitated and beginning to panic so I squeezed his shoulder and smiled down at him.

"It isn't really important, it's just that it would make me feel more comfortable."

He was still troubled and looked as if he might burst into tears any moment when we were distracted by the arrival off our ice creams. His eyes were now like saucers - so were mine! The portions were huge! One sundae would have been enough, more than enough for the two of us! They were monstrous ice creams, humungous monstrosities of ice cream, Himalayan sculptures of ice cream. I had been expecting something like a banana split - this was like the extreme version - the X-Games of ice cream culture! Each had at least three bananas sliced and arranged around the edge of a plate surrounding three HUGE scoops of ice cream, one of each of the three flavours. In addition there were chunks of fresh local pineapple and papaya and mango and orange plus chopped candied cashew nuts and chocolate vermicelli. There were fan wafers too and then the not so little jug of warm chocolate fudge sauce which I poured liberally over both portions.

Both of us were open-mouthed in shock at the feast in front of us - I have often wished since that some passer by had captured the moment on film. I think I would almost have had a little boy face again - I know that Patrick did. He was awestruck!

Our eyes met and we giggled in unison.

Not be outdone we set to at our not too onerous task.

As they say, it was tough, but somebody had to do it.

We sat there eating our sundaes although, like a typical 12 year old, Patrick got a fair amount of it round his mouth. Every few moments we made eye contact over our spoons and giggled again. Eventually he licked the spoon clean and then started licking round his mouth with his very cute little pink tongue. I was beaten so I pushed my plate over to him - he looked into my eyes to check it was okay and then, as a kindness to save me embarrassment, cleared my dish as well.

I had always had an affinity with kids, perhaps because of my missed childhood, and this child was a complete delight - I understood what people meant when they said that a child was good enough to eat!

Except I was already full!

As we ate we had hardly spoken, it was a pleasant and companionable silence, in my limited experience quite rare with one so young.

When he had finished he snuggled back under my arm and beamed his megawattage smile up at me.

"Can I call you Mr Carl, instead?" He had obviously been working on this whilst we ate.

"Sure you can, that's a really good idea! But if you ever want to call me Carl then you can, you don't have to ask. Okay?"

He put his arms around me and gave me a hug. "Thanks Mr Carl."

I hugged him back and looked down at him as he looked up and gave me the full blinding glare of his smile again.

After our special shared moment he was suddenly all business again.

"What time is it, please?"

I glanced quickly down at my watch. "Five thirty." He immediately leapt to his feet.

"I must go, sir, erm, Mr Carl, I am on duty again at six."

"Can we walk back together?"

He smiled his agreement so I stood and we set off back to the hotel. After about ten paces he reached out and took my hand and we walked all the way back like that, like we had known one another forever.

It was crazy, I was 35 years old and I felt I had met a soul mate in a 12 year old boy! I just had to look at delicious, delightful, delectable Patrick and I knew that we would mean a lot to one another, that our friendship had a future. Despite my academic training I am also strong on intuition, and I knew he was important to me.

Chapter 3

We split up when we got to the hotel, we had just made it back in time. I went up to have a nap before showering ready to go out for a dinner I didn't really want and which I would eat alone. Patrick went to get on with his duties. He'd told me on the way back that he was in the kitchen that evening helping the chef. He said he'd try to come and see me at ten when the restaurant closed.

I got to my room and stripped off to lie naked on the bed. I turned the ceiling fan on half power. My hangover had gone by now and I was getting a bit of a sugar rush from the ice cream. I lay there with my hands by my side for a while and then, as men's hands tend to do, almost of their own accord they started playing idly with my dick. I thought to finish off the wank that I was having when Patrick appeared at the bathroom door a lifetime ago, a few short hours ago.

As I stroked myself I suddenly and involuntarily thought of Patrick's smiling face in the bathroom earlier, Patrick holding my hand as he helped me up, Patrick cuddled in against me on the bed, Patrick surprising me in the park then snuggling in again, Patrick walking across the road holding my hand, Patrick spooning the ice cream into his mouth with that million candlepower smile, Patrick with ice cream round his mouth as his cute little pink tongue licked it all away.

It was probably the biggest orgasm of my life - I seemed to come forever, I certainly came everywhere! I had never seen so much cum!

It was followed immediately by shock, remorse, disgust, bewilderment, grief, anguish, loathing, horror, despair!

I felt like I had violated him! I felt like I had taken somebody special and pure and good and degraded them to the uttermost. I hated myself. I loathed myself. I was not a believer in any conventional sense but I thought of the line about whoever harms the least of these it would be better if a millstone were put around his neck and he was cast into the deep. I was no stranger to suicidal thoughts but these hit me with immense force.

How could I do this? Did it mean I was queer or gay or whatever?

But I couldn't be! I didn't want to be! I had had a lifetime of being different, of being extraordinary - couldn't I just be ordinary in this. Please God, I want to be ordinary, to be normal.

I was just tired, I wasn't thinking, I was just latching on to an image in my exhaustion.

I had never had such a vivid fantasy before, usually my fantasies were fuzzy romantic scenes involving a man and a woman or a boy and a girl - all soft focus, soft core stuff never involving anyone I knew.

I had already had a tearful day and now I was weeping again. God, I was such a wimp!

In despair and dejection I returned to my seat on the bathroom floor and turned on the shower. I sat there and gave myself up to despair, dejection and self pity.

As I sat there with the tepid water streaming over me I started to soap myself to wash away the loathing I felt then, just like that morning, my dick had other ideas, it had just had the time of its life and it wanted more. I just couldn't get over the images I had rehearsed so recently. Sitting there I imagined him again with the ice cream around his mouth and I imagined him coming to the bathroom door as he had done that morning but this time he saw me then stripped off and walked towards me to join me in the shower.

Another amazing orgasm ripped through me. My cum sluiced away down the drain as I sat there panting leaning back against the cool tiled wall.

When I recovered Patrick wasn't there naked beside me. I felt bereft. I knew that if I could just stop thinking for a moment and start being then I could cope with this.

Suddenly I smiled to myself - so that's why I hadn't met the right girl yet! The right girl wasn't a girl! What if the right girl was actually a boy?

Soon, I was rolling around the floor in laughter - it had taken me until I was thirty five to work this out! I couldn't believe how slow I had been; me, the genius, the infant prodigy, the boy wonder. It was strange but I knew immediately that it was so, I knew I was gay, I really, really was. No doubt at all about it, no point in denying it, it was true.

It was more than true it was obvious, plain as the nose on my face. All those years I had idolised the older boys at school and it hadn't even occurred to me that I might be! Then as I got to the top of the school I idolised the younger boys. I used to think I just envied them their normality but it was far, far more than that.

I desperately needed to talk to someone about this; I needed a sounding board like I had never needed one before. There was only one person I could think of, Barney. But he was stuck there in the hills unable to get away and I sure as hell wasn't going to talk about it on the phone, not in a country where a secure telephone connection was unheard of! It would have to wait.

As I sobered further I began to worry about Patrick - he was a jewel in my eyes, someone, something infinitely precious. I couldn't bear the thought of harming him. If I was going to be gay, well, that was one thing but I couldn't be having sex with a 12 year old. I knew there were other gay men about; perhaps I could strike up a relationship with one of them.

I was so confused! This was a hell of a lot to take in!

One thing I knew, I wasn't going to shirk Patrick however guilty I felt about my fantasies. Just because I had what I saw as perverted desires was no reason for him to be shunned or ignored, he would think he had done something wrong and I couldn't bear the additional guilt of that. I knew I would never lay a finger on him sexually but I still wanted to be affectionate towards him. I couldn't bear the thought of separation from him either. In a little over 24 hours he had lit up my life like it had never ever been lit up before.

As I sat there on the bathroom floor another thought suddenly occurred to me. If it was obvious to me that I was gay, was it obvious to other people? Had my parents known? They had never said anything, but then how would they?

"Hey Carl, your mum and I have been talking and we think you're probably a homo. How do you feel about that?"

They had always made sure I knew I was loved, even when I fought so hard against them. I still felt loved by them now several years after their passing. I could see the wry smile on my mother's face, probably knitting or crocheting at the time, as she watched over me from wherever and said to dad, sitting beside her on the settee in the great hereafter: "Well, he's worked it out for himself at last, I told you he would, didn't I?"

Mother always swore she had told him stuff before - and he never disagreed with her. Perhaps he knew it didn't matter.

I knew that whatever I did, if it didn't involve harming either myself or others, I would have their support and approval. I may have had a screwed up childhood but I always had their unconditional love.

I gave up my speculation and turned off the shower before I became as shrivelled as an old prune. I sat there for a while to drain then got to my feet a little more elegantly than I had managed that morning. I dried and dressed and headed out for a snack - something savoury and no dessert, the earlier ice cream was enough sugar for a week!

I found a little street stall down by the market serving spicy prawn fried rice with a sprinkling of caramelised onion on top. When I got there and ordered the onions were already crisping on a low heat. I placed my order and the little old lady with the incredibly wrinkled smile wiped out a huge iron wok that must have weighed more than she did and put it to heat whilst she chopped an onion and several cloves of garlic. When the pan was hot she added a little oil, some yellow mustard seed. When the mustard began to pop she added the onions and then slit a couple of chillies lengthwise. Then, seemingly not checking how things were going she added the garlic and gave it all a stir then set to chop a little piece of ginger. She then added the chillies and the ginger and after a few moments grabbed a handful of peeled prawns and threw them in to the mixture and stirred a few more times before throwing on a dash of sesame oil and flambéing the whole lot. She added some cooked peas and the cooked rice then stirred gently whilst it heated and the flavours melded. At the end she added a sprinkling of salt and some dark sauce out of an ancient bottle. She took it off the heat to rest a moment before tipping it on to a compressed leaf plate. She added the crunchy caramelised onions on top and handed it to me together with a disposable wooden fork. As I turned away she was adding more onions to the slow pan where the others were crisping

It was dirt cheap, incredibly fresh and quite delicious.

It was so good to eat real food again after months, years of Sarah's cooking!

After eating I walked around the town a bit before heading back for about 9.30 so I could see Patrick before he went to bed. I knew he would call to see me about ten and I wanted to be there for him, I didn't want to miss seeing him again before I slept.

I got back to my room at 9.50 and had just started getting undressed when there was a tap on the door, I had already shed my top and my shoes. It opened immediately and the gorgeous expected face looked in.

"Hi Mr Carl, can I come in?"

"Of course you can." I slipped off my trousers and got into bed in my briefs, I wanted to avoid the sort of embarrassment we, or rather I, had had that morning. Patrick came and stood by the bed and looked at me with his huge eyes pleading. I patted the bed next to me to offer him a seat so he slipped off his flip-flops and came and sat beside to snuggle in again under my right shoulder.

We lay there in silence for a few minutes. It was blissful silence, quite fulfilling. Eventually he turned and looked up at me.

"Mr Carl, do you want to come to The Project with me tomorrow?"

I wanted to say that I would go anywhere with him but was aware that I had made Barney a promise that I had to fulfil.

"I can't tomorrow, sweetie, I have some business I have to do. I don't know how long it will take, a day or two at the most and then we'll do something together. Is that okay?"

He was obviously disappointed. He looked so sad and in a very little voice he said, "Okay" so quietly I could only just hear it.

"I'm sorry, Patrick, I just can't do it tomorrow, I have to do the work stuff first."

"It's okay, it's just you're so nice to me. I want to show it you."

"I promise we'll do it as soon as we can. Is that okay? I really promise." As I said it I squeezed his shoulder to show him I meant it.

"Okay. I wish I could stay with you but I'll get in trouble. I'd better go."

He got up then leant over and kissed me on the cheek.

"Goodnight Mr Carl, Can I bring you coffee in the morning?"

"That would be lovely but not too early."

"Do you want to ring down for it when you want it and I'll bring it up - I'm on room service in the morning?"

I pulled him to me and kissed him on both cheeks.

"That would be wonderful," I whispered in his ear.

As he turned to leave I saw he had tears in his eyes - I wanted to crush him into a hug and never let him go but I couldn't.

"Goodnight Patrick, sleep well."

He tried to smile as he slipped out of the door but he was still near to tears.

After he had gone I slipped off my briefs to free my painfully hard and straining cock and wanked off again to the images of my little angel - then the guilts returned, the ones I had so easily dismissed earlier, to haunt me through the night.

Chapter 4

Monday morning I slept late. The emotional turmoil of the day before and then a very bad night had worn me out. I had finally dozed off at about 5 a.m., but it was not a restful sleep even then. When I looked at the clock it was eleven!

I felt like shit.

I staggered to the bathroom to relieve my bladder and caught sight of myself in the mirror.

I looked like shit.

I needed caffeine. But if I phoned for coffee Patrick will bring it and see me like this. Did I want to see him? Yes, of course I did but I also worried that I was bad for him that I should keep away before I lost control. I know I had known him less than 48 hours but I was already a little, more than a little in love with him. I was certainly in lust with him - and heavily.

I turned on the shower and resumed my seat on the floor. I had things to ponder. Big things like love and little things like I had no idea about the mechanics of sex. Oh, I knew the theoretical stuff, I was a biologist after all, but what did two men, or a man and a boy, really do together? Straight sex was easy: penis into vagina, wiggle it about a bit, ejaculate. I knew there was stuff about clitoral stimulation as well but I was buggered if I really knew what that meant. I laughed a grim laugh - buggered, how appropriate.

Thirty five years old with zero sexual contact with anybody, ever. What a truly sad bastard I was.

I turned off the shower and continued to sit there.

To say I was confused would be a dramatic understatement. My logical, analytic part took over, as it tended to when I didn't want to face reality. This had been my retreat from life for the last century or two so back I went to where I felt comfortable. If I analysed things and turned them into data then I could look at them and try to make some sense of them. With emotions it rarely worked that well but then I had my intuition - but not until I had exhausted the other stuff first.

I struggled to my feet wet but unwashed and went back into the bedroom. I got out my notepad and a pen and sat at the table to make some notes

At 35 I had discovered I was gay;

I don't much fancy the idea for all sorts of reason;

[so list them then!]

Gay men are effeminate nancy boys - not true but the image persists;

Those that aren't effeminate nancy boys wear leather and chains and stuff;

How could I fit into a world like that when I didn't know the rules;

You don't fit-in in the "normal world" either and have no idea of the rules there either;

Patrick likes me, that is obvious;

I like Patrick;

I fancy Patrick;

Patrick is gorgeous;

He has wonderful eyes;

He kissed me!;

I long to see him naked and hold him close to me;

If he knew this he would hate me;

I need coffee then I will see him again.

I picked up the phone and called down to order a pot of coffee, I was told that "the boy" would bring it shortly. I deliberately didn't get dressed, I just wrapped a towel loosely around my waist.

A few minutes later there was a tap on the door, I called "Come in" and a decrepit old man shuffled in with a tray. He put it down and stood waiting for a tip.

"Where's Patrick?" The old man shrugged.

"Manager sent him out."

"When will he be back?" Another shrug.

"Maybe later."

"Okay, thanks." And I went back to looking at my notes. Despairing of getting his tip the "boy" who hadn't been a boy for longer than my lifetime shuffled off. As soon as he had left the room I felt a heel for not tipping him. More guilt to add to the stack already resting on my weary shoulders.

It was almost tangible.

"FUCK OFF!" I bellowed at the room.

I had had enough! I was so pissed off with myself, so incredibly, powerfully angry! Anger is a powerful motivator. I stood up, screwed up the piece of paper and chucked it in the bin. I poured a coffee then, whilst it cooled, went back to shave and shower.

In the shower I worked out that the person I was most angry with, outside myself of course, was the hotel manager for daring to send MY Patrick out when he should have been bringing MY coffee! I was desperate to see the little 12 year old, and I was in the shower and I had soapy hands so one thing rapidly led to another. When I came my knees nearly gave way dumping me on the floor. Instead I leant hard against the wall as my orgasm subsided.

I sluiced it all down the drain as I shampooed and shaved and washed then quickly dressed and headed out to hunt for the mysterious British engineer. Paul Hughes, Barney had said, so he was my target for the day. Here was a purpose to keep me going, a meaning however flimsy for my day.

I headed down to the lobby and spotted the manager in reception so I stopped him and asked him if he knew where I could find a British engineer called Hughes who lived in town. He didn't know, he couldn't help, he was sorry but perhaps I should ask at The Project. The Project? The Project, he repeated as if I was stupid, the street kids project just on the edge of town. On the road to the capital.

Okay, I thought, dismissing the whole thing out of hand. A street kids project was just the sort of place to have a consulting hydel engineer! Sure.

I headed to the company's bank thinking they might help. I was delayed a bit, a delightful delay but a substantial one. I left the hotel heading along the side of station square, which has about as much claim to be a city square as Times Square does in New York, when "Mr Carl!" rang out loud and clear behind me, I turned and a beautiful bouncing bounty of boy came rushing up to me in his cute little uniform. He took my right hand in both of his.

"I'm sorry I couldn't bring your coffee, Mr Carl, but the manager sent me out to do some things. I waited as long as I could but you didn't call down."

"It's okay, someone else brought it. I'd rather it'd been you but it got to me okay."

"Did the old man bring it?"

"Yes, and I feel bad because I was so sad it wasn't you that I didn't tip him."

"It's okay, you'll see him again. He's nice, I was scared of him at first but he's always kind and helpful and he never shouts at me."

He'd better not, I thought. If anybody shouted at this little angel in my hearing I think I'd happily put them on their backs in the gutter! I'd break every bone in their body!

I'd lost the train of the conversation - my defensive fantasy having taken over. I knew he had spoken, had asked me something.

"Sorry Patrick, what did you say?" He looked up at me and giggled.

"I asked if you were going for lunch."

"Yes, that's a good idea, do you want to come? Have you had yours yet?"

"I normally have something in the kitchen. I don't know, it will be expensive won't it?"

"Don't worry about the cost, please let me pay, I'd love your company."

"Can I go and ask for half an hour off?"

"Sure, go on, I'll wait right here."

He scooted off and back in half a trice beaming up at me with permission to be absent for forty whole minutes!

I knew a cheap and cheerful "locals" place around the corner that did a reasonable lunch. Pay as you enter, set menu, eat as much as you want - ideal for the circumstances. We bought a big bottle of cold soda as well to wash it down and I marvelled that, although I rarely thought in terms of British money, the whole thing, drink included, cost under one British pound!

I don't know what the profit margins are on serving food like that but I am sure that feeding growing 12 year olds doesn't help! For a slight and slender boy Patrick was a trencherman and a half! He ate more than me and I was happy to see it and to hear him sigh in deep content when he had had enough.

We hardly spoke as we ate, he had his legs touching mine the whole time and every so often our eyes met and he smiled across at me without breaking stride as he wolfed the food down as fast as he could go.

By the time he had finished his time was nearly up so he scooted off back to the hotel whilst I carried on to the bank in quest of Mr Hughes. Before he left he thanked me and squeezed my hand and promised to see me later.

I drew another but rather more long-winded blank at the bank. Being a representative of a big company I was shown in to see the manager [his title was Regional Vice President but it just meant he was the manager!] and given coffee, even if my preference is for tea from lunchtime on. We chatted for a while and I asked the dutiful questions about his wife and family and made the appropriate noises about the expense of getting a good education for the kids in these inflationary days.

As usual it took a good fifteen minutes to get around to business. I asked, he couldn't help. He knew of no such person. He pushed a button and an assistant manager came in and was asked in turn. No, he couldn't help either. He was sure they didn't have a Mr Hughes in their accounts. At this point things began to snowball out of control, though in that climate the term would have meant little to any of the participants except me. The assistant manager departed to make discreet inquiries whilst I had more coffee and made more small talk, this time about the state of world markets and the difficulty of trading in a climate of distrust and anxiety. Several times we were interrupted by phone calls as time ticked away.

It was about 40 minutes later when the assistant manager came back with a complete negative. None of the banks in town had a foreigner named Hughes on their books. He was sorry; they were both sorry they couldn't help me. Perhaps I could ask at The Project, the children's place on the road out of town, the Englishmen there might know or be able to help.

When I left it was over an hour since I had entered those gloomy portals. They were just closing up from the short banking day. The afternoon was half gone and I had made no progress.

I wandered aimlessly for a bit wondering what to do. I thought of throwing in the towel but if I did that I would be faced with my own dilemmas. It was easier to chase a rainbow than face reality!

I walked down to the park and sat awhile looking out over the docks pondering the next move, then moved to the ice cream parlour for a completely unnecessary, but rather more restrained, sugar fix. A scoop of butterscotch and a scoop of vanilla, no trimmings.

As I ate I watched a police jeep motor by and had a brain-wave. The police! I could ask the police! They would surely know of any foreigner working in the town. I knew one of the Assistant Commissioners a bit socially so I popped down to see him at his office. It was another time consuming and fruitless idea. It was the same story: tea rather than coffee, chat about the family and so on, waste even more time as a senior policeman's life doesn't seem too harsh most of the time. Then a gentle "how can I help you?" I asked my question. He made a few phone calls and we sat and chatted more whilst waiting for the result.

By the time I drew another blank and had been advised again to try asking at "The Project" the day was drawing to a close. I retreated to the park to watch the sun setting over the docks.

I took my seat for the spectacle and managed it with no tears today.

Being a working day there were fewer families about and so fewer kids. The kids that were there were mainly poorer kids and streetkids and kids trying to earn a little money by selling nuts or sweets or little penny whistles and the like.

Patrick must have finished work because I spotted him chatting to a boy of similar age, a streetkid without doubt. The boy obviously wasn't a local, he looked a lot more Chinese than the most of the locals but he looked in the same sad condition as the other unwanted and unwashed boys. They were sitting on the sea wall holding hands and chatting away then Patrick looked over at me and the other boy did too and then they carried on chatting then they looked over again. Obviously I was the subject of some discussion.

Next time they looked over I waved and Patrick waved back. There was a bit more discussion then Patrick almost dragged the other boy over to me. They stood in front of me, a beaming, beamish boy [I could have shouted Calloo, Callay at his smile] and a very frightened oriental boy, slightly smaller, dirty and poorly dressed, but I guessed about the same age.

"Hi Mr Carl, this is my friend Miguel."

I put out my hand. "Hallo Miguel," I said as gently as I could. All I got in reply was a mumbled "Hallo sir." No eye contact, he spoke to his feet. Patrick, not the subtlest of folk, plonked himself beside me and cuddled in dragging Miguel by his hand to sit the other side of him.

"Miguel is very lonely, Mr Carl. I am trying to get him to come and stay at The Project but he's scared."

Miguel looked close to tears. I am sure that if Patrick hadn't got a python's grip on his hand he'd have run away. With his paler skin I could see him blushing deeply. I wanted to rescue him a bit; I didn't know what to say but knew I had to say something.

"Well, Miguel, I'm going there tomorrow, if Patrick will take me. Everybody I have talked to today tells me I have to go there. I'll let you know what it's like, if you want."

Patrick squeezed my hand and beamed up at me and Miguel just glimpsed up at me with limpid, waterlogged eyes. He had beautiful dark almond shaped eyes but they showed a huge depth of hurt and fear and the rings below them showed a weariness that a child that age should never feel. I was sure there was the last trace of a black eye there as well. I wanted to hug him but knew I couldn't. I didn't want to hug him like I wanted to hug Patrick, I just wanted to hold this little hurt boy and let him know he was safe.

I suddenly knew what I could do, I could feed him. I could feed them. I knew that I probably could never get Miguel in a restaurant but I reckoned a leaf plate of prawn fried rice eaten in the street might be okay.

"C'mon, you guys, let's walk - I have a plan! Trust me, you'll like it."

I pulled Patrick to his feet and he pulled Miguel with him and we set off. Miguel was wary but seemed to get reassurance from the hand holding his and I tried desperately to push strength through Patrick to him. It was only a few minutes to my little old lady. I let go of Patrick and told him to look after Miguel whilst I ordered. I ordered five portions as I was sure the boys could eat two each; I ordered two first and then a further three. I went and chatted with the boys until the first two portions were ready then gave them one each. Patrick wanted me to eat first but a nod and a bit of eye contact and he understood so gave in. Miguel didn't need much encouragement to eat. The smells alone must have been driving him mad! Only a few minutes more and the other portions were ready. I collected them and handed them out - the eyes were big, the smiles were broad. I sat on the wall beside Patrick and he scooted up close to me and then Miguel scooted up close to him as we ate in another warm and companionable silence.

When we finished I leant close to Patrick's ear and whispered "You look after Miguel, okay? I'll see you in the morning. Can you take me to this project place?" I then risked a little kiss on his ear in the dark shadows.

"Sure Mr Carl . . . and thanks."

"Okay, goodnight Patrick, goodnight Miguel."

"Goodnight sir. Thank you for the food." And I got a smile as well. Ample reward.

Patrick got up and gave me a hug so I hugged him back. As he let me go I extended my hand to Miguel again and he shook it with less trepidation this time. I walked back to the hotel satisfied that we had all taken a step in the right direction.

Chapter 5

"Mr Paul, Mr Paul, this is Mr Carl," called Patrick, dragging me by the hand towards the red headed man in the midst of the sea of boys. He shooed the boys away and they wandered off towards what looked like schoolrooms at the south side of the compound. He walked towards me and extended his hand. He had a firm but not harsh grip, it was a friendly handshake.

"So you are the famous Mr Carl!"

"Well, I don't know about famous, but I am Carl Sanders." He smiled into my eyes.

"Hi Carl, I'm Paul Evans."

"Oh, Paul Evans? I thought this was the Peter Evans Project, that's what the sign says."

"It is, we named it after my brother. It's a long story, I'll tell you about it later. Come in and have a coffee."

I had been woken that morning by a tap on the door and Patrick wafting in with a tray of coffee and a smile. My erection was tenting the sheet and I didn't bother hiding it. He slipped off his footwear and climbed on the bed next to me, I put my arm round his shoulder and he snuggled in. I leant down and kissed his forehead and he looked up at me and grinned. He then looked at my erection and giggled so I joined in. After a while we calmed down and I sipped my coffee whilst we continued the cuddle.

"Did Miguel come with you last night?"

"No, he was too scared. But I'm meeting him again tonight and he says he might come and eat there."

"Are we still going there today?"

"Yes, I am off at ten for the rest of the day. We can go as soon as you like."

I grabbed my watch and saw it was already 8:30 so I had enough time but not too much. I needed a pee and was both still hard and now well beyond shame so I just got out of bed and let it bounce in front of me as I went to the bathroom. As I got to the door I turned round and winked at him and he giggled again.

As I was peeing the bell went on the corridor so Patrick called out that he had to go and he'd seem me at ten. I shouted goodbye and heard the door close behind him. I sighed and glanced at my reflection in the shaving mirror and smiled back at myself. I knew I hadn't smiled so much for months, maybe for years. I knew I had Patrick to thank for it, for a light that had come into my life after so very long.

I carried on smiling as I shaved and showered and dressed. I am normally fairly fastidious but today I dressed more carefully, I knew I was doing it for a 12 year old and I knew that was crazy. At that moment I just didn't care.

After getting ready I went down and had a swift breakfast then went back up to my room to get my camera and notebook and anything I thought I might need.

Five minutes to ten and I left my room and there he was in reception, just coming through the door from the kitchen all ready to go. He beamed his smile at me, grabbed my hand and led me out to walk across town to the famous Project. He chatted on the way about Miguel and how he hoped he would come with him that night or sometime soon and about his friend Abraham who was at the Project and who wanted to meet me and all the things that boys talk about. Because of his chatter and his joy - and the joy I derived from his company and his little hand clasped in mine - the trip seemed to be over far more quickly than is usual for a 2 kilometre walk at this latitude. In no time at all he was leading me through an open gateway into a large compound with many buildings and over to a gaggle of boys surrounding a pleasant looking white man.

I liked Paul Evans on sight; I was not surprised that the kids I had seen around him adored him. In terms of looks he was a fairly nondescript thirty something redhead, now going a bit grey. I guessed, rightly as it turned out, that he was a fraction older than me, but we were very much of the same generation. He had a pleasant face and was obviously used to smiling. It was topped off with a small nose and green eyes and the healthy tan that even redheads get eventually after a long time in the tropics. He was a comfortable looking man and he was dressed comfortably too in lightweight cotton trousers, probably made locally from shirting material and a long sleeved shirt with the sleeves neatly rolled up to the elbow. On his feet he wore the universal rubber thong sandals that everybody wears here, the things we used to call flip-flops back when I was a kid. He led me on to the verandah of the bungalow and offered me a cane chair, taking one across a cane coffee table from me. Patrick who had been nestling under my arm ever since Paul released it from the handshake pulled up a cane stool beside me.

Paul smiled across at me.

"I'm sorry Martin isn't here to greet you, he is off to the capital to try and get us some more government funding."


"Oh sorry, I thought Patrick might have told you more, Martin Harris, my partner. We run this project together."

"No," I turned to the imp beside me holding my hand, "he, and half the people in town, just told me I had to see The Project, but I had only a vague idea what he was talking about until we arrived and I saw the sign, then the kids. I know it's a streetkids scheme but there my knowledge ends. Is it just the two of you running it?"

"Yeah, pretty much, it all started by accident about ten years ago and like Topsy it just growed!"

"Oh." I was really being a stunning conversationalist - the truth was I was trying to absorb what this man was saying and my processing kept getting stuck on the word "partner" - did he mean business partner, or partner in running the project or did he mean more? Did he mean that he and this Martin were queer, or homo, or gay, as well? As I thought this I drifted away and started beating myself up again over the use of queer. My "Oh" had killed the conversation dead, or if Paul had said anything more I had missed it completely.

"Patrick, could you be a love and see if you can find us some coffee?"

"Sure Mr Paul." He squeezed my hand and was off.

"So, what have you been doing to our young Patrick then?"

I was stunned by the question, I wanted to run, I wanted to throw up, I don't know if I went white or red!

"Nothing, I, I, . . ."

"God, Carl, sorry, I didn't mean it like that. Me and my big mouth. Shit!"

He looked at me and took some deep breaths.

"Sorry about that, Martin keeps telling me to be more careful what I say, he's only been telling me for 25 years, after another 25 I might learn! He says my method of conversation is 'Open mouth, insert foot!' It looks like he's right again."

He looked across at me as I tried to regain control, I suddenly felt light headed. He wasn't accusing me of molesting Patrick.

"I'll begin again, shall I? Except I don't know how. Martin is the wordsmith here, it's really tough without him." He gathered himself again.

"What I meant to ask is how have you managed to be such a positive influence on him? We have known that young man for eight years or more, and I have NEVER in all that time seen him hold an adult's hand; he has NEVER cuddled into an adult. Almost the only ones he allowed close are Thomas and especially Joseph, our two original boys, and Abraham, his little mascot. Talking of which here they are now - I knew they'd be together again immediately."

Patrick had walked up behind me carrying a tray with two mugs on coffee on it together with a bowl of sugar and a small jug of boiled milk. With him was a slightly younger looking boy with very dark, almost mahogany skin and, if such a thing is possible, an even brighter smile than my little angel. He was carrying a plate of biscuits, proper British style biscuits, not the squdgy cookies so often served here. They put the things down on the coffee table then Patrick was back beside me holding my left hand.

"Mr Carl, this is Abraham. He's my best friend."

"Hi Abraham." I extended my right hand and he very tentatively shook it. He glanced up at me for a moment then looked across at Patrick for help. His hand was tiny within mine, even smaller than Patrick's. Patrick leant forward and whispered in my ear "He's very shy."

"Patrick," said Paul. "You and Abraham go play for a while, Carl and I want to have a chat. Okay?"

"Sure Mr Paul, c'mon Abraham."

With that they were off down the steps and racing hand in hand towards the schoolrooms and the soccer game going on behind them.

Paul pushed a mug of coffee towards me and indicated for me to help myself to the biscuits and so on. I left the coffee as it was but took a biscuit more for something to do than anything else. Paul wasn't about to give up.

"So," he said, "what have you done to bewitch him like that? It is an amazing transformation. And then the last couple of days whenever he has been here it has been 'Mr Carl this . . .' and 'Mr Carl that . . .' Just whatever you are doing, please keep it up."

"I don't know what I have done, he just helped me to my room the other day and we seemed to hit off immediately. He was certainly immediately affectionate; I just assumed that is how he normally is. He was also very helpful."

I told Paul about getting the gin and getting drunk and my remorse the following day and how wonderful the boy had been. I even told him about being rescued from the bathroom floor, but I left out about my erection and my later fantasies.

"Yes, he's always been helpful but he's never been like this before. It's a long story, will you stay for lunch and I'll tell you what I know? Martin would do it better but he won't be back until tomorrow or the next day. We can eat here rather than with the mob, that way we can talk. It's so good to see another Brit, I hate to impose on you but how about it?"

"Sure, I'd love to; if you're sure I'm not imposing."

"Brilliant. We have about an hour before that so do you want a look around?"

"First I'd like to ask a question, if it's okay?"

"Sure, shoot."

"I'm a plantation manager up in the hills and Barney, my colleague asked me to find a guy called Hughes down here somewhere to do a feasibility study on a micro hydel project for the plantation. I have been asking around town and no Mr Hughes but everyone says I should ask here at The Project - but I can't see what a streetkids project has to do with hydel schemes. Does this make sense to you?"

"Perfect sense, change the name from Hughes to another Welsh one and you have Evans - then you have me, I'm an engineer and that's the sort of thing I do. I don't know of any Hughes but I reckon your mate just got the name mixed up. What sort of scheme do you want?"

"I don't know, Barney just asked me to find you and ask you to come and have a look. What are the chances?"

"Sure I can come up but not immediately. Can your Barney get down here to talk it through? That way when I do come up it will be quicker and cheaper for you."

"I can probably get him down for a night or two this week or next if we bribe a supervisor enough! Will you be about?"

"I go away Saturday, come back Wednesday so how about this Thursday?"

"Sure, I'll get him down on the morning train - how about dinner together that night at the Thai place by the docks?"

"No, let's eat here, the food's better and it'll be easier to talk. It'll be cheaper, too. Just tell him to bring whatever details he can."

"If you're sure you don't mind. That'd be great."

We paused for a moment. Then I asked, "Is Martin an engineer too?"

"No, my God no, he's a development worker. To make sense of it I suppose I'd better tell you the story."

As we sat there Paul told me one of the most amazing story I had ever heard.

Twenty six years earlier, when they were both just 12 Paul and Martin had met in a children's home in Britain when they had both been placed in care by the court. They had shared a room for the next few years in that children's home and another. Within two days of meeting they had begun sharing their bodies with one another as well. Their fun sex together over the years grew into love - quickly by all accounts too. They hadn't known one another long before Paul was sent to live at home again but his father's violence soon started up again and it ended up with both he and his younger brother in hospital after a particularly severe beating when drunken dad found the brothers having sex together.

Peter never regained consciousness. He lingered for just a few days over a year with massive brain damage before slipping quietly away one night. Paul never went home again after the beating. He refused to do so even when it was offered. His father was in prison and his mother had completely gone to pieces after the last time she failed to protect her kids. From that moment on Martin was Paul's only real family.

Within days of Peter's death first their father in his prison cell and then their mother at home committed suicide. Paul was completely alone in the world except for his young lover.

As he talked his voice was quite calm but as I glanced over to him I saw the tears streaming down his face. A quarter of a century later and the hurt was still intense enough for tears.

His eyes met mine. He smiled through his tears.

"I always cry when I think of it and I hope I always will. There was a time when I wanted to get over it, when I felt guilty for what happened, when I felt it was my fault, when I wanted the pain to stop. I'm over that bit now, thank God. I still cry, it still hurts, I still miss Peter, he'd be 36 now. We still celebrate his birthday, Martin and I, it's one of our little rituals.

"I cry for Peter and I even cry for my parents. I cry for me sitting in that hospital room once or twice or a week holding Peter's hand and talking to him. Martin usually came with me and held my other hand and poured his strength into me. He's always been a lot stronger than me. Oh, I know he'd deny it but it's true. I'll tell you one thing, his life was a lot harder than mine. A lot. I had it easy by comparison!

"He went back last month. All the way back for just a few days to see his father die and then to go to the funeral. He hated, we both hated his dad for years. He got a message from his sister that dad was dying so Martin went off, not for dad's sake but for his own and for his sister and his mum. He and his sister were adopted so these weren't his real parents.

"Anyway the old man died a few hours after Marts got there so he stayed for the cremation and came home again. He needed to be there, he needed to see the end of it all. Marts' mum is amazing, she must have hated him too. After the cremation they got the ashes and mum told the sister to drive to the tip and then she put the ashes in a rubbish skip and then crushed the urn and threw that in as well! That bastard dying has brought her a new lease of life!

"Now she writes every week and is even talking of visiting us sometime. It's funny she has been my mother in law for 25 or 26 years and I've never met her!

"Marts' dad was a copper, dead respectable, y'know. Except he used to fuck his kids all the time and beat them and shove his truncheon up them and share them with his mates!"

Paul was crying again. He put his head in his hands a moment and sobbed into them. After a few moments he smiled up at me again.

"Sorry, I'm not usually the weepy queen type, or not this much. It's just been an emotional time recently, what with him dashing off to UK and then bringing some news back that's upset us both and now he is away again for a few days. Even after all these years I miss him so when we're apart!

"Anyway, Marts can't remember when it all started, the abuse, but knows it was happening by the time he started school when he was 5. He was getting fucked on a regular basis by then. Can you imagine a kid that age being forced to take an old style police truncheon up his arse just for the fun of the boy's father?

"God, how I hate that bastard! Even if he is dead! Martin's says he's forgiven him and let it go - I can't, not yet, I don't know if I ever will! I don't know that I'll ever want to!"

He sat and breathed heavily for a while looking out over his little domain and the happy kids playing in the distance.

"C'mon," he said, "let's have some lunch then let me show you our little project."

We ate there on the verandah, Paul went and got the food - it was simple but good local food. There was mango juice to go with it and a plate of bananas for dessert.

After we had eaten I got the full guided tour, the original bungalow, the old outhouse that was there when Paul and Martin rented the place and the other buildings added over time including the recent small school block for kids not yet ready to face the mainstream schools nearby. Like most kids in their situation the ones coming to the project were eager to learn and to get an education but were also scared of the process and needed their confidence boosting first. They had a couple of local volunteers helping with the school, it wasn't ideal but it was the best they could do until they got more funding.

I was interested in the school. The facilities weren't that great but they made the best of them. They even had a couple of old 486 computers that looked as if they came out of the Ark but they worked and they were adequate for kids learning the basics. In the bungalow Paul and Martin shared a slightly more modern machine but still a far cry from state of the art. It had internet access, even if it was dial up and impossibly slow.

Back to the school, what amazed me, what always amazes me in these settings, is the enthusiasm of the kids for learning as if they already know that the way out of their situation is to go up. They obviously had had good role models in the two older boys, Thomas and Joseph, and were all keen to emulate them. If one street boy could be getting ready to go off to Australia, on a plane, to go and train as a doctor, then they could all do anything!

I watched the teaching and the encouragement the volunteers gave the kids and was fascinated and delighted, but also critical, my teacher's training bit was picking up little tweaks that could improve things, but I kept my mouth well closed, I was making a friend here and coming over as a smart arse wasn't going to help my case at all!

It was late afternoon, approaching sunset, when we got back to the bungalow and Paul immediately despatched me to the office to phone Barney. He was a bit surprised to be summoned down to the city at short notice but excited that I had found Paul, even if he'd got the surname wrong. We arranged for me to meet him at the station Thursday lunch and bring him out to meet Paul. I also told him to do as much of his homework as he could before he came but he then had the bright idea of asking to talk to Paul so he could know what he needed to know by then; so I called out and Paul took over the call whilst I went back to the verandah to watch the last of the sun losing it's power as it sank westwards.

Then Paul came out and we started chatting again as he told me more about the life he and Martin had built and how different it was from anything they might have expected - and how content they were with it. That was the word he used, contentment. A nice word from a nice man.

Chapter 6

As day passed into the swift tropical evening and then into night Paul continued to talk. In the midst of it Patrick and Abraham came and sat with us a while and we changed the subject. Patrick sat on my knee and Abraham sat on Paul's and we sought comfort in their young embrace. We talked then of food and my eating there and Paul sent the boys off to find us some supper. When they brought it we ate together, the four of us and then Paul sent the little ones off again to shower and go to bed saying we needed to talk private stuff. They went happily but not before Patrick came for a hug and snuggle then kissed me on the cheek, a gesture I happily returned. Then Abraham gave us both a hug and a kiss.

As they left Paul mentioned something that had struck me as odd in that last moment.

"Did you notice that? It just happened again. Abraham hugged us both but Patrick only hugged you. Don't worry, I'm not jealous or anything, I'm just interested, intrigued. I know Patrick is fond of me, he just doesn't hug me. That is why I asked what you'd been doing to him earlier. You are the first adult that I have EVER seen him hug. Ever, in eight years! Well, when they're here Thomas and Joseph get a hug and hug back but they were only little when it all started.

"The thing is that our Patrick, your Patrick, as he so obviously is now, is an enigma, even after eight years he is still an enigma. I probably said this all earlier but we don't know his original name, we're not even sure if he knows his real birth name. He is just Patrick. We don't know his date of birth or how old he is or where he is from or anything. We know every day of the last eight years but nothing else, nothing of his past. We know he is probably neither Jewish nor Muslim because he isn't circumcised, but then some Muslim groups circumcise at 7 or 8 so we could be way off there too.

"We can make a few deductions, mostly unhappy ones, but we don't know anything!

"The thing you have to understand is that this whole scheme is an accident, totally unplanned, not supposed to be. About ten years ago I was away upcountry doing a consultation like you and Barney want me to do when one day two little boys wandered into the compound. They said they were looking for work so they could buy food. Martin was here and fed them and gave them some work to salve their pride. That was Thomas and Joseph; they were 10 and 8 and had walked here from not far from where you're based. They were very malnourished and in a poor state. Martin took them in temporarily, after our own childhoods he couldn't have turned them away, it just wasn't an option.

"When I came back we discussed it together and agreed we had to do all we could for them. The local orphanages were all full to overflowing and Martin had done a bit of work with them and wasn't impressed with the care they gave. So that meant that these two were the start, the first two boys. We were naïve and had no idea at all what we were letting ourselves in for. When we'd got our second contract out here a few months before we'd taken this place to give us space and peace and quiet - now look at it, wall to wall boys - and if we keep expanding we shall have to rent more land and put up more buildings.

"So anyway, over the next couple of years we had a couple of other kids here short term but nothing much. Thomas and Joseph stayed and became part of our family, our wonderful and gorgeous sons and friends and whatever else. Yes, and I hope this doesn't shock you, but even lovers at times later!

"They'd been here about two years when one day Joseph, who was ten by then, came back from school carrying a little bundle of rags he'd found by the side of the road. It was a boy, a very sick little boy. A very malnourished little boy. He was in a fever and virtually comatose, he wasn't far from death. We bathed him and tried to make him comfortable. Actually Martin and Joseph bathed him and Martin spotted something that he knew all too well, the boy had suffered serious sexual abuse, he had a very well fucked and bruised arse. He didn't say anything to Joseph, of course, but he talked to me about it later.

"We got a doctor to come and have a look and to see if the lad should be in hospital. The doc, a good caring man, didn't think it would make a lot of difference, he honestly didn't expect the boy to live. He prescribed some antibiotics and told us to feed him gentle soups and bread and milk sops and stuff like that - and love him - and hope and pray. He said that we could give at least as good care as any hospital and certainly better TLC.

"It was Martin and Joseph who saved his life, remember Joe was only 10 at the time - and once the boy was conscious poor Joe had to virtually do it all. The boy screamed if a man came near him! That's when Thomas started helping out as well.

"I don't know how Joe kept going; he gave up school for a while and just lived to nurse the boy he decided should be called Patrick. Sometimes Thomas would take over for a while, particularly if the little one was sleeping. As he began to get better, if he was awake he would fret for "his Joseph"! Mind you, it was a long time before he was fully conscious, I can't remember how long, Joe would tell you, but it seems weeks looking back. All that time Joseph slept with the poor little mite and held him whilst he shivered and bathed him when he was feverish. He dripped water into his mouth from a cloth for hours to make sure the boy got enough fluid, he cleaned him up when he peed or shat, he bathed him two or three times a day, he fed him the soups and sops the doctor said. And he loved him. I am convinced he loved him well again. The doctor called every day and was amazed, he couldn't believe it. He thinks Joe's a miracle worker too.

"Not only was it a turning point for Patrick, it was a watershed for Joseph - ever since then he has had an ambition to become a doctor. He has been amazing at school, he has worked so hard that he is going to make it. He's a bright lad and he'll be a good doctor. If he passes his next exams, and he will, he will be off to Darwin to do a pre-med course and if he passes that he will stay on to do the full medical bit. We've already got the funding set up.

"From the moment he could be up and about again Patrick, as he now was, became Joe's shadow. Poor Joe could hardly go to the bathroom without Patrick being there. For a long time they did go together - twice a day Patrick would appear over here with his towel and he and Joe would go into the bathroom and shower together. They would wash each other and then dry each other. It was a ritual. Patrick didn't mind if Thomas was there sometimes but there was no doubt that the felt more comfortable if it was just the two of them, particularly when Thomas hit puberty and started developing - he got a hard on when he was in there with the two of them once and Patrick was terrified and hid behind Joe. More weight to Martin's "theory" there.

"It was funny a couple of years later when Joseph started to grow and change, Patrick didn't react that way at all. He seemed fascinated and he seemed keen to play. Joe was hesitant at first, or so he told us, but when he knew we had no problems with it he relaxed. I think that then he was shocked by how much Patrick knew about sex, far more than the boy six years older!

"For the last few years there has been a gradual lessening of the ties but the least thing that threatens his security and Patrick is back there at Joe's side.

"When Joe decided that he really had to go away to study to be a doctor he had lots of long discussions with Patrick about it, he was amazingly patient. Patrick cried and clung and all sorts but Joe persisted and explained over and over and over again. Patrick didn't want to stop him becoming a doctor but didn't want him to leave. He was terrified about not having his security blanket around any more. It took him a long time to understand that there just aren't any medical colleges here. Then there would be a relapse with more tears and more anguish and angst and anxiety.

"It was Joseph going away that triggered Patrick getting his job. I think it was a self protective thing - if he was losing Joe then he had to become independent and make his own way in the world. I don't think he could see a life without his hero.

"We didn't push him towards working or anything. We'd far rather he stayed here and went to school but he has a very stubborn streak and off he went. One day he was missing for a few hours, no problem as all the boys can come and go as they please, but unusual in his case as he has always been a bit of a home bird. When he came back he said he had a job but could he still sleep here some nights and come and visit? Of course we said yes.

"We know the manager of the Met so have kept in touch over the last few weeks. Patrick has been a really willing worker, extremely helpful and, though friendly and open, didn't really relate to any of the adult male staff and seemed very timid with the customers so he was kept working mainly in the kitchen, where he excelled, and filling in as bell boy and room service at weekends.

"And then, completely out of the blue, he meets you and something happened. Suddenly his world, which threatened to turn upside down, righted itself.

"Have you any idea what you did?"

"No, I don't, I honestly don't. I arrived at the Met and was shown the room. I asked for a few changes and he was so helpful. He really went out of his way to make sure everything was right for me. And, like I said before, he was immediately affectionate; I just thought it was how he was. What you tell me about him not liking or trusting men just amazes me. It isn't how he came across at all!"

"I don't know, perhaps it's your pheromones or something. Perhaps we'll never know, and I sure as hell ain't asking! This is too good to pass up, the fact that Patrick has found a man he trusts is just so amazing. If we ask him about it then you may just vanish in a puff of smoke! We can't afford to take that risk."

We sat there quietly for a while in the dark. I remembered something from a few days ago so broke the silence.

"What is it with him and the docks? I mentioned them and he clammed up, just said he didn't go there."

"He won't go there, he won't go near. He'll go as far as the park but he won't go in the dock area at all. It's not even as if he was found down there, when Joseph found him it was the other way, up by the school, just in one of the lanes between there and the market. Martin had a fancy theory of the abuse happening down there, Patrick being sold to some sailors for the night or something - we know it could well be true; some others of our lads have been renting down there before they come to us. Some start, or are started, really young too. Much though we would like to, there is nothing we can do about that so we rescue those that come to us and those that we can accommodate - we have our hands full and we really can't take on the world - and the underworld as well. We have our recruiters, foremost amongst them being Patrick who goes down to the park and chats with the boys and brings some of them here. It's strange, or is it? He sort of trusts us yet he doesn't trust us.

"And then you come along and turn his world upside down for him and none of us knows how! All I know is that it's good."

Paul was silent again for a few minutes. When he spoke again it was a new subject and lots of feeling.

"God but I'm tired! Do you want another coffee?"

"No thanks, if I do I won't sleep all night. I think I'd better be going."

"You can stay if you want, we have a couple of guest rooms and they're all made up clean. I'm sure you don't want to go walking through town at his time of night."

I didn't need much persuading. I was dead on my feet. I glanced at my watch.

"Good grief, it's midnight!"

"I know, sorry, I've talked a bit too much tonight. What do you say, will you stay?"

"If you're sure you don't mind, I'd love to. If I try and walk back I don't think I'd make it, I'd end up curled up in the street somewhere!"

"C'mon then, follow me."

And I did, to a small, comfortable room with attached bathroom at the back of the building. He showed me in and left me. He said he'd see me in the morning but there was no rush to be up and about. He said this was the quieter side of the compound away from the dorms where the boys slept. I knew I needed a shower but I couldn't face it so I got undressed, washed my face and got into bed.

I remembered no more. I don't think I dreamt. I don't think I even dreamt of Patrick!

I woke up to him, though. I was getting used to this. It was full daylight when I was wakened by a gentle tap on the door then my bright and smiling boy put his head round the door to check I was awake before walking in with a little tray of coffee.

He put the tray down on the bedside table and poured me a cup. All without speaking a word. We looked at one another, though. And we both smiled a lot. I shifted over a little in the bed so he hopped up beside me. He was barefoot so there was no need to kick off any shoes first. As he snuggled beside me my arm just automatically went round his shoulders so he could snuggle even better, then I bent down and planted a little kiss on his forehead.

"Mr Carl?"

"Yes Patrick."

"I've got to go into work soon, erm, so do you want me to bring your bags back here tonight when I come home?"

"Ummm, I didn't know I was staying here."

"Oh, I think you should stay here, it's ever so much nicer than the hotel - and it means that I can see you more. I can't see you much there when I'm at work but if you're here I can see you all the time when I'm not working."

"Oh," I said but I couldn't fault his logic. "But what will Paul say about it?"

"He thinks it's a good idea. I've already talked to him about it. He says your friend Mr Barney can have the other guest room on Thursday night when he is here that way you can talk late if you need to about the hydrogen thingy."

"Hydrogen? Not, it's hydroelectric. Making electricity from water power."

"Oh. Okay. But shall I bring your bags?"

"Hang on, let me get dressed and I'll come and talk to Paul about it."

"Okay, but I've got to go soon."

As usual with Patrick sitting beside me on the bed the sheet was getting tented, but like the day before I was beyond shame. I jumped out of bed, scooped a delightful bundle of boy into my arms, kissed him soundly on the cheek, put him down on his feet and patted his bottom for him.

"Scoot, give me five minutes and I'll be out there. If you're going to be late I'll take you into town in a tuk-tuk."

He giggled and scooted whilst I hustled into the bathroom and had the quickest morning ablutions I'd had in years. It was about seven minutes later when I emerged into a glorious morning made more glorious by my bodyguard sitting on the steps to my room. Another beaming smile then we walked hand in hand round the building to where Paul was sitting on the verandah surrounded by complex looking drawings and papers obviously related to power generation.

He put down his calculator and looked up and smiled.

"Good morning, did you sleep well?"

"Great thanks, I don't remember a thing!"

"And did Patrick leave you to sleep long enough, he has been anxious to come and see you for a couple of hours!"

"Just long enough, I think." I glanced down at my young companion. "And he woke me with a cup of coffee which excuses many things in my mind!"

"Has he mentioned his cunning plan to spend more time with you?"

"I told him," said Patrick, "but he wants to check with you first. And anyway it was your idea!"

"Oh, so it was! Yes, well it seems to make a lot more sense for you to stay here then Patrick can make sure you're looked after properly, can't you Patrick?"

Patrick squirmed and, had his skin been lighter, would I think have been seen to blush.

"Sorry, Patrick," said Paul. "Seriously Carl it makes loads of sense particularly if we're having a meeting tomorrow night. Barney can stay here too, it's more comfortable than the hotel and we can get to chat more. And anyway, I thought we might get a chance for more of a chat if you were here, I can always leave some of this stuff for later. What d'you say?"

"That's very kind, I'd love to. I'm not very good at holidays so it'd be nice to have someone to talk to."

"Great, that's settled. Patrick, you've won the lottery, Mr Carl is staying! Just bring his bags back tonight - get a tuk-tuk and don't try to walk with them. Understood?"

"Yes Mr Paul."

"Great. Have you paid in advance, Carl?"

"No, I suppose I owe for three nights now." I turned to Patrick. "I'll come in with you and settle the bill then bring back my bags. How about that?"

"If you want to, Mr Carl or I can pay the bill for you."

I had a millisecond of hesitation then said "Okay." I took out my wallet and handed him more than enough money to pay the bill and get a ride both ways.

"There you are, now go and get a tuk-tuk or you'll be late."

He pulled me down to his level and kissed my cheek then ran off out of the compound shouting "See you later!"

I watched him go and waved after him as he turned into the road then I took the chair next to Paul.

"Thanks," he said.

"What for?"

"For trusting him."

"I thought about not doing it, but I thought it'd be good to try it. I don't think he'll rob me."

"I'm sure he won't. He'll bring you your change and the receipt from the hotel and he'll explain every cent as well as haggling like mad for the cheapest deal with the driver!"

I smiled and Paul smiled back. I could just imagine Patrick giving the driver hell if he thought he was being overcharged!

Some boys were crossing the compound so Paul called to one of them to go and ask cook for some toast for me. Then he turned back to me.

"So who are you, Mr Carl Sanders and what on earth brings you to the back of beyond like this?"

It wasn't said in an unkind or even a pushy way. It was one friend asking another friend a question. So I told him. I told him the whole sorry tale. I talked for ages. I talked through mouthfuls of toast and sips of coffee; I talked through a whole new pot of coffee. I talked even more frankly than I'd talked to Barney. There was something about this warm-hearted cheerful redhead who had wept so openly in front of me yesterday that just opened me up and allowed me to pour it all out.

I wept too, I didn't notice it at first but I did. And it was a different weeping from in the park; this was calmer and less self-pitying. I wept because it was sad, not because it was tragic. He held my hand for a while there, just gently to let me know I wasn't alone.

The whole time I spoke Paul didn't interrupt me. He nodded, he made little grunts of understanding but he just let me speak. I told him all of it, except the sex stuff. I couldn't share that with him. I'd sort of promised myself that I'd share that with Barney first, I knew I was chickening out but I reckoned I'd given him enough to be going on with.

When I ran out of steam and out of tears and out of words we sat quietly for a few minutes and then the lunch bell went so we went and sat with the kids and ate with them - a sure-fire way to cheer anyone up!

When we'd all eaten Paul and I helped clear up before going back to the verandah. The cook had already put a tray of tea ready for us. We had a little bit more silence then Paul broke it.

"A teacher, huh? I think I might be able to reduce my fee for the hydel project if we can do a trade." He was smiling at me as he said it.

"What sort of trade?"

"We need advice, do we ever need advice! About the schooling thing, I mean. You know the score; some of the kids go to mainstream school and some get schooling here to bring them up to speed. We try to give them some life skills as well - cookery and that sort of stuff - your Patrick is a wizard cook by the way - I mean really good!"

"I know, he made me an omelette the other day, it was excellent!"

"If our cook has a day off we have a 12 year old running the kitchen! Oh, Marts or I go in and pretend to supervise but normally end up doing prep for the little maestro!

"Anyway, back to the point - we need help with curriculum planning and all sorts. We need help around presentation skills as well for the volunteers. The whole education side is a patchwork, it's been cobbled together as and when and has no real coordination. You give me some pointers and I'll help you and Barney out with the hydel scheme. What do you say?"

I grinned and held out my hand.

"I'd say you just got yourself a deal."

We shook and then I told him the few things I had thought of yesterday. He was bright this guy and knew immediately what I was getting at. We wandered over to the schoolroom and I carried on talking - I was enthused, this was something I could do! My textbooks were back in Britain and unopened for fifteen years but like I said I have excellent recall. I didn't want to be too critical as they were doing pretty well but I just knew it could be done better.

After a while we went back to the verandah and I asked for some paper - he gave me a sketching pad and I drew up a few possible new physical arrangements for him then started doing some lists of possible changes.

We got so engrossed in it all that the afternoon flew by and soon the soccer games were happening and kids were milling around and the ones who went to outside schools were sitting doing homework and still Paul and I talked and planned.

Eventually Abraham plonked himself down on Paul's lap and asked what we were doing.

"Well, we're stopping, it's too late and we've worked too hard so Mr Carl and I are going to tickle you instead!" And he grabbed the little waist in his hands and tickled the poor boy until he was screaming for mercy. He stopped and went to hand Abraham over to me.

"Your turn now, Carl."

Abraham was saved by the supper bell. Paul put him down and he scampered off to wash before eating.

"C'mon, teacher man, let's go eat with the kids. Patrick won't be home for another hour or so and I'm already hungry.

So we did.

Chapter 7

"So what are your plans for the future?"

"I don't have any. Except that I suppose I do, my plans are really to stay where I am for the moment, for the foreseeable future. I love the country, I love the people I work with, and I even sort of love my job so I plan to stay as long as they'll let me."

"So where does Patrick fit in with all this?"

I felt myself flushing again.

"I, I, I don't know what you mean."

"Look Carl, I'm not daft, I've seen the way the two of you look at one another. You can't just abandon him; it would be devastating for him. You've got to at least keep in touch. He adores you, surely you see that?"

"I know, he's a great boy and I'm already very fond of him, but I don't know what I can do. My life is up there in the hills and he needs his schooling and the group here. I can come and visit but I don't know what I can do beyond that."

It was Thursday mid-morning and Paul and I were back on the verandah with coffee and toast. I had slept in a bit on purpose; well, I was on holiday so why not? Patrick had crept into my room late last night, just back from work to give me my bags and for a quick kiss and cuddle - as usual he had clambered on to the bed and snuggled in at my side. He had put his arms round me and given me a hug in the process.

"Hi, Mr Carl, I'm sorry I'm a bit late."

"That's okay, love, you know I'm glad to see you any time."

"I'll have to leave early in the morning, too, as I am on duty at six. I'll be back in the afternoon though - and Mr Martin should be back tomorrow, too."

"Yikes, that's really early, you'd better go and get some sleep."

He looked up at me and yawned massively, we both giggled at that.

"I normally stay there when I'm on a late then an early but I'd promised to bring your bags and I missed you so I wanted to see you before I went to bed."

"Thanks, Patrick, I missed you too - I'm really pleased that you came to see me and thanks for bringing my bags, too. They could have waited 'til tomorrow you know."

"I know, but if I was coming I thought I'd better have your bags then I had a reason to come and see you when I got here." Another big yawn, it was catching as I joined in this time. I so wanted him to crawl under the covers and sleep with me but thought it might be pushing Paul's hospitality a bit far so I woke him up, kissed him firmly on the forehead and told him to scoot off to bed.

He looked up at me sleepily, brought his right hand up to my cheek. "Okay" and kissed me gently on the cheek. Then he dropped on to the floor pulled some money and some papers out of his pocket "Your change, Mr Carl."

"Thanks sweetheart."

"Goodnight Mr Carl, see you tomorrow."

"Goodnight Patrick, sleep well."

He waved and stumbled off to bed.

Now here I was and Paul was quite calmly discussing my involvement with Patrick in terms that sounded approving and as if he wanted to do everything to keep it going. It was obvious to me that, thank God, Paul was no mind reader - I knew that if he knew where my thoughts sometimes went with Patrick he would have had me out of there so fast my feet wouldn't have touched the ground.

"Carl, I don't want to be pushy, but there's loads you could do for him. I'm not trying to con you or anything but you could sponsor him, pay for his schooling and his clothes and so on. A few of our lads are sponsored, mainly from folks back in UK but sponsoring him from here would work just as well - it really helps us financially as we can then spend more generously on the unsponsored ones - money is always tight here, this place takes most of our joint incomes as well as any outside funding or whatever that we can get. Plus, you know you're welcome to visit here any time you want, but could he visit you there sometimes, too?"

"Well, I reckon I could do something like that but . . . erm . . . I'm so unsure about all this, it's all a bit sudden!"

"I know, and I'm probably pushing far too hard but you've triggered such a change in such a short time that I'm terrified that if you drop out of his life he's going to revert back to how he used to be, and it would break my heart! It might well break his heart, too."

He turned and looked at me full in the face and this lovely man that I had known less than 48 hours had tears glistening in his eyes again.

"I love him, Carl. I love all of them, every last one, but Patrick is very special to me and I'd hate to see him go back to how he was even a few days ago. Please think about it. Please!"

"I love him, too Paul. I've known him just a few days and he has really captivated me - but I'm so confused about how I feel. I'm . . . I don't know what I am! I'm just so fucking confused! I'm really looking forward to Barney coming down here so I can talk to him. No disrespect to you but I know Barney a bit better, he knows me a bit better and we've already shared a bit of our lives. I really need to talk some of this out with him tonight or tomorrow."

"It's okay, I understand. I'm sorry to push. I'll shut up now - shall I go and get some more coffee?"

"That would be great, thanks."

"Coming up."

When he came back we kept the conversation light and ended up talking some more about the ideas I had for improving the education side of things there. The conversation went calmly until it was time for me to leave.

I had planned a late snack lunch with Barney after his train got in. As I had time I decided to walk into town then, just in case it was going to be on time, I kept a lookout from the roof terrace coffee bar of one of the other hotels opposite the station.

No, not in case it was on time, as I didn't bother going up there until 30 minutes after it was due. I was on my second tea, and halfway through an old crossword when I saw it approaching in the distance. Not bad, only an hour and quarter late. I finished my tea and sauntered down and across the square and into the station.

Railway stations across the globe are always wonderfully chaotic, and this is particularly true in the tropics. None of the reserves of the Westerner displayed here! I love it; it is so unlike how things had to be for me when I was growing up!

There, in the midst of it all, was Barney, the man I had known so short a time but who was already one of my closest friends. In the realisation of the "new" me I really wanted to hug him but wasn't at all sure that it would be acceptable. We settled for a warm handshake and held it for a beat longer than we would normally. He only had a light bag so there was no need to help with luggage or anything.

"The Metropole?" he enquired.

"No, we're staying out with Paul, and Martin might be back today as well."

"You mean at the Project?"

"Yeah, they have a couple of nice guest rooms, they insisted - or rather Paul did."

"Oh, okay . . ."

He was cut short by a human cannonball hitting me in the stomach. A cute human cannonball who rushed up on our blind side and threw his arms round me. He held on and gazed up at me with that adorable, adoring expression in his eyes

"Hi, Mr Carl! Is this Mr Barney?"

"Yes, Patrick, this is Mr Barney."

My little friend immediately offered his hand, which Barney shook fondly whilst I made the introductions. I thought I noticed Barney give me a funny look as well but I ignored it. I wanted to talk to him about it all later anyway; I was hoping he would be able to help me clarify my thoughts, even if the thought of saying some of them out loud scared me shitless!

After the introductions Patrick grabbed my hand and walked along with us out of the station telling me that he had been over on an errand for the manager of the Metropole when he saw us. I got the impression he might have timed the execution of the errand deliberately to coincide but didn't ask the question. I hadn't seen him all morning so was just delighted to see him and be with him and walk along holding his hand in mine.

He walked with us as far as the tuk-tuk stand then ceremoniously shook Barney's hand again before giving me another breathtaking hug, flashing his trademark smile and telling us that he'd see us "at home" later. Then he disappeared into the crowd and across the road back to work.

"WOW!" this was from Barney. "What an amazing little bundle of joy. Where did you find him?"

"He works at the Metropole, he's new there."

"He's their one boy welcoming committee, is he?"

I laughed, it helped to relieve a little of the tension. I then bustled us into a tuk-tuk and got the driver to take us to the park so we could buy a snack opposite and then sit and chat before going back.

Silences with Barney on the verandah of that bungalow had been companionable and friendly, that was only a week ago even if it seemed like a lifetime! Even though the noise and the fear of the ride kept us quiet this silence felt awkward to me. And Barney kept giving me sidelong glances and smiling quietly to himself, when he wasn't gritting his teeth at the hazards of the journey.

[Only those who have been to southern and south-east Asia and travelled by tuk-tuk will understand the fear that such a journey can sometimes entail. Those who haven't done it can never, ever come close to understanding!]

Our lunch in the place opposite the park was a bit awkward. It wasn't really fill-me-with-dread sort of awkward but there was obviously unspoken stuff between us. I tried to ask about things up in the hills but Barney wouldn't be drawn: "Not telling you, you're on holiday," was his response.

We carried on eating the snacks we'd bought.

More silence as we looked out over the road and park and water.

Then: "Sarah's leaving."


"Don't worry, I didn't drive her out. Her husband came back."

"What?" (Note my extensive vocabulary!)

"Seriously he re-appeared. Have you ever met him?"

"Never, he left long before I got there. What happened?"

"Lunchtime, day before yesterday, no the day before that, no yester . . . shit, it doesn't matter when. Anyway I decided to eat on the verandah, might as well enjoy the view if not the food, and she had just served me when she looked up and there was this guy walking up the path towards the bungalow. She put everything down and just flew down those steps - she stopped just short of him. They stood and looked at one another for a few moments then they were in a clinch.

"My God, I can't see why anyone would find her attractive but there you are! I guess he didn't marry her for her cooking! They walked back up hand in hand and she introduced him as 'my husband', didn't give me name."

"I've never known it either. Everyone just says 'Sarah's husband.' Go on, what happened then?"

"She asked, ever so politely, if he could stay there in her room for a few nights. I couldn't see any reason why not so I said yes. They disappeared inside and I finished my lunch and went back to the plant.

"Dinner that night was a lot better than usual, almost palatable. She cleared up afterwards and asked if I needed anything. I said no and just took my bottle out on to the verandah.

"Then the animal noises started from her bedroom. I mean the sort of noises I didn't think people made any more. They went at it for hours! I ended up going to my room and playing some Schubert over my headphones. That didn't work, too quiet, so I swapped to Lynyrd Skynyrd!

"In the morning she was all smiles. I saw him go off to chat with some of the men during the day and then at night, last night, it was another concert. This morning she was up early to make me some breakfast and just as I was leaving she said she was giving notice and would be finishing next week! Her husband has asked her to go to the capital with her, he's got a job and a room lined up and she's going! I tried to act like I was sorry, I couldn't tell her that it was the best going away present she could give me.

"So, we'll need a new cook and cleaner - main qualification, better than the last one! Shouldn't be too difficult a vacancy to fill!"

We laughed together and that broke the tension a bit. But it was still there - and Barney still gave me funny sideways looks and smiled. Still it was a more companionable silence than earlier. We threw our wrappers in the rubbish bin and headed out for The Project - we decided the walk would do us good, neither of us could face another tuk-tuk ride so soon!

During the walk I told Barney something about The Project; it seemed a nice safe subject. I told him a little of what Paul had told me about its origins and a little about the two men who ran it. He worked out immediately that they were gay and didn't seem fazed by it in the least, which was a great relief to me.

I talked a little about what Paul had said about the hydel stuff but as I didn't really understand it that one soon petered out as a topic. Still we walked on and found little things to chat about. It wasn't that awful, in fact I think it was more uncomfortable for me than for him. Happily it didn't take us long. We were soon getting close.

Chapter 8

When we got to The Project all was quiet. There were low murmurs coming from the schoolrooms and no sign of Paul.

The quiet was short-lived. Abraham was looking out for us and soon came dashing out of the schoolroom and leapt into my arms. I had no choice but to catch him. His arms went round my neck and I gave him a hug. He kissed me on the cheek and then struggled for me to put him down. He put his hand out very formally to Barney and I did the introductions. Barney was a star, he took the little hand and shook and held it a moment. He looked Abraham right in the eye and told him how pleased he was to meet him.

"Mr Paul has had to go into town so he asked me to get you some coffee. Would you like that?"

"Yes, Abraham," said Barney, "I think we'd both like that, but could we have tea instead?"


He led us up on to the verandah and got us comfortable before heading off to the kitchen to rustle up tea and biscuits. As we waited I pointed out the various buildings to Barney. I was a bit shocked then amused to see him adjusting himself in his trousers.

Abraham came back and served us carefully, only spilling a modicum of tea in the saucers. He hovered around as we drank it, shifting from foot to foot. I half expected him to plonk himself on my lap but he didn't. When we'd finished he grabbed a biscuit then asked Barney if he wanted to see round the place. Barney said he'd like that and Abraham, whilst not excluding me, sort of made it plain that I was expected to stay and rest as I'd seen it all before.

Abraham grabbed Barney's bag and said; "I'll show you your room first."

And off they went.

I sat and pondered for a minute or two then picked the book up from the coffee table that I'd been scanning the day before and settled back into Victorian London and the activities of Sally Lockhart, Frederick Garland and their chums.

I'd read a couple of chapters when suddenly from behind me:


It had a similar effect to Patrick creeping up on me in the park. I orbited the planet a couple of times then ended back in my seat on the verandah. Paul, obviously back from town, was falling about laughing and my heart was racing nineteen to the dozen.

"Don't do that!" I stood up smiling.

"If you could only see your face!!"

He smiled and gave me a hug - I liked that. He hadn't done it before but it confirmed my belief that we were becoming friends.

"Has Barney arrived?"

"Yeah, Abraham's showing him around somewhere. They've been gone awhile."

"Oh, have they?" And he gave a little smile. Then, "Do you want some more tea?"

"Yeah, that would be great, thanks."

"I'll bring a pot."

He went and came back soon with a tray with all the makings and we chatted a few moments before Abraham appeared dragging Barney behind him. When he saw Paul he rushed forward pulling Barney behind him then, letting go threw his arms round Paul's neck and gave him a hug. Abraham then performed the introductions and my two friends shook hands. I immediately knew that they would be friends too. Barney settled back into his chair and Abraham immediately scrambled into his lap and put his arms round his neck. Barney snaked an arm round the little waist and held him close.

As we chatted I noticed Barney seemed to be having a problem in his trousers again. Abraham saw him adjusting it and smiled at him and gave his neck a little squeeze. I knew Paul must have noticed, I couldn't look across at him, I felt like dying and wishing the earth would swallow me whole but Paul just kept on chatting as if nothing had happened. Perhaps all his guests sat with boys on their knees and erections in their pants!

After awhile a roar of noise announced the boys emerging from their classrooms. Paul produced a soccer ball out of his shopping and tossed it to Abraham who let go of Barney's neck to catch it.

"You go play with the boys, we have business to talk."

"Okay, Mr Paul."

He leant forward and kissed Barney on the cheek and ran off to join the others. Barney crossed his legs and tried to hide the evidence so plainly showing in his trousers. Paul smiled across at him and immediately changed the subject to the hydel project. Barney had brought maps and sketches and estimates and all sorts so soon we were deep in a discussion of technical stuff generally way above my head but I was called upon to give rough comparisons between dry season and wet season water flow. We talked of power requirements and all sorts. In the end, after an hour or two, just as dusk was falling we were rescued by the arrival of a tuk-tuk. Paul stood up as a taller dark haired man got out. He paid off the driver who drove away. He stepped up on to the verandah and into Paul's arms. They hugged and kissed one another gently on the lips. Barney and I both stood and Paul introduced us to Martin, his partner.

He had just done that when a horde of boys arrived and demanded hugs and kisses. Martin spoke to each of them by name and patted cheeks and hugged and kissed until they had all been greeted. Abraham, having had his hug went back to Barney's knee. The other boys drifted off for a wash before supper but Abraham stayed for a while snuggled in. Martin was just about to go in for a shower when Patrick, MY Patrick, came sprinting across the compound to shake hands with the other three then snuggle on to my knee. Martin looked at Patrick and me, looked at Paul then looked back at us.

"I'll tell you later, love. It's a long story! You go and shower then we'll eat."

"Okay," said Martin still looking unbelievingly at Patrick at ease on a man's knee.

As he left a little voice whispered in my ear:

"Mr Carl, I got Miguel to come with me as far as the gate but he's scared to come in - will you come with me and Abraham and talk to him? He knows you and he liked you the other night 'cos you were so kind to him - with you there he might come in and stay."

"Okay," I whispered back, "but are you going to tell Mr Paul first?"

The look he gave me was amazing, as if I was some sort of simpleton.

"Of course, I was just asking you first!"

He turned to Paul:

"Mr Paul, Miguel is at the gate but he's frightened to come in so I'm going to take Mr Carl and Abraham and we'll see if we can persuade him."

Paul was obviously used to this imperious manner and just said "Okay." At the royal command Abraham slid off Barney's lap to join the recce party. Barney looked at me so I just shrugged and followed in the wake of the expedition leader. Abraham fell in beside me and held my hand. Patrick was a few metres ahead. Every so often he gave a little skip as he walked then looked round at us and grinned.

Miguel was sitting at the roadside about 150 metres from the gate - obviously far enough away in his mind for him to make a run for it if he felt threatened. He was sitting hunched up with his arms around his knees.

When we got up to him Patrick sat down beside him and waved at me to do the same. I sat the other side of Miguel but not too close, I didn't want him to feel hemmed in.

"Miguel, you know Mr Carl."

"Hi Mr Carl."

"Hi Miguel." I put my hand out and he shook it.

"And this is my friend Abraham that I told you about."

"Hi Miguel, are you gonna come and join us?"

"I don't know; I'm really scared." With that tears started spilling down his cheeks. I was about to speak but "The Boss" caught my eye and silently told me not to. I obeyed.

"It will be supper time soon. There will be rice and fish and vegetables. Cook's really good, you'll like it."

Abraham decided to chime in from the other side of me: "If you don't like it you can leave. There are no locks, honest."

"But what if the other boys don't like me, or what if the big boys pick on me?"

"I'll look after you, and when I'm at work, Abraham will look after you instead."

"Yes, I will, I promise I will."

"Do you think I'll like it, Mr Carl?"

"I think so, Miguel. Paul is a really nice man. I only met Martin today but he seems nice as well. All the boys seem very happy to me and I haven't seen any bullying yet."

We all sat there in silence for a while then suddenly little Miguel's stomach gave a loud rumble. It broke the ice a bit and we all laughed.

"The food's really good," I said.

Whilst Miguel was smiling at me Patrick signalled from the other side that it was time to go. He was so patently in charge that I got up and just put out my hand to Miguel. He took it, Patrick took his other hand and Abraham took my other hand and the four of us walked back to the gate. Patrick, being wise beyond his years, didn't head back to the bungalow but, dismissing me, took Miguel and Abraham off to meet the other lads.

I walked back to join the others. As I walked up Martin, now changed and still damp from his shower, asked me how it went so I gave them a quick rundown. Before I finished the supper bell rang. Paul went off to supervise the boys saying we'd be eating in half an hour in the bungalow so we had plenty of time to get ourselves ready.

"Don't bother with dinner jackets," he quipped, "you'll be fine as you are."

"Prissy queen!" shouted Martin after him. I was a bit embarrassed at that but Barney just roared with laughter. Paul just turned round and in the dusk blew his partner a kiss.

Supper was just the four of us and was a cheerful, chatty meal. Martin told the story of his stay in the capital and of being shunted from office to office in the usual bureaucratic maze until he bumped into a vague acquaintance from his first contract over here. The guy was mildly helpful and gave him a personal introduction to some sort of permanent under-secretary - a sort of chief assistant to the assistant chief. This man was sympathetic on the surface but was making the classic "I'd like to help but my hands are tied" sounds so Martin suggested he could come and visit. This idea was obviously pretty shocking! So Martin then suggested that as he and Paul might have to leave the country if they couldn't find more funding perhaps they could bring the kids to the capital and leave them in the under-secretary's office, where he was sure they would be well looked after. This suggestion went down like a lead balloon but he promised to pass the papers up the chain of command with a sympathetic note attached. By the time he had got so far with his tale we were sitting nursing cups of tea.

"So," he concluded. "what's been happening here - and who are you guys?"

He smiled as he said it. He was a friendly man, just like Paul.

"We're planters from up in the hills. I came down on furlough, well, a short break and was looking for this engineer guy and my search led me here. No, it didn't really. I was staying at the Metropole and Patrick led me here. I chatted to Paul then he suggested we get Barney down, he's the technical guy not me. He came down today just for the night so here we are."

"Great. And is it working out?"

"Well," said Paul, "it looks promising but I'll have to go and look - and I'm waiving at least part of my fee, too."

"Oh, and why, my love, is this?" The smile was there again.

"Carl is a teacher!"

"Woo hoo!" He turned to me. "You're even more welcome!"

"I've never really been a teacher, but I did qualify as one an age ago."

"Yes," said Paul, "but you've already given me some ideas how things could change."

"I have but you already have such a huge advantage, at least your boys are all desperate to learn!"

Martin leapt in: "Yes, and that is exactly why they deserve the best we can possibly give them."

Paul put his hand over Martin's on the table. "Calm down, love, we're all on the same side here. Carl has given us some ideas and will be giving us more. I'm thinking of appointing him our honorary education consultant." This was accompanied by a broad wink at me.

"In which case he deserves the discount on your fee!" He yawned massively. "I'm sorry, it's been a tiring few days. I'm off to bed, are you coming Paul?"

"No, but I will be in a minute!" Then "Oops, sorry guys!"

They got up. Paul looked down at us. "I know you guys have stuff to talk about, and so do we. We'll see you in the morning - are you on the early train tomorrow or the late one, Barney?"

"The early one I guess, I need to get back."

"Okay, we'll give you a call and get you on your way. Goodnight."

"Goodnight" from both of us.

Martin and Paul turned and headed hand in hand to their room. They made a nice couple. As they got to the door Paul turned back to us. "I told those two you had stuff to talk about tonight. I think they'll leave you alone, they'll be asleep in the dorms by now."

Chapter 9

Barney turned to me after they left. "They're nice folks, I'm so glad to get to meet them. So what's all this stuff we have to talk about?"

I didn't know what to say, how to start.

"I don't know. Well, I do know but I'm so confused. I don't know what to say or how to say it. There's loads of stuff I want to say but I just don't know if I can!"

There was silence for a while and I felt my eyes fill up again. Barney looked across at me, he stood up and put his hand on my shoulder. "C'mon Carl, let's go on to the verandah; it's darker out there, it'll be easier."

I got up and followed him. We took the tray of tea with us and put it on a table between two of the cane chairs. We were still close enough to hear one another if we spoke barely above a whisper, it was still just light enough, with the lights from the compound that we could see one another dimly. It was strange but the silence did seem more companionable out there, the kids must all have been in bed. We sat quietly for a while and then Carl started.

"I know I've told you lots about my life, but I haven't told you all, not at all. I'm not going to tell you everything now either but I'll tell you a little bit - and then you can tell me a bit about you - or I can do it for you, if you like."

I looked across at him and he was smiling.

"We're more alike than you realise, I think. Although you might realise it by now."

He sighed deeply.

"I wasn't a very good husband, you know. Oh, I married Helen because I loved her, I still love her. We'd been friends for years, since we were at school and I think it was sort of expected. She was great fun, wonderful company, great cook, good looking, bright, very popular. We were two kids who made it out of the working class ghetto. We got invited to lots of parties, everybody was jealous of the great relationship we had. So we got married.

"We'd had a bit of sex before we got married but we weren't shagging all the time like some folks. We had more on the honeymoon, enough for me but not as much as I'd thought we'd have. Does that make sense? Not that sense matters much where love is concerned! We went to Crete and were in a remote place on the south coast, it was very beautiful and very romantic. We both enjoyed our time there, it was just that the sex was a disappointment to me, and to her as I found out later. The earth didn't move for either of us, really.

"Within a month or two of us getting back Helen missed her period and we discovered she was pregnant. She was terrified and delighted at the same time. She's an educational psychologist so she had good benefits in terms of maternity leave and so on. She worked as long as she could and only gave up a month before Mark was born. We had no sex from the day she found out she was pregnant, she didn't want it and neither did I, really. I still jerked off a lot but I didn't want to have sex with her.

"We haven't had sex since, either."

He looked over at me in the gloom and smiled. "That really is fine by both of us, you know. We both made some discoveries in those months.

"I'd fooled around a lot with other lads at school - just adolescent hormones is how I put it to myself at the time. We were all horny toads and needed to get off. Quite often I was jerking off with younger lads, 12 or 13 year olds when I was 15 or 16. When I was jerking off alone in my marriage it was those images I was going back to all the time. And they were such hot images. It took me an age to realise that this wasn't just nostalgia.

"I was 25 and a junior whatever with the company and one summer's day I was sent to a big conference hotel to help with a presentation. We were there a couple of days and had the use of all the facilities in the evening. Bournemouth in summer is full of families and this hotel seemed full of boys. It was there I met my Tadzio - not that I ever met him."

"Tadzio," I said. "Was that his name?"

"What? Oh, no sorry - just a character from a book, Death in Venice, Thomas Mann. Don't you know it?"

"No, sorry."

"Okay, well there I saw this beautiful boy, probably 11 or 12 - I've always thought of him as Tadzio as I've never known his name. This gorgeous and totally unobtainable boy. I was captivated by him, spellbound. I watched him eat his breakfast in the dining room - he could make eating toast look so sexy! I watched him at lunch and at dinner - and mostly I watched him in the pool. He wore this really skimpy costume, bright yellow speedo.

"And all the time I watched him I was hard. Harder than I'd ever been with Helen!

"I was back to being like I was at 14 and was jerking off 4 or 5 times a day. I couldn't get him out of my mind."

He stopped and paused in silence for a while.

"Am I shocking you?"

"No, Barney, not at all - you're just giving me loads to think about!"

"It was a rough patch; I was infatuated with him and knew that it was all morally awful! I loved him, or at least I lusted after him, and loathed myself for doing it and I couldn't stop, didn't want to stop, stopping was nowhere in the equation!

"The conference ended, we packed up. I paid out of my own pocket for an extra night, far more than I could really afford, just to watch him again. In the morning I had to leave long before he was up to get to work on time but it worth it to watch him again for afar at dinner one last night when I wasn't surrounded by colleagues. I knew then that I was a boy lover, except in those days of self-loathing I called myself a pederast.

"When I got home I told Helen that I needed to get fit so I started going to the local pool on a regular basis, I got fit and I also got to watch boys. I never touched, I just watched. It was enough. And they were all so beautiful.

"As I said, I loved Helen and still do, and I knew I couldn't go on like this, I knew I was being dishonest with her. I stayed with her all through the pregnancy and was delighted with Mark when he was born. We got closer again but we still didn't have sex, it was clear that neither of us wanted it.

"When she went back to work she was in a job-share with the woman who had been covering her post part-time but they'd hardly met before then. It's ironic in a way but they're bringing up Mark together now, they've been together ever since! I don't think Mark will suffer from being brought up by two lesbians, they're both wonderful people.

"The divorce was amicable and everything was sorted long before it went to court. They have joint custody and I have visiting rights. I keep in touch with my son by letter and e-mail. He's nearly 9, or is it nearly 10? Nearly 9.

"I asked for a posting overseas and got sent here eventually, via a spell in Malaysia. I was hoping for Thailand but I only managed to get there on holiday. Before I got to first base there I decided that commercial sex just isn't for me. I loved the boys I was offered but it all seemed so seedy somehow, so exploitive - I don't think I am made for sex for its own sake. I was resigned to a life of celibacy and my old dreams until you called me down here and I met Abraham - he's a very forward young man!"

I looked up at him open-mouthed.

"So you already have? I thought you might have done this afternoon but wasn't sure."

"He practically raped me when he showed me my room, he says he knew but I can't for the life of me see how. We haven't done much, just kissed and fondled a bit but he is certainly keen."

He paused again and the companionable silence engulfed us again. After a couple of minutes Barney broke it again.

"So what of you, Carl, or shall I tell you?"

"I'm so gobsmacked I think you'd better tell me - and I'll tell you when you're wrong!"

"I was confused about you when we first met. I liked you right off and soon those late night chats on the verandah made me feel really close to you. You listened to me and I listened to you and we told each other some pretty deep stuff. I told you I'd been married, I told you I had a son but you never mentioned anything to do with a relationship or about sex or anything like that at all. I just sort of assumed you were asexual . . ."

"I am, I was." I interrupted.

"Yeah, well, then I came down here and within a minute you had Patrick crawling all over you at the station and I saw the look in your eye, and I saw the look in his eye - and for both of you it was love if ever I saw it. I reckoned then that we were kindred spirits. So tell me, how close am I?"

"Pretty close, I think. I didn't know I was a boy lover until this week. I used to jerk off occasionally but to very fuzzy images. I've never had sex with anyone in my life, never even been close to it! It was only after I met Patrick that I realised anything about this.

"I love him, Carl, but I'm lost! I could never do anything to hurt him. If I want sex with anyone I want it with him, but I don't want sex with him 'cos it'd be wrong. He'd been terribly abused when he was younger, if we were to have sex it would just be the abuse all over again!"

"No! No, it wouldn't, not if he wants it too! If he chooses it, if he offers it freely then it wouldn't be abuse, it might even be liberating for him - can't you see that? If you let him lead, let him decide, make his desire the focus and not your own then you might free him from a thousand demons! Free him from his memories and his horrible past!"

I looked up at him. I had tears streaming down my face again - I seemed to be spending my entire holiday in tears! I know it came out all strangled but I think I said "I don't know, Barney, I just don't know."

"Okay, sorry, I've pushed you too far there. You know I love you Carl. How about you just tell me about him, okay? How did you meet?"

I told him everything. I told him far more than I told Paul. I told about the gin bottle and the shower and the hangover and the erections and the jerking off and the self-loathing. I told him of the cuddles and the kisses and the ice cream and how that image turned me on so much. I told him of the omelette and the giggles and the seat in the park and the holding hands. I told him of Patrick's history just as Paul had told it to me.

I had just finished pouring it all out to him when I noticed a movement out in the compound. A little figure was walking towards us. A little figure clad just in a pair of white shorts. It was the movement of the shorts that caught my attention; the dark little body was invisible in the night.

Abraham sleepily climbed the steps to the verandah and clambered on to Barney's knee. Barney bent down and kissed the sleepy boy on his forehead.

"Why aren't you asleep, little one?"

"I had to get up to pee and I looked over and saw you here so I thought I'd come and see you."

"Thank you, it's nice to see you too."

"Patrick says you have to go in the morning, is that true?"

"I'm afraid so, I have to go back up into the mountains."

"Can I come with you? I've never seen the mountains."

"I wish you could, my love, but I've got to get to work."

"Do you really love me?"

"More than you can know."

"I don't want you to go!"

"I don't want to leave you either, but I've got a job to go back to."

Abraham snuggled in a bit more then looked up with glistening eyes, even in the dark I could see that. "Can I stay with you tonight - please?"

"I think we can do that, dear - Where is Patrick?"

"He's asleep, he's been looking after Miguel and now they're both sleeping."

Barney stood up with Abraham still in his arms.

"G'night, Carl - I'll see you in the morning before I go."

"Okay, I'll leave a note for Paul asking him to make sure I'm up. Goodnight, Abraham, take care of Barney now."

"I will! G'night Mr Carl."

After they'd gone I sat for a while in the dark with just the compound lights glowing softly and the fireflies flitting about sending out their morse messages of desire. I thought of many things, of my own desires so recently awakened, of the changes that had happened since I came away so wearily from work, of the changes still to make, of the new friends I had gained and of the boy who I already loved so dearly. Every minute we had spent together was etched into my brain, every word that Paul had said about him was written indelibly into me and it was then that the connection came to me. Perhaps there was a way, after all.

It was certainly worth a thought.

I wanted to go and wake Paul right then to talk about it but I smiled to myself, remembering that patience is a virtue. I looked at my watch, it was nearly 2 a.m.! So I picked my things up and shuffled off to bed.

Chapter 10

Despite a late night I was up bright and early in the morning, long before anyone came to wake me. My love of the tropical dawn is such that it's always worth getting up to see it, even if I go back to bed afterwards - but this morning I was buzzing. I'd missed the dawn for a couple of days and was glad to see it again.

I left my shower until later; I just threw on some clothes and went out into the compound. Some of the boys were up and about and my little cannonball was amongst them. He ran over dragging Miguel with him. We had a two way hug then invited the little Chinese boy to join us, which he did with a big beam on his face.

"Did you sleep well, Miguel?"

"Yes, thank you, Mr Carl. I like this place, it's fun!"

I hugged him a bit closer. "I'm so glad and I know Patrick will be glad too - aren't you Patrick?"

Patrick just leant over and kissed Miguel on the nose, so we took that as a yes. Patrick then looked up at me with sad eyes.

"Is Mr Barney really leaving this morning? I told Abraham I thought he was and Abraham was so sad."

"Yes, I'm afraid so, he has to get back to work. He only came down to discuss business with Mr Paul."

"Can Abraham go with him? He'd be ever so helpful."

"What about his schoolwork?"

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that, and he loves school."

"I promise I'll try to help in any way I can but you'll have to wait a bit, okay? Come on, I'll walk you over to the kitchen, cook is calling for you."

Cook was in something of a crisis as some of the eggs were addled so he set Patrick sorting them out, got Miguel, who had never been in a kitchen before in his life by the look of him, boiling water for tea and coffee and then settled himself down in a corner with some toast and a cigarette.

"You boys work, I'll just supervise and talk to Carl." He smiled at me and waved me over.

"He's a good boy, that Patrick," he said, "and he's got a real talent for cooking. Did Paul tell you that he runs this kitchen on his own when I'm not here? I hope he can still do it now he's got this job."

"Paul said he was good - and at the Metropole he made me an omelette one morning, it was great!"

"Yup, he's good at those." He glanced out of the window. "I think your friend is looking for you."

I looked out and there was Barney, with Abraham attached like a limpet to his left hand, looking around the compound. I wandered out there and called to him. As they came close I could see that Abraham was crying, not noisily but he had tears streaming down his face.

"Carl, do you know where Patrick is? I think I need his help."

"He's in the kitchen helping with breakfast." I turned to go fetch him but he was already on his way. Cook had finished his cigarette and had taken over again - he'd seen the situation and knew where Patrick was needed most. Miguel stayed to help cook and seemed quite happy with that.

The four of us made our way over to Paul and Martin's verandah and sat there for a while. Abraham continued to cry quietly whilst Patrick tried to soothe him.

"He's not hurt is he?"

"Good God, no Carl! What do you take me for?"

"Sorry, I'm just so confused, he only met you yesterday."

"I know, weird isn't it? But I've really go to go - and I can't take him with me."

"Patrick," I said, "look after Abraham, I need to talk to Mr Barney. We'll be back in two minutes, okay?"

"Okay Mr Carl."

Barney and I walked off across the compound, as soon as we were out of earshot I started to tell him the idea I'd had. I hadn't said much when he just stood and stared at me.

"No wonder you got a bloody doctorate! That's brilliant! But could it really happen?"

"I don't know, but I'm going to talk to Paul or Martin about it as soon as I get a chance - this morning if I can as I know Paul goes away tomorrow."

"Do it, please do it!" And he pulled me into a hug.

"And anyway," I said as he released me, "you can always tell Abraham, quite truthfully, that you'll have some days off due when I get back in a week's time so you can come back down then, if you don't see him before."

"You're right again, c'mon, let's get back to them."

"You go, and get some breakfast as well whilst I go and find you a tuk-tuk - the train should be leaving in ten minutes so you've only got half an hour to get to the station!"

Abraham was still crying when Barney left but seemed happier knowing that they'd see one another soon. None of the other lads made fun of him, so different from what would have happened in Britain. They all rallied round and had an early morning game of soccer to take his mind of things before it was time for school.

Before he left for work Patrick came and gave me a hug. "Thanks Mr Carl, Abraham was really upset but seems better now he knows he'll see Mr Barney again."

"It's a pleasure, love. I want them both to be happy, too."

For that I got a big grin and a kiss on the cheek before MY boy set off to earn his living.

Paul and Martin had witnessed everything, of course. I doubt that much happened anywhere that they didn't know about. They were both busy with work but called me over when I got near the bungalow.

"Is everything okay?" that was from Martin.

"Sure, Abraham is still upset but Barney should be back down right after I get back to work so that might help. I don't know what you two must think of us coming in and disrupting everything like this!"

Martin smiled up at me from his desk. "It's not really a disruption; see it rather as an opportunity. Sit down, Carl, and I'll tell you about it."

As I sat Paul butted in, "Listen guys, I'm gonna have to dash, I'll be back this afternoon - whatever Martin says or agrees to probably goes for me too." He leant over and kissed his partner, patted me on the shoulder and he was gone.

"Abraham came to us as an orphan. We knew his mother slightly; she was a good woman, very poor but provided as well as she could. Abraham is an only child; we never knew anything of the father. The mother came here from somewhere west of here, a little fishing village out on the coast. We think the boy might be illegitimate and that she was hounded out of the village but that is at least partly conjecture. Anyway she died and we took Abraham in rather than let him try to survive on the streets or go to one of the orphanages. He was about 9 at the time, I think. From what I hear he was very naïve about sex then and living here with a load of lads was a bit of an eye opener for him. There is a lot of messing about in the dormitories here and there is absolutely no point in trying to stop it, many of our boys have sold themselves hundreds of times just to survive before they come here, they know far more about sex than the average British pre-teen or teenager. They probably know more than most of us adults!

"Anyway, once Abraham got a taste for sex there was no stopping him. I reckon he tried it on with everyone in the place, the teaching volunteers, cook Paul and I and all the kids. He has always been a horny young thing. We know that quite a few of the older boys were only too happy to oblige him - and he clearly preferred the older ones. A couple of times he has disappeared and it turns out, although he's never told us but we have our spies, that he has been down to the docks of his own accord - he got chased away by the regulars on both occasions; they didn't want him horning in on their patch. We have given him a strong talking to about this as it isn't wise behaviour at all, we were careful not to make it sound that he was being bad, just careless! A few of the lads with long histories down there have talked to him as well and told him about some of the more unpleasant things that happen. It seems to have worked but he is still very much attracted to older men. I'm not sure that any of this means he's going to be gay later in life, but he's certainly acting it now. I'm sure he'd have made a play for you, too, if his best friend hadn't nabbed you first!"

He suddenly laughed out loud.

"Don't look so shocked! Patrick had taken a shine to you, we all know that - Paul told you his story, he has never acted affectionate to an adult as long as we've known him. Relax and just feel honoured!

"Anyway, Abraham and Barney made a real connection, I'm glad they got to spend the night together, and yes, we do know about that. I just wish there was a way to make it all better for Abraham, he knows he is seeing Barney again but a week is a year at that age. Have you got any bright ideas?"

"But aren't you worried that Barney might exploit a kid like Abraham?"

"I wouldn't let him go with just anyone, you know. We don't know Barney well but I don't think he's the exploiting type, do you? No more than you are."

"I agree but I'm a bit shocked, that's all."

"Listen Carl, we do not sell kids on the black market, we do not like our kids going off to earn pocket money down the docks as some try and do but this isn't England, you know, the whole culture and ethos is different here."

"I know, I'm sorry. I just I'm checking you two out as well." I took a deep breath. "And yes, I have a suggestion."

"Good, let's hear it then."

"We have this cook, Sarah, up on the farm, and she's a really terrible cook! She pre-dates me by years. Anyway the one bit of news that Barney would give me, with me being on leave he's been very protective, is that she's leaving, going off with the hubby to the capital. So by the end of next week we will be sans cook. Not a major problem as both Barney and I can look after ourselves but . . ."

I glanced up at him and smiled. I saw him sitting there with a broad grin on his face. He was with me all the way.

"Sarah also cleaned for us, after a fashion - but if we were to take on a youngster we'd have to take two as they'd have schooling to go to as well."

"Woo hoo!! Paul said you were bright! You're a bloody genius!"

He jumped up, dashed round his desk and picked me up into a hug, then he kissed me soundly on the cheek. When he stood back I saw a tear in his eye.

"You will take care of them, won't you? Patrick, well, both of them are very precious to us."

"I promise. If they want to come, that is - I'm sure Abraham will but for Patrick this is the only home he's ever really known, isn't it?"

"We'll talk it over with Paul and then we'll talk it over with the boys but I think we're on a winner."

I was so hyped up after our chat that I just couldn't settle. I walked out of the compound and all the way to the beach where I stopped for a soft drink then walked all the way back. I was still hyper so went into the schoolroom and asked if I could help out and ended up with a half dozen of the younger ones helping them to read. It was fun.

School was out before Paul came back and most of the boys, Miguel included, were back on the soccer field. I kept well away from all sports, I still had phobias left over from my own schooldays when I was not wanted on any team and, when forced to play, completely uncoordinated. I half-watched from a distance, sitting on the verandah with my nose back in the Sally Lockhart. I must have been more engrossed than I thought but I hardly noticed Abraham's approach, he just suddenly seemed to be clambering on to my knee.

"Mr Carl, do you think Mr Barney meant what he said? Do you think he will come down and see me?"

"I'm sure he will, Abraham, and only just over a week as well."

"I hope so, I miss him lots already."

"I'm sure he misses you too. I have to phone him tonight so if you like you can speak to him for a minute as well."

"CAN I? That would be so good! Thank you!" This earned me a hug and kiss on the cheek. He cuddled in and seemed quite content with that then a tuk-tuk pulled in and out climbed Paul and Patrick.

"Carl, I picked up this stray on the road, do you want him?"

"Only if I can keep him," I said. A big smile from Patrick told me that was the right answer.

Hearing Paul's voice Martin came out of the office stretching. Paul walked up and they had a hug then Martin told the boys to clear off for a while as we had business to discuss.

"Abraham," he called after them, "can you bring us a tray of tea, please?"

"Sure Mr Martin, I'll be right back."

We made small talk whilst we waited. When we each had a cup of tea and the boys were out of earshot again Martin swiftly outlined my plan to Paul. Before Martin was halfway Paul, who was sitting in the middle, was holding a hand of each of us.

"That's a really good idea. I think it's great BUT, and there has to be a but, there has to be a trial period for everybody here so the boys can come back if they need to, and you can send them back if you need to. It's the only fair way. And I think we'll want to come up and have a look at how they're doing - I think more as a holiday but you do see, don't you Carl?"

"I do, and I agree wholeheartedly. I WANT you to check up on us, and I'm sure Barney will too."

"Good, we'd better talk to the boys then, hadn't we?"

Martin smiled across at his lover. "Before or after supper, love?"

"Stop teasing, I'm not nearly as impetuous as I used to be. But before I think, let's get this over with."

I went off and rounded up the two boys who were intrigued why they should be called. I was pleased they weren't fearful like I would have been in their shoes at a summons like that.

Abraham clambered up on to Martin's lap and Patrick cuddled on mine. There was a moment's awkward silence because we hadn't decided who was going to say what then Martin said, "Carl has had an idea, boys. He's discussed it with Barney and with us and now he'd like to talk to you about it. You don't have to make up your mind now. In fact I think it would be better if you didn't - I'd like you to listen and ask any questions and then go away and think about then tell us later, you've got a week to decide, isn't that right, Carl?"

"I think so, yes about a week." I paused and looked at the faces turned towards me, amazed by the trust in their eyes.

"Listen boys, this is the idea . . ." and I proceeded to outline it all to them. I made sure to point out that they would have to go to school and I'd be giving them extra tuition and that we'd want them to help around the place, in the kitchen and keeping the place clean.

By the time I finished their eyes were shining.

"Have you got any questions?"

Patrick gazed up at me, holding on tight. "You mean that we'd have a home and that you and Mr Barney would be our family?"

"Yes, that's just what I mean." Suddenly I had my arms full of sobbing boy. I put my arms round him and held him and stroked his back whilst he cried himself out. Abraham got off Martin's lap and came and stood by me so I freed an arm to put round him. When Patrick was done crying Abraham asked "Can we go and phone Barney now?"

Martin looked across and nodded so I stood up, Patrick still in my arms and we went into the office to phone home.

Chapter 11

I let Abraham speak to Barney first - he was soon in incoherent tears as well so I let him stumble on a while then gently took the phone from him.

"We've told them not to make a hasty decision, Barney, but I'm not sure they listened."


"Are you there, Barney?"

"Sorry, I'm all sniffly here too. What did Martin and Paul say?"

"They're all in favour but they want a probationary period on both sides AND they want to come up and see us after a while and check everything is okay. I'm delighted by that, I think it'll be a great help to us all."

"They're good, aren't they?"

"They are, but I think they'd murder us if we harmed the boys!"

"Good for them, I should hope they would!"

"Listen Barney, have a quick word with Abraham again - I've got my arms full of a weepy Patrick at the moment so I need to sit down again - I'm just glad he's only light!"

"Okay, put him on. No, before you go, I've got some news!"

"What's that?"

"She's leaving tomorrow, she asked if she could so I said yes. I've paid her off, it's worth it to get shut of her. With your news I'll get the chippy working on that room tomorrow - it'll be redone ready for them by the time you get back, if I have to stay up all night and do it myself!"

"You're a saint, here's Abraham."

"Cheers, and thanks."

Abraham had been hopping from foot to foot so I handed him the phone and left him to it. I walked out of the office and off the verandah into the darkening compound with Patrick still clinging to me. As I left I saw out of the corner of my eye that Paul had gone into the office to look after Abraham.

"I'm going to have to put you down, Patrick, you're too heavy for me."

I put him on his feet and he took my hand. We walked to the gate and back then round the back of the bungalow to the door of my room. We sat on the step and he cuddled into me.

"Can we really do this Mr Carl?"

"I think so, love, I'm giving you a job and some schooling and the chance of a new life. It will be different, very different from here."

"And will I be able to visit here if I want some time?"

"Of course, I can always bring you down to the city when I come and I think I'll be staying here when I'm down in future as Paul and Martin want me to help with the school a bit."

"Where will we sleep when we're there? Will we have to sleep outside?"

I laughed. "No, Barney is getting a room ready for you. You'll have to share with Abraham is that okay? You'll share a bathroom with him as well."

"A whole room just for the two of us?"

"Yes, just for the two of you."

"Do you sleep in the same building?"

"Yes, it's a bungalow a bit like this - Barney and I each have a room then there is one for you two and a guestroom where Paul and Martin can stay when they visit."

"They'll really come and see us?"

"They insisted, they want to make sure we are treating you right!"

"I love you, Mr Carl."

"I love you too, Patrick. - Why don't you go and find Abraham and talk about things then you can make up your minds."

"You know we both want it, don't you?"

"Yes, but I think you need to talk about it."

"Okay, I'll see you later." He kissed me on the cheek and went off to find his best friend.

I walked round to join the others on the verandah except only Martin was there. "Paul's packing, he's got to get off early. He's got a long trip tomorrow."


"Yes, this one is a water conservation project, not really his field at all but he's picked up so many skills here, he constantly amazes me."

"You both amaze me, you're incredible!"

"Thanks, but really we just get on with it. We have a great life here and this kids project just sort of appeared and grew - and we still have all our other work. We have to do that to fund the kids - and the kids are the reason we do it, they keep us going. In many ways they are our life. We're not likely to have any of our own so we parent this lot. It has its trials and tribulations but it has its rewards too.

"It's strange, we both grew up in kids' homes and now here we are running one!"

"Paul told me a bit of your story; you both had it pretty tough. I had a soft life by comparison and I thought I was hard done by!"

"It was tough but I didn't know that at the time, it was just normal to me. I don't think I knew what normal was until I got to a children's home - and believe me, in 70s Britain they weren't normal at all! The best thing was I had to share a room with this really cute kid. It was a snotty nosed abused little 12 year old who taught me what normal is!"

There was a snort in the distance and a voice called "Who are you calling snotty nosed?"

"Only you, my love! If you didn't eavesdrop you wouldn't hear the truth!"


We all giggled. At the same moment Martin and I became aware of two little bodies walking across the compound towards us.

"Paul," called Martin, "we have a delegation of two approaching, do you want to come and hear the verdict?"

"I certainly do, if they're rejecting us and moving out I want them to tell me to my face. I'll be with you in a tick."

He came bustling out of the door just as the other two climbed the steps on to the verandah. He took his seat and the three of us smiled at the two nervous boys in front of us. Paul was a lot kinder than his last remark suggested.

"Well boys, have you decided?"

"Yes, please Mr Paul," this was Patrick, "we'd really like to go with Mr Carl and Mr Barney if that is okay."

"Of course it is," Paul again. "And I promise you here and now that if you ever want to come back here you will be very welcome - and we insist you come and visit - and we'll be coming up to visit you, too, won't we Martin?"

"We certainly will - a trip to the hills in the hot season sounds ideal! Anyway we'll sort out the details over the weekend, Carl is here all next week as well, I hope, so we've got loads of time. Now you'd better scoot off to bed."

Patrick shook hands with both of them then came and gave me a hug and kiss. Abraham hugged all three of us, then they went off to the dormitory hand in hand.

They looked really cute together.

Chapter 12

The next week was busy. Well okay, that's an understatement. It was a whirlwind; busy is such an inadequate word.

Paul went off on his trip on the Saturday morning early. Martin had a mountain of paperwork; the boys had no school so were at a loose end. Many of them headed off into town, some got the eternal soccer game going. Patrick came over to say goodbye before going off to work, he had Abraham and Miguel in tow.

"Mr Carl, should I tell the manager that I'll be leaving soon? What should I say? When do you think I should leave?" He was looking quite anxious; obviously the thought of seeing the manager was a bit stressful for him.

"Do you want me to come with you? I could see him for you if you want?"

"No," came a voice from behind, "I really think Patrick should do this himself."

It was the first time I'd seen Martin look stern. He still looked kindly but he meant what he said. "Patrick, you went and got yourself that job, and we all admired you for doing it. Now it's time to un-get that job and I really think you should do that as well. It'll do you good, believe me. You'll feel better if you do it yourself."

Patrick pouted up at him.

"If he is difficult and thinks you're being silly about it, then get him to call me and I'll explain, but you can do this, Patrick, you're strong enough. Honestly you are."

"All right, Mr Martin. But when should I say I am finishing?"

"When do you want to finish?"

"I think today if he will let me but later is okay, I suppose."

"Carl, do you need to do shopping or anything with these two before you go home?"

"Good thinking, that hadn't occurred to me - we may need a bit of stuff. We will need a bit of stuff. I'd better call Barney tonight and see what we come up with. Patrick, you'd better finish today or tomorrow if you can because we might have a busy few days ahead."

"Okay Mr Carl. - Erm, I've really got to do this on my own?"

Martin and I glanced at one another then said "Yes!" in unison. We didn't shout it but I think we were firm with it.

An unhappy boy came and hugged me and kissed me. "Okay," he said, then he and his little entourage walked off to the gate. They way they skipped along made me think that we hadn't irreparably damaged Patrick's psyche.

Abraham and Miguel were soon back and agitating to know about the shopping we would have to be doing but I said we'd discuss when Patrick was back - and after I'd spoken to Barney. I sent them off to play whilst Martin and I talked some more about the educational side of things. My recall is good but not 100% so I said that I'd have to get some books sent out, and also read up on things published since I qualified. I was still confident that I could contribute and earn the discount on the hydel scheme. Martin got me making lists then sat me in front of the computer and asked me to find what I needed on the internet and price it all up then he could order it later. He wanted it prioritised as well in case they couldn't afford it all in one go.

As we were going through it all he asked "Do you mind doing all this for us? It seems a bit of an imposition, really."

"Nah, it's okay, I'm enjoying it. It's good to get the old brain working again, I haven't thought of this stuff in years!"

"We're very grateful, you know - we're not teachers, we're not social workers, we're just two guys who are trying to help, and struggling a bit in the process."

"You're doing pretty well, I think. And the big changes needn't cost much. I think the organisation of the room and the organisation of the day are the two big things."

He hugged me from behind and whispered, "Thanks, you're a star!" in my ear. I was touched, another man I hadn't known long, another new friend.

We declared a break at lunchtime and joined what lads there were in the dining hall. Some of those who had been out for the morning came back to eat so about two thirds of them were there. Some of the younger ones, the ones I'd helped with reading earlier, wanted me to do it again. My argument that it was Saturday fell on deaf ears so in the end I agreed. I took half an hour to do some preparation and then we had a great afternoon with reading games and word recognition games and spelling games. Many of the other lads joined in - it was a good afternoon and in the end I reckoned I'd have had fun as a teacher. Many of the lads needed remedial level help but those who could helped those who couldn't; it was good to see.

When I called a halt the boys were still keen to continue but I figured best to leave them wanting more than overdo it so they're bored. Make learning a treat and they'll come back!

Miguel and a couple of the youngsters stayed on to help me tidy up then I strolled over to the bungalow. I stopped for a while on the way as the game had changed to cricket, my one sporting passion. It was played with great enthusiasm and some disregard for the rules, but they were obviously having fun.

When I walked into the office Martin pushed himself away from the computer, stretched and smiled. "How was it?"

"It was fun! They enjoyed it, I enjoyed and I think they may even have learnt something." I paused a moment. "If you get someone to come in and run some remedial Saturday school I'm sure it would pay dividends, but they'd have to make it fun for the kids." Martin leant forward and added a note to his list.

"Right," he said. "I'm finished for the day." to signal his intent he saved and closed the file he was working on then shut down the PC. "And anyway," he continued, "I've got some news for you." He smiled at me and tried to look mysterious.

"Oh yes, and what's that?"

"The general manager of The Metropole phoned this afternoon. Our little hero marched right in there this morning and told him that he had a new job in the hills so would have to leave very soon. He thanked the man most politely for taking him on and hoped that he could leave today!" Martin giggled at the image and I did too.

"Anyway the manager asked him if he could work tomorrow as well because he was going to be short of staff and Patrick graciously agreed. I tell you that boy will end up a diplomat!"

I sat on the edge of Paul's desk and tried to picture it - MY boy was amazing!

"So, is he staying overnight there tonight?"

"No, he'll be off duty soon then will work an early tomorrow - talking of which, I'm taking the boys to the beach tomorrow, do you want to come?"

"Oh yes, that'd be great!"

"We go down the coast a bit, away from the tourists. They boys don't have costumes and most don't use underwear so they skinny-dip. We don't want to frighten away the good Aussie matrons and we don't want to attract the pedos either! Those bastards aren't getting their hands on our boys!"

I think I must have blushed at that.

"You're not a pedo, Carl. Even if you and Patrick end up in bed I can't see you exploiting him, I don't think it's in your nature. But if you do, we'll be after you, you have to know that."

"I do, and I'm grateful. Thanks Martin! You two really have no idea what all this means to me."

"S'okay. C'mon, let's go see if cook needs any help - I just have to get away from this BLOODY COMPUTER!" He thumped his fist down gently on to the monitor to emphasise his point.

Cook was pleased to see us. Miguel was in there helping and seemed to be having fun. I was given onions to peel, a bit of a penance for a volunteer but I was happy whilst Martin had the fiddly job of peeling a dozen bulbs of garlic.

We were happily chatting away, me with streaming eyes again but this time induced by the onions, when Patrick appeared beaming in the kitchen. He sidled over to me and watched me work. I don't know how but I knew he didn't think I was doing it right; his fingers twitched and I knew he wanted to take over. He looked up at me. "You're crying again - is it the onions or are you sad and lonely again?"

I bent down and kissed him on the nose. "How can I be sad and lonely when you're going to come and stay with me?" He put his arms round my neck and kissed me on the cheek then just rested his cheek against mine. "I'm so happy," he whispered.

When he released me I stood up and carried on chopping. He could stand it no longer. "Can I do that, Mr Carl? You go and help Mr Martin with the garlic."

There was no point in arguing so I handed over the knife and went around the table to join Martin. As soon as I looked over and saw Patrick at work I knew he was right, he wielded that knife like he was born to it. As soon as he finished he shooed us away from the garlic and took over that as well. Cook waved us out of the kitchen and told us to come back at supper time so we could control the horde.

The meal was good and the evening pleasant. There was no TV but the kids entertained themselves. Halfway through the evening Barney called, Abraham spoke to him first and last and I got a little slot in the middle. I asked him to think about anything we might need to buy for the boys so I could get it during the week. He promised to call the next night with a list. He knew they would need school uniforms and lots of warm clothes - little bodies used to the coast would find the nights quite cold at those altitudes.

Most of the evening Patrick was in my lap. Abraham and Miguel and some of the other boys sat around the verandah as well. It was getting towards bedtime when I had a bright idea.

"Martin, did I see a copy of Jungle Books on the shelf in the office?"

"Yes, it's one of my favourites, why?"

"Have you read it to the boys, ever?"

"Woohoo, I'll go get it - you read it, please, not me."

"You'll have to take over when I go."

"Unless I can persuade Paul to do it!"

In a moment he was back with the book and then adjusted the lamp to give me enough light without me having to disturb my little bundle. I opened the book and began:

"It was seven o'clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills . . ." I knew by the end of the first page that I (and Kipling) had them, they were spellbound.

Sunday morning Patrick was sad that he wasn't coming with us to the beach but agreed under pressure that he should go into work on his last day. When we got to the beach, an hour's bus ride away, I was sad, too, that he wasn't with us as I'd have loved to see him cavorting naked with the others. After watching them all I knew once again that the day had confirmed my status as a boy lover - and it wasn't primarily a sexual thing at all even when some of their play got a little risqué. I just revelled in their beauty and their vitality - in their very boy-ness!

Martin had brought some bread and some bananas and, after asking if it was okay, I bought everybody an ice cream from a mobile vendor who had managed to sniff out the possibility of a sale. Then in mid-afternoon a gang of tired but happy boys climbed on the bus for the trip home. It was crowded so I ended up squashed on to a double seat with Abraham, Miguel and a little 7 year old who told me his name was "Josh". He had been in my reading group but was incredibly shy and nervous. Apart from saying his name he didn't say a word the whole way back, just gazed in awe at his "big brothers" sitting with us. He was asleep when we got back so I carried him from the bus stop to the compound, thankfully he was a lot lighter than Patrick.

It was long after supper before Patrick arrived. He was grinning broadly and waving his final pay packet. He handed it over to Martin to look after then, after giving me a hug and kiss, went off to find some food. He came back with a laden plate and sat on the steps eating whilst the others boys and Martin and I chatted. When I went in to get Jungle Books, in response to the demands of the boys, I took Abraham with me so we could call Barney. He'd done a list and said he'd fax it straight after, so much easier than me copying it down. All was well there, no crises with the job, or none that he was telling me and the boy's room was already coming on. His parting shot before I passed him over to Abraham was "She didn't keep her own room clean either, it was a pigsty! But we'll be ready on time. When are you coming up?"

"Friday by the early train, I think - send a driver unless you hear otherwise."

"Wilco, now bugger off and put my boy on!" I laughed and the handed the phone to Abraham.

By the time I was settled back in my seat with Patrick on my knee Abraham was just rejoining the group. Miguel had claimed Martin's knee, which I thought was pretty good for a boy who had only been there a couple of days, and Josh was sitting at my feet leaning back against my legs.

They all loved the Bandar-log, as I knew they would; they loved the anarchy and saw its downfall, too. They had all had enough anarchy in their lives! They wanted another chapter but one a night was enough. I got hugs and kisses from many of the boys that night - but both first in the queue and last was my special boy. As Josh hugged me he whispered "thanks" into my ear.

When the boys had all gone Martin went into the office for a moment. When he came out again he said "A fax has arrived for you from Barney - I decided to hide it, I'll give it to you in the morning; you don't need to start worrying about that now."

I stood up and shrugged then gave him a hug before heading to my room for the night.

Monday morning I was up early again, just before dawn. With my room facing east I just sat on the steps to watch the sky lighten. Before the sun made an appearance I was joined by a very excited Patrick. We kissed and he took his usual seat at my side with my arm around him. I shushed him and together, in silence, we watched the sun rise through the coconut palms.

When it was full daylight he turned to me, as touched by the magic of that moment as I had been. The mundane soon returned. "Are we going shopping today, Mr Carl?"

"Yes, we are, the three of us."

"How much money will I need to take, do you think?"

That floored me. What did I do about this? And Martin wasn't there to advise me, either.

"Don't take much, the main things we'll buy, I mean Barney and I will. You can buy yourself some extras if you want but if we are going to be your family then you have to let us buy you stuff. And anyway Abraham has no money so we'll have to pay for him so it wouldn't be fair if we made you buy your own stuff, would it?"

"No, I suppose not, but it'll cost a lot of money, won't it?"

"We'll see, but don't worry about it, we'll manage. Okay?"

At breakfast Martin gave me not one, but two faxes. "The second one has just come in, stuff he forget, I suppose."

I glanced over the lists, I think Barney must have thought we were going away on an interstellar voyage or an old P&O steamer where we had unlimited weight allowance! In the end we spent two mornings shopping, and it was fun. We shopped until we dropped!

In the outfitters the young assistant insisted on measuring the boys; Patrick blushed when the back of young man's hand brushed across his willy, but when it was Abraham's turn he just giggled. I reckoned the assistant had a lucky escape, if Patrick and I hadn't been there Abraham would have devoured him in one of the fitting rooms!

However excited they were about having all new clothes they didn't see the point in underpants or t-shirts, even my talk about it being cold up there in the evenings had no meaning for two young folk who had never been cold in their lives. We bought them nevertheless, I knew they'd be grateful later.

We moved on to the cloth merchants where we bought suiting for trousers and shirting for shirts - we got some white for school shirts and some checks for every day wear and some bright colours for "best" - they chose a rainbow of colours, it was glorious! Then it was on to the tailor where they were measured again for shirts and shorts and long trousers. We were promised they would be ready Wednesday afternoon, so that would be ample time. In the tailors Patrick saw some denim so asked how much a pair of jeans would cost - he bargained the man down a bit and ordered a pair to be ready Wednesday too.

We had just left the shop when he stopped and whispered a question to me. I smiled and agreed so he hurried back into the shop to have another word with the man. He came out beaming a minute later.

Monday afternoon I was back helping the young readers and Monday evening it was the story of the White Seal. The boys were disappointed at first as they wanted more of Mowgli but I reassured them that they would have more later in the book. Once I started they were as captivated as ever and afterwards asked Martin and I about winters we had seen - I am afraid we were a disappointment as neither of us had ever been snowed in for weeks at a time, neither had either of us ever been to the Great White North!

Tuesday it was back to the shops for sweaters and jackets and umbrellas and shoes and rubber boots. Neither boy had ever worn more than flip flops so found the shoes and boots difficult but they bowed to my judgement. I assured them that in the rainy season they would be grateful for them. I got them socks as well, which they thought very funny. At least I got them cotton ones which I hoped would be more comfortable. From there it was the bookshops and stationers for all their school stuff. I got loads and I got the books for the next level at the same time, if they were getting extra tuition I had hopes they might be moving up a grade soon.

That evening Rikki-tikki-tavi entertained us all. They all knew about mongooses, of course, and all loved them, too.

Wednesday we went back to the tailors, everything was ready and they all fitted fine - the jeans fitted a treat! Well, let's say he looked an absolute treat in them. Then the man handed him another pair which he handed on to Abraham. The youngster was gobsmacked! "For me?"

"Of course, I couldn't get myself a pair without getting you a pair too - try them on!" Abraham hugged his friend then hastened to comply.

The two of them clad in jeans together were just stunning - I thought that in the weeks to come Barney and I might insist they give us a fashion parade as our evening's entertainment!

Our boys were now fully equipped. On the way back I bought a sizeable tin trunk in the market and loaded it on to the roof of a tuk-tuk. When we got back we packed all the clothes and footwear and books and pens and everything else into it then took it down to the station to go up on Thursday's early train. That night when I spoke to Barney I arranged to have it collected Thursday afternoon so everything would be ready when we got home.

The big event on Wednesday was Paul getting back from his trip. He was weary but pleased to be home - and he got a welcome from the boys just as warm as Martin had got the previous week.

After supper he was surprised to see all the boys gathering on the verandah. He was about to say something when Martin put his finger to his lips and said "Just wait, you'll see."

That night is was Toomai of the Elephants and the boys were all away in their dreams of being a young mahout.

Paul was indeed impressed and was not even too fazed when Martin told him they were going to have to take turns in future reading to the boys between supper and bed. He told me afterwards that he was pleased to see Josh coming out of his shell a bit by sitting leaning against me, even if he still hardly spoke.

Thursday there was a surprise for Patrick; we all knew about it but we'd deliberately kept him in the dark. In the afternoon I took the poor readers again and I pressed him into helping me, and I made sure his back was to the window. So it was that when school finished and we walked out into the compound he spotted two young men sitting with Martin and Paul on the verandah.

"JOE!!!" he screamed and pelted across to throw himself into Joseph's waiting arms. He hugged Thomas too but Joe was his focus. They had come all the way back from the capital to see their protégé off on his adventure. Patrick was in tears for a while but tears very much of joy.

That evening after a rather special supper that Patrick and cook had devised between them, Patrick sat on Joe's knee on the verandah at story time so I coaxed little Josh on to mine. He sat and sucked his thumb all through the story of the Servants of the Queen.

Friday morning it took two crowded tuk-tuks to get all that were going down to the station. The volunteers had come in early to look after breakfast so Martin and Paul and Thomas and Joseph came down to see us off.

It was a parting both sad and joyous. Both boys were in tears and there was a lot of hugging and kissing before we finally got on the train. Abraham hugged and kissed everybody then Patrick hugged and kissed Thomas, then Joseph - then he amazed everybody by hugging and kissing both Paul and Martin as well.

There wasn't a dry eye in the party.

Chapter 13

The journey up was in some ways, the mechanical ways, much as the journey down had been a couple of weeks before. The train left closer to on time as it tended to going in that direction. It still managed to lose an hour on the way up. I sometimes think I could walk quicker!

The big difference this time was the company. I hadn't enjoyed a trip so much for years. Everyone should travel with two boys all the time! Things were pointed out to me that were old hat, that I had seen a million times before - but never really noticed. I was inspired by the sheer wonderment and joy of their experience. Neither of these two had ever been on a train before, let alone in a first class compartment on a trip up into the mountains to their new home.

They would stare out of the windows, arms round each others necks, pointing things out to one another. Then they would be sitting on my knees. Then they would be at the other window. Then they would be hungry so we would wait for a station and buy snacks from the vendors and hawkers.

After a couple of hours there was a whispered discussion between the boys and Abraham came an sat on my lap whilst Patrick stayed gazing out at his wonderland.

The young boy snuggled into my chest and got himself comfortable then he gazed up into my eyes.

"Mr Carl, do you think Mr Barney really likes me?"

"I don't think there's any doubt about that, Abraham. Barney thinks you are wonderful - I think you're wonderful too!"

"Yes, but you've got Patrick."

"Just because I've got Patrick and love Patrick doesn't mean I don't love you or think you're a very special boy as well."

"Do you think Mr Barney loves me like you love Patrick?"

"Yes, my sweet, I think he does."

"I want him to love me so much. I really, really love him, you know."

I settled my arms round him and pulled him closer to me in a hug. I kissed him on the top of his head then when he looked up at me and smiled I kissed the tip of his cute little nose.

Patrick must have eyes in the back of his head, if there are kisses to be had then he wants his share! Suddenly, like lightning, he was on my other knee with his lips pressed to my cheek giving me the sweetest kisses in the world. In return I kissed his petal soft cheek, his little button nose and his forehead.

Then Abraham leant forward and the two boys lips met as they kissed each other across me - as they did so I became painfully hard but thankfully it was in such a position that they wouldn't notice. Once again, if ever I doubted I was a boy lover the doubts were dispelling by the moment!

After a few hours the journey began to pall a bit for them. We had been up early to be at the station for 7 a.m. and by noon thy were getting tired. I ended up sitting in the middle of the seat with a boy lain either side of me and two little heads in my lap. I could have stayed like that forever!

When we eventually got to the station Jackie was there waiting for us with the jeep. No problems with the porters this time, the two little hoodlums grabbed the bags and made for the jeep and driver as if by instinct.

"Are you Mr Jackie? I'm Abraham and this is Patrick and we're travelling to the plantation with Mr Carl we came all the way in the train and it took hours and we bought lunch at a station 'cos we were hungry and we ate it on the train and it wasn't very good Patrick could make better cos he's a brilliant cook and he's going to cook for Mr Carl and Mr Barney the train is very slow but there are awesome views of the mountains I didn't know they would look so high but there isn't any snow on them have you ever seen snow I haven't but I'd like to but Mr Carl says it's really, really cold and I wouldn't like to be in it too long . . ."

"Hi Jackie," I said, reaching across to shake his hand.

"Hi Mr Sanders, you've got your hands full with these two!"

"Well, Jackie, Barney and I have plans for them, they don't know it yet but they are going to get an education - we might even get them on to college but it's a bit early to tell yet. They're going to study like they don't believe they can!"

"I wish you luck." He chuckled. "Do you want to check they're tied down properly?"

I turned and got the rear seatbelts fastened on the boys, I didn't want them bouncing out as went through the forest.

The jeep ride was another first for the two of them. They had heard of the forest but had never seen it before. Each twist and turn gave them a new view; each bird that flitted across their sight got a new exclamation of delight and wonder. They even enjoyed the rough road and the bumps and the potholes, screaming with delight when they were soaked as we splashed through deep puddles or streams that crossed the track.

When we emerged from the forest into the more cultivated lands again we could see the plant and the complex of buildings ahead of us with the bungalow off to one side on its little knoll. Jackie steered on to the track that took us up there and, as he did so, I saw Barney appear on the verandah and wave to us. I pointed him out to the boys who waved back frantically, Abraham in particular. As we pulled up Barney was hurrying down the steps. He leant in and undid the boys' seatbelts then stood with Abraham hanging round his neck by his arms and with his little legs firmly round Barney's waist. From the smiles on both their faces this was a happy reunion.

I picked up Patrick and we walked into the house, a boy in each of our arms. I told Jackie to just leave the bags on the verandah, that we'd sort them out later. He unloaded and headed off about his other duties - or more probably to grab a cup of tea and gossip about the new arrivals.

"C'mon" said Barney, "I'll show you your room."

There was obviously no chance of us being allowed to put our charges down so we carried them through to the back of the building and what had been Sarah's room. It had originally been the Second Assistant Manager's room. I knew it vaguely; I knew that it was a good size with a pleasant view across the fields at the back of the house. When it was Sarah's I had imagined it grey and gloomy. I was a bit apprehensive of how it would be now even though Barney had said that he would take care of it and get it ready.

To say I was amazed would be an understatement. Barney was a genius! He had had the room completely redone in strong yellow and blue. He had rearranged the furniture to fit in two beds and two little desks. There was a large wardrobe the boys could share and over each bed he'd had the chippy make a set of shelves that were already filled with books we'd sent up. He'd even rewired it with lights over the desks.

Barney opened the wardrobe and all their clothes were hanging neatly and in order. There was a dividing panel down the middle and a label on each side. To the right it said "Patrick" and to the left it said "Abraham".

As I looked more closely I realised that even the beds were new and obviously made by the chippy from the plant. They were wood framed with storage drawers underneath. The whole thing was well planned and beautifully executed. It was a great room for two boys.

The beneficiaries were speechless.

"Is this for us?" asked Patrick, open-mouthed with wonder.

"Sure" said Barney "and you have to keep it clean and tidy!"

"But, just for us?"

"Of course, just for the two of you."


Still in my arms he leant over and kissed Barney on the cheek.

"Thanks Mr Barney!"

"It's not just from me, it's from Carl as well."

"Thanks Mr Carl" he said as he kissed me too. I didn't speak, I just gazed into those bottomless eyes and kissed him back lightly on the forehead.

All this time Abraham hadn't said a word, he had just been gazing round the room in awe. Now he buried his face in Barney's shoulder and burst into tears. Barney kissed the little ear nearest him then stroked the convulsing back as he let him cry himself out.

After a little while the sobs subsided and Abraham straightened up looked into Barney's eyes and kissed him full on the mouth. A hard kiss even if a dry one.

"C'mon, guys" I said "how about some lemonade or something?"

"Yes please" said Patrick. "And can you show me the kitchen where I'll be working?"

I put him down and led him by the hand across the house to the kitchen. I grabbed some lemonade out of the fridge and poured four glasses. Then I squatted down in front of Patrick and placed my hands on his shoulders. I looked him straight in the eye so he could see I meant business.

"Listen Patrick, you will be allowed to help Barney and I do the cooking and look after ourselves like Abraham will be allowed to help us keep the place neat and tidy but you are NOT going to spend all your time in here!"

"But . . . ."

"No, just listen to me a moment. I know you want to do it all but there are other things you've got to do that are just as important. I'll be spending time teaching you both - you'll both go to school here but I'll teach you more after school hours and the schoolwork will be important."

He cast his eyes down to the floor so I lifted his chin and forced eye contact again.

"I love you Patrick and I want you to do as well as you can. You're a great cook - with your brain you could be a great anything! I want you to have that chance. Okay?"

"Okay Mr Carl."

"You know you can call me Carl now, don't you? There is no manager around to tell you off!"

He smiled up at me and looked embarrassed.

"C'mon, let's take this lemonade to the others."

I put the glasses on the tray and then let Patrick carry it out on to the verandah where Barney and Abraham were curled up together in one of the cane rocking chairs. As I sat down I couldn't help noticing that both had their flies undone - with the noise the floors make in the building they had obviously heard us coming and curtailed their activities. I climbed into another rocker whilst Patrick put the drinks out on the table between us then, with no hint of hesitation, climbed up on to my lap and snuggled in.

We sat in comfortable silence for a while, two cuddles side by side. Suddenly I realised that both the boys were asleep. I looked across at Barney and smiled. He waved his free hand towards the rest of the complex.

"I told the others the truth. I told them we were fostering two street boys from The Project, that we were going to have them working here and giving them extra schooling just as an experiment to see if it will work out."

He smiled across at me.

"Perhaps it's not the whole truth but there's not a word of a lie in it."

I smiled back then leant down to kiss the top of the beautiful head that lay so peacefully on my chest.

By the time Patrick then Abraham stirred we had drunk their lemonade as well as our own - a fact that was telling on my bladder but I couldn't bear to disturb my little angel. When they saw their lemonade was gone I sent Patrick inside to get more and took the opportunity to go empty my bladder at the same time. When I came out of my bathroom I headed into the kitchen to start dinner - I reckoned Barney had done enough looking after himself the last couple of weeks. I'd hardly rattled a pan when I had company.

"I'll do it, Mr Carl, what do you want me to make?"

"I was going to make it for you and the others, you've had a tiring day, you just relax."

He pushed himself against me and looked up into my face.

"You've had a tiring day, too. I really want to help."

I leant down and kissed his little nose.

"You know I can't refuse you anything. Okay, you can help. What shall we make?"

"What have we got?"

Suddenly a voice bellowed through the house "There's a lamb curry in the fridge and the rice is cooked. It all just needs reheating."

We looked and he was right so we set about heating it all up again. Patrick found some spinach so asked if he could make a side dish. As I dealt with the other dishes I watched as he chopped garlic and fried it with spices then added the spinach and a lid, turned the heat right down and just left it. he then set the table whilst I sorted the rest. When it was nearly ready he cracked an egg into the spinach and stirred it for a moment then served it along with the other dishes. It was delicious!

This boy had real talent! I was so proud of him when Barney complimented him on it.

After the meal we sent the boys to shower whilst Barney and I cleared up and put stuff away. Abraham tried to protest it was his job but we bullied him into going.

A little later we all sat on the verandah again sipping tea or lemonade - Barney had left his firewater inside this time. We didn't talk much, just sat there in the tropical evening. After a while the boys were sleepy again so we carried them in and put them in their room to get ready for bed. We went back a few minutes later and they were lying on their beds in clean shorts and t-shirts as nightwear. We each kissed both of them good night and got hugs in return - we kissed the other's boy first so that we could have a longer hug and cuddle with our own before we left them for the night.

As we left we turned off the light and pulled the door near closed.

"Do you reckon they'll stay there all night?" I asked Barney in a whisper.

"I bloody hope not!" he replied. "And you've got no chance; they'll be through as soon as we've gone to bed."

We went back on the verandah for a little while. Barney brought one small glass of firewater with him. Again we hardly spoke, I think both of our minds were too engrossed with what might or might not happen in a few minutes time.

Finally the long day caught up with me as well. I was nodding as I sat there. I said good night to my friend and co-conspirator, took my book of the shelf in the dining room and headed for my room. I stripped and had a quick shower before climbing under the thin layer of bedding and getting back to Galsworthy and the intricacies of the lives of the Forsyte family.

As I lay in bed reading there was the expected light tap on the door. Before I had a chance to call the door opened and an oiled teak face with a bright smile and dark eyes appeared.

"Carl, Abraham's gone in with Mr Barney, and I'm a bit scared on my own. Can I sleep in here with you tonight?"

"Of course, if that's what you really want."

He stood, one foot poised on top of the other for a while. He looked at me, he looked down at the floor, he looked back at me.

"But is that what you really want as well?"

I thought about it for a moment, all the arguments I had had with myself in the last couple of weeks really came down to this moment. This was decision time. Why not? I thought. Why the hell not?

By way of answering him I flicked back a corner of the covers to invite him in. He closed the door behind him and quickly slipped off his few clothes, exposing to my sight for the first time the most perfect, the most beautiful body imaginable. There was not a blemish to be seen nor a hair below the neck. He was smooth and gorgeous, scrumptious enough to eat. His chest was smooth and boyish with two darker circles that were his nipples. His Butt [well deserving of the capital B] was Two Full Mounds of Glorious Boy Muscle. His legs were sinuous and graceful as only a boy's can be. Between them his little Boyhood was already rigid almost parallel with his belly and reaching up towards his navel.

As delicious, delightful, delectable, desirable Patrick climbed into bed I held out my arms. He slipped into them and we melted together like hot chocolate fudge sauce on the ice cream we had enjoyed together less than two weeks before.

We cuddled. He lifted his face to mine and for the first time touched my lips with his.

We kissed.

And now, at last, I understood.

And it was good.

- - - - - THE END - - - - -