As it turned out, I had not. When I got home my mother informed me that my grandmother had expressed some disquiet about the sleeping arrangements we had made for Jeremy and Jane. The family occupied all the bedrooms upstairs; downstairs there were two, one a large comfortable room with two beds in it, the other small and stuffy. We had allocated these to Jane and Jeremy respectively. I felt some qualms about the accommodation Jeremy was getting, but we moved a fan in and hoped for the best since there was not much else that could be done.
My grandmother’s qualms had been of a quite different sort. The two rooms had a connecting door and shared a bathroom, and she was of the view that such intimacy was improper for two people of different sexes unless they were married or connected by a degree of kinship that precluded marriage. She had suggested accordingly that Jane be moved into my room upstairs, and I be sent down to share the bigger room with Jeremy.
My mother, who gave in far too often to this sort of absurdity, had been firm enough on this occasion to say that the original plan could not be changed until I had been consulted. I was outraged. Not even for Jeremy had I any intention of abandoning my old room, and certainly not for my grandmother. In any case I felt I had indulged her enough by bringing the matter up with Jeremy. I told my mother that there was definitely no need to alter the arrangements. As it happened, there wasn’t. My grandmother was much more wary about imposing herself on a younger generation that was not as complaisant as her daughter, and she not only refrained from bringing up the matter with me but also refrained from mentioning it again to my mother after my return.
Jeremy and Jane arrived as planned, and we had a delightful and untroubled week in Colombo, most of it spent on the beach at Mt Lavinia, which was Jeremy’s idea of paradise. Then we set off on a trip around the country, which was to culminate at the Kandy Perahera, for which we would put up at the old rambling family mansion, now inhabited only by my aunt, my grandmother’s niece.
On the very first leg of the journey, up to a tea plantation, Jane was sick. This did not entirely surprise me for the drive up through Ginigathhena, albeit spectacular, can be very steep at times and cause dizziness; but my assurance that the sickness would pass proved unfounded. A few hours after we reached the bungalow and Jane found herself unable to eat anything, nor indeed do anything except lie in bed in acute discomfort, it was resolved to send for a doctor.
The doctor was available only in the evening and, before he turned up, Jeremy called me aside out of earshot of our host and asked in conspiratorial tones. ‘Um – is it alright if we tell the doctor everything?’
I could not understand what he was getting at. Sudden visions struck me of the sickness arising from Jane being pregnant. ‘Why? What’s the matter?’
‘It’s just that she’s on the pill you see. And you’re not meant to take any other medicines with it. But as we were setting off on a long journey we thought we ought to start taking malaria tablets. It might be that that’s upsetting her. We didn’t want to tell the doctor without checking with you, in case it wasn’t done here.’
I found it rather touching that one small phrase over a telephone about my grandmother’s conservatism had led to such circumspection about upsetting Sri Lankan susceptibilities. I was about to reassure him that doctors, as I thought, were a breed to whom one could and should tell anything and everything, when a sudden thought struck me. ‘But why’s she on the pill? I thought you promised you wouldn’t do anything while you were here.’
Jeremy smiled at me indulgently. ‘Pills aren’t things you can stop taking and then start again just for the occasion,’ he explained. ‘You have to take them continuously, and after all we’re only here for three weeks. Besides – ’ he dimpled. His smile was much more appealing as he went on, ‘We weren’t quite sure whether the ban extended over the whole country, or only while we were at your house.’
I had not really, I suppose, thought of that. Where we were now Jeremy and I were sharing a room, while Jane had one to herself. However, the question was bound to arise later on. ‘Well – I think when you’re staying with people, it’s best not to do anything that might upset them. But as far as doctors are concerned, I don’t suppose there’s any question of upsetting them. It’s best to tell them everything. They’re supposed to keep confidences anyway.’
This was clearly a sensible decision, for the doctor did think that it was the combination of the pills that had upset Jane: he gave her another type of malaria tablet that did the trick, for after that first day she did not suffer again. The doctor had a drink with us before he left. Ridiculously, I felt relieved that he did not look at me askance, as if I had done something dreadful in bringing here this unconventional pair.