All The Colours Of The Rain­bow

Ali­son Carter’s com­pelling com­plete story set in Wales in the Six­ties wel­comes you to our brand-new Spe­cial.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

A pe­riod story by Ali­son Carter

PALVIN­DER BHAN­DAL opened up her wardrobe and sur­veyed its con­tents. On the left were two sets of sen­si­ble skirts and shirts in re­strained colours, the things she’d worn when she worked on the assem­bly floor, hid­den be­neath a brown cot­ton over­all. Then came her cur­rent work out­fits – smart, silky blouses, and two skirts with match­ing jack­ets. These were for her su­per­vi­sor job.

Fi­nally came her Pun­jabi suits. Palvin­der had brought them from Lon­don to Dee­side, un­able to talk her­self into leav­ing them. Yel­lows, pinks and reds fought for dom­i­nance with pur­ples, greens and pea­cock blue, each du­patta scarf draped over a hanger to match its kameez and shal­war. The silks glowed.

Palvin­der frowned. Noth­ing was right for this evening. For . . . what was it? A trip out with a se­nior col­league to talk about her progress? A date?

Clive Neill hadn’t spec­i­fied where they’d go, or what they’d be do­ing. All she knew was that her boss had asked her to go to Ch­ester with him.

Palvin­der had barely been out since ar­riv­ing to take her job at Rain­bow Ap­pli­ances. A visit to a pub with the girls on the floor had been her only so­cial event, and that had been awk­ward. The women were kind enough, and tried to be wel­com­ing, but she felt dif­fer­ent. Since her pro­mo­tion, she’d mainly stayed in and read nov­els.

****

Clive ar­rived in a blue sports car. He climbed out of it slowly, held out a hand to her and led her to the pas­sen­ger side as though she were a queen. “It’s a Tri­umph Fury,” Clive told her. “It looks like a big blue dol­phin,” Palvin­der replied. Clive laughed loudly. “Ex­cel­lent,” he said. “It goes a treat with that stun­ning out­fit of yours.”

Palvin­der felt re­lief. She had opted, in the end, for one of her shal­war kameez. In for a penny, as she told her­self, in for a pound. If she was go­ing to get the tone wrong, why not go the whole hog and stand out like a sore thumb? But he liked it. “Where are we go­ing?” she asked bravely. “For a bit of din­ner. I love Ch­ester – af­ter the in­dus­trial sprawl that you and I in­habit.”

He made it sound as though they were equal at work, though she was a su­per­vi­sor work­ing shifts and he owned the place.

“I don’t want to sound awk­ward,” he said as the car purred into mo­tion, “but I’d like to get your name right; the pro­nun­ci­a­tion.”

She smiled. Peo­ple some­times avoided us­ing her name in case they got it wrong. Those who were civil to her, that is. There were oth­ers who called her in­sult­ing names be­cause of the colour of her skin. “As it’s writ­ten,” she said. “Pal-vind-er.” “Su­per,” Clive replied. “I’d love to know about where you hail from. I’m the cu­ri­ous type.” He steered ex­pertly round a cor­ner. “I’m also a bit of a glo­be­trot­ter. Talk to me about your home­land.”

“I came over with my par­ents in nine­teen forty-eight,” she said. “I was ten.”

“Giv­ing away your age there,” Clive said, laugh­ing.

He was re­ally very charm­ing – not the frown­ing fig­ure who some­times ob­served the floor from the walk­way above.

“I re­call a mix­ture of fear and ex­cite­ment,” she went on as they drove, “though I imag­ine it was more dif­fi­cult for my par­ents. My fa­ther had been in the po­lice force. Many Pun­jabi men from the Forces ended up em­i­grat­ing, look­ing for an eas­ier life.” “Jolly pleased you came,” he said, smil­ing. “We sailed in warm weather, but landed at Til­bury Docks in cold driz­zle. I was fas­ci­nated.”

They stopped at traf­fic lights, and Clive wound down the win­dow and hailed a pass­ing pedes­trian. “Mike!” The man hur­ried over. “Clive! Can’t stop, but –” “This is Palvin­der,” Clive in­ter­rupted. “Gosh, I didn’t see . . .” The man stopped, took in the emer­ald silk draped across her shoul­der and the tof­fee brown of her skin.

“Pleased to meet you,” he said even­tu­ally. The lights changed. “Got to go,” Clive called as Mike stepped back to the pave­ment.

****

They went to a bar in the cen­tre of Ch­ester, where Clive met at least five peo­ple he knew and in­tro­duced Palvin­der. There were cock­tails be­fore din­ner. He took her arm ev­ery­where and held open ev­ery door.

Later, Palvin­der un­locked the door of her digs, feel­ing that she’d been well and truly charmed.

THERE were two new em­ploy­ees due to start the next morn­ing, and Palvin­der went through her men­tal check­list. It was best to be on top form ev­ery day, all the time.

“Jenny, have the new staff ar­rived?” she asked an older woman. Jenny grinned. “The new man’s ar­rived. The girls are giv­ing him the once over.”

The once over meant a good teas­ing. The staff here was over half fe­male, and any new man went through an ini­ti­a­tion rit­ual of rib­bing. Women got their own ver­sion – queries about their love life, mostly.

Palvin­der had not been sub­jected to these. They’d stood back from her, po­liter than usual (as she had learned later), had slowly cir­cled un­til they found that she was like them, then re­laxed.

She hur­ried to find the new em­ployee, who was a Scot. He was sandy haired, big and broad shoul­dered, which was a re­lief as there was never enough mus­cle in the load­ing bays.

“Say that again, Jock,” one of the younger women was say­ing. “Say ‘I doon’t knoo’.” The man frowned. “I’m An­gus. An­gus Gunn.” The girls shrieked with laugh­ter. “Och aye the noo,” He­len Symes said, laugh­ing. “Auld lang syne, lad­die.”

“Morn­ing, He­len,” Palvin­der said, and the group turned.

“Had a nice time in Ch­ester?” Deirdre Smith was older, a Rain­bow vet­eran. “News trav­els fast, love.” A gig­gle rip­pled round the group. Deirdre ush­ered the girls away, and

Palvin­der was en­tranced by rich, hand­some Clive’s at­ten­tions, but was he ev­ery­thing he seemed?

Palvin­der raised her clip­board. “Mr Gunn, isn’t it?” “An­gus, yes.” “Well, we’ll show you the ropes. Then we’ve a load of or­ders wait­ing to clear the floor. It says here that you have fork-lift ex­pe­ri­ence?”

An­gus was a quick learner. He also lis­tened – a skill that was rare.

“What brings you to Dee­side?” Palvin­der asked. “Where are you from?”

“Dum­bar­ton,” he said. “I came south be­cause . . .” He paused. “I wanted a change.”

He took the over­all she of­fered, the largest the stores had.

“Thanks,” he said. “Were you born here? In this coun­try, I mean.”

Palvin­der was taken aback. Peo­ple usu­ally skirted round the is­sue of her ori­gins. “I’ve been here since I was ten.” “And you’re how old?” How blunt he was. “I’m twenty-six,” she said, see­ing no rea­son not to an­swer. He looked down at her. “It’s harder to tell some­one’s age when they’re from a dif­fer­ent race, don’t you think?” He grinned. “Maybe all Scot­tish men look the same to the English – hair like Rob Roy?”

“Um, I don’t know. Look, both of us ought to get on.” He but­toned up the over­all. “Sorry. I put peo­ple off, the way I talk. I’ve a big mouth.” Palvin­der looked at him. “I wasn’t put off. It’s just that it’s nearly nine o’clock.”

She watched him stride away to­wards where Jenny stood beck­on­ing. He went with his head a lit­tle bowed, and Palvin­der won­dered if that was be­cause he was so tall, or be­cause – in some way – he was sad.

CLIVE was keen to see her again. “You looked stun­ning the other night. Do you have other out­fits like that?” “Shal­war kameez? Sev­eral.” “Why don’t I cook? My house, seven on Satur­day night.”

Palvin­der was sur­prised, when she ar­rived, to find six other guests wait­ing in the din­ing-room. Six white faces, three of each gen­der, smiled po­litely at her.

“Palvin­der works with me,” Clive said. “Isn’t she fab­u­lous?”

Palvin­der blushed. A drink was put in her hand, and soon Clive was lead­ing her about the room.

“Her fam­ily is Pun­jabi; she’s lived in Lon­don, and now she can al­most claim she’s Welsh! Won­der­fully ex­otic.”

“You have to tell us more about your jour­ney,” he said as they ate.

Six faces turned to­wards her. Palvin­der felt a lit­tle as though she were on show, but Clive smiled en­cour­ag­ingly.

“Well, it was nine­teen forty-eight when we ended up in an im­mi­grant camp in a base­ment near Sel­fridges.”

“I bet that was up­set­ting,” Clive said, look­ing round the group. “Liv­ing rough be­side a store crammed with things to buy.”

“I sup­pose back then there wasn’t much in Sel­fridges to buy, even if I’d known what it was. We were di­vided up, girls and boys.” Clive sighed. “I hope our at­ti­tude to visi­tors is more civilised these days.”

“We got rooms in Lon­don af­ter a week or so, and then my fa­ther walked all over the city look­ing for work.”

“And you chil­dren drew com­ments?”

“It was nat­u­ral.” Palvin­der shrugged.

“When they learned I was In­dian, they ex­pected a Red In­dian. Af­ter I be­gan school, I changed my ac­cent fast,” she went on.

Clive’s hand was on her arm. “You shouldn’t have had to do that.”

Later Palvin­der wasn’t com­pletely sure, as she thought about the evening, if it had been nice to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion or un­set­tling. But Clive told her on the phone the next morn­ing that she was a huge hit.

“They adored you.” Palvin­der blinked. Had there been time to be­come adored?

THE fol­low­ing Fri­day Palvin­der was com­ing out of the fac­tory when she no­ticed the new man, An­gus, head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Jenny and the girls called to him. “You’ll come for a beer or two, Jock?” “I’m tired,” he said. “Come on!” Jenny yelled. “We’ll wake you up!” She saw Palvin­der. “The boss here will buy. It’s a new em­ployee’s tra­di­tional treat!”

Was it? Palvin­der felt she couldn’t say no, but she was ex­pect­ing a call from Clive that evening. He had men­tioned din­ner on Satur­day.

The pub was busy, and the next hour was mainly spent try­ing to hear shouted con­ver­sa­tions and see through the smoke.

An­gus, op­po­site Palvin­der across three ta­bles, lis­tened, but stayed apart from the rest.

He had a mild face, but there was some­thing in his move­ments which hid emo­tion. The fac­tory girls didn’t

seem at­tracted to him.

“They aren’t im­pressed by An­gus,” Jenny told Palvin­der. “He doesn’t have the gift of the gab.”

“Far from it,” Bette added. “He’s no sub­tlety. When Mar­got asked him if her colour and set was nice, he said she was ru­in­ing her hair!” Jenny nod­ded. “The young ones don’t like that. They like a man to make them feel good.”

Palvin­der knew that the next evening she was likely to be in the com­pany of a man who knew how to do that more than most.

****

It was a cold night, and when the bus failed to ar­rive, An­gus sug­gested they both walk.

“I go the same way as you,” he said mat­ter-of-factly.

“The com­pany would be nice,” Palvin­der said po­litely. “I’m no con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist.” Palvin­der frowned. “You seem quiet,” she agreed. “Ev­ery­thing all right?” He laughed. “I’m an open book, aren’t I? Can’t hide a thing.”

“I’m your su­per­vi­sor. Maybe you’d work bet­ter with what­ever it is off your chest.” He smiled. “You don’t want to hear about me.”

“I do,” Palvin­der said, and at that mo­ment it felt true.

“I came south to es­cape,” he ex­plained. “Noth­ing new – the usual tale of a bloke dumped, need­ing to get away and start afresh. Why did I al­ways speak my mind, she wanted to know. She wanted to be wooed or some­thing.” He sighed. “I told her she was the one for me, but she needed to know why. She wanted glam­our and mys­tery.”

Palvin­der thought of Clive. The glam­our, the way he wooed her – it was cer­tainly welcome.

“Oh, I live here,” she said, stop­ping. They were stand­ing be­low a street lamp. The lines of his jaw and cheek were lit by its yel­low glow. Palvin­der saw in his un­com­pli­cated face a kind of beauty. “Good­night,” he said. Palvin­der walked up the path, and as she turned her key, she felt his eyes on her.

****

Palvin­der went out with Clive of­ten.

“I con­fess I’m show­ing you off,” he said one evening at his club in Ch­ester. “Not many chaps get to have a girl like you on their arm.”

He’d just given Palvin­der a beau­ti­ful set of ban­gles.

Later, he kissed her in the lobby of the club as peo­ple came and went. It felt public, but Clive laughed at her shy­ness.

“I like mak­ing other chaps jeal­ous.”

“I’m just off to pow­der my nose,” Palvin­der said.

“I’ll wait. There’s a man I want to see you. I mean, a man I want you to meet.”

When she re­turned to the lobby Clive was deep in con­ver­sa­tion with a very fat, red-faced man. Palvin­der hes­i­tated be­side a pil­lar. Clive was be­ing ex­pan­sive, wav­ing his hands.

He kept talk­ing, and Palvin­der held back, not want­ing to in­ter­rupt. Busi­ness, she knew, had some­times to mix with plea­sure.

The fat man stepped nearer to her pil­lar and col­lapsed into a chair. Palvin­der de­cided that it would be em­bar­rass­ing to pop out sud­denly from be­hind a pil­lar, so she waited.

“She’s a corker,” Clive was say­ing, and Palvin­der blushed. “In­dian. She wears saris and all of that.”

“I bet Ge­off Eas­ton is im­pressed,” the man said. Clive chuck­led. “I showed her to old Ge­off last week. He was green with envy. He’s with some bland lo­cal girl – noth­ing spe­cial.”

“You’re some­thing,” the man said. “I liked the look of the one you had in the sum­mer. Six feet if she was an inch. Old Ge­off couldn’t take his eyes off her. From . . . where was it?”

“North Africa some­where. Very tall girls in North Africa. You know I’m lib­eral when it comes to this sort of thing, and I think it gives me an edge.”

“I’m all for it, Clive, hav­ing an ex­otic on your arm. As long as they’re happy to be dec­o­ra­tive.” Clive laughed. “She gets wined and dined reg­u­lar as clockwork. Jew­ellery gifts, the lot. She works for me at Rain­bow. The com­pany’s as open-minded as I am, Mau­rice! And I do love it when cur­tains twitch – I en­joy dis­ap­proval.”

“You’re quite the cos­mopoli­tan.”

“That’s the word. Ac­tu­ally, it’s more con­ve­nient, too. She’ll go off and marry her own kind in the end.”

Palvin­der didn’t stay to hear more. She skirted the edge of the hall and ran into the street. It was cold and her coat was draped over Clive’s arm, but she wasn’t go­ing back.

She found her way to the bus sta­tion and thank­fully there was a fi­nal bus back home.

Sit­ting hunched in her seat as the tears flowed, Palvin­der thought an­grily about how naïve she had been, mis­tak­ing self­ish­ness and su­per­fi­cial­ity for gen­uine in­ter­est. The only thing he wanted was some­one ex­otic to adorn his ego. She was a tem­po­rary bit of tinsel.

IT be­gan to rain as Palvin­der climbed off the bus. A few peo­ple she recog­nised from Rain­bow came out of a cof­fee shop.

Just be­hind the main group was the large fig­ure of An­gus. He had com­pleted his train­ing, she re­mem­bered, and was be­gin­ning with a week of late shifts. She’d handed him a time sheet and they’d had a chat about the com­plex­ity of the form. He’d said some choice things about com­pany bu­reau­cracy and made her laugh.

Palvin­der ducked across the road to avoid meet­ing them all, but it was al­most as though Gunn sensed her pres­ence, and he crossed, too. “Miss Bhan­dal,” he said. His voice was soft. She had been fo­cus­ing ahead, but the sound made her stop and sud­denly he was be­side her. “You’re un­happy.” The sim­ple words, with­out the small talk that would nor­mally have come first, were too much for her and she burst into tears. He wrapped his arms around her un­til she barely felt the rain. Palvin­der had no idea how long they stood like that, but when she dis­en­tan­gled her­self, she saw wa­ter run­ning down his neck, and hair plas­tered to his skull.

“You lis­tened to me,” he said, lead­ing her home with­out wait­ing for her to speak. “Now it’s my turn.”

Palvin­der told him ev­ery­thing. He didn’t com­ment; he didn’t in­ter­rupt her with plat­i­tudes or en­cour­ag­ing lies.

“I’ve been the big­gest fool,” she said fi­nally. “I’ve been pa­raded and gaw­ped at, and the man who ar­ranged it all doesn’t care about me one bit. He said I was fas­ci­nat­ing.”

She looked up at An­gus, who sat op­po­site her on a stool, his el­bows on his knees. She couldn’t re­mem­ber the last time some­one had just waited while she talked.

“I don’t know what that means,” he said.

“He made me feel I was the most ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son in the world.”

“No­body’s the most ex­tra­or­di­nary per­son in the world,” he said. “At least, it’s sta­tis­ti­cally very un­likely.”

She laughed in spite of her dis­tress.

“You are funny,” she said. “I’ve never met some­one so plain-spo­ken. Wasn’t the girl you loved in Scot­land ex­tra­or­di­nary? Didn’t you find your­self un­der a spell?” She looked at the worn car­pet.

He frowned, and shook his head.

“I don’t think I’m ca­pa­ble of be­ing fas­ci­nated by women. I sup­pose I have no ro­mance in me.”

Palvin­der saw his chest rise and fall slowly.

“I loved Kirsty. That’s all I said be­cause it was all I had to say. I wanted her to be be­side me al­ways. I was at­tracted to ev­ery­thing about her and I thought she loved me.”

Palvin­der stared back at him. Her breath seemed to have been taken away by what he said.

“I can’t say what’s not in my heart. She wanted more.”

Palvin­der reached across the space be­tween them and took his hand. For a mo­ment they sat there, but then he stood, his tall f ig­ure f illing the space in the tiny room, a pres­ence that was com­fort­ing but also pow­er­ful. He pulled her to her feet, look­ing all the while into her eyes, and kissed her.

“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t know about the pre­am­ble.”

“I don’t think Kirsty was lis­ten­ing,” Palvin­der replied. She was as­ton­ished by what was un­fold­ing, but cer­tain that it was all right.

“Let’s not talk about Kirsty,” he said. “Peo­ple like me – peo­ple who only know how to speak their mind – they live in the here and now.”

“That’s fine,” Palvin­der replied, be­fore they kissed again.

The End.

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