Chapter 2

Red Centurions

For Karim Azem

The place was frequented by Iranian ex-pats, Gulf Arabs, the odd stay Lebanese, Syrian or Egyptian (usually of the gay persuasion), Jews, Indians, cowboy-Russians – but only one Englishman. The owner hailed from some pre-revolutionary aristocratic family. He’d kept the idiosyncrasies of that antique, and for him, rose-tinted regime, however sullied by history’s pointing fingers, and dicta. As though Batista were some kind of saint, his corpulent body, his greedy bodying forth, rendered pristine, shriven, crystal. It was Mr Sohrab’s ‘pleasure’ to allow one Englishman in his bistro at a time. And only one. He’d a taut view of the value of an Englishman – and this, in the fallen melee of Kensington, London. This type – his archetypal Englishman – was either the real thing, a kind of outdated milord, or was the type who allowed his women, his girls, to go drinking, wearing skirts with no panties. That said: this stricture of his was not due to any stringent moral stance, but rather an almost aesthetic choice. As who should say: I allow the one Englishman as the lone color and peccadillo of my joint. The one licit sin here on my island, my fine island, lost inside the sway and loony tides of this grimy, this grubby London.