Pakistan 1976

I wonder if the bearded stranger will ever work it out.

I was sitting in my usual place, amongst all the foreign hippies in the National Hotel in Peshawar, when he walked in. He looked a bit cleaner-cut and brighter-eyed than the usual drugged-up foreigners so I bought him a tea. When he got back home, he told me, he’d be going to university so he was very tempted by the scholarship I offered. What student wouldn’t jump at the chance of $10,000 a year? I told him I just had to get permission from my boss, the Regional Director of the Seamans’ Welfare Scholarship Fund, to put him forward to the selection panel. Our region could nominate one person – and he would be our chosen one, I told him. He smiled.

The next day I told him the boss had approved his application. He smiled even more. Of course, I said, we had to be sure he was healthy. Salman was ready at the doctor’s surgery and was excellent. He took the blood sample, ‘x-rayed’ his chest with the fake machine, made him sign all the forms and pay the 120 rupees (about US$12). I smiled.

Tomorrow the bearded stranger would get a bus eastwards, and soon go home for his university.  I had the $12; I’d get a few dollars for the blood; he would never hear from me or the Seamans’ Welfare Scholarship Fund again.