the first time I saw Daniel was at the bus station. Where else would
he be on a busy afternoon in the season? He wasn't going anywhere, this
was it for Daniel - his place of work. His job started with us, the
weary passengers that the bus disgorged onto the dusty street. Welcome
to Nuwara Eliya, my tourist brochure read, Sri Lanka's mountain city
- the perfect place to spend your summer! Since colonial times the heat
beleaguered residents of Colombo, the island's capital, had fled the
coastal inferno of April for the relative coolness of these hills.
'Need a room, lady? Somewhere to stay?' The brown face, with its prominent
cheekbones and regular teeth, was framed by glossy black hair, hanging
shoulder length. The person before me resembled more closely my image
of an Apache warrior than a Sri Lankan bus-boy.
'No thanks.' I kept my tone curt, my expression grim. The last thing
I wanted was to encourage the attentions of one of these people. Brush
them off as quickly as possible, I'd been advised. They were leeches,
ready to suck visitors dry.
'O-kay. No problem.'
It was the eyes that did it guileless, twinkling black eyes.
And, as with all beautiful eyes, they were deeply sad. Daniel had already
stepped past me, looking for another customer. I tapped his blue denim
'I do need somewhere to stay,' I said, 'and later somewhere to live.
I've come to work here.'
Daniel cast one last glance over the passengers before turning the full
beam of his attention on me. He had little choice, I'd distracted him
at the vital moment. Other bus-boys had already secured the custom of
the few remaining tourists.
'You're going to stay here?' He looked pleased. He placed his hands
on trim blue-jeaned hips and looked me over with a smile. We were about
the same height and looked each other straight in the eye. His study
of me was openly sexually appraising, but not threatening. Nor unpleasant.
And I gave as good as I got.
'I've come to work with the poor...' I didn't get to finish my carefully
prepared explanation, Daniel interrupted.
'I'm poor,' he said simply, 'you can work with me.'
And it was my turn to smile.
'Jan Cotton,' I said and we shook hands.
Over the next few months Daniel's help was invaluable. He found me a
house, showed me around and explained where and how to get all manner
of things not obviously available: car spares, fresh fish, strawberries,
even marijuana. I never paid him, though he acted as cash-carrying middle-man
in numerous transactions. The prices seemed fair enough, and I supposed
Daniel took his cut somewhere along the line. Whenever I offered him
money he declined, saying I was his friend and looking hurt. Of course,
as my friend, he shared the luxuries of an ex-patriot lifestyle - plentiful
cigarettes, chocolate, booze and weekend car rides to the island's beautiful
beaches to go wind-surfing and chill out.
But it was access to my music that most pleased Daniel. Stoned, we would
sing along together, his voice outrageously flat but so full of joy
and energy it didn't matter. He was happiest sitting and listening for
hours to western pop and rock. Lounging in an evening arm chair, lazily
smoking a cigarette and sipping cold beer, Daniel would periodically
close-question me about the music: who were the people in some band
or other, what was this or that type of music called, how did the fans
dress... There was nothing he didn't want to know. And as he gathered
the information - all of it meticulously retained in his head - his
Daniel introduced me to his friends: bus-boys and other young men living
on the fringes of society. There was Spike, Raj, Mohammed, Lal... Many
others. Some of 'The Guys' became regular visitors and occasional guests
at my house. They came from the poorest families and were black sheep,
rebels. But with a cause. They wanted out of the poverty that ensnared
their peers. Appalled at the prospect of a life-time grubbing a farmers
living on an arid piece of dirt, breaking rocks in a road gang or toiling
in a tea factory, they chose to reject their culture and become outcasts.
Once, Daniel and I visited his family. He seldom went back himself because
of the disapproval he met, but I encouraged him into the visit for the
sake of my own fascination. The house was little more than a chicken
coup, a ramshackle shanty without water supply or sanitation. The place
was crammed with people and meagre animals. I received a warm welcome
from everyone and was treated with overwhelming generosity. A young
brother was dispatched to buy biscuits for me to eat with my tea. I
knew the whole family could have eaten for a week for the price of those
lemon creams. I sipped politely at my tea and ate sparingly. One thing
truly amazed me: how did Daniel - indeed all the bus-boys - emerge from
surroundings like these every morning dressed and groomed like young
studs straight out of a Coca-Cola ad?
A bus-boy's definitive role, his primary function, is male prostitute.
He is there to service the desires of the tourists, often working with
both sexes, to provide holiday romance: love in the sun. The payment
he receives is not always cash. The gift of a jacket here or a Walkman
there is often the reward from a professional friendship. But sex for
profit is the jewel in the crown for a bus-boy. He has to be able to
turn his hand to many things to survive. He operates as guide, minder,
money changer, drug dealer... Anything the tourist heart desires.
The guys I knew were hedonists, out to have a good time while the going
was good. They worshipped Mammon and regarded all things Western, especially
American, as icons, precious visions of another life - one to which
they all aspired. Bus-boys were versatile, amazingly resilient and greedy
for life. And they were desperate. Above all, they were desperate to
escape. They yearned to leave the poverty and the disapproval of their
society. They wanted freedom: to take the fun freeway to the free-for-all
West where everyone was rich and drove two cars. It would have taken
a harder heart than mine to disillusion them.
My new friends looked dangerous. They dressed in blue denims, leather
jackets and head-bands. They adorned themselves with tattoos, mirror
sunglasses, heavy silver earrings, neck-chains and bracelets. Their
largo had to be cool, their postures macho and their bodies trim. They
were heavily under the stylistic influence of the thrillingly Bad Michael
Jackson. The Jacko videos we watched at my house were worn thin and
white-static with over-playing. Daniel, until he smiled, was a particularly
bad looking dude. With his savage's face, broad shoulders and worked-out
arms swelling from a sleeveless T-shirt, he appeared street-wise and
But I'd come to know him. And so it was no surprise to me when, after
an evening of telling ghost stories around the fire, I had to walk him
home. He was scared of the dark, terrified of ghouls and - more practically
- robbers. That night as I walked beside him, he was embarrassingly
grateful for my company. He talked freely, revealing more of himself
than usual. He confided that violence terrified him. Merely to speak
of it left him visibly paled. The political situation in the country
was something he could hardly bring himself to discuss. He floundered
on the details of the conflict and shied away from analysis. As the
conversation continued, I realised that, despite his avid grip of pop
culture and his phenomenal memory for music trivia, Daniel was not a
The more I learned of Daniel's history, the more my observation was
confirmed. Ever since his earliest school days Daniel had, in his own
words, 'been done down'. He was too trusting, too gullible to play the
hand life had dealt him. In spite of his appearance, people sensed his
lack of guile and inevitably took advantage. Even, or rather especially,
the other bus-boys regularly took him to the cleaners. They short-changed
him on currency deals, sold him marijuana cut with green tea leaves,
sent him on fool's errands... It said a great deal for Daniel that his
good nature always prevailed. He returned from any wild goose chase
with a happy face and a story to tell. Invariably, he had met nice people,
made friends, and got into an adventure.
Spike, his 'best-best friend', was Daniel 's nemesis. Not that there
was any justice in the way Spike treated Daniel, but the former had
certainly been responsible for many a downfall - all of which he loved
to relate. Spike's earliest memory, and one of his favourite anecdotes,
was blaming Daniel for a shit he himself had done on the schoolroom
floor. Daniel would endure Spike's animated performance of this story
with good humour. His first recollection of Spike, he would then relate,
was when his friend had pulled him, a half-drowned five-year old, from
'He saved my life that day,' Daniel stated, his eyes brimming with tears.
Spike was small and wiry with dark skin and shockingly blue eyes, presumably
inherited from some seafaring European ancestor. When I looked into
those electric orbs, I saw cunning, quick wits and a steel ring of self-interest.
Spike was a villain, a rogue - charming and attractive, but definitely
not to be trusted. He was my least favourite among the bus-boys, though,
if I'm honest, he was the easiest to relate to. He was articulate and
gave me insights into the island's society and culture that the others
were unable to communicate. And if ever I tentatively raised Spike's
short-comings, Daniel was always the first to jump to his friend's defence.
'I think maybe Spike is taking tapes from here,' I suggested once.
'Oh no, he wouldn't do that!' Daniel paused for a long moment. 'Maybe
he's borrowing them to record. I will see he brings them back.'
On another occasion I told him: 'Spike's ripping you off for that Walkman,
it's worth much more than one hundred rupees.'
'Ah, it's o-kay. He's my oldest friend.' And a wide-eyed smile added,
he would never cheat me.
Then one day, when I'd lived in Nuwara Eliya for several months, Daniel
rushed into my kitchen, interrupting my frantic new campaign to annihilate
the ubiquitous cockroaches. He was very excited and out of breath.
'She has come!' he managed to pant.
'Good,' I grinned, 'that's always nice.'
'No, not that way.' Shy and embarrassed, he averted his eyes from my
gently mocking gaze. 'I mean I am in love. And she loves me!'
The latter statement was appended in response to my arched eyebrow.
Our many long evening talks had revealed Daniel was no stranger to falling
in love. One night, very stoned, he reached a total of thirty-eight
'affairs of the heart' before we collapsed in fits of drug-induced giggles.
And, by that stage, we were still only into his early twenties. It shocked
me when I first learned Daniel's age. He was almost forty, though he
looked at least ten years younger. Spike always claimed to be his junior,
but was reticent about being specific. If you looked long and hard at
the pair of them there were tell-tale signs: skin which had lost the
taut smoothness of youth; crows-feet furrowing from the corner's of
laughing eyes; tobacco stained fingers and teeth.
'She's called Sonja,' Daniel continued. 'She's Belgian; you'll meet
her; she's taking me to Belgium; she's twenty-three and so very very
He was obviously besotted. He cast his arms around in expansive gestures
as he spoke, focusing glistening eyes on the kitchen ceiling, clasping
his hands over his heart. He started to rush on, tripping over his words,
becoming breathless again.
'Whoa! Slow down. Have a cigarette, some tea - chill out.'
When he'd calmed down a little and we sat smoking cigarettes and sipping
tea, strong and sweet in the Sri Lankan style, Daniel filled me in.
He had met Sonja a week ago and they had spent most of the last seven
days in bed.
'That first morning when I looked at her sleeping, I knew she was the
'Love at first light!' I joked.
Unimpressed and undaunted, Daniel continued, 'On Saturday she returns
to Belgium - Bruxelles! And I will go with her. Once we get there I'll
get a job and we'll get married so I may stay.'
'This Saturday?' It was only three days away. Daniel shook his head
in confirmation - an indigenous gesture with which I was now comfortable.
'You've got it all figured out then?' I was warmed by Daniel's joy and
swept along on the tide of his enthusiasm. He shook his head.
'We will live happily for ever after.'
'I'll miss you, my friend,' I said, and felt a strange sadness settle
heavily in my chest.
'You will visit us when you return to Europe?' It was more a statement
than a question.
'Of course,' I said, but couldn't picture it.
There was an impromptu party at my house the day before the happy couple
departed. I met the lovely Sonja - and she was truly lovely - but we
didn't talk. Maybe I avoided a conversation, afraid to raise spectres
for her that might impinge on Daniel's dream. Was she prepared for the
reaction of family and friends? A holiday romance was one thing, but
bringing home a prospective husband was quite another. How would Daniel
cope with being transplanted to Bruxelles the culture, the weather...
What work could he do? I stilled my fears, and prayed silently that
it would work out for them.
It was a good party, we danced till dawn and drank innumerable toasts
to the happy couple. Spike was in his element, keeping everyone entertained
with a rich fund of stories and performing numerous tricks. In a drunken
sentimental gesture I bestowed upon Daniel the only thing of mine he'd
ever directly asked for. As the party jerked into its death throes on
the dance floor I gave him my Clash, 'Straight to Hell', T-shirt. He
embraced me and we shook hands for a long time. After that, I can't
I slept most of Saturday, slowly recovering from the night's excesses.
In the evening I went out in search of a ferociously hot curry, as all
Sri Lankan curries are. Meandering through the twilight streets, I met
'Fancy a curry and some beers at the Tristar? I asked. Obviously,
he would be my guest and I would pay.
'Sure.' We walked along, gossiping and giggling over incidents from
'Did they get off all right this morning?' I inquired after Daniel and
'Sure, they caught a lift on a tea truck going down to Colombo.'
'Spike went with them.'
'To see them off. And do some business in town.'
We continued on our way in silence. The curry was good, burning any
remnants of poison out of my system. We ate with our fingers in the
customary way. I sweated profusely, the chilli making my face glow red.
A ceiling fan rotated ineffectively, failing to disturb the thick evening
air. But the beers went down ice-cold and easy, cooling the fire in
my throat. Gecko's attended stoically around the walls of the restaurant,
ready to make their own meal of incautious mosquitoes. Raj and I were
joined by several others - travellers and bus-boys. Soon our table was
a cosmopolitan hubbub of chatter and laughter. I relaxed and forgot
It was months before I received news of my friend and his bride-to-be.
Once again it was Raj who brought me up to date. I picked him up on
the road, late one very dark night, about twenty mile from Nuwara Eliya.
I'd been visiting friends and he'd been down to the west coast, working
the tourist beaches. We drove a while in tired but companionable silence.
Then Raj spoke, casually dropping his bomb-shell.
'I saw Daniel,' he said calmly, as if it should come as no surprise.
'How...' I stammered. Where?
'Hika,' Raj said, indicating the most famous of the coastal resorts.
Not my favourite place, but a very popular spot, particularly with homosexual
tourists. The last time I'd been there the beach was almost exclusively
populated by fat, mostly German, men: oiled, deeply tanned and sporting
only minuscule posing pouches.
'What happened to Sonja?' I asked.
'Belgium,' Raj looked across at me. 'With Spike.'
'How the Hell?'
'Daniel didn't like to say. But then we smoked a little grass and he
told me. On the truck down to Colombo Daniel went to sleep on the bags
of tea. He was tired after the party.'
'It was quite a night,' I recalled.
'Sure. Anyway, when he woke up Spike and Sonja were...' Raj turned to
me, his palms open and shoulders raised. 'You know,' he shrugged.
'No! Even Spike wouldn't...'
'He did,' Raj said, shaking his head.
'I don't know any more. Daniel says they went to Belgium together.'
'So why is Daniel in Hika? Why doesn't he come home?' A sad smile flicked
across Raj's normally impassive face.
'He is too ashamed to come home. I don't think we'll see him in Nuwara
Eliya again. I promised him I would say nothing. He doesn't want anyone
to know about it - or about what he does now.' I locked my eyes on Raj's
face, confirming what I already knew.
'How is he?' I asked.
'He does not look well.' Raj looked away from me, out into the impenetrable
night. 'He has grown very thin.'
'What can we do?'
'There is nothing you can do.' Raj turned to face me and our eyes met.
'That's life for us. Some are lucky - or clever like Spike - and some
'It's not fair,' I said, 'Daniel is so... gentle.'
'He's too soft.' Raj's voice had a brittle edge.
'Are you lucky?' I asked, meeting his eyes again.
'Maybe,' he said. 'Who's to tell? There's still time for me.'
'And for Daniel?'
'I think his time is almost up.'
'Spike's a bastard,' I said.
'He saved Daniel's life once,' Raj reminded me.
'So?' I puzzled.
'Spike told me it was him who pushed Daniel in the river.'
For a few mile we lapsed into silence again, a stiffer, less comfortable
silence, each preoccupied. When we were approaching the city limits
of Nuwara Eliya. Raj visibly brightened.
'March,' he said, 'the season will start soon; visitors will come. Then
we'll have some fun, eh?'
'Yeah,' I managed, 'fun in the sun.'
'I'd like to find a nice British girl like you, Jan,' Raj said, smiling.
'Just like you,' he added, fluttering his long lashes and flirting unashamedly.
'Dream on,' I said.
'What is Britain really like?' Raj asked.
And, for Daniel's sake, I told him.
© Kelvin Mason 2001
The Advent of the Incredulous Stigmata Man and
Cold Snap can be purchased direct at discounted
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All you have to do is send a cheque made out to me Kelvin Mason
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Cold Snap is also still available from amazon.co.uk but, of course,
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