Pakistan, June 1978
THE ACRID smell of tobacco couldn’t mask the faint aroma that drifted my way as I passed a trio of ladies exchanging pleasantries. It was Nina Ricci’s famous perfume, L’Air Du Temps, the one with the remarkable bottle top made by Lalique. My mother would dab it strategically behind her earlobes and in between her breasts before attending any function, and the abrupt reminder of a wrenching loss I hadn’t quite come to terms with hit me hard and drove me toward the bar I spied on the other side of the room.
There were other, more exotic odors I couldn’t identify as I made my way through the small group of dignitaries vying for my father’s attention. A pungent reminder that I was no longer in Spain but in dreary Karachi, Pakistan. You would think I’d be used to foreign postings by now, being the only son of a US ambassador who traipsed around the world at a moment’s notice, but it never got easier. The only thing that improved with each jarring change was the alcohol content of my beverages. Having left short pants a while back, I was finally starting to look more like a young adult than a precocious wunderkind, and waiters stopped pushing innocuous sugary drinks in favor of the more sophisticated martini, which the diplomatic corps guzzled like water.
Father glanced my way as I was reaching for a cocktail glass off the tray a turbaned waiter was passing around diligently and raised one of his eyebrows in his usual understated manner. He was probably wondering if one drink might lead to many more, but he was too polite to make a scene in public. He turned away instead, but not before I got the familiar scowl, silently warning me to use moderation or risk his wrath at the end of the night.
I took a sip of the drink and gagged. It was revolting. I couldn’t understand why anyone in their right mind would prefer this to the undiluted whiskey favored in the UK, where I’d mostly grown up. After sampling the dregs left behind by my parents’ guests for years, I’d become quite the connoisseur. God only knows what they preferred in their martinis over here in the armpit of the Middle East. Of all the places in the world I could have celebrated my eighteenth birthday, Karachi was my last choice.
When Father casually mentioned he’d been assigned to Pakistan a week ago, I’d been planning a soiree with my friends in Barcelona. We were going to do it up right and celebrate by barhopping until dawn. Instead I found myself in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by people who weren’t crazy about Westerners in general and Americans in particular. To make matters even worse, I’d just come to the life-altering conclusion that I was homosexual. Not bisexual as I’d previously assumed, but unmistakably, irrevocably, bent.
If these people got wind of my orientation, I’d probably be stoned in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, where we were staying until our housing got squared away. Due to our sudden arrival, the quarters of the previous ambassador in Jamshed Town, an affluent suburb of Karachi, were being refurbished to my father’s specifications. In truth, I much preferred living in a hotel anyway, with no bedroom to straighten up or chores to complete; housekeeping was far more diligent than I’d ever be. Nonetheless, Father insisted on some semblance of normalcy, and living in a hotel was too transient. If Mother were still here, I could have coaxed her into staying in Spain with me until after my birthday celebration, but she wasn’t, so the upshot was me in a room full of strangers trying to find something or someone to take my mind off my current state of ennui.
I surveyed the crowd to see if anyone might tempt me to risk my father’s reputation and possibly my life. The list of things I wasn’t allowed to do in this predominantly Muslim country was a mile long. Spencer, Father’s right hand and my unofficial watchdog, droned on—sounding remarkably like a bleating lamb instead of the Rhodes Scholar he was—during the plane ride over, stressing the importance of keeping my proclivities under wraps. Tension was already sky-high since the election of General Zia-ul-Haq following the military coup in 1977, and neighboring Iran was on the brink of destruction, with the shah poised to flee the country at any minute. The last thing anyone needed was an international incident involving the gay son of an American diplomat. To be blunt, Spencer told me to keep my hands to myself and my prick tucked safely in my boxers. Sodding prig… what did he know about passion? The man had never even married.
Another waiter walked by, and I traded the barely sipped martini for something appearing much more satisfying. The ice clinked against the tall glass filled with a reddish-orange liquid, and after taking a tentative sip, I could detect the bitter taste of Campari in the mix. It was refreshing, and I tapped the waiter on his stiffly starched white shirt to ask him what I was drinking.
“It’s a Rose Collins, sahib,” he answered deferentially.
He bobbed his head and began circulating once more.
“Have you never had a Rose before tonight?”
I turned to respond and was brought up short by the sight of a man in a white Nehru jacket. He was my height, roughly five ten or eleven, and appeared to be close to my age. The husky voice enunciating the question in perfectly accented English gave me goose bumps. He was the embodiment of every fantasy I’d harbored since watching the movie Lawrence of Arabia at least ten times. It had released in 1962, a couple of years after I was born, and had won every major award in the world of cinematography, a field I hoped to enter after completing college. I had drooled over Omar Sharif on many occasions, and this stranger could have walked onto a Hollywood set quite easily.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Have we met?”
The hawkish nose and winged brows were a stark contrast to limpid brown eyes the color of good english toffee. He smiled, and a dimple appeared near the corner of his mouth, making the fierceness I found at first glance vanish in a heartbeat. He had dark skin, not African dark but several shades darker than mine, and the gold-embroidered white jacket he wore magnified the richness of his complexion.
“Prince Kamran Izadi,” he said, bowing slightly. “At your service.”
At your service. Dear God. I would have dropped to my knees in an instant and serviced him if he’d indicated an interest. The artistic side of my nature picked every one of his features apart, and I wished I had my sketch pad close by to start a rough drawing. His demeanor was commanding, as could be expected from a royal, and although I’d grown up in a country where blue blood sightings were an everyday occurrence, I’d never actually met one. Kamran was the embodiment of a prince, at least the ones I’d glorified, but ten times better because he was real and not some fantasy I’d conjured up in my head. As usual, my imagination had taken flight in the middle of our conversation, and I had to concentrate to catch up.
“Grady Ormond,” I said, stretching out my arm. “Ordinary citizen.”
He smiled, apparently amused by my description. I noticed he had beautiful white teeth without the Sharif gap I had never found appealing, and his full lips were perfectly formed, as if they’d been carved by an artist. Reflexively, I ran my tongue along my lips, wondering what he would feel and taste like. I chased that idea away as soon as it materialized. There was nothing in Kamran’s countenance to indicate he was anything like me.
“If you’re in this room, you can’t be ordinary,” he said politely. “Most of the people here tonight are in some position of power.”
“Undoubtedly,” I responded, “but it’s my father who counts. I’m just his tagalong.”
“You’re being too modest.”
“Not at all,” I assured him. “I’m merely an aspiring artist/cinematographer.”
“Pleased to meet you, Grady,” he said. He paused as he said my name and let the r roll off his tongue slowly, practicing the sound to make sure he got it right. I was aware that my name wasn’t common, especially on this side of the world. It was actually my late mother’s surname and assigned to her only living child to keep her genealogy alive.
“Are you really a prince?” I asked.
“For the moment,” he replied stiffly. “While my uncle is still in power.”
“Who’s your uncle?”
“Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.”
My goodness… that was certainly a name to be reckoned with around here. “I see.”
“When did you get into town?” Kamran asked.
“This morning. We’re staying at the Intercontinental until our house is ready.”
“So at the moment, you have no friends.”
“I hope I just made one,” I said boldly.
This time he laughed out loud, and I felt the heat of embarrassment staining my cheeks. I was overreacting to his attention, but I couldn’t control myself. There was something about him that made me act like a bloody groupie.
“Are you always so frank?” Kamran asked, reaching for a glass of something cold from another passing waiter.
“Yes, much to my diplomatic father’s chagrin. According to him, I lack the fine art of subtlety.”
“I can understand his concern,” Kamran replied. “Especially around here.”
“Why is that?” I asked curiously.
“The prevailing atmosphere doesn’t leave much room for honesty,” he said before taking another sip of his beverage.
I watched him, noting the way his Adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed. There was no reason why the bony protuberance should catch my attention, but it did. The thought of marking his neck with a series of hickeys sent a spark of heat to my groin.
Struggling back to reality, I asked, “What are you drinking?”
“Are you a teetotaler?”
“I’m a devout Muslim,” he responded as if that explained everything.
I made a mental note to find out exactly what it implied. Learning the boundaries of his religion would go a long way in establishing our friendship.
“What do you do when you’re not being princely?” I asked.
Kamran grinned, and the dimple appeared again, erasing all vestiges of propriety. “I’m on holiday for the moment, which means I can do anything I want.”
“Do you have duties to perform once this vacation is over?”
“My job is to be an ambassador of goodwill and pretend nothing is wrong in my country.”
“Are things that bad back home?”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“My straight talk seems to be contagious.”
“Or maybe I’m comfortable in your presence,” Kamran reasoned.
“Do you have time to take a new acquaintance on a friendly tour of this town?”
“Of course,” Kamran said graciously. “Anything in particular you wish to see?”
“I’ve heard that Pakistani beaches are famous for green turtle migrations.”
“You’ve heard right. There are several beaches close by, and July is the perfect time to observe this firsthand.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, Hawks Bay Beach is twenty kilometers southwest of Karachi.”
“I’d love to film it.”
“It shouldn’t be a problem, although I believe they only come out at night.”
“I have a camera that handles low lighting.”
“July is still a few weeks away, Grady. What would you care to do until then?”
“Should I call you Prince Kamran?”
“Please don’t,” he said. “Kamran will do. Soon my title will be meaningless.”
“Maybe this turmoil will blow over and life as you know it will go back to normal,” I said encouragingly. I wasn’t well versed on the unrest in Iran, but my father and his advisors had talked about it enough for me to know there was a definite situation brewing over there.
Kamran regarded me with a somber countenance. “In shaa Allah,” he said softly.
“Do you know anything about turtle migration?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.
“I could give you a tutorial on pigeons or polo, but I’m afraid turtles are not my forte.”
“Then we’ll learn about them together,” I said. “I do know that Pakistan is an important nesting ground for the green turtle.”
“So I’ve been told,” Kamran concurred. “Apparently thousands lay their eggs between July and December. I’ve never been interested in observing this phenomenon until now. Surprising, considering I’m such an animal lover.”
“Do you have many pets?” I asked. “I’ve always wanted a dog but was never allowed because we moved around so much.”
“That’s too bad,” Kamran sympathized. “I have a pair of salukis, several horses, and cages of carrier pigeons.”
“Do you mean homing pigeons? I thought that went out of style with the advent of telephones.”
“They’re still used in remote parts of the world. I keep mine mostly for pleasure.”
“Could you send me a message if you wanted?”
“They’d have to be trained to come to you, but it can be done.”
“By luring them with food. I’d bring one or two in a cage and introduce them to your environment with enticing bits of fruit and grain. They’d learn to fly back and forth between our two locations.”
Excitedly, I asked, “Can we try it when I move to our house?”
“What else do you do?” I asked curiously.
“I think it’s my turn to gather some information,” Kamran stated. “Tell me a little bit about Grady Ormond.”
“What’s to tell? I’m a rootless traveler who dreams about making movies someday.”
“Why are you so nomadic?”
“Come on, I’m the son of a diplomat. We’ve never stayed in any place long enough for me to consider it a home. Boarding school is the one constant in my life.”
“Do you miss having something more permanent?”
“How can I miss something I’ve never known?”
“My family has been a part of this world for centuries.”
“Must be nice,” I said.
A dark cloud seemed to pass across Kamran’s face, and his animated features turned stony all of a sudden. For a second I thought he’d walk away, but he gathered whatever reserves he had and turned philosophical instead.
“Roots can also strangle if you let them,” he said. “Life without liberty is like a body without spirit.”
“Did you just make that up?” I asked, suitably impressed.
“Oh no,” he said, shaking his head. “I was quoting Khalil Gibran.”
“So you love poetry on top of everything else?”
The shadow scudded off and he smiled sweetly. “It’s one of my guilty pleasures.”
“Interesting… you’re such an enigma.”
“I’d prefer to call it well rounded,” Kamran said. “Now, getting back to you. I’m intrigued by this idea of filmmaking. Are you seriously considering it as a career?”
“Absolutely. I’m already enrolled at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for the fall semester.”
“When is that exactly?”
“End of August,” I said, surprised that he didn’t know. “Didn’t you go to school in England?”
“How can you tell?”
“I suppose I did pick up the Etonian flair for speech.”
“I was at Harrow.”
“That’s why we both speak like a pair of toffs.”
Smirking, I nodded. “Fortunately, I’ll lose it the minute I hit the sidewalks of New York. I have this uncanny ability to acquire accents within a span of weeks.”
“I’m not that fortunate,” Kamran said. “I had difficulty learning English so my father insisted that I stay in boarding school until I spoke it fluently.”
“You sound perfect to me,” I said honestly.
“Thank you,” Kamran said. “Would you like to learn my language?”
“In less than three months?”
“Didn’t you just tell me you had an aptitude for linguistics?”
“More or less.”
“You can learn a lot in that time frame,” Kamran said encouragingly.
“Let’s make the attempt,” I replied.
IF I had known the significance of his casual observation, I might have done things differently, but I had no idea that my time with Kamran would turn into such a defining moment. Would I have passed on this experience if I could have seen the future? I didn’t think so. I was too caught up in the novelty of being in the presence of royalty to temper my enthusiasm. I’d made a new friend, and this dreaded location might not be so bad after all.