Fiction Fiction 2008

We Are All Businessmen

Ranil wanted a company scholarship for his son, and would do what he must to make the American executive feel well cared for.

I leave him and go to Mr. Richard’s room, where I hear someone inside, crying. It is a man. I cannot hear what he is saying as he sobs. I knock. The door opens and a girl, perhaps just 14, looks up. The light from the room shines around her dark hair. Her large brown eyes look confused, but they are dry. I go in. Mr. Richard is sitting on the bed, in a towel, holding his head in his hands.

I am in shock. I have never seen him like this. I look at the girl and ask her in Sinhalese what she has done.

She looks frightened and shakes her head.

Mr. Richard looks up at me. “Ranil, please, I didn’t want … I’ve got a daughter, for Chrissake.”

The girl flinches out of habit at his angry tone. She tells me in Sinhalese how Weiretunge brought her in and then left before the white man came out from the shower. Then, this white man came out, was drunk, and angry. He talked to her but she couldn’t understand.

I ask if he touched her, and she shook her head. I tell her to leave. She shakes her head. She says she still needs to be paid. I tell her to leave. She shakes her head and insists.

Mr. Richard talks also. Sometimes he is mumbling to himself and sometimes I can hear what he says. “I kept asking her if she wanted to go, but she wouldn’t. I told her no. I told her, honest, Ranil. Like I said, I have a daughter.”

“Sir, some of these villagers, they are poor and have no education. It is a pity. What to do?”

I open the door, tell her that Weiretunge is on the verandah, and she goes out. I also want to leave. Outside is the evening, the waves and lights, the stars and air. In here, alcohol, smoke, and a strange American. I feel as if a hundred scorpions are crawling near my feet waiting to jump on my skin.

But I go to Mr. Richard. “It’s OK, she has gone.”

He swears and mumbles something. Then he says, “Damn country. Can’t even get hookers right.”

I make him a glass of soda water with some lime and sugar. I offer him the glass. “Mr. Richard, here, this will help.”

He pushes it away. He looks toward the table, points to the scotch, and then says in a rising voice, “Here’s Johnnie!”

I do not like to do so, but I get the bottle for him. He is still very drunk. I am afraid of this anger.

But then he looks as if he will cry again. “I said a woman, not a girl.”

I am ashamed because I not only failed, but it was an assignment I did not want. It turned out badly. “I am sorry, Mr. Richard.” I can’t think of what to say.

He grabs the bottle and drinks. He wags a finger at me. “It’s a pity,” he says, and laughs. He looks like he will collapse, but he jerks himself forward. “Don’t think I care about all that. There are some things a man shouldn’t do, that’s all, Ranil. You get me?”

I nod.

“No, it’s not a pity. I’m telling you now that it’s wrong.”

“Yes, sir,” I look down. I feel like the carpet will swallow me up, so I sit in a chair facing the bed.

“Hell. I guess you just went to some fellow and said, ‘Get me a hooker.’ And then this kid turns up.” He takes a long gulp from the bottle. He is getting drunker.

I feel his eyes on me and am afraid to look.

“Ah, Ranil, it’s not your fault. You’re just doing your job. I ask for a car, you get one. I ask for lunch, you get it. I ask for a woman and, well, anyway. You’re just trying to take care of your family. I know. You’re trying to get your boy into college.”

I look at him.

He looks away from me. “Trouble is, the boss says we have to … how did that pompous ass put it? ‘Appease the locals.’ So that bastard commandant has a nephew in Deniyaya or wherever, and we’ve got to give him this year’s scholarship.”

“Sir? Are you saying you have made your decision? But my son …” I stand up, as if I am going to fight. Why, I don’t know. There is nothing I can do. And fighting this drunken American will make no difference.

“Sit down, Ranil. It’s business. You understand. Squire says we have to do that so the project runs smoothly.” He takes another drink. “Aw, hell. Nothing runs right in this fucking country. Can’t even do a whore right.” He looks at me, and then looks away. He is embarrassed. The boyish look on his face reminds me of the time I caught Arjuna lying about sneaking some of Uncle’s coconut toddy.

I remain standing. Looking down upon the drunken man’s face, I feel strange. This man is so weak, I think. It is sad. Ameri­cans. Always forgetting. Always promising something they shouldn’t. Like this. If an American education does this to a man, then how can I want that for my Arjuna? I make a proud face to hide my anger, but I think he sees.

“Ranil, please understand. It’s not my decision.”

At the door I want to stop and tell him hateful things, and use words that he has used all day. But I know he will want to do me favors to get my forgiveness. I won’t waste it. “Your car will be ready for you tomorrow as planned.”

Presented by

Mark Fabiano’s fiction has appeared in the Green Hills Literary Lantern, The Long Story, and German Village After Dark. He was awarded an Ohio Arts Council award in fiction for 2008. Fabiano worked for the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka, and now teaches at Keiser University.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In