As a cricket scholar at an elite school in Colombo, Prabu Ramanathan, a Tamil orphan, develops a bond with Indika, the hunky heartthrob, that threatens to cross the fine line that transforms the closest friendship into betrayal. Such problems and those of school, examinations, cricket matches, first crushes and sinister schoolmasters are just one part of Prabu's life as he tries to forget a far more dangerous world, one where he trained to be a child soldier during the Sri Lankan civil war. Panther explores the anger that is born of a terrible past and asks whether friendship can be more powerful than the desire to seek revenge.
The following is excerpted from "Panther".
Wearing just his boxers, he took a running dive into the deep end of the swimming pool. Returning to the surface, he slapped the back of his hand against the water, aiming the resulting splash at Prabu. 'Machan, I just wanted you to come for a swim. Don't know what used to happen to you gay boys back in Jaffna--'
'I'm from Paddanichchipilayankululm.'
'That's just a noise.' Indika's eyebrows arched. 'What the hell'd you just say?'
'That's where I have reside before.'
'Not drunk enough, dude, if you can still say that name.' Indika took a mouthful of water. Spat it out in Prabu's direction. 'Jump in.'
'The purpose of my reluctance is that I am unfamiliar with the deep end when swimming.'
'You can't swim?' Indika asked.
'They train me in flotation, but I am not so much confident.'
Swimming breaststroke, Indika bisected the reflection of the moon in the water. He waved Prabu towards the shallow end.
Prabu took off his shirt, and when he unbuckled his belt, his borrowed jeans fell right off him.
'Jesus,' Indika said. 'Those are the smallest underpants I've ever seen on a man.'
'My uncle gave them to me, because they became too much small for him.'
'Is your uncle, like, ten years old?'
Indika almost pissed himself laughing. 'I'm not going to ask. Just get in before people think you're naked.'
Prabu kissed the pendant hanging from his neck. Lifted his hands to his mouth, up to the sky, closed his eyes, chanted in Tamil. Held his nose before jumping in.
As soon as his head went underwater, Prabu knew he would die. Flapping his arms, he sucked in what he hoped was air. Instead, chlorinated water.
In time, he realized that he could actually stand so he allowed his shouts and screams to whimper out as he surfaced with chemically treated water dribbling out of his mouth.
Indika reached out to him. 'You've been brought up in the warzones, right?'
'Correct,' Prabu said, dragging up his little underpants. 'Prior to the war ending.'
'So you've seen bombs, landmines, gunfire? Things like that?'
Prabu held on to the side of the pool. 'Every day. Maybe more.'
Indika's hands above the water. 'And you're scared of jumping into a pool?'
'Astrologer told to my mother that maybe I would meet my death in water. Result, I remain committed to a fear of swimming.'
'We're just standing, dude. Don't worry.' Indika crouched into the water. Squinting, he pointed up the slope towards the clubhouse. 'You see that girl coming in?'
'My shits, she is a hot like a waitress,' Prabu said.
The girl, at about five foot five, was taller than the boy she was with. Looking out over the club's cascade into the sea, she repeatedly brushed her hand through her blonde highlighted hair. Appearing to struggle with the tightness of her black dress as she sat down, she crossed her arms in front of her breasts. Breasts the likes of which Prabu had only seen in sketches. Her skin, the colour of coffee ice cream, made the boy she was with look almost too dark to be noticed at night.
'Isabella,' Indika said. 'Half English, half Sri Lankan. I really, really want to snog her.'
'What you want to do to her?' Prabu dropped his head to one side. 'Smock?'
'Snog, you know. Means kiss.'
'Oh yes.' Prabu let out a schoolgirl giggle. 'She certainly is worth for a kiss. Maybe more.'
Indika smacked his hand down against the surface of the pool water. 'But she's going out with that punk apparently.'
'He have the same face to the wicketkeeper from our game today.'
'Yeah, dude, it's his brother. Remember? Calls himself Shock Ice.'
Shock Ice wore baggy jeans buckled around his hip bones, showing red boxer shorts. Strutted like a bodybuilder, thrusting his flabby chest out in a camouflage tanktop. He wore large gold chains around his neck. A baseball cap back to front.
'What a jackasshole.' Prabu scrunched up his nose. 'Why she is with him?'
'Didn't know she was. Clearly just interested in his flash car and bodyguards. Thought better of her.'
Shock Ice sat at a table opposite Isabella. His five bodyguards jostled around testing the champagne and butter-fried cuttlefish for him.
Indika and Prabu dripped their way back to the sunbeds, dressing without drying themselves.
'Rub your hands against the side of your jeans,' Indika said, passing Prabu a cigarette.
Holding it between his thumb and forefinger, Prabu sucked in the smoke, coughing more out than seemed to go in.
'You're not inhaling, machan,' Indika said. 'Take it into your throat.' With his gaze locked on Isabella, he poured two glasses of arrack, Prabu's much the larger.
'Watch this.' Indika pulled out his phone, dialling a number. Shock Ice's phone rang to the theme of 'You're Beautiful' by James Blunt.
He answered. 'Wassap?'
Indika hung up. 'Have his number because he once called me asking if I knew any white chicks.'
Prabu ducked under the table. 'Shit the panties. Then he know you are person who called that call.'
'Called the ... No, dude, my number doesn't show up. Just says private number.' Indika took a sip of arrack, threw a hand to his mouth. Bolted off in the direction of the changing rooms.
A loud, high-pitched shout from the bar deck.
Shock Ice stood up. Back-heeled his chair away. Pounding himself on the chest with his fist, he spat at
Isabella's feet, pissed off out of there.
The bodyguards stormed after him, leaving a waiter standing with an open bottle of Moet in his hands.
Isabella listened to what the waiters had to say, nodding her head as they spoke. She waved at Prabu, tripping over her high heels as she walked towards him.
'Is Indika with you?' she asked in an accent that Prabu thought was a bit like Mr Carter's but not quite.
He smiled and grunted, looking down her cleavage before he realized he had done so. Unable to speak, he
rolled his head to say yes.
The next few moments were a blur. The greatest thing to ever happen to him, but the worst thing possible for his friendship with Indika.
Indika returned, rocking heavily from one foot to the other, his hair slicked back with extra water. 'What did Isabella want?'
Prabu, head bowed, grabbed him by the shoulders. 'I am many sorry, my friend.'
Indika's eyebrows merged as he fell back into a chair.
'I know you love this Isabella, and why not?' Prabu said. 'She is even more beauty when you see her closer. But brother, she is not right for you.'
'What the hell have you been drinking?' Indika asked.
'Arrack.' Prabu shook his head and picked up a bottle. 'Remember?'
'What did she want?'
'First she telled to me that you are a friend of hers. Then she made an accuse that Shock Ice left without pay the bill.'
'Yeah, I saw that.'
'Well, the bill is very big one.'
'She wanted money?' Indika asked. 'Doesn't surprise--'
'No, she can give money. She said, because she is not a member of the club she could not make a pay as pay is only made on an account credit basis. She said you can sign and she could pay you the money.'
'Why the hell would she pay for that animal, though?'
'The waiters otherwise have to pay,' Prabu said. 'And he does this oftentimes methinking. Methinking confirmed by what she told to me.'
'Yeah, okay, I'll sign.' Indika rubbed at a pimple on his nose. 'But I don't want to meet her now.'
'So you saw?' Prabu asked.
'I must inform you with many different types of apologize that she snogged me before she left.'
Indika's head turned so fast his neck made a clicking noise. Snapping back on to his feet, he leaned into Prabu.
'She snogged you?'
'Yes, brother, but I did not return said snog.'
'She bloody snogged you?'
'Brother, I pushed her away. I told her of your love for her and--'
Indika grabbed Prabu by his shirt, so wet it dripped blue dye. 'You snogged her? Told her I loved her?' Indika crouched behind the table, burying his head in his arms. 'Life has ended.'
'I must make to you an apologize, because she is look very upset when I said my lips were yours.'
'You said your lips were mine?' Indika grabbed his own hair. 'You want her to think we're gay?
your lips were mine?'
'When you say it like that, it does sound maybe gay.'
'How did you say it?'
'Exactly like that.'
Indika closed his eyes. 'You snogged her, told her I love her, then said your lips were mine? Ah, Jesus.' Shaking his head, Indika picked up his cigarettes. 'I'm going to the bar. Better you go home.'