If he even saw them, these women, he usually only saw their heels, the ankle turned to leave the flat. So this much he knew of the women his son brought back: the court shoes, the pumps, the stilettos, with the occasional surprise of a pair of Birkenstocks.
Occasionally he would get to meet one of them, her name hurriedly exhaled as though it was meant to be drawn in again. But these meetings only happened by coincidence, on mornings where either he got up early or the woman got up late.
He didn't know when he started thinking of the people his son brought home as women, not girls. In James's uni days, they were definitely girls. It wasn't just the sandals or the ponytails.
He looked at James. His mother's eyes, which wasn't unexpected: he had the same squinting eyes as all his brothers, but all their sons had their mothers' eyes. But James also had his mother's confident, almost loping, walk. And the easy charm
"The world isn't always out to get you, you know," Erica had said to him once. Despite the endless hours of chemotherapy and despite the nights she spent hunched over the toilet throwing up, or worst, trying to, and despite the thin film of sweat that formed on her body when she slept and seeped onto his arm, she clung to this belief.
Erica was the first person he'd ever dated, and she remained the last. It was London, 1967: he an Imperial College third-year, in those days when South Kensington was run-down and tourists went straight from the Tube station to the museums and back, their eyes fixed on the ground, trying to avoid meeting the gaze of the neighbourhood. She was the daring one, really, this fellow Singaporean over at LSE: she had asked him out, she had taken his hand, and when things got really serious he may have asked the question but she was the one who had bought him the ring to give to her. (The proposal: Regents' Park,with him trying to ignore the tramp in the distant bench.)
But Erica hadn't been around for ten years, and he had changed his sleeping style since,. He sprawled out on a king-size mattress, spread as though trying to stake out the maximum amount of space his body could claim as his own. The air-conditioner remained at full blast, a reminder of how after she fell ill she was always be hot.
He tried talking to James about it, once, about that endless procession of shoes and ankles, and the sound of the apartment door being opened at 3 in the morning. He felt like a fraud: what did he know, what could he tell his son?
"Dad, I'm 24. I'm not saying I will never settle down, but that's for the future; noone's being hurt now."