“I hate you!’ Maya cried and dashed to the bedroom, kicking the door behind her. The heavy door, solid seasoned-teak, swayed but stopped short of shutting. ‘Symbolic,’ Susan thought. Last chances given by adolescence before the door would shut on parents forever. Susan expected that Maya would kick the door shut eventually but it swung open again. For a moment Susan and Maya glared at each other, mother and daughter, enemies on the battlefield. Heavy breathing ensued. Then Maya struck out her hand as if she were pulling a sword from its sheath and yanked at the door, the end of her long hair flying up behind her like a swish mark. The resulting crash resounded within The Oberoi’s Deluxe Suite, underlining the implied message. Maya had had the last word.
How old had she been when she first thrown a ‘I hate you!’ at her parents, realizing simultaneously that some part of that statement was true and hating herself for it? Sixteen? Seventeen? Maya was twelve. ‘Nearly thirteen this October,’ Susan consoled herself.
It was this city’s fault. Gurgaon. The brash adolescent cousin of the Moghul capital of New Delhi. Carved out of the lawless state of Haryana, Gurgaon was India’s millennium city. Private islands of prosperity with big brands of the world- GE, Deutsche bank, Nestle, Louis Vitton, bobbed in the chaotic sea of a cow-belt village that lacked basic road-and-water infrastructure. A concrete jungle within a real jungle, Gurgaon bred a double dose of conceit. The arrogance of new money fed into the aggression of Haryana, sprouting a many-headed, many-fanged Frankenstein who snarled at the slightest touch. You cut my lane, you pointed a finger at me, you winked at my girlfriend, you served me lukewarm coffee instead of herbal green tea, everything deserved a reaction. This city was self-destructive.
It wasn’t fair to blame the city, Susan automatically politically-corrected herself. It was their frustration at being forced to spend their summer imprisoned in this luxury business hotel located in the Central Business District. The front desk did not even have a tourist guide.
She had thought this would be, well not exactly a vacation but family bonding time.
Susan sighed. Without Deepak in London, Maya and Susan had started bickering like a couple of, there wasn’t any other word for it, women. Susan was fast realizing that her daughter, her quiet, reasonable daughter was turning into a woman. She had imagined this process to be magical, she would stroke Maya’s hair tenderly as they discussed boys and make-up over cups of lavender tea. The Spice Girls hit single, ‘Mama I love you’ would play in the background.
The truth was only slightly less enchanted.
Everything was too, what was the word, ‘meh’ for Maya, the summer, the cancelled Greek vacation, the boyfriend her best friend claimed to have acquired. ‘Hormones,’ Susan tried to steady herself. She hated hormones. At her wits end, Susan tentatively suggested that they follow Daddy to India. To her surprise, Maya acquiesced. It wasn’t Greece but Deepak would be there with his ready smile and his tactic of converting every conversation into an off-colour joke. Deepak’s octogenarian dad had died a month ago. Sure he’d said that he’d best deal with it alone, but he needed them, didn’t he?
He sure didn’t act like he did.
They had arrived unannounced at Delhi airport two weeks ago, calling him only when they touched down. On the phone, Deepak sounded cross, shocked more than surprised. But by the time they’d got out of the airport, staggering against the blast of furnace-like fumes that greeted them outside, Deepak was there with a bunch of parched lilies. The moment she saw him, her world straightened itself out and she greeted him with an annoyed kiss. Annoyed at him for having left them alone, annoyed at herself for being so dependent. Maya shrieked, ‘Daddy!’ and ran up to him like she was four. Deepak laughed and quipped about how many pimples dotted on her face –still no boyfriends then eh? If she’d said that, it would have led to another row, but Maya just grinned and blushed. Susan smiled in relief and Deepak whisked them away, genie-like, into his family’s dark air-conditioned BMW. They glimpsed glitzy Gurgaon through tinted glass, richer, higher, bigger than before. It made them feel truly inconsequential.
The BMW drove them to this Janus-faced hotel, modern on the inside, ancient Indian on the outside, ‘Repackaged culture for the modern traveler,’ Deepak quipped, grinning at the pretty lady at the front desk. The staff led them to the Deluxe Suite and Maya raptured in delight at the sight of the wall-to-wall television. ‘They have Wii! Wicked.’
Susan flopped on the soft mattress. ‘Finally a vacation,’ she thought. Maybe they would go to Agra. No, not. in this heat. Maybe the Himalayas. She loved rock climbing.
‘It’s really great to have you here.’ Deepak repeated for the tenth time since he’d picked them up. Something about the way he said it made her look up. He was checking his wristwatch. ‘I have gotta go and take care of something.’
“The lawyers. Daddyji had lot of property and the vultures are circling.’
‘Wha-you never mentioned…’
‘It’s just the way things are done here. You wouldn’t understand.’ He smiled.
It was not the first time he’d used that phrase on her. When he talked about India, about his family. She used to bristle, ‘Try me!’ but he would try and she really wouldn’t understand. It made her wary until she’d once tried to explain to him why her dad still collected pre-war IRA articles.
‘Aren’t they a notorious terrorist gang?’
She’d pretty much given up after that.
‘I will try to be back for dinner but meanwhile you can call for food anytime from the kitchen. You can call for a car too, though it’s not advisable to take Maya out in those-what are those, jeans?’
‘Ripped jeggings. There was an Indian girl wearing them at the airport. With spaghetti straps,’ she retorted but he appeared not to hear.
He picked up the phone and barked at the hotel staff in brusque Hindi.
‘When are we going to meet your family?’ she asked when he had finished.
‘Not this time,’ he paused, as if considering something. Susan willed him to say something, to try her. He shook his head and smiled. ‘You wouldn’t understand. ‘
And just like that she was an outsider. She lost him to the place she did not belong. He had been in and out since, arriving late, going out early. She was itching for an explanation but they had seen even lesser of him than they did during term-time.
‘Don’t worry, this will be over soon,’ he’d assured her this morning. ‘And then we’ll have a proper vacation.’ He’d even bestowed his old smile.
Now Maya was acting up again. She didn’t know how much more could she take.
Even the polite knock at the door irritated her. ‘Bloody hell! Just leave-‘ she didn’t complete her sentence. The truth was that they had been left alone, really truly alone, in a foreign land.
Susan walked over to answer the door. It was probably the house-maid. Lord knows she yearned for one in their sloppy North London home. The girl designated for this suite, Azmi, was such a treasure, ever-smiling, ever-eager. ‘Only because you’re a gori, a white girl with 100-rupee-a-quid in tips,’ she heard Deepak in her head as she opened the door.
Jaggi was standing there, bespectacled and suited, looking as out of place as she was.
‘What are you doing here?’ she exclaimed, feeling familiarity bubble up inside her.
He grinned and pulled her into a quick hug. His tweed coat brushed against her cheek. Tweed? Who wore tweed in Gurgaon? He smelt of Trumper’s aftershave. Susan held on to him for a moment too long.
They broke up and grinned at each other, ‘Thought I’d give my favourite bhabhi a visit,’ he strolled in.
Susan followed, falling into their usual routine, ‘Your favourite? Your only sister-in-law.’ As if they were at the porch in London.
Jaggi chuckled, soft dimples creasing his plump face. Deepak’s easy grin, Susan thought instantly, but on Jaggi it looked soft and doughy, without any agendas.
‘Where’s Maya?’ he asked, looking around.
She gestured wordlessly at the fortress-like bedroom door. Jaggi regarded it for a moment.
‘Should I make some tea then?
It was such an unbelievably British thing to say that she laughed out loud.
A while later, they were sipping too-hot breakfast tea which tasted too-sweet despite not adding any sugar.
‘What is this property dispute? Deepak doesn’t tell me anything.’
Jaggi took a long sip, mulling over the answer. ‘It’s the extended strain of the family that has suddenly realized that Daddyji is dead. They want a share of the pie. Bloody hyenas, the lot of them, Daddyji’s funeral pyre isn’t even cold yet.’
‘That’s what Deepak told me. I don’t understand. Wasn’t there a will?’
‘There was, but this is India. Haryana. Anyone can make any document. Lawyers can be bought, judges threatened. There are no rules here. ’
Susan pouted. ‘A property dispute. But that will take years to resolve.’
Jaggi’s eyes glinted. ‘Not the way Deepak’s dealing with it. You know your husband. He can really be a haraami when necessary.’
Susan didn’t flinch. It wasn’t the first time Jaggi had called Deepak that… haraami… bastard. Had he been there Deepak would have taken it as a compliment, a bit of boy-joshing. Men. Try calling a woman a bitch to her face.
‘In Haryana, we all have to be bastards to survive.’ Jaggi said.
Susan circled her finger on the rim of the cup.
‘Suze, you don’t know this place. Property is their mother. It turns brother against brother. There’s no reasoning with them. The man who owns the stick controls the buffalo. They’re goondas, hooligans. They’ve got money now, they dress like you or me, but underneath their Adidas shoes you would find cow-dung.’
Jaggi patted her arm. ‘Trust Deepak, Susan. He knows how to deal with them. We’re almost at the end now.’
After a while, their half-drunk cups of tea grew cold and the conversation simmered down. Beyond Deepak, Susan and Jaggi rarely had anything to say to each other. Susan knew that Jaggi didn’t mind. He was one of those people that you didn’t have to make an effort for. How intensely liberating, Susan thought. Every moment with her own family, with Maya and Deepak, was becoming too much of an effort.
Jaggi settled down in front of the TV, happily watching the BBC like it was porn. Susan watched him watch TV, her mind many miles away. She’d first met Jaggi when she had started dating Deepak. It was their seventh date and Deepak had unexpectedly invited her in to his house. She had nearly given up on him. He was handsome but despite the hints and the cleavage display, all they had done was hold hands and kiss dourly on the doorstep. She began to suspect that he was some kind of closet homosexual, sexuality was an issue with Indians, she’d heard. Then, after a particularly uninspiring West-End show, he’d asked if she would like to come up. ‘I’d been trying since date number two,’ he told her later. ‘At last Jaggi gave me a shot of tequila before date number seven.’
They had burst into the flat, giggling and kissing. Jaggi was lazing on the couch in front of the telly.
‘My good-for-nothing brother,’ Deepak had said throwing a cushion at him.
‘Sorry, ‘Jaggi got up immediately. ‘Didn’t know you’d finally grow some balls!’ he called as he left.
Over the years, Jaggi had become a permanent weekend fixture at their London home. ‘Get a life!’ Deepak would mock. Jaggi would react with practiced silence, munching crisps and drinking cold beer on the couch. ‘And next time, get your own beer!’ Deepak would slap him over the head. Jaggi would duck and continue munching.
It was true. Sometimes she just did not understand Deepak.
Maya’s door was still resolutely shut. Susan felt like taking a long, long bath. She excused herself and made her way to the bathroom. Jaggi barely noticed.
She sank into the pre-prepared bath, allowing rose petals to caress her skin. Strains of sitar played in the background. When they first came in, Maya and she had tried to look for the source of the music, poking into the corners and plugs, but they had still not discovered it. A mild aroma of eucalyptus wafted up as the water rippled. They really knew how to pamper a person in this country.
Did any country feel foreign anymore? Sure, Gurgaon was different from London, obviously different, but in both cities it was possible to create doppelganger ecosystems, islands of homogeneity, connected across invisible flight paths by the same brands and corporate logos. You could get a mean Shepherd’s pie in Taxii Bar and Kitchen on Golf course road, albeit made of goat meat, a distant cousin of the one you got in London’s Ivy Restaurant which was an evolved version in itself. Just like you could get Chicken Tikka Masala anywhere in London although the Gurgaon-ites would tell you that that was not Chicken Tikka Masala. Susan had had the Gurgaon version and it tasted richer, more authentic, more soulful. Our modern cities, like modern food, lacked soul. We were all the same now, speaking the same language, eating the same neither-here-nor-there dishes, yearning for the same four-wheel-drive. Glass facades in a metropolitan city.
Did it really matter then, where you came from? Deepak and she could not have been more apart. Images flashed across her mind, images of her childhood, her working-class, public-school middle England childhood. The stone-washed walls of St Augustine’s, Nan’s pockmarked rosary, miserable muddy puddles, one-hot-bath-a-week school days- hers was a Monday and of course it was no use by Tuesday. The tiny Croydon house that she didn’t visit until she absolutely had to, dark damp and forever cold. Her father still called Asians ‘darkies’ and East Europeans ‘Jew boys.’ When she’d told him she was marrying Deepak, he’d said, ‘Dee-PACK? You be mingling with terrorist blood then.’ Only after Maya did he simmer down.
Deepak was obviously not working class; even as a bachelor he had driven an Aston Martin and used to rent a one-bed in Hyde Park. She’d imagined he came from the royalty of the Raj, with a family of haughty mustachioed Maharajahs and doe-eyed women in pale sarees. Proudly Gandhian, defying her whiteness. The truth was far more baroque. The only family home that she visited, ‘one-of-many homes’ Deepaks father solemnly told her, was a huge, six-bedroom flat in Gurgaon. Its walls were painted a bright eye-hurting gold, Swarovski Ganeshas were scattered carelessly around and gigantic Italian-marble vases dominated every room. It looked like an American casino.
There was a blur of relatives, a lot of garish gold jewelry, impolite staring and pointing at the white woman. Girls followed her around, asking questions about London in heavily-accented English and giggling amongst themselves at her answers, no matter how boring she made it sound. At the end Susan wasn’t sure if they weren’t laughing at her answers or at her. Still, they and their army of servants had made her feel like a princess. She could understand the ‘jewel in the crown’ and all that.
Susan smiled as she toweled herself dry. Deepak and she did a lot of feet-touching the first time they visited. When Deepak had told her of this custom of paying respect to elders, Susan had agreed readily, sure that if she refused, she would appear over-educated or worse racist. But when she hesitantly asked whether she should carry a hand sanitizer, Deepak had laughed at her naiveté. He had tutored her how to bend, arm outstretched, stopping short of actually touching the toes, at which time the elder would grab your hands with a hurried ‘Enough! Enough! Have a long life!’, to both parties relief.
Pretend-affection, so like British high-society air-kissing. Underneath it all, we are the same.
Susan pulled out an emerald kurti. She loved these Indian prints. British clothes were so monochrome.
By the time she came out, Jaggi and Maya were playing Wii on the telly.
Jaggi grinned at her in triumph. He had always been Maya’s favourite uncle. He would come over for the game and end up playing with Maya, ‘I get along with children,’ he’d say. ‘Same IQ level,’ Deepak would retort, of course.
She watched them play silently. In no time, Maya had graduated from Barbie Dolls to Nintendo. Like a switch, like British weather. This vacation had been tough on her. Deepak had been very busy in last ten years, taking over the partnership, but he had always made time for Maya. She needed him now, in her budding teenage years, when she pretended to need him the least. She needed them now.
Maya’s eyes were resolutely on the telly, refusing to stray in Susan’s direction. Maya looked like Deepak’s daughter but the way her jaw was set reminded her of her own obstinacy with Nan. How childish she used to be. How childish Maya was. But then Maya was just a child.
‘What do you want for lunch?’ Susan asked at last. There was a time when ‘Pizza!’ was all it took for Maya’s to follow her, puppy dog-like everywhere.
‘Why don’t we order pizza?’ Maya responded, eyes still on the telly.
Her baby. Susan sank on the wicker chair, laughing.
‘What?’ Maya turned to look at her. ‘Mum! I feel like pizza.’ Maya smiled at her, eyes crinkling up. Susan could remember like it was yesterday, Maya pouting in her pram, her pink lips scrunching up in a brown face, curly unmanageable hair flying everywhere, extracting smiles from passer-bys.
It was this age. This in-between age, the last bursts of childhood innocence until they were out of her grasp forever.
Jaggi looked up from the telly. ‘Why don’t you take a break? Go to the mall, get a coffee or something and we’ll order pizzas.’
A break. That sounded lovely. A break on her own. Not being a mum, a HP purchase manager, a wife. No strings attached.
‘Are you sure?’ she asked, as Maya swung her remote control to deliver a superb return. And she hated tennis in real life.
‘Yeah, go on, ‘ Jaggi replied, eyes back on the telly, just as Maya shrieked ‘Out of the way Mom!’
Time on her own. Time to explore this city. To have some coffee. Maya would be fine with Jaggi. They both needed a time-out. Susan grabbed the purse and headed for the door.
‘Just remember to call the car,’ Jaggi called. ‘It isn’t safe walking on your own here.’
Yep, this was Gurgaon.
Susan asked the driver to turn up the air-conditioner in the Mercedes and settled in for a 45-minute drive. You could call it a drive but it was just a U-turn across the expressway. The mall was just across the road, it would have taken her ten minutes if she’d walked But a woman, a white woman with Gucci shades and Tiffany jewelry would not cross the road in Gurgaon. Susan didn’t know if she ‘would not’ or ‘could not’. She decided that it was a bit of both.
Within minutes they were in the midst of traffic. Susan settled in the red-leather seat, so British, so impractical in this weather. On one side of the Mercedes was a tiny Suzuki car, jammed with so many kids that it was impossible to see the adults underneath. They waved at her, brown faces with shiny eyes and pigtails. She waved back. On the other side of her car was a BMW X5. At its wheel was a heavily made-up young woman in sunglasses, window cracked open, smoking a cigarette. Susan smiled at her. The woman threw her cigarette butt on the road and rolled up her tinted glass window.
Susan recalled coffee afternoons with Indian friends in their London home, ‘There are many Indias within an India,’ they had informed her. She didn’t have the heart to tell them that that was true of London as well.
Finally they drove into the entrance of the mall. There was airport-style security at the entrance, frisking patrons, checking bags. On the left of the entrance was a massive sign. ‘Strictly no fire-arms allowed.’ It didn’t make her feel any safer.
It was Tuesday afternoon. The mall was almost empty but Bollywood music blasted from the ground floor where a temporary podium had been erected. A teenage girl in a red T-shirt covered in brand logos was calling out every five minutes, ‘Enter the Lucky Draw and Win a free Santro!’. Susan was beginning to get a headache. She hurried away, up the escalators.
At the second floor she spotted a designer sari shop. The name seemed familiar; her Indian friends spoke reverentially about the designer. Susan walked in and shut the glass door behind her. She ran a lazy finger on the saris hanging neatly in a row. Lovely Indian colours. Orange, red, rust- they would look garish on her of course.
A shop assistant immediately approached her with an eager ‘May I help you?’ Everyone was eager here, Susan thought, dismissing the assistant. She felt bad instantly and pulled out a sari from the rack. She lay it against her, silk folds swished against her skin. It was an effervescent blue with an encrusted crystal border. ‘Real Swarowski crystals,’ the assistant piped up in the background.
She remembered when she’d tried on a sari for the first time, helped by a Pakistani colleague. In fact she’d gone the whole nine yards for their one-month anniversary, the sari, Indian recipes she’d copied from Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook, Bollywood music. Deepak had smiled wanly through the whole affair. At night, she’d carelessly let her pallu drop to the floor revealing the low neckline, expecting him to relive some boyhood fantasy. He’d pulled her to him and kissed her on the forehead. ‘The truth is that I prefer you in jeans,’ he’d whispered.
Susan smiled. Very soon this would be over. They would be back to their lives, their normal balmy weather and M&S good-to-go salad lives.
Susan found herself a quiet corner in a coffee shop. She ordered a skinny latte and a not-so-skinny tiramisu and selected a book from the shelf. James Patterson. She hadn’t read this one. It would be so good to read a book, a non-prescribed fiction book, for a change.
She’d barely sat down when the phone buzzed. Deepak calling.
‘Hi. Whatcha doing?’ hurried as always, like there were suited people waiting for him, tapping their wristwatches.
She sank back, deliberately slowing down her answer. ‘Nothing much. How’s the lawyer visit going?
‘Pretty brutal, but its almost over now.’
That was all he said nowadays. ‘That’s good,’ she breathed. ‘Then we can have a proper vacation.’
She could hear him sigh. ‘I know it hasn’t been easy on you guys. I’ve been meaning to explain all that’s happening, but its been crazy.’
‘Hey I know,’ she waved him off. ‘I don’t need to know.’
They paused. ‘Suze,’ Deepak said. ‘I know I don’t say this very often nowadays, but…‘
‘Madam, your coffee and the tiramisu.’
Susan mentally cursed the waiter. ‘Just keep it on the table. Yes, Deepak?
‘Wait a minute, Susan. Where are you?’
‘At Ambience mall having coffee.’
‘Where’s Maya? She with you?’
‘Nope. She’s at home with Jaggi.’
‘Yes. He came over, out of the blue. I didn’t even know he was here but he told me he flew back last night and-‘
‘Susan! Go back to the hotel!’
‘Go back! Go back immediately! Jaggi-Jaggi is not to be trusted! I’m going to drive there as well.’
‘What? Jaggi? But-‘
‘I should’ve… Fuck! I should’ve told you earlier, but I thought you wouldn’t understand….Susan. Go! Go back Susan! Go and get Maya!’
Susan didn’t wait to hear more. She dropped her book and ran out of the shop.
She rushed to the ground floor of Ambience mall, running down the escalator. Once there, she looked around frantically. The mall had several exits leading to the car park and only one facing the expressway. Which one? She hadn’t come through the pedestrian exit. She dashed to the general direction of the road, hoping that she was right. She passed the deafening podium in the center, the young girl was still calling out for potential car winners. There was a meager crowd staring at her.
‘Which exit do you take for the expressway?’ she yelled at a young man.
He stared back mutely. She cursed. There seemed to be a steady inflow of mall hoppers from the doors straight ahead. She sprinted as fast as she could, panting already. The mall was a bloody mile long.
She dashed out the exit, shoving a young couple out of the way. ‘Hey!’ she heard the guy call but she had no time for this Gurgaon nonsense. She ran past the cars at the entrance, German horns blaring in the dehydrated summer.
She was on the expressway. Thank heavens! Cars whizzed by her. She stepped back to steady herself. No one would stop for her on this Gurgaon expressway. Susan started to cross the road, but a car honked her out of the way, not bothering to slow down. Maya. Her Maya, her sweet sweet baby.
She should’ve never come here. Jaggi! Jaggi? How could he? An unspeakable image popped in her brain. No! Maya! She surged forward, not bothering about the traffic.
Horns blared, cars screeched, people shouted abuses, but Susan didn’t stop. She ploughed on ahead, her surroundings a blur, her mauve scarf flying off in the dust. She’d crossed. She’d crossed the road, half of it anyway and the other side looked less busy. She just had to cross the barrier separating the two roads.
The barrier was tall, not meant for pedestrians. She pulled off her platforms and hauled up her long skirt, indifferent about who was looking. She put up a leg and climbed on top. She jumped quickly on the other side and staggered. A sharp stab at her foot. Susan looked down and pulled out a glass splinter from her fleshy heel. Weeping, she strapped her sandals back on, fingers slipping on the clasp. She was losing precious minutes.
She threw herself on the road, blindly crossing over to the other side.
The hotel. She could see the entrance. She limped on, hardly aware of blood dripping from her right foot. She was almost enjoying the pain. Her baby, was she also in pain? Susan tottered on, the dry heat pricking her like dozens of pointy spears. Maya! Maya! She hobbled and ran, ran and hobbled, blood dripping down her sandals.
She was at the Oberoi. The imposing cast iron gate at the entrance was shut, there was no pedestrian gate. Security guards stood at either side. Susan had never noticed them before. She ran up to the one with the paunch.
‘I’m a guest. H-Hotel guest!’ She spluttered.
Susan cursed, ‘Five thousand…five thousand and four.’
He looked suspicious and pulled out a walkie-talkie.
Susan patted her hair down, aware that she wasn’t looking like an Oberoi guest, ‘Please,’ she folded her hands, ‘my daughter, my daughter…’ she stopped. Suddenly she didn’t trust anyone here.
Instead she dug into her purse frantically. Desperate fingers clutched at myriad objects- receipts, Bobbi Brown lipstick, London flat keys- they were miles away, worlds away- until, ‘Oh! Thank God! That’s my key, you see. 5004, I’m a guest of the Deluxe Suite, Susan Hamilton-Dinesh, Now bloody open the door or I shall call the manager!’
Threats always worked in Gurgaon. The security guard saluted and pushed a button. The ornate gate started to swing open. Susan waited impatiently for the tiniest allowable crack- there it was- and she shot off like a jet. The driveway was long, unnecessarily long. Another security guard was at the entrance to the lobby. He bent down reverentially. ‘Susan Madam, are you alright?’
She ran in, making her way to the elevators. They were on the fifth floor, it was no use trying the stairs, she wasn’t even allowed on the other floors. The lift on her right pinged and she burst in, punching the close button till the golden doors swooped shut. She jumped up and down impatiently. She didn’t even have a weapon. She groped inside the purse, clutching keys and receipts again uselessly.
The lift pinged open. She was at her floor. She looked around for the weapon. There was a small Marble Ganesha on a pillar. She picked it up and ran to the door. 5001, 5002…The bastard! The bastard! There it was. 5004.
She flung the door open. The kitchenette and dining table looked as she’d left it, except for the empty boxes of pizza on the table. There was no one there. The living room was tucked on the left of the entrance passage, the bedroom was next to it. Now that she was there, she hesitated.
Strains of music reached her ears. She recognized the tune. The closing credits of Downtown Abbey, Maya’s favourite. She heard murmuring, a chuckle. Gripping the Ganesha tightly, she limped to the living room area. The music got louder as she entered and then it was overridden by the commentator’s voice announcing the next program.
Jaggi and Maya were in their chairs, side-by-side. Maya was slouched in hers, eyes rolling back lazily. ‘Hey!’ she called out to Susan, sleepily through half-open eyes. She yawned. ‘Going to nap, ok?’ she turned in her chair.
Susan looked at her closely, fearing for a moment that she was drugged. ‘Are you alright?’ she asked.
‘Sure. We had too much pizza,’ Maya called back. Susan stood for a moment, unsure what to do. She didn’t even want to look at Jaggi. She could feel him get up behind her and walk to the kitchenette. She walked over and put a hand on Maya. She felt normal.
‘I’m sleeping ok, Mum?’ Maya said and pushed her hand away.
Susan breathed out and placed the Ganesha on the table. Her breath caught up in sobs, she held a hand over her mouth to muffle them. It was okay. Nothing had happened. Maya was ok.
She turned and hobbled to the kitchenette. Jaggi was sitting on the dining table, looking at her. She walked toward him, not knowing what to say. He was Deepak’s brother after all, Jaggi would never, could never…
‘Property,’ she could hear his voice echo in her head. ‘It’s their mother. It turns brother against brother.’
Jaggi smiled at her and placed a glinting black revolver on the table between them.
Image: By Jeet221990 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons