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.”More alert now, Baba Singh’s eyes flitted guiltily to the sack.Preferring to keep the bag with him, he usually left it there when he came in; with all the rubbish in the doctor’s office, he had assumed it would be overlooked.It contained a number of brown-paper-wrapped packages, all for Dr.Bansal’s mother in Calcutta.He had been hiding them away, including the one he had opened and meticulously repackaged so many weeks ago.One for every week his sisters had been missing.After returning to work he had begun to collect them for luck, amassing apologies until Kiran and Avani came home.He had become convinced that sending the bulk of them together would mean more, that in greater number they would have more of an impact.A mother would not be able to ignore them like that.She would have to forgive her son.Dr.Bansal pretended that he had not noticed the sack and continued scraping.“He was worried.I do not think he knows how to ask you directly.It is never easy to ask about loss.”Miserable, Baba Singh lowered his eyes.“You should absolutely not blame yourself,” the doctor went on.“For any of it.I know you think you could have stopped it, that you should have watched Kiran and Avani more carefully, especially after losing your mother.You think it is what she would have expected.Maybe you think that you should never be forgiven.But you should be.You certainly should be.Most importantly, you should forgive yourself.”He paused.Baba Singh looked at him, then tentatively reached forward and took a piece of coconut.He put it on his tongue and closed his eyes, tasting the dull sugary-ness of it before swallowing it whole.The doctor nodded, satisfied.“Good.Now drink some of this,” he said, passing Baba Singh the coconut juice and waiting until the boy had a few sips.“Better?” he asked.Baba Singh nodded weakly.“Well then,” the doctor beamed, removing a note from his pocket.“Forgiveness, especially of oneself, always brings great fortune.I was at the telegraph office this morning.The operator told me to give you this.”Baba Singh unfolded the telegram.In Amritsar.Stop.Will be on the next train to Amarpur.Stop.For nearly six weeks his brother had pounded the ground of India.There was no hole, no dark place in existence beyond his scope.Ranjit was a champion splash maker.He had never let them down.He flew.He was coming.~ ~ ~The train hissed to a stop.The packed-in passengers stared through the windows at the Toor family, mildly curious about this small-town stop en route to bigger cities.One of the cars opened to release a handful of people, among them Ranjit, who stepped from the train and onto the platform like a stranger.He was thinner than Baba Singh remembered, but healthy.He wore the same maroon turban, but it was tied sharply now, the material ironed smooth, creases edged like stacked knife blades with a high twist at the front, like a dancer’s flourishing hand.And his jet-black beard was tucked up neatly.His clothes were also different: a button-down shirt instead of his kurta, trousers instead of pajamas, laced oxfords instead of chappals.Baba Singh smiled broadly, adjusting the burlap sack on his shoulder.Their good fortune was astonishing.After so much sorrow, Ranjit was here, finally standing before them with all the signs of a successful mission written on his rich clothing, the fierce glint of a warrior in his eye.“Ranjit, you did it!” Khushwant said.“Where are they?”His voice quiet, Ranjit replied, “I should have been more clear in my message.”Grinning, Baba Singh peered behind his brother into the train car, wondering where the girls were hiding.“But I could not write it.”“Write what?” Baba Singh asked.He shot a quick look at Desa when his brother did not answer.She had paled, and he followed her eyes to see what she was seeing: Avani’s wooden elephant in Ranjit’s hand.His smile faded.“It is such a big country,” Ranjit said sadly, “and they are such small girls.I am sorry.”A short gust of wind blew gritty dust from the plains into their faces, stinging Baba Singh’s eyes, causing him to stumble backwards.Ranjit reached forward to steady him, but Baba Singh turned away and began to run, staggering down the platform stairs and onto Suraj Road.The echo of his family calling his name dimmed behind him.All sound faded entirely.His thoughts stumbled.He had not quite made it to Dr.Bansal’s, hurrying past India Quality Cloth, when he saw the door to Mr.Grewal’s money-lending establishment propped open by a steel chair.He halted, skidding in the dirt at the entrance in the dark shade of the building.His throat constricted.Confused and scared, he kneaded his forehead as though molding mud or clay, quickly glancing up and down Suraj Road.Practically empty, he observed, feeling unnoticed and alone.Everyone has gone home for lunch, he thought with detachment, then grimaced and began to cry.Collecting himself, wiping his eyes on his kurta, he entered to see the moneylender.“Mr.Grewal,” he called out, glimpsing the shelf of debt ledgers behind the store counter.He had seen those ledgers before.He had been here once, with his father, just before they were forced out of Harpind.Lal had been worried that day, anxiety all over his face as he hovered intently over one of the books.“But, Mr.Grewalji, these numbers are not right.There has been a mistake.”“No mistake,” the moneylender replied, snapping the book shut and replacing it on his shelf.“The numbers do not lie.”“But I do not have enough,” Lal said.“No problem at all, ji,” Mr.Grewal had assured him.A lie until he could arrange to send some men over.“For you, my friend, of course we can work something out.”So many lies.Baba Singh firmed his grip on his sack of ladoos and circled around the front counter, searching for the ledger he thought might contain his father’s debts.“Is someone there?” Mr.Grewal said, stepping out from behind a shelf at the back.For one so cruel, the moneylender was such a miniscule, unassuming man.Bald and bony.He secured his spectacles higher up on the bridge of his nose and peered around the shop.Baba Singh pulled one of the ledgers down from the shelf and came out from behind the counter.“I do not know what you did, but the numbers were not right.”Turning toward the voice, Mr.Grewal frowned.“What are you doing here? You do not belong back there.”“These numbers are lies.”“I am not sure I know what you mean, young man,” Mr.Grewal said placidly, taking a step forward, eyes narrowing behind his spectacles as though trying to place the boy standing in the middle of his shop.Then he lifted his head in a slight nod of recognition [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]