Kaimal looked at him consideringly, and Sartaj could see the
beginnings of distaste. This was familiar: the policeman's
assumption of grief and deceit hidden in every happiness was
frightening in its simplicity. It implicated everyone.
"Of course. He was very proud of him. Very proud."
"And his mother is proud too?" Sartaj said.
"What else? Of course. Kshitij is a very good son to her. It is
good to see a young man with such respect for his mother these days."
"And were they happy together?"
"Who?" Kaimal said.
"Mr. and Mrs. Patel," Sartaj said. "Were they happy?"
"Happy?" Mrs. Kaimal said, shaking her head, exasperated. "They
were husband and wife. What else could they be?"
Sartaj finished his coffee. It was very good coffee indeed.
In people like this, decent and hospitable, loyalty to the
departed was always the most unbreakable bond. They were telling
a truth that had become sharp and clear in the sudden glare
of death, and he knew he couldn't persuade them to turn them
back towards the shadowed ambiguities that were so crucial
to him. That would cause them to break with their obligations.
"I see," he said slowly. "I see." He looked at Mrs.
Kaimal until she seemed to shift uncomfortably, and then both husband
and wife seemed to shrink against the faded lily pattern of their sofa.
Then Sartaj said quietly, "Were you aware if Mr. Patel was in any
kind of trouble? Did he seem afraid? Had he told you of any threats?
"Threats?" Kaimal said. "No."
As Sartaj stood up they watched him apprehensively, turned
their heads to watch Katekar's thumping walk. He thanked them
for the coffee, told them to contact him if they remembered
anything, and then he shut the door quietly behind himself
and Katekar. They were a nice old pair, handsome and fine-drawn
and cultured, but he had no regret for inflicting fear on them.
It was what his job required of him, this distance from the
rest of the world, their wariness of him, it was inevitable
and necessary and he knew that very often it was this very
thing that made it possible for him to grasp the truth, to
see th secret and fix it, forever. Usually he thought nothing
of it, never needed to, but today the click of the lock brought
with it a bitter little bubble of loneliness in his mouth.
He looked up and down the stairs, leaned towards the grille
door that covered the lift-shaft, and spat into the long pit.
Then they went on to the next flat.
Copyright © 1997
Chandra. First published in hardcover by Little,
Brown, and Company.