Authors: Renita D'Silva
Published by Bookouture
An imprint of StoryFire Ltd.
23 Sussex Road, Ickenham, UB10 8PN
Copyright © Renita D’Silva 2013
has asserted her
right to be identified
as the author of this work.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events other than those clearly in the public domain, are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
irst and foremost, I would like to thank my publisher, Bookouture, for believing in me enough to agree to publish not only this book but two other books I hadn’t even written at the time I signed my contract. Bookouture have been tireless in their efforts to make
the best book it could possibly be.
I am extremely grateful to Oliver Rhodes at Bookouture for his patience and advice, for creating such a fabulous cover, for my brilliant website and for guiding me at every step of the exhilarating journey from manuscript to publication of this book.
I am grateful to Lorella Belli of the Lorella Belli Agency for her guidance and for her efforts in making
reach a wider audience.
A huge thank you to Jenny Hutton, my editor, for all the hard work she put into making every sentence sing at exactly the right note.
I would like to thank Cornerstones for helping me hone the manuscript before I submitted it and Kathy Gale to whom I went for advice after I attended her talk at the Kingston Readers’ Festival.
I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Louise Swain, who asked me to enrol in a writing course, who egged me on and who read my very first draft, which she says she will sell when I am famous.
This book would not have been possible without the support of my family: my mother who believed in me from the time I penned my first poem as a seven year old; my father for filling our house with books even though we could ill afford them; my children who humoured me every time I was faced with rejection: ‘When your book is published, we will…’ and who proudly told everyone at school that their mother had ‘written so many books’ when my first short story got published; my husband whose quiet and unstinting support I rely on.
And last but not least, I thank
for buying this book and for taking the time to read it.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
hirin dreamt of home. Of monsoon showers drumming their rat-a-tat beat on the tiled roof. Of sitting on the veranda sipping hot sweet tea and biting into spicy potato bondas freshly cooked by Madhu. Of Madhu herself, in her pink sari with white flowers, washing clothes beside the well and smiling when she saw Shirin, opening her arms wide and welcoming her in, smelling of washing soap and fried onions and whispering in her ear, ‘You came. I knew you would.’
Coconut-tree fronds danced in the wind, displacing drops of rain like the holy water Father Sequeira sprinkled across the pews as he walked down the church aisle on feast days; and the crows that were perched on the branches flew away, black silhouettes against a moody sky.
The tamarind tree in the front courtyard bent like a weary old man from the weight of its ripe knobbly fruit. Her father, Walter, sat under it on the threadbare rattan stool, absently swatting at mosquitoes as he read his Bible, its pages worn from use; the ever-present bottle of water by his side, within easy reach.
Her sister, Anita, squatted on the veranda, recounting earnestly everything that had happened to her that day and Shirin felt guilty, as she only half listened, nodding at appropriate times, her mind wandering.
Deepak slouched with his gang of friends by the church and eyed all the college girls. He laughed, eyes twinkling—momentarily distracted from his perusal of Anjali, his latest crush, by Shirin’s expression when she found the dead lizard he had left as a souvenir in her accountancy textbook.
Her mother, Jacinta, resplendent in her blue-and-gold sari, dressed ready to go to church, entreated, ‘I have to attend this parish council meeting, Shirin. Don’t you be gone when I come back. Please, Shirin, we have so much to talk about.’ Worry lines creased Jacinta’s face and Shirin wondered why her reserved, unflappable mother looked so concerned.
Jacinta left, walking down the hill past the mango trees. Shirin saw her making her way between the fields, the green ears of paddy bending gracefully, eavesdropping on whispered conversations. Jacinta looked back at Shirin one last time, a plea in her eyes.
A baby. Red scrunched-up face. Downy golden skin. Mewling minuscule mouth. Toothless red gums. Chubby arms extended upwards, tiny hands bunched into fists. Reaching out.
Shirin woke with a start, hot tears streaming down her cheeks. She reached for Vinod but the empty space beside her told her that he had already left for work. She glanced bleary-eyed at the bedside clock. 8:00 a.m. The phone beckoned. She picked it up, dialled Vinod’s number.
‘Hello,’ he said.
In the background, she could hear chatter and the steady chug-a-chug of the train Vinod took to work—normal, working-day sounds.
‘Vinod,’ she whispered.
‘Yes,’ he prompted. He was taciturn, but never impatient.
‘Vinod, I want to go home.’
* * *
The day was populated with ghosts. Ghosts from a past that Shirin had tried desperately to relegate to a corner of her heart. Ghosts that stubbornly refused to stay quiet or hidden and every so often manifested in memories that washed over her and left her dizzy with yearning.
She was waiting, the engine of her old Honda Civic idling, at a pedestrian crossing on the way to work, wishing away the headache that loomed behind her eyelids, when she felt premonition chill her spine. She looked up and her gaze was held by a pair of eyes—cold, empty and yet somehow accusatory—among the press of people crossing the road. She was aware of a rushing in her ears, of her whole body trembling, of her heart screaming against her chest. She wanted to gun the engine and drive away but she was hemmed in by the people ahead and the cars behind. She wanted to get out of the car and run. But what if the Eyes followed?
The last straggling pedestrian crossed and Shirin raced away, breaking the speed limit, constantly checking all mirrors to make sure she wasn’t pursued. When the crossing was a safe distance behind, she pulled up at a gas station, taking in the other cars, the people visible through the lit windows of the shop. No empty, threatening eyes. She switched off the engine and locked herself in. Then, with shaky fingers reluctant to do her bidding, she pulled out her phone and dialled Vinod’s number for the second time that morning.