Fiction: The Wounds of Sun Time

by Parul Kapur Hinzen ’89SOA Published Winter 2013-14
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“I’m going to talk to him,” I reply. If a crowd of poor men feel injured and angry enough, there’s no telling how they might vent their frustrations. An Englishman like Platt who moves between the club and the refinery has little idea of how easily people’s sentiments can be crushed.

“I’ve seen him knocking back one peg after another at the bar,” says Romen. “Quite a boozer.”

I go out to my car. It’s a secondhand black Landmaster without a scratch on it, gleaming wet from a quick wash by one of the houseboys. There’s five lakhs of cash packed in a steel trunk in the boot that has to be delivered to the company cashier.

Yesterday I went out to Dibrugarh to meet our local banker, a Marwari moneylender, Kanhaiya Lal Aggarwala, who distributes cash to tea estates throughout Upper Assam on behalf of the big Calcutta banks like Grindlays and Lloyds. Since I was there, I brought back the company’s weekly funds myself rather than have his driver deliver it to us later in the week. Last night, I parked the car at the club, still full of the money. This is a safe place — people are very honest. They’re good people. Every Friday the banker’s car makes the trip through the forest to our General Office, and though the villagers along the way recognize Kanhaiya Lal Aggarwala’s Studebaker, probably aware it’s transporting a large amount of cash, there’s never been an incident.

I don’t understand why Platt would shoot a cow. Surely he knows the cow is venerated by us. He’s a stern sort of man — that was the impression I had.

As I drive up the lane, I hear shouting — it sounds far away, a muffled echo of words. I don’t see anyone on the road below. The bungalows perch along a ridge above the main road, screened by a thick netting of branches and brush. Bungalow 18 is set a short distance back from the lane. Platt’s lawn is bigger than ours — it must be a two-acre lot — a hedge of spindly purplish plants outlining the perimeter of the lawn.

I stop behind his car, which is parked in the vacant space underneath the house. Platt’s bungalow is a close replica of ours, the same wide sloping roof of corrugated iron and rows of slender pillars lifting the structure off the ground. Near the outer stairs, where at our house we have clusters of clay pots, a narrow bed is planted with dahlias tied to stakes and showy orange flowers, black in the middle. Off to the distance on the right-hand side, banana trees fringe a hillock where the servants’ brick sheds stand, one end of the buildings closed off by screens of slatted bamboo. It seems deserted up there, not even a child wandering about. I turn to climb the stairs to the verandah. On the other side of the drive, at the far edge, where the lawn gives way to rambling wild growth and the darkness of hanging trees, crows squawk around something I can’t make out.

I walk quickly toward the excited birds. The hindquarters of a sprawled animal become visible to me in a swath of frilly weeds, the leaping undergrowth shaded by branches. I’ve never seen a cow lying like this, on its side, with its thin legs thrown out beneath it. I’ve only seen cows sitting up, their heads straight in the air, their feet tucked under their bodies. Now I notice patches of blood darkening the ground like smeared mud. The back legs and tail are washed in blood, too, not mud, though streaks of gray mud, or maybe it’s only dark fur, stain the legs above the hooves. It’s a young animal, slender and delicate. Blood seems to have poured from its anus, or perhaps there was a bullet to the side it’s lying on. I see no hole, no wound in its flank. Birds are walking over the calf’s narrow frame, perching on its thin legs bent sharply at the knees. They caw and scatter as I fling my arms, stepping around a puddle of bright blood.

Dark trickles have seeped down its neck, into the soft woolly white fur of its chest. I still can’t make out where it’s been shot. Its head is swallowed by a dip in the ground, a crevice filled with a gust of tall white-flowering weeds and saplings. I step closer and part the greenery. One long beautiful eye is open. Behind it, the ear is gone and the back of the head torn off. The smell is thick and raw. I can’t understand how the eye can look so lovely against the ear stub and splintered red cavity of the skull. A crow lands on its neck, pecking inside the skull’s pulpy bowl. I shut my eyes and look away. My throat feels like someone’s caught hold of it. I don’t have anything to say to Reggie Platt. I owe him no warning.

And yet I walk back to the house, noticing spurs of blood coming from a different area of the lawn, where the cow might have run from. My feet go mechanically up the outer stairs. I don’t know the reason for what happened. A dark shoe print marks several steps. Whether it is blood or slush is not clear — it’s a brown imprint visible on varnished wood. Let him explain himself — although Romen could be right. Platt may have been drinking. Nothing more to it than that. But even then, how could he lose his mind like this? Why slaughter an innocent animal?

The same company-issued cane sofas and chairs as ours form a grouping on the verandah, Platt’s furniture painted white as if a feminine touch has been applied. I remember hearing, though, that he’s divorced — or widowed. The wife, I’m quite sure, is gone. His children are in England or Shillong, some boarding school. He lives alone, from what I remember. Not a sound coming from the house. I knock again, harder. I wonder if he’s already gone — if someone alerted him and came by to pick him up.

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