Fiction: The Wounds of Sun Time

by Parul Kapur Hinzen ’89SOA Published Winter 2013-14
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A Nepali boy pulls away the curtains from the glass panes and opens the doors. He is wearing a white suit and nods at me shyly. “Where’s your Sahib?” I say. “Tell him Saigal Sahib has come to see him.” I’m led inside to the drawing room. I can see an end of the dining table in the room to the right where the boy disappears. A light is on. Platt must be taking his breakfast. I hear the Englishman’s voice break out sharply, as though admonishing the boy, “Tell him to wait.” I get up, a fury stirring in me, and I cannot stop myself from crossing the drawing room and walking straight into the other room.

“Good morning, Reggie. I wanted to have a word with you.” I stand at the opposite side of the table, near the doorway. I’m taken aback — there’s a young lady seated with him, a dark-haired girl of sixteen or seventeen with wide gray eyes. He introduces her as his daughter, Emily, but says nothing more. I give her a quick smile, wondering what brought her home — I don’t think there are any school holidays in early October. She’s in a housecoat, yellow roses around the collar. She focuses on her plate as if to absent herself. I’m a little uncomfortable bringing this up in front of her, but Reggie is peering at me as if I better explain myself, so I look straight at him and say, “My bearer just informed me that your servants, and some of the servants around, and local people are upset because a cow was shot by you. I just saw it over there, lying under the trees. I think quite a large group may be coming up to you. I heard something on the road earlier —”

He stands up. “All right. Thank you for letting me know.” Around the table he comes to usher me out, apparently not wanting to continue the conversation in the girl’s presence. It was my mistake to burst into the room as I did — I had no idea he had a young daughter at home. Platt is wearing khaki half-pants, knee socks, brown leather shoes. The schoolboy dress of the British engineer. Perfectly bald at the top of the head, thick dark hair at the sides. His eyes are firm under fraying eyebrows that push together.

“There could be a lot of trouble if they see the cow lying there like that — it would be best for you to offer an apology. I’m sure you must be aware we Hindus consider the cow sacred. Gow mata, we call it, because it gives milk just like the mother. Gow is cow. Mata, mother. I can speak to them for you.” I don’t mean it as an offer, and he recognizes that. I mean it as an obligation. Something he must do for the terrible offense he’s committed. Surely he wants to make amends for hurting people so deeply, especially in front of his daughter. Yet coming closer to him in the darkened drawing room, with the door shut to the outside, his brusque, unyielding manner is more pronounced. I’m sure he’s done it deliberately. Maybe he wasn’t even drinking.

“Apologize to who? The bloody servants who come running even when you call ‘Dog’?” Platt pierces me with a look as if I’m some clerk who’s dared to point out a mistake in the Sahib’s work and needs a dressing-down. He better mind how he’s talking, I’m tempted to tell him. I’ll lodge a complaint with administration. I’m a covenanted officer like him. A chartered accountant, responsible for all Assam Petroleum’s cash reserves. The company has only two other qualified chartered accountants: Evans, from the London office, and A. N. Birchenough, head of the finance department, to whom my boss, Mr. Kamble, reports. I’m the only Indian with that qualification. I oversee the payroll of seven thousand workers. Out of a hundred people in the accounts hall, I’m one of five managers with a private office.

Beneath a harsh stare, a bewildered expression comes across Platt’s face. Something like puzzlement breaks through, despite his effort to appear in charge.

“Everyone has strong sentiments about their beliefs, Reggie. Don’t let this thing build up,” I force myself to say calmly.

Beneath a harsh stare, a bewildered expression comes across Platt’s face. Something like puzzlement breaks through, despite his effort to appear in charge. He erupts in a grunting laugh, as if it were all meant in fun. I wonder if he might be drunk now, the way his face reddens and his voice sharpens into mockery. “There’s always a pack of them at my heels. Should I say ‘sorry’ now over a stray cow? Yeah?” His words are knotted up; his sentences twist off and break. He doesn’t speak in sharp lines like the Britishers at the General Office. Unpolished — you can hear it in his voice. “Should’ve started praying? Yeah?”

Maybe it’s that I’m a good fifteen years younger and unapologetic about confronting him that infuriates him. Or does he think of me as some kind of “Indian assistant” from the old days? In a way, he’s trying to tell me he could call me “Dog,” too, if he wanted, and what could I do about it? “As you like. It’s up to you.” I walk toward the door. A ruthless fellow. No point trying to find a reason for what he’s done. There can be no reason. Still, at the door, I call back to him and can’t help the quiver in my voice, “Why did you shoot it? It was just a calf.”

“Any idea how bright a full moon is? You could see shadows on the grass, it was that bright. Couldn’t claim, could I, it was just blind shots in the dark?” He mumbles something I can’t make out. “Teach them not to let their animals roam, making a mess on others’ property. They ought to have put up a pound on this side as well.”

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