FEATURE

Fiction: The Wounds of Sun Time

by Parul Kapur Hinzen ’89SOA Published Winter 2013-14
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I decide not to speak of the incident with anyone at the office. Platt’s use of the word “property” surprised me. Does he think his bungalow is his property? Not even the general manager’s no. 1 bungalow is his own. It is all company property, company furniture, company servants. The company can take any of it away, at any time. Does he think he’s some kind of proprietor here by virtue of being a Britisher working for a British firm that owns the town? The company has set up a cattle pound out by the oilfields, I remember, near the War Graves Cemetery. That’s what he’d been talking about. Wandering cows were rounded up and imprisoned there. The owner had to pay a fine to get his animal back. Everything comes under the company’s regulations, even a poor man’s cow. I think Platt just wanted to show his servants what he could do to them in their own country. Kill a cow for sport. Mock their beliefs.

But they’d returned, I found out when I went home for lunch that day. The crowd I thought I’d heard down the road in the morning must have reached Platt’s house fifteen or twenty minutes after I left. Normally he would have been at the refinery by then, but he’d stayed back, perhaps for his daughter’s sake.

The mob had set fire to his car because at first he wouldn’t come out and listen to them, and when he did, he started shouting. It’s the one thing they hate, being shouted at by any Sahib, and they’d reacted violently, cursing him, igniting his car. Platt went inside and reappeared on the verandah, raising his rifle. That’s when they tried to torch his bungalow, too, Suraj Ali had heard, dousing the stilts with petrol. But Platt had started firing and they ran. From our verandah Suraj Ali had seen dozens of screaming men and even school-age boys bounding down the road, yelling to each other to make sure no one had been hit.


For two days following the incident, I wake up in the mornings seeing the calf with its open, yearning eye. In my mind it is a dying animal, not yet dead because of that eye still seeing the world, all its frenzy, seeing me — an innocent eye that seems aware of everything, accepting of everything. The word in the office is that Maclaren, the general manager, a fair-minded man, a man I admire, is sending Platt back to England. It has become a police case because Platt fired into the crowd, so his departure is seen as a solution. Still, an unspoken anxiety seems to grip the British managers. I think it’s a fear that the masses of Hindu laborers may strike or stage a rebellion of some sort.

The third day after the incident, T. A. B. Skene, our head of staff, comes to my office. After a few questions about an upcoming visit by officials of the Ministry of Natural Resources being arranged by my boss, who is in Delhi for talks with the government, he remarks that he heard I tried to intervene with Reggie Platt. He minces no words in telling me the company doesn’t condone Platt’s behavior in the least. It’s unprecedented to have the number-two man in the company sitting in my office. He pushes himself forward in one of the cane chairs set before my desk, a formidable Scot, long legs protruding, arms closed across his stomach.

Trying to fend off shyness, I tell him, perhaps too bluntly, “He fired into the crowd. He could have killed somebody.”

There’s a distinct tightness in Skene’s voice, a resistance, when he replies that Platt never shot at the crowd. He only fired warnings in the air, which people misunderstood. His mouth usually hovers between a smirk and a jutting-open challenge, so you can never gauge his mood, but now he presses his lips together, as if I’ve offended him. His face is like a soldier’s, the wavy silvering hair creamed back with a shine. A full moustache. They panicked, he says — they had no experience of guns. My servant spoke to some people who’d been there, I try to explain, and they felt themselves to be Platt’s target. He was shooting at the men. Skene lets out a long “No,” as if I’ve completely misinterpreted the situation. He was only trying to disperse the crowd. If Platt had meant to hit someone, he wouldn’t have missed all his shots. I don’t argue with him. He’s the senior man. Platt is leaving the day after tomorrow, Skene tells me, scowling slightly, as if that ought to satisfy me.
 

Parul Kapur Hinzen ’89SOA was born in a remote oil town in Assam, India, and lives in Atlanta. Her writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, and ARTnews. She is working on a novel, from which her story is excerpted.

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