‘I think I’ve found the missing girl at last.’
Because we forget that even words have childhoods, Nayan cannot be sure that he has heard it right. Then the phone line goes blank—it might have choked on his silence, or it might have been Kabir’s tempestuous indifference to the listener. Whatever it is, it is no longer new, his son’s disappearance for days, sometimes weeks, his unpredictable resurfacing before his restless migration into silence again.
But he had, at least, called. Kabir’s mother hadn’t even done that.
The silence had begun to seem like an accident.
There was someone at the door. A snatch of a bhatiali in a trained voice, a trail of toe steps, knocking that turned the door into a temporary percussion instrument. It could only be one man.
‘Who else?’ came the reply. ‘Who else comes like a cheque past its expiry date?’
Heavy slippers, their underside pimply with screechy wet sand, fell gently on to the floor.
‘You won’t change your habits, Dada. Look at the darkness in this room. Why do you live your life as if it was a permanent funeral?’
Nayan smiled. He enjoyed allowing this old man his rehearsal of taunts.
And then it struck Bimal-da. He had forgotten it again. The sudden rush of guilt turned his mind into a bird at midday, looking for darkness. ‘Sorry,’ he said, relying on the foreignness of the word to give his apology some weight.
Nayan smiled. Or Bimal-da imagined that he did. His eyes moved to the sad piece of bread on the white plate in front of Nayan. Why the rich preferred funereal white crockery was something he would never understand.
‘Your food. It’s getting cold,’ he said. That is one thing that the blind shared with the deaf—both cannot sense their food growing cold. Bimal-da touched his old glasses, the thing that connected his eyes to his ears, and he said his prayers of gratitude: he was poor, always hungry, but he was, at least, not blind. What use was all the wealth to Nayan if he could not see it? For wasn’t that what riches meant—an exhibition to the eye?