An excerpt from the book,  Strange by Shreya Sen-Handley.

‘Huh?’ barked the policeman who’d originally interrogated old Jay, almost apoplectic. ‘So, he’s been slipping you songs and not body parts? He lured you into dingy carparks to ply you with music, not drugs, and NOT sex?’ The youngest of the children looked at the policeman horrified that he had said the S word. Hadn’t the same man lectured them two weeks ago about avoiding pervs? The kids had never imagined that was why everyone was making such a fuss. The very utterance of the scary word, however, caused a seismic shift in the room. The focus of everyone’s distaste shifted to their bungling police force that had handled the case so badly. The parents announced that they were dropping charges. They would communicate that to the missing family too, that of the girl who’d been sick since the incident. They were confident the latter would go along happily. Back to being perfect, untampered families, they felt bad about having put the misunderstood man through the rigours of arrest and incarceration, even though they didn’t like his clothes, his taste in music, or the fact that he was taking money, however small (since they hadn’t noticed any missing), off their kids. They wondered if they should invite the unfortunate fellow to dinner. They had heard he had once been one of them, with a picket fenced home and a white-collar job in IT. His wife had left him apparently, taking their children with her in an acrimonious split, and it had all fallen apart for him. Perhaps if they embraced him to the bosom of good society again, he might cease and desist from his minor crimes (and the major disruption he’d caused with them this time). Inspector Hotpot was eager to be rid of them all now that the veneer of conviviality had been blown, so she quickly agreed to each of their demands as she saw them out.

The parents announced that they were dropping charges. They would communicate that to the missing family too, that of the girl who’d been sick since the incident.

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The kids convened later that evening. A little celebration for a crisis sorted. No, a biggish celebration considering even their absent friend had turned up, though she didn’t look very well at all. But there was more than one reason to celebrate, and they were glad to have got together after the long weekend of worry and confusion. Their supplier was out of the slammer and it would be business as usual for the contraband-hungry kids. Except that Harry had a plan, a plan from which they could profit from the scudding cloud that had cast a temporary shadow on Jay-ji. A plan that would make the most of their heroic rescue of their old mucker in the nick of time, without which he’d be on his way to prison now. ‘He’d be grateful, right?’ asked Harry, but only rhetorically. ‘Now that we’ve had him set free, maybe he’ll give us a few for free, eh?’ They all laughed at the idea of giving the dealer a taste of his own medicine, doing him out of a quid or two. He’d never charged much, but why pay anything at all if they could help it? It would be a ‘welcome home’ prank on their completely harmless, rather pathetic, but really quite lovely old pal.

The kids convened later that evening. A little celebration for a crisis sorted. No, a biggish celebration considering even their absent friend had turned up, though she didn’t look very well at all.

Only then did the girl who’d stayed out of everything speak up. ‘But,’ she cleared her throat. The others rolled their eyes. She’d always been the softest touch and they weren’t going to let her argue them out of their happy little jape with any plea for clemency on the old man’s behalf. ‘But,’ she said again in a tiny whisper, ‘it was never money he took from me.’

Image Credit: Shreya Sen-Handley/HarperCollins India

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Excerpted with permission from Strange by Shreya Sen-Handley, HarperCollins India.

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