An excerpt from the book No Trespassing by Brinda S. Narayan.

In all that time after Sajan’s death, I had intentionally evaded a key question: what really happened, that evening, by the generator? How had my son fallen in? It was too hurtful for me to revisit those hours. Too piercing to confirm that Sajan, in his foggy state, hadn’t sensed the erupting fire. If I brooded on it for too long, I ended up trapped in remorse. After all, wasn’t I responsible for sending him out like that when I knew he wasn’t completely alright?

One evening, when I bumped into the maid who had tried to rescue him, I didn’t even recognise her. I thought her face – the scar by her lower lip, the extended ear-lobes, the thrust-out chin – looked familiar but I couldn’t recall where I’d seen her. She was the one who approached me.

‘How are you, Madam?’

She bent to squeeze Rhea’s cheeks. Then, noting my confusion, she said: ‘I’m Gowri. I brought your boy home that day.’

‘Oh yes, thank you.’ Imprisoned in my own grief, I hadn’t thought about this woman, about the reward she might have expected. I should have sought her out and compensated her for risking her own life. ‘You tried to save him, I appreciate that. You must come home. I want to give you …’

‘Madam, I have been thinking of you every day. What happened that day was the worst…’ Behind us, the forest cast a dappled shadow on the pathway. The day’s natural light was fading, and across from us, the streetlights flared into an effulgent yellow.

Imprisoned in my own grief, I hadn’t thought about this woman, about the reward she might have expected. I should have sought her out and compensated her for risking her own life.

‘Yes?’ I said, but averted my gaze. She was going to tell me about my son’s fogginess, and rupture my fragile composure. I didn’t want to hear her, because what was the point? She stayed silent, expecting me to goad her into talking. Did she expect me to say, ‘I shouldn’t have let him go, he wasn’t well.’ I looked up at the oranges melting into the darkening skies and said: ‘It was an accident, he fell into the smoke—’ ‘Madam, your son did not fall into the smoking room. I heard him screaming from Villa 76, those other children did it to him.’

I looked at her in surprise. ‘What do you mean, Gowri?’ ‘Madam, I couldn’t save him…’

‘You said, he didn’t fall in?’ I said.

‘Didn’t my Madam tell you?’ Her tone was surprised, almost offended.

‘Tell me what?’

‘They put him inside.’ Just then, a flutter of squawking parrots emerged from the treetops, tattering the evening hush. Rhea let go off my hand to scamper towards them with an excited ‘Birdie, birdie.’

‘What are you saying, Gowri?’

‘Madam, when I ran to that room it was already too late.’ Put him in. What did she mean? Had they pushed him into that smoking cavern? Just three words, but it was like a machine had rumbled through my innards, forklifting me once more, from one bizarre reality to another.

Just then, a flutter of squawking parrots emerged from the treetops, tattering the evening hush. Rhea let go off my hand to scamper towards them with an excited ‘Birdie, birdie.’

When I addressed Gowri again, my voice was trembling: ‘Gowri, I want you to come home. I need to talk to you, privately.’

‘Madam, tomorrow evening,’ she said. ‘Today I have to hurry home and cook dinner.’

The next evening, I waited for Gowri to reappear. In the hours leading up to our appointment, I couldn’t focus on anything else. My thoughts clawed into the past, prying open boxes that I had deliberately shut. I was flooded by images of Sajan: the week he had been bullied in his kindergarten classroom; the morning he had slipped on a wet tile and grazed his forehead; the day a teacher had scolded him for losing a notebook. Each time, I had been the protector who got him a reprieve. Yet, where had I been, when he needed me most?

I recalled other snatches from that dreadful evening, overlapping voices, a medley of faces. ‘Six boys,’ ‘Playing,’ ‘Accident.’ If what Gowri said was true, then my son hadn’t died in an accident. Put in, she said. What did that mean? Had he been pushed deliberately?

 Excerpted with permission from No Trespassing by Brinda S. Narayan, Westland Books.

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