I sleep and dream of Wee Willie Winkie wearing a pointed hat and a grey nightgown, playing with Daddy’s silver lighter. The lighter works and Winkie sets my periwinkle, polka-dotted curtains on fire. Rufus and Auntie Pam rescue me and we run down the hill where Mother and Daddy are waiting for us. The sky is grey, like Winkie’s gown. It starts to rain. Sheets of water fall from the grey sky. Daddy starts the engine. The car begins to rise and flies through the rain and the lightening. Wipers swish swashing, the car rises above the angry clouds.
We leave the tea gardens behind.
When I wake up, my Yogi Bear and Chiming Alarm Clock – that Daddy calls a pain-in-the-ass, after which Mother says sshh as if she and Daddy are playing The Quiet Game – are missing. Mother says that Bua has gone. I then tell her what happened last night and Mother strokes my hair and kisses my forehead and says that the bad woman’s gone. I feel like asking her why the bad woman was with me – because bad strangers are not with us, they’re outside and Daddy says that the walls of our house are impenetrable. He always says this loudly – but I don’t because Munaf has fried fish fingers and I’m hungry.
Finally, after weeks, we go to the club and I look for Rufus and Auntie Pam but I don’t see them anywhere. Auntie Pam smelled like honey and flowers. She always carried candy in her bag. Nice candy that didn’t make my eyes water. The candy that Munaf got me made my throat itch. Daddy said she was a fine-example-of-bad-parenting and mummy called her a deer. When I asked Auntie Pam if she was related to deer, she just laughed. Maybe that’s why daddy didn’t like her. I miss Auntie Pam and Rufus. Daddy makes me sit with Colonel Saab – he looks like a buffalo and I look at him and laugh – and his wife. She has fishy lips. Maybe Colonel Saab’s wife is part fish like Auntie Pam was part deer. She calls me and kisses me on my cheek. Her kiss leaves a red stain on my face. I try to rub it off but red goo sticks to my fingers. It smells bad – Like the horrible pink syrup mother made me swallow when I fell ill and then Daddy had to take me to the big hospital with the green walls in Dhaka. I rub my fingers on my shorts and now they’re red too. And they’re sticky and they smell bad. I want to cry but Daddy says that I dare not cry in front of other people because big boys don’t cry. I’m a big boy. I’m the eldest when Bhai is in Lahore.
Now that Rufus is gone I have no one to play with except Munaf. I want to swim but the pool has been lying empty for months. I saw a dead pigeon lying in it the other day. Daddy says that we are conserving water and that conservashun is necessary – I write down the word on the car’s dusty windscreen – just like finishing your food and sleeping on time and drinking milk in the morning is necessary. And playing The Quiet Game by the rules is always necessary. But Daddy is always the first to lose.
Mother tells Munaf to play football with me in the afternoon. He kicks the ball and it flies across the boundary wall and into the road.
“Foul!” I cry. “Go get the ball for me!”
“Go get it yourself! Satti tor moto eto chudi chele dekhini!”
Daddy got me that ball from England, where the Queen lives, where Mother wore pretty dresses and had sparkly eyes and sparkly nails. I want to cry but I can’t. My stomach hurts. Munaf grins and I see his silver tooth. He looks like a pirate. Like Captain Hook – only he isn’t missing an arm and a leg. He puts his hand on my shoulder. His nails dig into my skin. I bite my lip and taste something salty.
“Tell your Murha father to run away. Your house has been Cihnita. They are coming soon.”
I run inside the house and bury my face in Mother’s lap. She is sniffling, as though she has a cold, but I know she doesn’t because Mother doesn’t let me or chotu go near her lest we catch the infecshun. Mother is as particular about infecshun as Daddy is about conservashun.
She sniffles some more and tells me to go to my room.
I lie in bed after supper. Mother and Daddy are taking in loud voices outside. Daddy says grown-ups are allowed to talk in loud voices but children should be seen-and-not-heard, like the lizard on the wall. It crawls into my wardrobe through the cracks beneath the closet’s door. I imagine what the lizard would look like if it wore my clothes.