Fear comes calling

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

65-Fear-comes-calling Illustration: Deni Lal

A FEW NIGHTS later, there was a knocking. It was late, two or three a.m., when any sound brings your heart to your throat. My mother was shouting, “Wake up, wake up!”

A hand reached out of the dark and dragged me up in my nightie. I screamed and fought, believing it was a man come to do what men do. But it was a policewoman.

My father, on the floor, his throat dry and his painful back rigid, mewled. Nighttime tumed him into a child.

Then I was in the back of the police van, watching through the wire mesh a view of roads glowing orange under street lamps. I exhausted myself appealing to the policewoman and group of policemen sitting in front of me: “Sister, what is happening? I am a working girl. I work at Pantaloons. I have nothing to do with police!”

They said nothing. Now and then a crackle came from the radio on the dashboard, far in front. At some point, a car filled with boys sped by, and I heard whooping and cheering. They were coming from a nightclub. The doddering police van meant nothing to those boys. They did not slow down. They were not afraid. Their fathers knew police commissioners and members of the legislature, figures who were capable of making all problems disappear. And me, how would I get out of this? Whom did I know?

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House India.