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acts-of-faithIt is on the Monday that Dick died. It is not as though Indra has been particularly close to his father, not at any rate for nearly twenty years, but they have come to pass the time of day satisfactorily enough whenever they met. Besides, the circumstances under which Dick met his end would be shattering enough, even to someone less sensitive than Indra or more distant from his father. In an obscure way he wonders whether he could not have been kinder to his father, more intimate, whether he might not have moved more closely with him and encouraged confidences, so that Dick would not have found himself alone and defenceless amidst the dangers that his recent activities have precipitated.

Matthew’s broadcast serves only to accentuate these feelings as far as Dick is concerned. The references to him are too obscure and too indirect for Indra to give any serious credence to the notion that Dick had been in any culpable sense responsible for the catastrophe. It is rather the manner in which Matthew speaks that evokes complex responses in Indra’s mind, even before the climax is reached.

That, sudden as it is, has the result of making Indra suddenly turn pale, which Diana notices as she sits beside him. She herself feels that Matthew has gone too far, as the boys on the screen reveal their nakedness. She glances instinctively at Indra and hurriedly asks him what the matter is.

‘It’s just,’ Indra pauses for a moment and then his hand reaches across and takes hold of Diana’s. ‘It’s just that I recognize those boys. I met them about six months ago. It was when I went with Shiva to his house by the sea. You stayed behind.’ Diana says nothing. Complex thoughts strike her too, but she merely increases the pressure of her fingers on Indra’s. ‘One of them I knew quite well.’

There is a silence which Diana feels she must disturb. ‘Do you think Matthew knows anything about that?’

I don’t know.’ Indra moves across the sofa close up to Diana. Krishna, who has been sitting at his feet, looks up, his eyes still wide with amazement at what he has seen on the screen. ‘I don’t know.’ Indra says again. Diana puts her arm around him ‘It’s hard to be sure. He never liked Shiva, you know that. But I still can’t believe he could do something like this deliberately.’

‘It couldn’t have been an accident.’

‘Of course not. Not all three of them one after the other.’ Indra sounds almost scornful, but there is a pause before he continues. ‘It certainly couldn’t have happened like that to the one I mentioned. There was no need for him to be circumcised. Matthew must have done it deliberately. There has to be a reason for this.’

‘You should ring up Paul,’ Diana says in a matter-of-fact tone. ‘He may know. He used to go there often.’

Indra says nothing for a moment. Diana suddenly notices that there seem to be tears in his eyes. ‘I’ve never talked to him about it before,’ Indra says slowly, but then he gets up and goes to the telephone.

Paul too has seen Matthew’s performance and has recognised at once the three boys who were with him the day the riots began. He tells Indra that he cannot talk on the telephone, and says that the situation is much more serious than could be imagined. He promises to call early the next day to discuss everything fully.

When Paul comes next morning, Indra takes him out into the garden so that they might talk. They are both tense and nervous and have slept little during the night. The garden is full of shade and fragrant with the scent of jasmine, and they wander slowly amongst the bushes as they talk. Paul reveals that the three boys had all been with him on the last occasion he was away at the house by the sea. Indra admits that he has met the boys himself, and remarks upon one in particular. Paul mentions that that was one to whom Shiva had been especially attached. They pause at this point beneath the jacaranda tree, and are silent for a space, and then Paul describes what Luke had told him about the attack on Shiva. He adds that he had checked on the information himself, and that it is true as far as it goes.

‘I feel responsible for it all,’ Indra has begun walking before he speaks. ‘I shouldn’t have been away during that time.’

‘You needn’t feel bad.’ Paul has adjusted his pace to Indra’s. ‘There was nothing you could have done.’

‘I felt bad about the trip before we set out. If I had stayed in Colombo, I might have been there that night. Nothing would have happened then.’

‘You can’t be sure of that.’ There is no reply, and after a moment Paul goes on. ‘They could have waited until they knew you weren’t there.’

‘I suppose they could have if they were determined enough.’ Indra pauses to pluck a jasmine blossom, and holds it delicately to his nose. ‘But I wonder if they would have gone ahead, if it hadn’t been so clear I was determined to go away that week. It was just after our last trip too.’ He flings the blossom away and resumes walking. ‘I don’t think I’m very good for people. But we ought to find out about these boys for certain. Can we get out there tomorrow?’

‘There’s a curfew on.’

‘I don’t suppose there’s any difficulty about getting passes. Of course I shan’t ask Matthew this time. I was wondering rather whether there might be any problem for you?’

‘There are no problems when you’re a diplomat.’ They are back at the jacaranda tree now, and Paul stops deliberately and leans against it.’ ‘But is it safe for you? It might be embarrassing if they’re on the warpath.’

‘I think I should start taking risks.’ Indra smiles shortly. Paul notices that his face lights up remarkably, even when the smile is scarcely there. ‘But I don’t suppose I’m likely to be in anyone’s firing line. It’s you that should be careful.’

‘I’m ready.’ They start to go aback in. ‘I’ll come and pick you up early tomorrow morning.’

 *

Matthew calls in the evening, together with the Black Shadow, to make sure that everyone is alright. He had dropped in briefly the previous day, to offer his condolences about Dick, and he confines himself now to discussing Mark’s revelations and the spectacular end with which Luke has met. He refers to it in passing as poetic justice. Indra forces himself to behave normally. Diana finds it more difficult, for her mind is racing hopelessly. Indra has told her what Paul revealed to him. She has tried to dissuade Indra from the trip, but he is determined. Diana finds it very difficult not to ask Matthew about the boys. Fortunately, Tom makes his appearance on television, just as she feels she cannot hold herself in any longer, and after that they talk about it and then Matthew goes away.

Later on Indra tells Krishna too what he has heard. They have not talked about Matthew before, and Krishna has felt himself constrained by the air of intimacy with which Matthew comes and goes. He has seen no reason to suppose that Indra and Diana are not as attached to Matthew as the relationship would warrant. Now for the first time he reveals to Indra the diffidence he and Radha have felt about Matthew and his Shadow. After a moment’s thought he goes further and reveals also what Radha has told him, with diffidence herself, that very night after Matthew and the Shadow left. The shadow has asked her to allow him to arrange for her to sleep with Matthew.

Indra spends another sleepless night. In the morning, before he leaves, he tells Diana the story and asks her to discuss the matter more fully with Radha. They decide to confide in Paul as well. Indra mentions the matter to Paul in the car, and Paul says that he has heard such stories before about Matthew and his Shadow. Almost as an afterthought he adds that his own information confirms that the stories are based on truth. He says nothing further, and the topic changes, but underneath his thoughts return to the similarities he had noted before, and which recent study has impressed more strongly on his mind, between Diana and Radha and Radha and Krishna, and indeed all of them.

When they arrive at the house there is no one around that they know, but as they walk side by side along the beach they come across a boy whom they both recognise. He is more diffident at first than he had used to be; but they soon put him at his ease and he discloses that the boys who had appeared on television had vanished suddenly a few days previously, no one knew where nor how. There were rumours of inquiries having been made, and he had seen one or two strangers himself, but he had no clear idea what anything that had happened had to do with what had been shown on screen. Paul asks Indra to produce the snapshot of Matthew they have brought, and asks the boy whether he can identify him. Matthew is dressed very casually in the photograph, and the boy takes some time to make out who he is. He is sure that the original of the photograph has not been seen in the neighbourhood in the flesh; but when Indra suddenly asks him to imagine someone just like that only very much darker, the boy thinks hard for a minute and then nods.

They tell the boy to find out anything more that he can and to convey the information to Paul as soon as possible in person. They warn him to be careful. Very little is said in the car on the return journey. When they get back to the house, it is to find that the Black Shadow has paid another visit in their absence. Diana has thought it best to display no unusual interest, and the Black Shadow had again found an opportunity to approach Radha. This time he has been more importunate than before, and has even allowed himself a snide remark about her brother.

Paul and Indra hear all this over a late lunch, They are both too overwhelmed by all that has happened recently to think coherently. Paul has glimmerings of a plan, but he feels he needs time to think it out properly. Besides, as he looks around at the others, whose lives have intertwined so strangely with each other’s and with his and Shiva’s and even Matthew’s, he is anxious about the whole business. He thinks of the boys who have been hurt, and of the Shadow, and he feels he should take no unnecessary risks. Yet something has to be done.

He promises that he will return on the next day with a plan. As he leaves he feels almost achingly protective about them, in a way he has not experienced for a long time; and yet, as they cluster together on the verandah to see him off, he also feels almost painfully an alien. Once again the image rises before him of Shiva, standing against the mantelpiece in Trinity, his arm held out as though enticing and cajoling both. He knows he must proceed slowly.

Ceylon Today 25 Jan 2015 – https://www.ceylontoday.lk/96-83055-news-detail-home-truths.html

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