فصل 17

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فصل 17

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Chapter seventeen

In God’s hands

Things moved quickly after that.

The same evening, after he had returned to Hove, di@k managed to get through to Lakshmi at last. She told him that her father had died of a heart attack a week earlier. She sounded quite calm but di@k desperately wanted to be with her.

‘Lakshmi, I’m so sorry. I feel helpless here. I want to be with you, to help you.’

‘It’s all right di@k. Please don’t worry. My father was already dead inside. It may be better for him like this. Perhaps he is with my mother again. Don’t worry about me. I can manage as long as I know you are there-‘

‘Did you get my letter Lakshmi? Will you marry me?’

‘Yes, I did di@k. And I do want to marry you. Now my father is dead there is nothing to keep me here. But I’m still worried about your thoughts of revenge. How can you hurt that poor innocent woman? Or the son, John? They have done nothing to you. I want you to give up the idea. I don’t think I could marry a man who would do that. Please think about it and tell me what you decide. I couldn’t live with a man who did a thing like that.’

‘But Lakshmi, I have Lennox where I want him. He’s trapped. How can I give up now? He deserves it. And so do the Visvanathans. Can’t you understand?’

‘di@k, I can understand but I can’t agree. I told you before, we should leave judgement to God. People like that are punished by what they become. Leave it at that, and don’t make innocent people suffer. I’m sorry di@k - that’s my last word. If you go ahead with this, I can’t see you again.’

The line was suddenly cut. di@k was not sure whether it was the Indian telecommunications or whether Lakshmi had put down the telephone on him. He repeatedly tried to call again but every time the number rang with the engaged tone.

He went to bed in a confusion of doubt and uncertainty. How could she be so obstinate? Even her own father had been destroyed by these bastards. Couldn’t she see that? But she obviously meant what she said. Yet how could he live without her now? He could not imagine a life which did not include her. It was three in the morning before he finally fell into an uneasy sleep. And when he woke, his mind was still confused about what to do.

The next morning he called Lennox.

‘The answer’s “no”. I won’t, hm, give in to blackmail.’

‘OK. I gave you the choice. You know what the consequences will be. Good bye.’

In the afternoon he called Barbara Lennox and asked if he could visit her briefly the next day. He told her he had a small packet for her which he had forgotten the last time. She told him she would be at home in the afternoon and to come for tea.

Later that evening, he received a call from Ramu.

‘di@k, did you get my letter? I have not been hearing from you so I am asking myself is something wrong.’

‘No. Nothing wrong Ramu, but I haven’t had any letter from you. What’s it about? Is everything OK with you?’

‘Yes, fine. But I wrote to you about our business deal. Please let me know what you think of my idea as soon as possible. It’s too complicated to talk about on the phone but we need to make a decision very soon. This is the right time. di@k, I must ring off now. Please call me when you get my letter. Take care.’

di@k replaced the receiver thoughtfully. So Ramu had been serious about them becoming business partners. He went down to the mail box. There among the junk mail and the bills was Ramus letter. He took it upstairs, poured himself a glass of wine, and sat down to read it.

Dear di@k,

I want to ask you if you have thought any more about my business proposal? Now that the regulations on foreign investment have been relaxed, there are lots of opportunities for us. I’d really like you to go into partnership with me. I’ve enclosed all the details. Please have a look at them carefully and let me know as soon as possible. Now is the time - so that we are first in the market before other people get the same idea. If we don’t do it now, we’ll lose our advantage.

Also, if I have understood properly, you might wish to spend more time in India now perhaps? With a certain young lady? (You know that Madras is the gossip capital of the world, isn’t it?) If you are needing ‘best man’, I am always willing to oblige!

With my good wishes to you as always,



The next morning, di@k took the train to London. On the way up he thought back over everything, especially Lakshmi’s threat not to marry him if he carried out his plan. Surely she could not be serious? But he remembered how upset she had been the last time. It made him angry to think of the way Nagarajan had become, and of his death. His mind went back to the miserable life Ned was leading in Bath. He thought about the way his own career had been ruined. Why should these criminals - Lennox, Vish and Molly be allowed to go free? It was impossible to let them go. He would have to do what he had decided, even if Lakshmi disapproved.

This time he took a taxi to Barnes. He was surprised when Barbara opened the door to him. She was in tears. Her hair was uncombed and it looked as if she had slept in her clothes.

‘Please, come in,’ she said in a shaky voice. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I can’t stop crying. I’ve been like this since yesterday. I can’t seem to concentrate on anything. My head is full of terrible thoughts. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat - it makes me feel sick even to think of food. My hands keep trembling. I’m terribly sorry about all this. I’m so ashamed to be crying like this. I don’t know if I can even make you tea, my hands are shaking so much. It’s terrible to feel like this. Every way I turn there is another black thought. I feel trapped in my own life. There is no escape. Do you understand what I’m trying to say? Oh, no. Нow, could you? I must seem like just another one of those hysterical middle-aged women you read about in the newspaper. But this is real. I thought I was walking on solid earth and now I am falling down a deep, black hole. Nothing is solid any more. My life has fallen to pieces. I was living in a dream. Now I’m locked in a nightmare. I’m sorry, I need to sit down.’

He sat her down in the kitchen and made tea for her. He tried to comfort her and to find out what had caused her breakdown. The cup of tea seemed to calm her nerves. She stopped crying and began to talk more coherently.

‘I’m sorry to be like this,’ she said, ‘but I have to talk to someone. I can’t keep it all inside me any longer. I feel as if I was going to explode. Please just listen and tell me if you think I’m mad.

‘I suppose I’ve had India on my mind since your last visit. It brought back memories of the time when Keith and I first went out there, all those years ago. I kept remembering scenes from our life in Madras. I have a very good memory, and the looks on people’s faces, snatches of conversations at parties started to come back to me. There was something worrying me but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was - until last night.

‘Keith didn’t come home last night. He had an important dinner and decided to stay at his club. He often does that, so I’m used to it. Anyway, there was nothing interesting on the TV so I started to look at our old photograph albums. It was the thoughts of India that started me off I think. So, there I was, looking at all those photographs: parties, receptions, birthdays, picnics at the beach, hill stations, the Taj Mahal… you know. And still there was this something worrying me; a vague thought at the back of my mind.’

She paused to blow her nose. ‘I realised that one of our albums wasn’t there, so I started to look for it. After I’d looked everywhere else, I wondered whether it might be in Keith’s study. I don’t know what made me think of that - I don’t usually go in there when he isn’t here. But I went in this time, and sure enough, there it was under a pile of papers on his desk. I couldn’t think what he wanted it for. Maybe he had been thinking about the old days too, goodness knows why. But as I took it from the desk, an envelope fell on the floor. The handwriting looked familiar. I picked it up. Inside there was just one photograph. I had never seen it before. Here it is.’

She passed di@k a yellowing black and white photograph. He realised with a shock, that he had seen it before. It was the photograph of Molly and Keith which Ned had sent him. It was obvious that they were in love with each other but, in case there was any doubt, Molly had written on the back: For my darling Keith - our unforgettable day - and night. With all my love, Molly.

She had also written the date. He silently handed the photograph back to Barbara.

‘How stupid I have been,’ she moaned, starting to cry again. ‘I should have realised there was something strange going on, but, you know, sometimes you just don’t notice what is right in front of your eyes. Look at the date. That was a month before I went out to India to join Keith. They were lovers. I can’t believe it but they were lovers.’ She broke down in tears again.

‘Then I began to think of all the other suspicious things that had happened: Molly going to England so suddenly “to look after an old uncle”, then John becoming “one of the family” - my god, he certainly was one of the family!

‘And I realised why Keith had prevented John from marrying Jane. And somehow, I simply didn’t suspect anything. That’s the terrible thing. But the worst thing is not that they were lovers. I would have forgiven Keith that - I loved him you know; in fact, I still love him - that’s what is breaking me up. No, I would have been able to forgive him, but the worst thing was that they went on fooling me for over twenty years. And I was blind to it all. How could I have been so blind, so stupid? And as I went on thinking, scenes came back to me - looks exchanged, embarrassing silences; it all added up. What is it that makes us so trusting, so easy to deceive? I realised that my life with Keith, the life of secure happiness, had been based on a lie. It wasn’t what I thought it was at all.

‘And my nerves snapped - and now look at me. I’m over 50, my marriage is in ruins and I have no-one to help me. No-one. I thought of killing myself you know. Last night, I got up and went into the kitchen. I closed the windows and the door and turned on the gas in the oven. But then I realised I couldn’t do it. I can’t bear to live, but I haven’t got the courage to kill myself. What am I going to do? How can I face Keith now? Oh, my god…’

Her shoulders shook as she began to cry again. She was clearly in a state of shock. di@k felt powerless to do anything, yet he could not simply walk away and leave her. He looked at this pathetic woman and realised that he could not add to her suffering by giving her the packet he had brought. He remembered his own breakdown and the agony he had suffered.

She needed help, and quickly. He persuaded her to lie down on the sofa in the lounge and called her local doctor.

He explained that she was in shock and needed urgent attention. Two hours later the doctor arrived and gave her a sedative to help her sleep. A nurse arrived shortly afterwards to attend to Barbara. di@k explained briefly what had happened and asked the nurse to call Keith Lennox and to ask him to return home at once. When di@k left the house, Barbara was fast asleep. He could do no more. Keith would now have to face the problem he had created.

Lakshmi had been right; people are punished by what they become. He walked back to Hammersmith deep in thought. What had Lakshmi said? ‘God arranges punishment. We should leave it to him.’ It seemed that she was right after all. He decided to call her as soon as he got home. Tomorrow he would book a seat on the first plane to Madras. There was a future after all.

He stopped in the middle of Putney Bridge and looked down at the Thames swirling below. Taking out the envelope, he tore it open and dropped the contents, page by page, into the water. They floated gently down and were carried swiftly away on the current. Enough was enough.

Postscript 1997

di@k is sitting under a raintree in the large garden of his house in a suburb of Bangalore. It is teatime. Lakshmi joins him, carrying their two-year-old daughter Rukmini. Their five-year-old son Arjun, will soon be back from school.

di@k’s partnership with Ramu has done very well. They now have offices in Madras, Bangalore, Bombay and Delhi. Their services are in great demand among overseas companies planning to set up in India. Life is good for them.

It has not been so good for some other people. Barbara somehow managed to repair her marriage with Keith but disaster of another kind hit them. In 1994, Trakton collapsed under heavy debts. Keith was arrested in London for misusing company funds. After a long trial, widely reported in the newspapers, he was sentenced to three years in jail. He comes out next year. People who know Barbara and Keith well say that he is now a broken man.

Last year Vish and Molly met with a serious accident. They were driving into town from their beach house when their car ran into a water lorry. Vish is now severely braindamaged. He cannot talk and spends his days in a darkened room. Molly was luckier. She could walk. But she went through the windscreen of the car. Her face was so badly cut that she has permanent scars. Not even plastic surgeons could help. It seems she never goes anywhere nowadays.

Lakshmi goes back to the house to fetch Arjun. As he sips his tea, di@k thinks again of her wise words - We should leave punishment to God. di@k felt eternally grateful that he had not tried to play God. God was definitely better at it than him.

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