THE GIRL FROM NONGRIM HILLS

Ankush Saikia

The Girl from Nongrim Hills
Ankush Saikia

When Bok reached there were a couple of cars on the road below Sandra’s house. As he parked in his usual place under the streetlight Bok saw four youths coming down the lane on the other side of the road. They were all well built, with short haircuts, and there seemed something wrong about them. He locked his bike and stood there for a while, watching as they got into a silver-grey Indica with a taxi permit sticker on its windshield. The car turned around and headed back towards Jingkieng. As it passed the streetlight the driver turned to look at Bok: he had a swarthy face with a deep scar on the right side from cheekbone to chin, and was now wearing a red baseball cap. Bok knew what was wrong; they didn’t belong here in this locality, he had never seen them around here before. He crossed the road and started walking up the dark, narrow lane. From up above he could hear music coming from Sandra’s house. He was halfway-up when someone hissed at him from the trees beside the track.

“Bok! Come here.”

He could vaguely make out his brother, sitting in the dark on what looked like a fallen tree trunk. Bok’s first impression was that he was drunk already. He took out his cell phone and put on the torch and went forward a few steps, only to be shocked by the sight of Kitdor’s bloody, swollen face.

“What happened?” he asked, squatting down beside his brother. “Who did this?”

Kitdor spat out a gob of something that looked like blood, and said, “I’ll tell you. First help me get to the back of the house.”

Bok helped Kitdor to his feet, and with his brother leaning on him they went up the lane, opened the gate, and went around the house to the back. They could hear the shouts of the children from within the house. Kitdor asked him to open the storeroom door and put on the light, and he limped over to a moorah amid the dusty household clutter and sat down holding his right leg. Bok leaned his guitar case against a wall.

“I hope you don’t have any fractures,” he said, looking down at Kitdor.

“Who knows. I’ll have to check. Can you go and call kong? Tell her to get me a dabor of hot water, there should be some in the kitchen, and a cloth, I can’t go in looking like this.”

As Bok turned around his brother added, “And tell Jerry to get me some whiskey.”

Inside, the party was going on at full tilt. The kitchen and the dining area were full of his sister-in-law’s relatives, and after that came loud music and children chasing one other around the house. Some of the early guests had started eating dinner, while the drinkers were popping behind a closed door. He found the maidservant, and next Jerry, and repeated his brother’s instructions to them. His nephew came running up to him, followed by his excited friends. Bok picked him up for a kiss, and gave him his present.

“Thank you mama Bok!” the child shouted, and was off again.

“When did you get here? Have you seen Kit?”

He turned to find Sandra standing behind him, wearing her usual red lipstick and heavy coat of blush on the cheeks. He hesitated for a second.

“Bah Hep’s behind in the storeroom.”

“What is he doing there?”

Bok beckoned her to follow him.

They went through the crowded kitchen to the rear of the house and then into the storeroom. Bok pushed the door open to find his brother wiping himself clean with a wet cloth, an aluminium basin of faintly reddish water in front of him, while Jerry, who happened to be Sandra’s cousin, was putting together a drink in a plastic glass.

“What happened to you?” Sandra shrieked. “Today is your son’s birthday!”

Kitdor mumbled something as he dipped the cloth in the water once again.

“What’s wrong with you I don’t understand!” she continued. “Clean yourself up and come inside, all right? Everyone is asking where you are.”

She glared at her husband and at her cousin before stomping off. Bok noticed she hadn’t asked his brother what had happened, or if he was hurt. That was the way she was, more concerned about the party than her husband. After she was gone Kitdor gently told Jerry to get back to the house, saying he would follow in a while. Bok lit a cigarette, poured himself a stiff whiskey, and sat down on the edge of an old wooden chest. The door had been left ajar and he could hear the rain starting to come down on the cemented ground. Six years his brother had lived in this house. He looked at Kitdor pressing the cloth dipped in hot water to one of his cheekbones. They looked similar, the two of them, and their hairstyle was the same, with the side parting on the right side. People could make out they were brothers at first glance—only Bok had a thin moustache and goatee while his brother was clean shaven. He remembered the Indica driver’s face, the deep scar and the fierce stare, and an involuntary shiver went through him.

Bok passed the cigarette to Kitdor, and his brother took a deep drag before speaking. He said, “I need your help. I need 50 lakhs.”

“What?” Bok said, not believing what he had heard.

“I need 50 lakhs within the next seven days. Otherwise they’ll kill me.”

“But 50 lakhs for what?” Bok demanded; he could feel something constricting his chest and couldn’t breathe properly. “Who’s going to kill you?”

Kitdor took a drink from the glass Jerry had given him and put in back on the floor. He took off his half shirt and, sitting there in his vest, started wiping his arms.

“I’ll tell you how it all happened,” he said. “A couple of weeks ago an old contact of mine from Guwahati called me. Said he knew some people who were looking for guns. Now it just so happened that …”

Excerpted from The Girl From Nongrim Hills by Ankush Saikia (Penguin Books India)

***

Ankush Saikia was born in Tezpur, Assam in 1975. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin; Assam; and Shillong, Meghalaya. He has worked in journalism and publishing in New Delhi. In 2005, he was on the shortlist for the fourth Outlook/Picador-India non-fiction writing award. He has published two books so far. The first, Jet City Woman, a short novel set in Delhi and Northeast India, was published by Rupa & Co. in 2007. Spotting Veron and Other Stories is his second book, also published by Rupa & Co., in 2011.
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