After seeing Sethi inside and making sure the house had everything they might need in the next few days, Ghazni took his leave.
When Sethi tried to press some money onto him, Ghazni declined it.
“It’s your salary.”
“My salary is the Chevrolet.”
“Keep the money,” Sethi pressed it into his hand. “Please.”
Ghazni pulled his hand away gently but firmly. “If I take that money today, Sethi Sahib, it will be very hard for me to ask Allah for some credit for tonight later. God knows I need that credit then.”
Sethi smiled a little. “Thank you for saving my daughter, beta.”
“And your butler.” He supplied with a grin. “I really should get going, sir. Khuda Hafiz.”
“Listen,” Sethi had fished an envelope out of his pocket. “It’s not money. Just something I want you to have. A token of gratitude.”
Nodding, Ghazni took the envelope and slipped it into his pocket.
“Khuda Hafiz,” Sethi touched his forehead. Bowing his head, Ghazni left the room.
Outside, Sita stood beside the car, arms folded determinedly.
“Come with us.” She said, as soon as he was close enough.
“Why would I?” he squinted at her. The moonlight made her shimmer, for some reason, making her look like someone out of a matinee run of Isle of the Dead.
“You’ll get killed in Baha’uddin.”
“I will,” he allowed. “If I don’t manage to get out first, which knowing me, I will.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said. He opened his mouth to contradict her but she cut through, “besides, you never painted me.”
“I don’t think I agreed to paint you.” He pointed out. “My agreement was to do anything for you if you kept quiet. Today should count as a lot of anything, shouldn’t it?”
She smiled at him, and there were pearly tears in her eyes.
“Stay with us. You can paint in Mumbai. No one will recognize how bad you are at it there, either.”
“I’m incensed.” He chuckled, then bent down and kissed her forehead. “In another life, perhaps, I’d have come with you, but in this one I have an agreement to keep,”
“You made an agreement with me.” She reminded him.
“I did, and I followed up on it as best as I could.” He said. “That’s the most a gentleman can do, isn’t it?”
“This is about that college girl, right?” she puckered her lips.
He inclined his head slightly, a soft smile playing on his lips. “Perhaps,” he allowed.
She nodded slowly. “I wish I could come to your wedding. You don’t have a sister anyway. What’s a wedding without a sister to dress the bride?”
“I do,” he told her, and his eyes were moist, or perhaps it was a trick of the light. “I do have a sister.”
She held his hand for a second, and then she was running off towards the house, wiping her cheeks with a corner of her sari.
Silently, he got into the car and fished out the envelope Sethi had given him. Opening it, he dropped the contents into his lap.
The black and white photograph of the woman on the beach he had been painting for the past three weeks.
Carefully, he slipped the picture back into the envelope and put it into his pocket, then he started the engine and maneuvered the motor car off the dirt path that led to the bungalow. Within seconds, he was on his way back home.
Bala heard the car a few long minutes before he could see it. As soon as it came into view, he jumped onto the middle of the road, waving his arms, a huge white chadar of Razia’s in his hands.
It was the large sheet, whipped around by the wind, that alarmed Ghazni into stopping the car. Narrowing his eyes, he squinted at the large man in the middle of the road who held it.
“Bala?” he rolled down the window and stuck out his head.
“Ghazni ji!” Bala came closer, folding the sheet swiftly.
“What happened? Why are you here?” Ghazni got out of the car. “Where’s Razzu?” Please don’t let Chattha get to her.
“We got out, ji,” Bala grinned up at him, pointing to the footpath, where Razia sat with Maa ji’s head in her lap, who was fast asleep. “Razia bibi and Radha ji had us out in minutes once we heard from the neighbours what you’d done.”
Ghazni let out a relieved sigh as he strode towards her. “Take Maa ji to the car, Bala. Be quick about it.”
Tossing the man the car keys, Ghazni stopped behind Razia, who was collecting what little luggage they had brought from the footpath, as Bala helped Maa ji to the car. He waited for her to say something. She didn’t.
Finally, he spoke up. “Need help with the luggage?”
Promptly she dropped all pretence of picking it up and drawing herself to her full height, snapped, “I’d rather you just left and never returned.”
He blinked. “Why?”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to help them escape? I spent one entire hour burning in hell today after you left, Ghazni.”
He wrapped an arm around her, hugging her close to himself. Her hair against his lips, he wondered whether he wanted to tell her the truth. She deserves to know, doesn’t she?
“I didn’t know till the end if I was going to spare him myself.” He admitted quietly.
Her arms tightened around him. He waited for an answer, but she gave none. Of course she didn’t. What could anyone possibly say to that?
“I couldn’t do it.” He said, mostly to himself. “I pointed the pistol at him, but I couldn’t press the trigger.”
“I knew you couldn’t.” she stepped away from him, not letting go of his hand.
“You forgive me?”
“There’s nothing to forgive. The entire Baha’uddin knows that.” She said, smiling softly at him.
They walked to the car in silence, carrying the luggage between them. When they got into their seats after stowing it away in the boot, the car was filled with Bala and Maa ji’s steady breathing.
“I was very sure I would be living as a lonely bachelor from now on.” He told her as he started the car. “I was that worried Chattha would get to you before I did.”
“Don’t ever think you’ll get that lucky.” She said drily. “We’ll never leave him alone, will we, Maa?”
Maa ji mumbled some sleepy response and shifted into a more comfortable position.
“I prayed for you to come back safely.” She told him as the motor car purred to life.
“How could I not come back to you in one piece?” He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. “I had an agreement to keep.”
“And a gentleman always follows up on his agreement.” She finished for him.
The Chevrolet raced down the road into the semi-darkness of the moonlit August night, leaving behind it the faint but lingering smell of petrol and kept promises.