The Year of The Runaways: An Extract

The Year of The Runaways: An Extract
She’d been gone some half an hour and he could still feel her hand on his shoulder. Shaking his head, he put on his jacket and locked the door behind him.

It was busy, as she’d said it would be. Guests were filing out of the langar hall and heading up the stairs and into the darbar sahib. He joined the queue and sat at the back of the chamber, as far from the granth as was possible. She was kneeling at an angle to the palki, her harmonium in front of her, a tabla player on either side. Her head was bowed. Hands together in her lap. For now, all was silent save for the granthi’s quiet reading. 

The akhand paat was to celebrate some girl’s upcoming marriage — three years ago, the granthi said, this girl’s parents had come into this very gurdwara and vowed to hold a service if their handicapped daughter was blessed with a husband. And how God had listened! A boy from India, no less! Tochi had heard of these marriages. A marriage of desperates. As the ardaas ended, he watched Narinder lift her fingers to the keyboard, lean towards the microphone and begin the opening raag. 

Afterwards, a vague sense of relief ran through the room. It was all over. Some started to leave; others milled at the back of the hall, chatting. He could see Narinder packing the harmonium into its large leather case. He started towards her. She hadn’t noticed him yet; there’d been too many present for that. He was coming up past the canopy when he saw someone who seemed familiar. A very tall, very thin man with an oversized turban that tapered to a tight point. Instinctively, Tochi took a pace backwards. Better to assume trouble than wait to figure it out. Then he knew. It was the man from the shop. The one with the divorced daughter. Tochi made to walk behind him. The man spoke: ‘It’s you, is it? And who are you trying to deceive today?’

Tochi said nothing.
‘Any more families you’re trying to ruin?’
He turned round, started to walk away.
‘Liars always run,’ the man bellowed, so loud Tochi could feel the whole room turn and stare, conversations dwindling. ‘Remember his face, everyone. He’s a chamaar who pretends he isn’t so he can marry our daughters and get his passport. Isn’t that right?  Come on, which poor girl have you got your eye on today?’
He felt Narinder at his side, whispering that they should go. He shrugged her off, violently, and barged through the embarrassed crowd.

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