June 3, 1947
"I know you will make us proud, Tariq," Master Ahmed calls out to me as I step onto the dusty sidewalk outside the school gates.
I stop, press my palms together, bow. "Khuda hafiz,"
"And may He guard you as well," Master Ahmed replies. "Give my best to your parents." "Shukriya."
I speed up as I round the corner and the scrubby cricket pitch. It seems like longer than a year has passed since I sat for my examinations, since I enrolled at the college. Doing nothing has a way of slowing time. The college shut down after the professors got scared and quit teaching, when both the school and the faculty became easy targets for the Sikh mobs. And with no school, with nothing changing but the way people all over Punjab seem to have gone crazy, I've felt stuck. Trapped, even.
But now. Now there is hope.
My hand sneaks into the pocket of my churidhars, just to make sure the slip of paper is still there. I have already memorized the number of the house on Mani Margh, the time of my appointment with this Darnsley man, the few details about the job. I don't need the paper anymore. All the same, I like knowing it's there, like a railway ticket. Proof that I have some place to be.
Some place other than Baap's shops, selling gold and stones.
And maybe, just maybe, some place other than India all together.
This Mr. Darnsley must have gone to Oxford. Why else would this chance come? I walk half a mile, rubbing the paper in my pocket like some kind of talisman, my mind racing ahead to how hard I'll work to impress this Englishman. It's perfect really, the timing of it all. I'm so lost in my thoughts that I don't notice the crowd of men running up the lane behind me until they overtake and surround me.
I let go of the paper, brace myself for a fight before I see the men are Muslim, most of them around my age. A few wear prayer caps, but there is not a dastar on the head of any of them, and all have hair cropped close like mine. My hands uncurl.
They are not interested in me. Let them pass.
But then one stops a few yards ahead, turns around. "Tariq!"
My hands clench.
"Sameer," I say. Sameer. There's always trouble when Sameer turns up. Even when we were at school together, he had a way finding trouble, of drawing me into it.
He fights the current of the men, grabs my arm, pulls me into the flow.
"What's going on?" I ask him.
"What do you think?" he asks, smiling. He is a little winded. The mob is keeping up a quick pace. There must be twenty or thirty men here.
Up ahead, two of them break off from the pack, dash over to a market stall, and snatch up armfuls of cricket bats. They're already back in step before the shopkeeper even has a chance to say anything. Not that he would. Not that any of the people in the shops would. They have all stopped to watch.
Someone near the front begins the chant. Zin-da-bad. Pa-ki-stan
The stolen bats begin to filter through the mob, still keeping pace. Sameer hands one to me before taking one for himself.
I feel hollow in the pit of my stomach, look around for some way to get myself out of here. Zin-da-bad. Pa-ki-stan.
"I have to get home!" I yell so Sameer can hear me over the chanting.
His face goes hard. "No you don't, brother."
The fellow on Sameer's other side, a giant of a man, with a heavy beard that makes him look even more threatening, leans around to give me a look. A look that dares me to say I need to go home again. I shut my mouth.
I don't know where we're going, or what we're going to do when we get there, apart from the fact that it will be not be good. I've been careful, so far. Managed to avoid getting caught up in any of this violence. Allah's teeth! Why today of all days?
Excerpted from A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury. Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Bradbury. Excerpted by permission of Atheneum Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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