There is someone at the door. Three informal taps are given on the glass panel instead of the doorbell being pressed, the bell that has a little amber light burning in it, the moths dancing around it all through the summer nights. As though he has sucked too hard through a paper straw and flattened it shut, he inhales but cannot find his breath, his chest solidifying into heavy stone, in terror. Who could it be? However enriched with light this hour isthis pause between night and dayit is still too early for a call not to be out of the ordinary. But he is aware that he would have reacted similarly had it been the middle of the day, imprisoned as he has been in a shadowy area between sleep and waking for almost five monthsever since his younger brother, Jugnu, and his girlfriend, Chanda, vanished from their house next door.
Almost five months of not knowing when time would stir again and in which direction it would move, tip him into darkness or deliver him into light.
He doesn't know what to do about the knock.
There it is again, the knock, the sound of finger-bone on glass, louder this time, but he is in a paralysed trance, his skull full of moths. Garden Tiger. Cinnabar. Early Thorn. Nail Mark. He loves the names of moths that Jugnu taught him. Ghost Moth.
The sound of the doorbell runs through him like an electric current, jolting him out of his funk.
"I am sorry to trouble you this early, Shamas . . . Good morning. But my father has had to spend the entire night on the floor because I can't lift him back into his bed." It is Kirana ray of light. "Could you please come with me for a few minutes, please." She indicates the direction of her house with a turn of her headup the sloping side-street with its twenty maples, and then along the high road with the cherry trees where he had seen her earlier without recognizing her.
He opens the door wider for her to step inside, handfuls of snow on a gust of wind rushing in inquisitively either side of her and then past him into the house, sticking softly to the linoleum in whose pattern of ivory-and-green roses a peeled almond is hard to find once it has slipped out of the fingers, or out of which, as though one of the green roses has shed a petal, a mint or coriander leaf curling at the edges strangely appears when the floor is swept at the end of the day, having lain undetected against the pattern since lunch.
"You should have telephoned, Kiran."
She doesn't enter the houseuneasy no doubt about encountering Shamas's wife, Kaukab. Kiran is a Sikh and had three decades ago wanted to marry Kaukab's brother, a Muslim. The two were in love. He was a migrant worker here in England, and when during a visit to Pakistan he told his family of his intentions of marrying Kiran, they were appalled and refused to allow him to return to England. Kiran boarded a plane in London and arrived at Karachi airport to be with him, but her telegram had been intercepted by the young man's older brother who was waiting at the airport to tell her to take the next flight back to England, any reunionor unionbetween his brother and her an impossibility. A marriage was hastily arranged for him within the next few days.
Shamas asks her to step in now. "Come in out of the rain, I mean, snow, while I put on my Wellingtons. Kaukab is still in bed." This is a narrow house where all the doors disappear into the walls, except for the two that give on to the outside world at the front and back, and he slides open the space under the stairs to look for the shoes, stored somewhere here amid all the clutter at the end of last winter. There are fishing rods leaning like stick-insects in the corner. Soft cages for her feet, there is a pair of jellied sandals that had belonged to his daughter, lying one in front of the other as though he has surprised them in the act of taking a step, the straps spiralling like apple peel.
Excerpted from Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam Copyright © 2005 by Nadeem Aslam. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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