"Sahib has not been well, for many months," the man assured me.
Bollocks. Had it been months? Only a few weeks, surely? I recalled feeling numb from cold, a fog of confusion, unfamiliar faces that came and went....
"Dammit, Jim," said Smith, wincing. "We've got to talk about the Frontier. The Afghans, Karachi."
"Do we?" I asked. A drum began to pound in my head. I lay back and pressed the base of my palm to the aching pulse above my ear.
* * *
In the days that followed, my doctor came by, adding a host of cautions as medicos will. He seemed both pleased and doubtful at my progress. No longer a young man, I lay in bed considering my future and found it bleak. I had no family, just old Father Thomas at the Mission orphanage, who'd raised me. My friends from the Company were buried in the red dust of Karachi. Of the old company, only Smith, Colonel Sutton and I were left.
There was little profit in dwelling on it. Instead I returned again and again to the puzzle of the women's deaths. Could I piece together the dire events of that sunlit October day? The story was starting to fade from the front pages, giving way to news of railway expansion across the Indian subcontinent. Yet that heartfelt letter haunted me: They are gone but I remain, the young husband had written. His words cut into me, the sharp burn of his grief. I knew something of his pain, for my brothers-in-arms were gone, yet I remained.
A week later I took medical discharge. Most of my army wages had gone toward my care and I had forty rupees to my name. I needed a job.
Well, perhaps I could write for the papers. Thinking of that snippet, the letter to the editor tucked in my billfold, I decided to call on the editor of the Chronicle.
Four weeks had passed since young Mr. Adi Framji's letter had burned through my fog in army hospital. Having persuaded the editor of the Chronicle of my seriousness, I rode a tonga through red gulmohur trees and stately houses to plead my case to the reclusive Mr. Framji. At the entrance to a great white house on Malabar Hill, a turbaned gateman disappeared through an ornate door with my calling card: Captain James Agnihotri, The Chronicle of India, Bombay.
Now standing atop a sweep of stairs outside Framji Mansion, I hoped to meet the man whose words would not leave me: They are gone but I remain.
Filled with trepidation, I breathed in the crisp morning air. Bougainvillea danced in the breeze beside fluted pillars, and scattered pink petals over smooth marble. The blooms' wasted beauty struck a poignant note, echoing the tragic loss a few months past. Adi Framji's wife and sister had fallen to their deaths from the university clock tower. Had the two women committed suicide, or were they murdered? The trial had failed to resolve the question for lack of evidence. Since young Mr. Framji had never spoken with the press, an interview could be the making of my new career. Hat in hand, I waited.
I'd either be told that Mr. Framji, student of law, son of a Parsee landowner and now the bereaved widower, was "not at home" or I'd be granted the interview I requested last week. He had not replied to my note. I might have waited, but I was eager to establish myself as a journalist.
As I fingered the brim of my hat, the man returned, saying, "Adi Sahib will see you."
I entered a marble foyer, and followed him to a morning room where light filtered through the greenery.
"Hello. I'm Adi."
A thin, pale young man stood beside a wide desk, one hand splayed on the dark wood. Here was no invalid, I saw. He approached with a confident step. His immaculate white shirt and crisp collar framed lean features. A wide, bony forehead rose above narrow nose and clean-shaven jaw. He studied me through wire-rimmed glasses, gaze sharp but not unkind.
He saw a tall fellow with the arms and shoulders of a boxer and short-cropped hair that would not lie flat over one ear. The pale English complexion from my unknown father had weathered during my years on the Frontier. His eyes flickered over my military mustache and plain attire without inflection, yet I felt measured in some undefinable way.