ExtractRead chapter 1 of the novel

        "Room?" said the boy at reception. "All arrange. This way - come, come."
        He led me to what might have been the best room in the hotel. It was the worst room I had seen in all my time in India, large, grand once but decidedly run-down now and seedy, with chintzy wallpaper peeling from sweating walls and corroded light fittings, the last vestige of better days. The room looked down on the town's main street, a brown torrent awash with buses and trucks. The windows rattled as the traffic tore along.
        "Okay?" the boy asked.
        I said it would be fine.
        I lay on the bed when he had gone, weary to my bones but not expecting sleep. The mattress had no give in it and my muscles felt like thick knots that no amount of rest could loosen.
        I tried to think of Wyndham, what had happened, why. My thoughts though were slack, disjointed. A swirl of images crowded upon me, as if everything of the last few days had been condensed into one ugly moment of experience. It was wrong though, off-keel, bent somehow as if refracted through water. I was back at the village, within earshot of the surge and swell of the river in spate. Water lapped at my feet, thickening like heated stew, becoming gelid, fleshy, shaping itself into something of bodily form. The ripples froze into fingers, grasping at my trouser hem; a wavelet solidified as a waving arm, unattached. I tried to move away and it pursued me. A torso rose from my wake like a sandbank exposed by a retreating tide, not bobbing on the surface, fixed and unmoving. It had a head, made from stone - a rock pitted with features, green weed for a moustache, swirly in the eddy of water, twirly, Inspector Prabash's moustache.
        Wyndham stood beside me on the bank, watching the body form, sink, wash away downstream.
        So sorry to hear about your son, he said. But really you know, it couldn't be helped. It was all for the best. I knew what I had to do. I held the weapon in my hand, smuggled into the country at great jeopardy, a machete which had killed before. So fitting. But as I hacked - chopped - savagely laid about his neck, he laughed at me. The blade was limp in my hands like a wilted flower. At the crunch moment, where was my resolve? Oh, Colin, Wyndham sighed, that's not the way. You won't achieve anything with a weapon like that. There was a rumble afar off, screams. You didn't like that squalid part of town, he asked, did you? It's gone now - destroyed - and all for the best, Colin, never forget that. It's all for the best. He came beside me again. Could I do it? The blade was big and firm again, fit for stabbing. I knew I could do it.
        But Wyndham had gone. Had changed. There was a woman in his place, slender and elegant, the most lovely thing. I tried to stab her but the blade was a flower again. I gave her the flower. It had wilted again...
        The images dissolved into others, of somewhere else, far away, sweet dreams which broke suddenly and resolved into wakefulness - so suddenly that, for a moment, tugging back sheets which weren't there, I was overcome by a feeling of dislocation. I expected the cool of a late summer dawn, breakfast being readied, laughter in other rooms and the chatter of sparrows outside; instead, there was heat, the hard pelt of rain on windows and the roar of nearby traffic, with the harsh keek-keek of a mina bird struggling to be heard. I felt like an impostor. Whose world was this? Whose place had I taken?
        I opened the window an inch - it wouldn't open more than an inch - to let in a draught of air. The metallic pungency of exhaust fumes entered the room, mingled thickly with the smells of mud and ordure. I looked down at the people in the street, dodging from the shelter of one shopfront awning to the next. Traffic splashed by. At the edge of the main road a man was selling paan and chewing tobacco from a small, leaky wooden shack. Split bags of rubbish and topless green coconut shells washed past the shack, carried along on a slurry of mud. A pye-dog stood at the roadside, eyeing the paan seller, shivering. These were immediately familiar sights; they were alien and disturbing ones. What was I doing here? I didn't belong.
        But a feeling of rootlessness clouded my mind with grey misery as I realized that, because of Wyndham, there was nowhere now where I belonged, no one now who I belonged with.


There was a rattle at the door - in fact a knock, but the door was loose on its hinges and shook in the frame. There was something hard and authoritative about the sound, official somehow - a policeman's knock, I thought - and I imagined it was one of Inspector Prabash's men at the door, come to take me back to the station for more questioning. I was uncomfortable with this thought: the minutes of sleep had only made me feel rougher, less focused. I had even less desire for evasion now than when Inspector Prabash had been quizzing me before.
        In fact, it wasn't one of his men at the door. It. was the representative he had sent for from the British Embassy in Delhi. It was Carol Lal.

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