The banging resumed with loud, rough voices bellowing on the other side of the front door. I shook the fog from my head, tumbled out of bed, and flicked on the light. Where the hell was Ramu and why wasn't he answering the door? Hadn't he assured me just hours earlier not to worry about a thing? That he would take care of everything? Cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning. Everything. Except answering the door in the dead of night.
"Who's there?" I shouted.
A gruff voice answered in Marathi or Hindi—I couldn't tell which.
But I recognized one word. "Police."
"Open the door," called one of them in a fierce, strangled, high-pitched voice.
Bleary and sweating, I pulled on a T-shirt. Then I obliged, turning the dead bolt and unlatching the chain. A stocky cop in a khaki uniform and cap stepped through the doorway. He glared at me, sizing me up, then flicked his bristly mustache with his right forefinger. Unsettled by the menacing squint, I stepped back to give him wide berth.
His four stout adjutants, each carrying a lathi--a long stick used to beat back protesters—remained outside the door, dripping rain on the terrazzo floor. The cop in charge was dry; surely he'd arrived in the back of a police car driven by an underling. He issued some orders to his men before striding past me for the veranda. I had no idea what he was after, but he seemed to know where it was.
He removed his cap and, bent at the waist, stuck his head out the sliding window. He craned his neck upward to see as the rain pelted his head and shoulders, soaking his hair and epaulettes. Then a powerful beacon flooded the window with light, nearly blinding me. The beam hovered for a moment on the cop, framing him in the window, then twitched to the left and back again before climbing skyward against the building.
The cop barked at someone above. He rattled off an angry string of orders, punctuated by sharp whacks of his right hand against the windowsill. Clearly he was yelling at whoever was there. But who could be outside the window in such a downpour in the middle of the night? There was nothing but a narrow ledge and twelve stories of air. Finally, after nearly a minute, the cop pulled his dripping head back inside and, mopping his face with his cap, waddled back into the flat. He summoned one of his men, who handed him a cloth. Once he'd rubbed himself dry, he gave the junior officer some instructions. Then he snapped his fingers at the other men. They hustled inside and over to the window just as a sandaled foot, then a white cotton pajama leg, descended into view. The searchlight from below followed and illuminated the room again like a Friday night football game. A slight, waterlogged man shimmied the rest of the way down the external drainpipe and dropped into the veranda, his wet clothes dripping water everywhere.
Jesus Christ, it was Ramu.
Before I could even ask him what he'd been doing out there, the cop in charge approached him and cuffed him hard on the back of the head. Ramu flinched, but didn't try to protect himself. The cop hit him again, all the while spitting questions and abuse at the poor guy. Ramu answered with a rapid-fire explanation in Hindi. Then the cop did something strange. He wrapped an arm around Ramu's neck—wetting his shirtsleeve as he did—and shook him, I could have sworn, almost affectionately.
The police officers searched the prisoner. He had nothing on him. "What's going on?" I asked.
The cop looked back at me as if he'd only just noticed I was there. Then he motioned to his men to take the prisoner away. Ramu offered me a sheepish smile and a "sorry, sir," as they hustled him out the door.
The cop stood before me, glaring with the same menacing squint as before. "Who are you?" he asked. "What are you doing in India?" I explained that I was a journalist and showed him my press card.
He gave it a cursory glance, hardly enough time to read the name printed on it, then shoved it back to me.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Jacobs. Daniel Jacobs. I'm with UNI, United News International," I said, wondering if he was going to cuff me the way he had Ramu. "Why was my servant climbing up the side of the building?"
The man brushed his mustache again, then turned to consider the rest of my flat. There was no wall between the drawing room—the estate agent's term, not mine—and the dining area, which consisted of a small Formica-top table and four wooden chairs. A few steps away, in front of the veranda, two small faux-leather couches faced a coffee table in the center of the room. A bulky black-and-white television sat against the wall. I'd tried watching the news once or twice, but the reception was spotty, and India's sole channel, Doordarshan, only broadcast in the evening.
The cop strolled over to my bedroom door and peeked inside. Shit. I'd left the roll of film in plain view. Had he noticed it? Okay, I was being paranoid. Why would he care about a roll of film? Still, I knew I had to find a better hiding place for it until I was ready to present my story.
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.
Monday, December 12th, we begin the book Familia by Lauren E. Rico.