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“Do you know this woman?” I ask them.

The man raises his hand from the table, turns it over and seems to regard each finger separately before he answers. “This young lady is always coming here, we make tea for her and she leaves papers for us to sign.” His eyes scan a pile of papers in the corner of the room. “Soon we will be out of tea, then will she go away?”

The old lady adds, “I have asked my neighbors and no one else gets angrezi visitors. What have we done?”

“It’s her job,” I try to explain. “The government is worried. Soon you will have no place to stay, no lights, no gas, no water.”

“Government will get its money. Tell her not to worry, we are honorable people.”

I try to explain the government wishes to give money, not take. He raises his hand. “Let them take,” he says. “We are accustomed to that. That is no problem.”

“We are strong people,” says the wife. “Tell her that.”

“Who needs all this machinery?” demands the husband. “It is unhealthy, the bright lights, the cold air on a hot day, the cold food, the four gas rings. God will provide, not government.”

“When our boys return,” the mother says. Her husband sucks his teeth. “Enough talk,” he says.

Judith breaks in. “Have you convinced them?” The snaps on her cordovan briefcase go off like firecrackers in that quiet apartment. She lays the sheaf of legal papers on the coffee table. “If they can’t write their names, an X will do — I’ve told them that.”

Now the old lady has shuffled to the kitchen and soon emerges with a pot of tea and two cups. “I think my bladder will go first on a job like this,” Judith says to me, smiling. “If only there was some way of reaching them. Please thank her for the tea. Tell her she’s very kind.”

I nod in Judith’s direction and tell them in Hindi, “She thanks you for the tea. She thinks you are being very hospitable but she doesn’t have the slightest idea what it means.”

I want to say, Humor her. I want to say, My boys and my husband are with me too, more than ever. I look in the old man’s eyes and I can read his stubborn, peasant’s message: I have protected this woman as best I can. She is the only person I have left. Give to me or take from me what you will, but I will not sign for it. I will not pretend that I accept.

In the car, Judith says, “You see what I’m up against? I’m sure they’re lovely people, but their stubbornness and ignorance are driving me crazy. They think signing a paper is signing their sons’ death warrants, don’t they?”

I am looking out the window. I want to say, In our culture, it is a parent’s duty to hope.

“Now Shaila, this next woman is a real mess. She cries day and night, and she refuses all medical help. We may have to—”

“—Let me out at the subway,” I say.

“I beg your pardon?” I can feel those blue eyes staring at me.

It would not be like her to disobey. She merely disapproves, and slows at a corner to let me out. Her voice is plaintive. “Is there anything I said? Anything I did?”

I could answer her suddenly in a dozen ways, but I choose not to. “Shaila? Let’s talk about it,” I hear, then slam the door.

A wife and mother begins her new life in a new country, and that life is cut short. Yet her husband tells her: Complete what we have started. We who stayed out of politics and came halfway around the world to avoid religious and political feuding have been the first in the New World to die from it. I no longer know what we started, nor how to complete it. I write letters to the editors of local papers and to members of Parliament. Now at least they admit it was a bomb. One MP answers back, with sympathy, but with a challenge. You want to make a difference? Work on a campaign. Work on mine. Politicize the Indian voter.

My husband’s old lawyer helps me set up a trust. Vikram was a saver and a careful investor. He had saved the boys’ boarding school and college fees. I sell the pink house at four times what we paid for it and take a small apartment downtown. I am looking for a charity to support.

We are deep in the Toronto winter, gray skies, icy pavements. I stay indoors, watching television. I have tried to assess my situation, how best to live my life, to complete what we began so many years ago. Kusum has written me from Hardwar that her life is now serene. She has seen Satish and has heard her daughter sing again. Kusum was on a pilgrimage, passing through a village when she heard a young girl’s voice, singing one of her daughter’s favorite bhajans. She followed the music through the squalor of a Himalayan village, to a hut where a young girl, an exact replica of her daughter, was fanning coals under the kitchen fire. When she appeared, the girl cried out, “Ma!” and ran away. What did I think of that?

I think I can only envy her.

Pam didn’t make it to California, but writes me from Vancouver. She works in a department store, giving make-up hints to Indian and Oriental girls. Dr. Ranganathan has given up his commute, given up his house and job, and accepted an academic position in Texas where no one knows his story and he has vowed not to tell it. He calls me now once a week.

I wait, I listen, and I pray, but Vikram has not returned to me. The voices and the shapes and the nights filled with visions ended abruptly several weeks ago.

I take it as a sign.

One rare, beautiful, sunny day last week, returning from a small errand on Yonge Street, I was walking through the park from the subway to my apartment. I live equidistant from the Ontario Houses of Parliament and the University of Toronto. The day was not cold, but something in the bare trees caught my attention. I looked up from the gravel, into the branches and the clear blue sky beyond. I thought I heard the rustling of larger forms, and I waited a moment for voices. Nothing.

“What?” I asked.

Then as I stood in the path looking north to Queen’s Park and west to the university, I heard the voices of my family one last time. Your time has come, they said. Go, be brave.

I do not know where this voyage I have begun will end. I do not know which direction I will take. I dropped the package on a park bench and started walking.