When Brahmar returned home, it was nearly dark. No light came through the single window. Brahmar expected Anuj to be home already, preparing a dinner of dal and rice with a few vegetables. He pushed against the wooden door, which always stuck, and thought again about fixing it, which always led him to think about the home that he and Sumati had raised Anuj in. It was a simple four-room house in a better section of town, closer to the palace, with a lush courtyard shared by several families. Sumati loved tending the flowers and trees there and led the efforts of the communal garden, but after he resigned, and after Sumati’s death, he neither could afford, nor wanted, to remain there.
Brahmar went to light the oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, preoccupied in reviewing his meeting with Anathapindika and plotting out a course of actions, when Anuj called in a weak voice from where his bed lay on the floor, “Hello, Bapa.”
Brahmar nearly jumped, inwardly rebuking himself. Not a good sign, old man, unaware someone is in your own home. The air smelled unusually fragrant, another sign he should have noticed. But why would Anuj be lying in the dark? Brahmar lit [how?] the lamp and saw his son with a wet cloth folded on his head, a small pail by his side.
“Anuj? What happened?” Brahamar said.
“I got in a fight,” Anuj said quietly.
“A fight?” That was not like his son. Brahmar grunted as he squatted down and sat on the edge of the thin cotton mattress. “Well, what happened? Did you find the chai-wallah’s son and try to arrest him?”
Anuj sighed and tried to roll to his side, facing the wall, but he groaned at the effort and stayed on his back, facing his father.
“Are you all right?” Brahmar said. “Let me see your head” Brahmar reached out to remove the cloth.
“It’s fine, Bapa,” Anuj said but didn’t stop him. “Mrs.Nagayach next door gave me some tulsi leaves crushed in cool water to help with the swelling.”
That’s the fragrance, Brahmar thought, again chiding himself for his lack of attention. “Hm, a nice bump, but the skin’s not broken.” The cloth was warm. Brahmar soaked it in the pail, wrung it out, and placed it back on his son’s head. “Are you hungry? Maybe some soup.” Brahmar started to rise. “I have a few karshapanas and could buy a chicken from—“
“Don’t you want to hear what happened?” Anuj said.
Brahmar let his weight sink back into the mattress and repressed a smile, guessing his son might divulge the matter sooner if not pressed. He nodded.
“I was asking around about Kalyan, the chai-wallah’s son, at some of the stalls and homes in his neighborhood. No one knew anything, though a few people said he was a good boy, always looked after the younger ones. Kind of strange, but several of the older women made a point of saying what a pretty boy he was. Then I saw a group of boys that looked about his age, maybe a year younger than me. A couple of them said they were friends with Kalyan. He had been bragging a few days ago about going to a brothel. They all thought he was joking, just trying to sound big after some girl he was mooning over rejected him.”
“Ah, good work,” Brahmar said. He already knew the boy had been to a brothel but was impressed his son had uncovered as much. “Did they say which one?”
“They said Kalyan wouldn’t tell them, but it wasn’t the one in their neighborhood.”
“How do you know?”
“They told me where to find the local brothel.” Anuj hesitated, his voice lower now. “I asked… a prostitute on the corner outside.”
“You talked with one of the prostitutes?” Brahmar said, more surprise in his voice than he intended. Even in the dim light, he saw his son blush.
“I’m sorry, Bapa. I thought it better than going inside and—”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Brahmar said. “Who better to ask?” If he wanted to train his son to be an investigator, he would have to learn to let go of some of his fatherly fidelities. “What did she say?”
“She said she knew who Kalyan was, and he had not been there. She told me he helped her once when a man was giving her a hard time on the street, called her sister and pulled her away, saying their mother had sent him to bring her home.”
“She said the next closest brothel belonged to a man named Chanda, but she hoped he didn’t go there. Just saying the name made her pale, and when I asked her why, I noticed her hands trembling, and she yelled at me to go away, stop sniffing around where I didn’t belong.”
Brahmar, too, felt a tremble run through his limbs. Chanda. A name he had tried to push from his own mind. Not good, if some pretty boy all alone did go there.