LURE OF THE RIPTIDE (part 3)
(There's even a proper cover now.)
Maliha found a woman's body on the beach, rather than report it to the authorities she is investigating it herself. In the midst of this she is also dealing with the funeral rites of her mother, now reaching their conclusion...
The sun was behind her, and her shadow stretched across the boulders and into the glass-like water. The tide was coming in. The distorted shapes of weed, sand and fish twisted beneath the rippling surface.
There was now no sign of her mother’s twice-burned ashes that had been scattered to drift on the waves. Burned once in the fire that had consumed the house, then the second time in the death rituals because you can’t miss out a step just because it’s already been done.
And now she was gone, her spirit set free to be born once more. Maliha sighed. If only it were that easy.
A few clouds floated dreamily across the porcelain blue of the sky. Seagulls hung and then dived. Others bobbed on the surface. If she closed her eyes she could imagine herself in England, but while she loved the green of it she had no reason to return.
Her father had been Glaswegian and an engineer but he had made his life out here where he met her mother. They had married against the wishes of both families. So Maliha was born of rebels with their contrary blood flowing through her veins. Perhaps she would visit one day but, in truth, she would rather find somewhere to hide. She did not owe the world any favours.
But there was the poor murdered girl, she deserved better. The truth should be found out.
What if a French Chasseur met a young Indian girl and they fell in love? And somehow she was killed by his sword?
Or, more likely, he seduced her, did what men do, then killed her and tossed her body into the sea in the hope she would never be found. Sadly that was far more likely.
Maliha sighed and turned to her cousin, the girl was barely two years younger but somehow Maliha felt a hundred years older. She had already seen so much more than a woman of her age should, and read every book she could find—including many that no woman would ever be expected to read. Her Grandmother would declare her spirit irrevocably tainted if she had even the slightest inkling of that truth. But knowledge was not tainted, only its uses.
Grandmother had not even asked how Maliha had come to be so scarred and damaged in her thigh that she could not walk without a stick. She probably thought Maliha’s spirit was so unclean it was a natural result. Perhaps she was not that far wrong.
Renuka was suddenly beside her.
“Have you heard? Arnithi Devanaya is dead—murdered!”
“Who is Arnithi Devanaya?”
“She married Srikanth Devanaya last year,” said Renuka in a rush. “We were not invited but the Devanaya’s wedding was five days long.”
Maliha stared back out to sea. The girl had a name. A bride.
“Is Srikanth a handsome fellow?” she asked.
She could almost feel Renuka’s shrug. “What does that matter? His family is very rich.”
“What do they do?”
“They import silks and sell them.”
Maliha considered, since trading vehicles had taken to the air things had changed. Once India had been a major stopping point in the trade routes between Europe and China. Land routes brought the materials from China into Northern India while sea routes brought them through the island chains.
But once the Faraday device had become common and airborne vessels could carry huge quantities of cargo—the RMS Macedonia SkyLiner that had brought her back to India was 35,000 tons and carried over 300 passengers on its six rotors—the sea and land trading routes were abandoned. Everything flew direct.
It was unlikely the Devanayas were as rich as they claimed or, if they were, it was based on past wealth. And that was quite interesting.
“Perhaps we should visit to pass on our condolences,” said Maliha.
Maliha sat with a dozen women she did not know in the zenana,
the women’s rooms, of the Devanaya house. She did not miss the subtle glances in her direction from the other women. Renuka had slight acquaintance with the family so it was not completely odd they should be there.
But Maliha was effectively a foreigner, a stranger in her own land. Too British for the Indians, too Indian for the British. And too British for the French no doubt, as well.
Mrs Devanaya was holding forth about such a terrible loss and the crime done to her son’s wife. And her poor son whose wife had been torn from him by some terrible criminal. She proceeded to attack the gods, and then plead with them.
It was tiresome and unrevealing but the performance expected of her in the circumstances. But Maliha was not fooled, she had seen the wounds on the poor girl’s hands. Those were not caused by her murderer, those had probably been done by this woman.
Maliha turned away, she stood and went to the window. The mother-in-law hesitated for a moment in her diatribe but managed to pick up again as if she had not been interrupted. There was an ornate screen designed to prevent anyone from looking in but it did not stop Maliha from seeing out.
The street was almost deserted. Death in a house would have that effect, the place was avoided if possible. In India, shame drove everything.
Could Arnithi have killed herself? Who commits suicide by running themselves through with a sword? Apart from the Japanese.
Maliha shook her head. There was so little to go on. There was a flash of green against the whitewashed houses. There he was again, looking at the house.
Maliha put down her cup of cold chai, she would have preferred a British tea with milk, and headed for the door.
This time the hostess did go silent and Maliha realised that all eyes were on her. She turned and pressed her palms together.
“Please forgive me,” she said. “I am overcome with sorrow for the loss of such a fine daughter-in-law. Namaste.”
Renuka jumped up to follow as Maliha swept from the room. She hurried in an unladylike way down the stairs. The servant at the door barely had time to open it as she hurried out.
“Maliha!” called Renuka. “What are you doing?”
“I could not stand the hypocrisy, cousin.”
“Do not pretend you do not know what happens to daughters-in-law that do not match the standards of their husband’s mother.”
Maliha caught sight of the soldier on the corner. He looked nervous. He was less the chasseur
and more like a rabbit faced with a farmer’s shotgun. He was staring directly at Maliha. She returned the look and strode towards him, walking stick clicking on the cobbles.
She had managed to close the gap to no more than ten yards when his confidence gave out. He turned.
“Wait, monsieur.” Her voice brought him to a standstill, and he turned back with obvious reluctance.
“Maliha,” hissed Renuka, “you cannot speak to him, people will see.”
Maliha stopped. “Tell me, cousin, what is said about me behind my back?”
Renuka looked embarrassed and did not meet Maliha’s gaze.
“So how much worse will my reputation be if I choose to speak to a man in the street?”
“A little worse,” said Renuka.
Maliha smiled. “Yes, perhaps a little worse but it is a burden I am prepared to carry. You can always say that you warned me and tried to act as a chaperone.”
“But I’m younger than you.”
“But you tried.” She turned back to the soldier and realised he would not have understood a word since they had not been speaking French. She changed gears.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~#saturdayscenes #steampunk #murder #thriller