Ramesh threw the box to the floor, and the lid became detached, pieces of pearl bouncing into the grey dust, disappearing from sight.
“Do you know about this?” Ramesh held John’s gaze and was a different man from the bumbling engineer of previous meetings. “I think you do. Keep out of what does not concern you. I warn you!”
“There were important letters in this box. If you know something, or know where they are, you should tell me.” The shorter man took a step closer.
“What letters?” John’s eyes never faltered although his heart beat hard inside his ribs.
Ramesh grunted and pushed past him, out into the pouring rain and off across the carpark to a truck parked away from the other vehicles. John picked up the box and lid.
“I’m sorry; the box is broken but here it is.” John handed it through the open window of the car to Riya’s mother, as Ramesh’s tyres crunched across loose stones and dust flew out behind the truck as he accelerated away.
“She told me to fetch it.” The mother said quietly. “I’ve never seen it before. I have to go back to her now, excuse me. There is something wrong but I don’t know quite what; she won’t talk.”
“I think I can help. I know where the contents of the box are. May I return with you and speak with Riya?” John wasn’t sure what he was asking but instinct had taken over. “I’m sorry; what is your name?”
“Harsha.” She stared through the windscreen and looked sad. “I suppose there would be no harm.”
The quick journey took them to the other side of the hills; to a gated home. Behind the front door, Riya stood waiting and came out to take the box from her mother’s hands.
Within seconds, her wailing cry cut through the air as she lent against the wall, sliding slowly to the floor.
“Darling, what is it?” Harsha knelt beside her daughter and stroked hair from her wet cheeks.
“No mother – please don’t.”
The mother stood, her face distraught as she glanced at John, who touched her arm and filled the space where Harsha had knelt. He waited for them to be left alone in the hall, and sure enough Harsha moved silently into the kitchen.
“I have the letters Riya.” John whispered, “They are safe. Who wrote them?” he picked up her hand and held it in his.
“Ramesh, but my parents cannot find out. I have to accept him. The wedding is arranged.”
“Mother wants to bring it forward to next month.” her eyes showed pain and anxiety and her practiced words, aimed now at him, did not succeed in their efforts to assure that all was well.
“Surely you can say no?” John was astounded; he’d heard of arranged marriages but had assumed they were from a past life which no longer existed.
“It is all arranged. Hundreds of people. Years in the planning.”
“But do you love him?”
“This is of no consequence. My path is mapped out for me.”
“But in the hospital, you called out that you were scared. Has he hurt you?”
“Did I? That must have been the medication.” Riya looked down at her lap and the broken box, her fingers trailed the mother of pearl pattern, the missing pieces dark holes of fear.
Read part 1 here