What Moved “The Forgiver” to Act?
Shireen’s heart pounded as hard as her feet.
None of this was happening. It couldn’t be for real. It was all too—that word she’d just learned—insane.
She stopped for a bicycle rickshaw passing in front of her and kept running toward the park. No. Papa said bad men might do bad things to her there. Ah, Mr. Varghese’s shop just beyond the park. He was kind to her, and in the back he had a small courtyard where he drank tea with favorite customers, like Papa. She turned left around the corner then darted across a side street and into the alley, where she found Mr. Varghese’s red gate. Shireen remembered it well from the times she’d come with Papa. The gate was unlocked, and she crept in. She perched on the same wrought iron chair where she sometimes sat with Papa while he drank tea with Mr. Varghese. “The best tea of India,” the man always said, his eyes seeming to smile above his bushy mustache.
She wished he were sitting with her now.
Or maybe not. She needed to be alone, completely alone.
Her heartbeat gradually slowed, but her mind felt ready to explode. She shook her head until her brain throbbed and neck hurt.
Pinching her eyes shut, plugging her ears, talking out loud—nothing could push the searing images and sounds from her memory. . . .
“You’re ugly!” Abdul had said.
But other boys said the same kinds of things to girls. And almost all the boys said and did worse things to each other.
But then Abdul said, “You smell. Like all Hindus.”
Of course she told her mother. She told her mother everything that happened at school. If Abdul had said she smelled sweet, she would have told her mother. But when she said, “like all Hindus,” her mother froze and stared at the wall. The dishes in her hands rattled ever so slightly. At first Shireen felt comforted because she could tell her mother felt bad about it too, so Shireen wouldn’t have to feel bad by herself. But when her mother turned, she could see the whites in her bulging eyes. And the eyebrows arced up, the way they did when Mother was angry, and creased the red bindi spot on her forehead.
Then Mother yelled, “He said you smelled? Like all Hindus?”
Poonish and Bansi raced into the kitchen as fast as if someone had shouted, Fire! Poonish demanded the details: “When did he say it?”
“At lunch recess.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“That I was ugly.”
“What happened before that?”
“He threw a rubber ball at me and hit my shoulder.”
“An aggressor! Attacking my little sister!”
Her cousin Bansi was like a brother to Poonish. Bansi listened, nodding in agreement. He did not say a word, but his eyes narrowed.
Abdul was a Muslim. . . .