# the deal - Book 1

## Nine

“They are gone.”

The words come back, over and over. As much as I try to forget. No shadow in the deepest corner of the world dark enough to hide me from them. Followed by his words telling me where to start.

Am I to follow my parents? Wherever they take me? Whatever they might show me? But why am I so afraid? They are my parents, don’t I know almost everything there is to know about them? What could be their deepest secret that they couldn’t share with me? Could there even be such a secret?

How old was I when they finally agreed I was old enough to hear about how they met? Are there more of such stories, secrets that they decided I wasn’t yet old enough for?

“If there’s a puzzle you cannot wrap your head around, slow down. To leap, you must always take a step back, bend your knees.”

It was stupid. I hadn’t changed my stance since the moment we were given the assignment. Which maths teacher would give her class a set of puzzles to solve as assignment over the weekend?

“Since most of you seem to be so very fond of homework, and not doing it, I thought we’ll try something else for this weekend,” she announced to the class.

At the start of the period, walking in, she had dropped a green polythene packet on her table noisily. Instantly, the twenty six pairs of eyes in the class fell on the packet. It was thirty minutes later, into the last third of the period that she finally reached for the packet.

As she finished speaking, she untied the knot closing the packet, and emptied it onto the table. A pile of folded papers fell out. Her smile was ominous, but we succumbed easily to the curiosity.

“So, what you all will do, is to walk over here, one by one, pick a paper, and get back to your seat. And since, this is no democracy, we’ll start from the left to the right, from the front on to the back. Once all of you have your paper, I’ll give you the instructions. Get moving then.”

The expression on her face made it clear this wasn’t open for debate. We had been ordered, and we only had to follow. It took five minutes. The first ones had much more time to shuffle through the folded papers, taking their time before picking one. As we progressed, there was lesser for the later of us. Aniya and I were closer to the back, and so had little choice. When we had all returned to our seats with a paper in hand, Mrs Gayatri gave the explanation.

Fucked up. That was the reaction from all of us when she left. When we had opened our paper to the puzzle, and read through it, we were all stumped. There wasn’t a single one among us who didn’t find it excessively tough. Which was why, that night, mom sat by me as we waited for dad to come home with the dinner.

“You’re supposed to solve it by yourself,” mom had said.

“No one would be able to solve it by themselves, it’s impossible. Just look at the damn thing,” I argued.

But mom wouldn’t budge. She was a firm believer of following directions, a firm believer of the institution of school. She wouldn’t help with solving the puzzle, but that didn’t keep her from giving advice on how to arrive at the solution.

“If there’s a puzzle you cannot wrap your head around, slow down. To leap, you must always take a step back, bend your knees.”

I looked at her with an incredulous expression. I would never have expected that from her. Dad maybe. Mom, definitely not. And yet here we were.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked, swallowing the cuss with difficulty.

Delighted at my reaction, she burst out laughing, pointing to my assignment. At the exact moment though, dad came walking in, announcing dinner. Bringing along guests. End of assignment for the night.

Take a step back, mom said. It hadn’t helped back then. Dad had. But now, it seems more able. If it was no accident, if it was something else, then wouldn’t it have something to do with mom and dad? With what they do?

There weren’t many times I had been to dad’s office. Dad and uncle worked together. A & A Associates. They were consultants, they said.

“We have long discussions with people and tell them how to get better at what they do,” dad said.

I looked at him, my face speaking my mind without my voice having to. “I’m not a kid dad.” But I also knew he wasn’t going to give me a more serious answer. I could see from his eyes, he believed what he said to be the perfect answer to my question about what they did. It didn’t matter that it made no sense to me.

Luckily, it wasn’t just dad who was at the office. Uncle was present too. And he was ready with a more understandable answer.

“When a client comes to us with a problem, it could be anything,” he said, taking over from dad. “It could be a question of how to replace a senior team member, or how to re-align their policies and processes to the set organisation goal. Whatever it is, we understand the problem. We then spend a lot of time with the people from the organisation whom the problem concerns, and come up with a solution. But that is not enough. We then spend more time, and come up with a plan for the successful implementation of the solution.”

“So that’s what strategic consultants means,” I said, nodding in understanding.

Uncle smiled in reply. But before we could get to the appreciation, Aniya spoke up.

“You have long discussions with people and tell them how to get better at what they do. That’s it isn’t it?”

Dad nodded vigorously in agreement, like a dog shaking itself dry after a good long shower. The two of them burst out grinning at uncle and me.

“Why can’t you just get the simple answers?” she asked, mocking us.

Why can’t I get the simple answers. Dad and uncle ran the company together. Mom and aunt had their boutique. That was work. As hard as I think, I cannot find it in me to believe it had something to do with their work. I cannot explain it even to myself why. I just know, am completely convinced, looking at their work will get me nowhere.

Where then am I to look? Start with the parents, he said. But where? I am lost, losing to the despair. What do I do? I wish mom and dad are here to help.

Take a step back.

We were in the car. Uncle and dad in the front. Mom and aunt in the middle. Aniya and I in the back. The four of them were looking at Aniya and me, Aniya leaning against me with her eyes shut, and I embracing her protectively. I met their eyes. And for a second, it felt like we were floating in heaven.

Then came the crash. We were no longer the right side up. The first to go was the glass. Of the windows. The windscreen. The back. As the car hit the road upside down, the glass burst into a million pieces. Pieces that rushed through the space of the car, cutting through the soft flesh that offered resistance along their path. Quickly changing colour to shades of red. It was a dazzle of red first, before the sparks of multitudes of shades erupted. The metal roof heated up, changed shape noisily as it scraped against the unforgiving road, spitting out the sparks that lit up the dark inside of the car. When the car finally stopped, it had etched deep scars into the road that would endure, scars that were over fifteen metres long.

I was collapsed in the back. Aniya crumpled by me. Enduring the ceaseless pain, I could turn as far as to see the front, to see dad’s chest crushed by the steering wheel.

And there was something else. Someone else. In the distance. Too far for me to see clearly. But he was there. And he felt strange.