Ranchagoda steps towards Jaki, who is hugging the box and backing away.
‘This belongs to Maali. He told me to keep it safe.’ Jaki does her best stare.
‘So, why are you taking it?’ asks Elsa, moving towards the pile.
‘Because it belongs to Maali. Not you.’
‘Everyone must calm down. Let’s go inside.’ Stanley walks to DD and puts his arm around him. ‘Omath, please clean this.’
You want to punch Stanley in his bald, fat skull, an urge you have had ever since you saw him speak in parliament with his affected Cambridge accent. He has been nothing if not polite to your face, though he has weaponised politeness as well as any Englishman. He sends Ranchagoda to stand outside while Elsa follows the home party into the lounge that no one sits in.
Normally, your Amma would offer everyone Ceylon tea and Elephant House soft drinks. But she looks in no mood for entertaining. She holds an envelope from your Dada in her hand, the only one you ever got to open. You do not want her to read it, but you do not know how to stop her.
DD and Jaki place the shoebox on the coffee table and everyone circles it as if browsing a display under glass in a museum. The box is white and has card names written on it in red and black felt pen. The titles form a royal straight: Ace of Diamonds, King of Clubs, Queen of Spades, Jack and Ten of Hearts.
‘Whatever’s in that box belongs to CNTR!’ cries Elsa, pointing to the box that once contained a pair of brown chappals from Madras.
Jaki pulls it from the table and fiddles with its lid. You hover over it all, staring at the envelopes stacked inside, each marked with its own playing card. Images flooding the space behind eyes you don’t have. Memories of photographs you don’t remember taking and of things you cannot unsee. You don’t want to pick up the camera around your neck because you fear what it might reveal.
‘Don’t. Open. Anything,’ says Stanley D. ‘This is not your property.’
‘Sir, that’s not true,’ says Elsa. ‘Maali told me he has our photos in a shoebox under a bed. That’s the box, that’s the bed. My cousin-brother commissioned photos from Maali. I paid for the master negatives. Those are ours.’
‘And where did this scarecrow come from?’ asks Stanley, pointing to Ranchagoda, who has just walked back in.
‘Sir, Minister of Justice Cyril Wijeratne is my boss,’ says Ranchagoda drawing his gangly limbs up to full height.
‘Oh, really,’ says DD’s dad. ‘Then why don’t I ring him. Let him sort this out.’
ASP Ranchagoda does not flinch when Stanley calls his bluff. Elsa drops her smile and shakes her head.
‘Till then, give the box to me,’ says Stanley.
Jaki raises her eyebrows at him and gives the same look she did when she called her Aunty a foolish floozy.