Title: Seven Lakhs
Year: 2012
Publication: Himal Magazine

Two cops and a man with a bomb.


Seven Lakhs

Every day from midnight to sunrise, the fat sergeant sits behind the sandbags, holds a pen and complains. The skinny constable stands at the barricade with a T-56, a torch and a frown.

The constable joined the police force because they had a better rugby team than the army. He played wing for 3 years. That was before the knee injury, the hanging up of the boots and the endless overtime to pay for failed operations.

Today he has graduated from traffic duty to national security service. While he is grateful for the two thousand extra rupees, he prefers dodging dust and curses in rush hour traffic, to listening to this bigot whine.

The fatman is twice his age, "If I had put a screw at 23, you would be my son. Ha. Ha." He has a dictator moustache and has not been promoted since the late 70s. He voted for the current president, supports the war and is proud of being a Sinhala Buddhist.

"Subash. This is our country. Tamils can go to India. Where can we go?" Some days it is gentle chauvinism; other days, unbridled barbarism.

PC Subash stops the cars and searches them; the Sergeant writes down numbers and asks questions. They let in residents, food delivery men and jeeps that belong to the Tamil MP at 56/19.

The Tamil MP is a turncoat; a terrorist turned collaborator. He negotiated a two year ceasefire and then presided over its demise. This year there have been 7 attempts on his life. Today, the Sri Lankan government subsidizes his mansion, his fleet of jeeps and the two under-paid policemen to guard his lane.

The skinny boy listens as the fatman talks of bribes he never took. The barricade opens and closes. Walkie-talkies instruct them to let in taxis transporting Russian girls and Toyotas filled with dark boys of Tamil surname. Nights accumulate.

"If we let an assassin in, it will serve the bastard right," declares the fatman. "He is a killer. He has betrayed his people. He will betray us."

PC Subash doesn't care about murder or betrayal. He is miffed that jeep drivers make ninety thousand more rupees than he does.

One July, an orange trishaw appears and a dark man gets down and asks how much it would cost for him to be let in. He then informs them that he is wearing a jacket of wires and unless guns and voices are lowered he will touch his elbow.

A wet patch appears at PC Subash's crotch as he retreats behind sandbags and begins shuddering. The fatman barks.
"The man at 56/19 is worth dying for?"
"Not if I was you," says the dark man.
"They will jail us."
"I promise I will strike during someone else's shift."
"We want seven lakhs," hisses Subash from behind the barricade.
The dark man laughs and the fatman joins him.
"Two lakhs," says the man backing into his trishaw. "Not more."
He leaves behind a trail of exhaust fumes.

For the next week they debate. The fatman wants to report the incident and lay a trap. The boy observes that two lakhs is more than they make in a year.
They discuss whether there is more honour in protecting a killer or in executing one.

The dark man returns a week later. Under a full moon, at arms length, in hushes and gasps, they begin their negotiations. They decide that there will be no severing of limbs or discharging of rifles. At least, until they can all agree on a fair price.


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