He could hardly walk, but he went to the Silver Castle. It took him most of the morning. His upper leg were bruised and if the parrot man had not rubbed some ointment on them he might never have made it. But after a long rest at the broken-down fence he accomplished the second half of his journey just before the sun was at its highest point overhead. The Silver Castle was still there. Sanjay had been afraid that it might have disappeared in the night. It might have gone back into the past. He had heard one of the shining man’s friends say that the area surrounding the Silver Castle was called Long Ago. Obviously Long Ago was in a different country and perhaps it was in another world. The castle was even more dazzling today. Sanjay could barely look at it. There were soldiers on the battlements blowing trumpets at the hot sky. The trumpets made no sound. It seemed reasonable that magic trumpets would be silent.
This time Sanjay spent no time hiding. He limped up to the gate and went through, confident that the shining man would look after him. The shining man, however, was nowhere to be seen. Everything was revolving around the beautiful woman. The small large woman with the bells on her toes was undulating in front of her while she undulated back, in a kind of silent conversation. A long line of beautiful other women were undulating in the background. Loud music was coming out of nowhere. Suddenly it stopped. Sanjay had infiltrated while everybody else undulated, so he was just close enough to hear the director when he spoke.
“OK, let’s move the camera on that one to see how it looks. Tell them we’re going for a take.”
“Going for a take!” shouted the man who did the shouting.
“Bring the kid over here.”
“Bring the kid over here!”
Sanjay thought of running but he was picked up hugely from behind by a giant.
“Mister Rajiv Bharati is our fight arranger, kid,” said the director. “Nobody runs away from him.” But Sanjay knew it was going to be all right because the director was smiling through his beard, below which hung the fascinating special thing.
“You like the look of that? It’s a viewfinder. Here, take a squint.”
Sanjay looked through the special thing and saw a section of the terrace full of soldiers. He could see everything: the cracks in their teeth, the hair in their noses.
“Now take a look at Miranda. What do you see?”
He saw the beautiful woman. Her eyes were bigger than a sacred cow’s. From the depths of their brown pupils came tiny bursts of light.
“You see trouble, that’s what you see.”
“I will be no trouble if this young man helps to carry my chair today.” Sanjay would have felt her voice like an embrace, if he had ever been embraced.
“She sees him carrying Rahul’s chair yesterday so she wants him to carry her chair today. What a surprise.”
So Sanjay became the beautiful woman’s second assistant chair carrier. Every time she sat down she was surrounded by people who did things to her hair and clothes. They did things to her skin, using thin paper – thinner than anything in Sanjay’s experience. He picked up a crumpled piece of it after it had been discarded and it tore when he touched i. It smelled sweet, but sweet like Thums Up: sweet like cool water. When he was close to her he could smell her sweetness. It was like ten different kinds of flowers mixed together.
“Fight scene and dance transition in one hour exactly!” shouted the man who did the shouting. “That means everybody! For the next fifty-nine minutes, lunch! Fifty-eight minutes if you hang around!”
The most amazing thing happened then. The beautiful woman took Sanjay’s hand and led him away, the most privileged of her entire entourage. They all went to a house on wheels that stood near the castle, a short walk from the gate, under the trees. There was a canopy spread out from the door of the house to give shade, with a table and chairs underneath it. Sanjay was allowed to sit on a box near the beautiful woman’s chair.
“So you are the famous Sanjay. You held my chair very well. Therefore you may have an entire cheese roll all to yourself.”
Sanjay attacked the cheese roll as if it were a deadly enemy.
“Slow down, slow down. You must learn to nibble at life. I am not so mean as that stingy pig Rahul. The cheese roll shall not be snatched from your lips. Here wash it down with this.”
This wasn’t Thums Up but it wasn’t ordinary water either. It contained countless small explosions. They tasted as brilliant as the bursts of light in the beautiful woman’s eyes. Sanjay belched. Everyone cheered and clapped.
“His first word,” said the beautiful woman. “He speaks to me of love.” And indeed she spoke nothing but the truth. Deep inside the realm of her presence where the air smelled of flowers, he crossed his feet in contentment, having already learned that a smile from him earned a smile from her.
“For a blob of dust he has teeth like a tiger.” The small large lady chinked and chimed as she laughed. “He will break hearts someday.”
“Yes, every heart in the rubbish dump. What a world we inhabit.”
The beautiful woman lifted a plum to her lips. It was almost the same colour as they were. He mouth and the fruit blended. Her fingernails must have been stained by the fruit. Her toe-nails too: did she eat with her feet? There was juice on her teeth. A woman reached forward with a piece of soft paper.
“Later, later. Fix it later. Let me live a real life for ten minutes. This afternoon I have to pretend that I love Rahul.”
“It says here,” said another woman who was reading from a variously coloured thin book full of pictures, “that the physical attraction between Miranda Dhaliwal and Rahul Kapoor is so intense that their latest film is behind schedule because they cannot be separated from their mutual embraces. It says that Rahul’s girlfriend Navreet Tikmany has threatened to kill them both.”
“Someone must have heard her threatening to kill another bottle of Chivas Regal. Does it say that I love him so much that when he touches me the contents of my stomach leap out and fall at my feet?”
“Speak of the Devil,” said the small large woman, with a chink of bells. She had turned to watch the shining man’s enormous car coming up the slope towards them.
“Speak of the Devil’s latrine digger,” said the beautiful woman. “Speak of the Devil’s latrine digger’s congenitally syphilitic illegitimate offspring.”
Sanjay was shaky on the details of this conversation but he had grasped its drift. He had begun to wonder if the relationship between the shining man and the beautiful woman might not be marked by a certain lack of affection. He had not yet realised, however, that this could pose him a problem. He soon did. The shining man, in his full soft brown high-booted regalia with rustling tassels, came striding lithely near, with the sunlight rebounding from his midnight black bouffant and his teeth bared in a tightly clenched smile that shed no warmth.
“Miranda, darling, you’ve been looking after my chair-holder.”
“For the first time in his life, I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“I think you’ll find that Sanjay has his own opinions about that. An independent little man like him needs a big brother, not a mother.”
“Well he’s certainly got something in common with you.”
“And what might that be, pray?”
“Miranda, you really are…”
“You really are required on the set as of now,” said the director, suddenly appearing. “And so are you Rahul. Bury the hatchet, please, my dears. This is the complicated bit where we actually need you both to be present at the same time, if you can possibly manage it. Let’s go and block it out.”
During the course of this long speech from the director the tension went out of the situation, at least for the time being. But Sanjay, who deduced meanings only from moods, found his loyalties cruelly divided. The shining man resolved the dilemma for him by leading him into the castle, where he joined his mentor’s chair-holding team for what proved to be a long period of hard work, necessitating many shifts in the position of the chair. Rajiv the fight arranger was in charge of a sword fight, which took place between two groups of soldiers, one of them in pointed turbans and the other in tasselled coats. When the fight was at its bewildering peak of violence, suddenly the shining man held up his hand, silencing the fight with his authority. He had seen the beautiful woman running towards him from the terrace, followed by her attendant maidens. He threw his sword to the ground and stared at her. She stared at him. They smiled at each other. The music crashed into existence. Suddenly everyone was dancing except for the fighting men, who stayed where they were without moving, their swords still raised.
Everybody did all that twenty times while the director spoke instructions and the man who shouted for him shouted. Sanjay couldn’t count to twenty but he knew that it took a long time. At one point the director picked up a trumpet which produced his voice, greatly amplified and crackling.
“Listen everyone, this is just a wide shot, all right? So nobody has to win an Oscar, all right? You just have to be in the right bloody place. Now let’s do a real one.”
They did a real one for another ten times. Finally there was a pause and everything was changed around. The shining man reclined into his chair with one long booted leg extended and the other crossed effortlessly over it. But his voice, as he spoke to his entourage, was nothing like so casual.
“You can’t imagine what it’s like to be so close to her for so long. You can smell the aftershave. It’s like crushed toads.”
Now the beautiful woman began to do something of her own. Once again it had to be done over and over. After the small large woman had shown her how, the beautiful woman took a few steps forward, stared and smiled radiantly, as if the shining man were just in front of her. What she was staring and smiling at was the camera.
“She’s better at this,” said the shining man. “Now she’s showing real animation. It’s because she can see herself in the lens.”
After a long time everything changed again. Now it was the shining man’s turn to stare and smile at the camera. For him to do this, it was necessary for some of the fighters to get into position behind him, raise their swords and stand immobile. There were many repetitions. Beside the shining man’s empty chair, Sanjay let his attention drift to the beautiful woman, where she was sitting amid her entourage over against the opposite terrace. She sent him a smile that crossed the space like a perfumed fireball.
“They’d better shoot this soon,” said the fat man called Deepak, who never sat down in the shining man’s chair even though he looked as if he needed to. “Rahul goes in half an hour.”
“It’s the light and the lens,” said a smaller man who had just handed Sanjay a bottle of Thums Up with nearly two inches of cola in it to finish all by himself. “They’re trying to get a split-focus effect in the background so that the fighters look frozen by magic.”
“Fancy stuff. But they are going to lose their star.”
Finally the man who did the shouting shouted tar it was time to try a real one. At that moment, the beautiful woman crooked one of her curved, tapered, plum-tipped fingers towards Sanjay. He didn’t know how to disobey. He didn’t want to. So he headed towards her, crossing behind the fighters with their sword held up.
Sanjay completed the remainder of his journey to the beautiful woman with his feet off the ground. The shining man was holding him by the back of his shirt so that his fete were treading air.
“Here, keep him. Just keep him out of the damned shot, you jealous bitch.”
“Good heavens, such passion.”
“We wouldn’t be pushed for time if you didn’t need to be taught how to walk.”
Sanjay stayed beside the beautiful woman’s chair and watched with bewilderment while the shining man and the director and the fight arranger all talked, occasionally looking in his direction. Somehow he knew that they were talking about him. Then the shining man left, without saying goodbye. Sanjay’s disappointment was doubled when he discovered that the beautiful woman had lost interest in him too. She had a new move to learn. She had to draw her clenched fists to her breasts, throw out her hands, turn and run. It took many repetitions and long pauses, but whenever she came back to her chair she never looked directly at him. Her deep, warm voice was aimed at everyone but him. After the real one she left without saying goodbye. Instead Rajiv the fight arranger came to see him. Rajiv filled the sky. There was no arguing with him and no running away.
“Time for you to go home, kid. Come on, I’ll give you a ride.”
Rajiv had a car. It was only half as big as the shining man’s car but it was the first proper car Sanjay had ever been inside. While it was going he could hardly hear it. The softness of the seat was so deep that he couldn’t see out. He would have been thrilled to be in the car if he had not been so concerned about the next day. He would have to make friends with the shining man again. It was clear that you could only hold one chair at a time. Yet how could he bear not to be in the beautiful woman’s favour? He considered the possible rewards of being friends with both of them. Two cheese rolls. Thums Up and sparkling water. Perhaps he could belch for each of them separately. Two rounds of applause.
“Deepak’s gofer says you live somewhere round here. Stand up and take a look.”
The car slowed down. They were indeed close to his home. He could see his mother. Sanjay instantly realised he had made a huge mistake. He would be punished again. He should have asked to be let off much earlier, walked home and said he had been somewhere else. But stepping out of the car he could only have come from the Silver Castle. It was too late. His mother has spotted him.
Sanjay was wrong about this being the worst situation possible. Things got far worse than he could have imagined, because Rajiv the fight arranger got out of the car, not just to let Sanjay out, but to speak to his mother, telling her that they had enjoyed having her son at the Silver Castle, but that he was not to come there again because it was not meant for children. Sanjay’ sense of betrayal was as great as his fear. Now he was for it, and it had all been for nothing. Sanjay’s mother started slapping him before the car was even gone, so when his father came home after another long day of disappointment, the idea outlet for his pent rage was already trembling with anticipation. As always at the end of the day, Sanjay’s father could hardly stand straight, but he could still hit. Sanjay’s elder sister and his sick elder brother were both made to watch. No bones were broken, but it could hardly have felt worse of they had been. Next morning Sanjay left home, and was not to see the Silver Castle again for a long time, although in his mind it was always there, as the source of his grief and the object of his dreams.