“The sky seen through the foliage above us was grey. The scorched smell in the wind that kept blowing and kicking up the dust was getting stronger. There were no signs of the flock of birds that used to fly leisurely in the sky during the initial few days. When I thought there was nothing left for me to do there, I felt a hollowness inside me.”

Although he did not let his mind wander when Mustafa was speaking, Timur’s insides burned up when he thought of Seetha. He was aware that, all by himself, little could be accomplished in that unfamiliar place. Since Akbar and his friends had taken the responsibility for finding her, Timur decided to leave things to them. The stream of calls and messages they were receiving was proof that the search was on at a heartening pace. Since it was imperative that under the current circumstances, he understood the lay of the land and the truth behind the incidents till then, Timur decided to concentrate on Mustafa’s story.

“I was certain that Dilva and Arman would never return. There was nothing left for me to do there. It was time for me to bid goodbye to that small house, which had provided me food and a roof for three days.”

“As usual, Sarya came with my breakfast of homemade cheese, freshly baked bread and a boiled egg. I could make out from her reddened nose, puffy cheeks and tousled hair that she had been crying all night. The sight of the full breakfast caused a lump in my throat.

“When she turned back after placing the plate in front of me without saying a word, I coughed lightly to catch her attention.

“‘Sarya, I see no reason to prolong my stay here. I was thinking of returning to Sur.’

“She turned around. Tears had welled up in her eyes. Adjusting the scarf that had slipped off her head, she sat on the floor and took my hands in hers.

“‘Brother, if you have no urgent matter to attend to, can you stay here for a few more days? I am terrified.’

“It was more of a whimper than a plea. I didn’t know what I should do. In my aimless life till then, I had learnt no tactic to counter women’s tears. That teary appeal had the power to tether me to that hammock like a watchdog for lifetime, what to talk of a few days. Without replying, I kept staring at her.

“Although my mind weakened for a second, I quickly regained my better judgement. She may have been a mother of four, but she was still young and bursting with health. If Sarya’s or Hozan’s families came to know of this help I was rendering it would not matter to them that I was sleeping in the open on a hammock, suffering the cold that would be the end of Sarya and myself.

“Deciding that I should leave at the earliest, I pulled out my hand from hers. When she saw my dissenting expression, Sarya started to plead relentlessly.

“‘Brother . . . please show some mercy, please help. Stay till Hozan returns. If he comes to know you have been helping us, he will be grateful to you for life.’

“‘Sarya, while staying here, other than eating up the food meant for you all, what help have I been?’ I stammered.

“‘That shouldn’t be your worry. The store had two sacks of flour. Plenty of potatoes from last year’s crop remain. By God’s grace, the hens are laying eggs and the cows are giving enough and more milk.’ She looked into my eyes with forlorn hope.

“‘Sarya, that’s not the main thing.’ I was honest with her, ‘If anyone comes to know of me staying here, forget me, they will finish you off.’

“‘Both our families were against our marriage. We were exiled from our village. We had to flee from there to save our lives. Both of us have no relatives in Cizîr. Should any of the neighbours get nosey, I shall tell them that my brother has come from the village to help me because of the clashes.’

“My mind kept warning me that I was getting into needless trouble. However, I couldn’t ignore the tears of that woman who had been so hospitable to me.

“When she saw I was still debating with myself, she started her entreaties again.

“‘I understand that it’s very inconvenient for you. You have to sleep in the yard in this cold. I was forced to do it because there is no spare room in the house. I shall give you the woollen blanket that Hozan uses. Moreover, if you can bring the car in, it will save you from the dew in the night.’

“That was a good idea. If I pushed back the front seats of Arman’s old Mercedes car fully, I could sleep in comfort. I went with Sarya’s children and pushed the car into the compound. The car crawled in the compound like a giant crocodile. In the process, we broke three or four of Sarya’s flowerpots.

Taking it as their new toy, the children had a whale of time, inside and outside the car. They quickly grew tired of it and went back to their despondent selves. The more I watched their downcast, cheerless faces, the more I felt I needed to do something for them.”

Excerpted with permission from Zin, Haritha Savithri, translated from the Malayalam by Nandakumar K, Penguin India.