Irked with herself, bothered faintly by the cobwebby rain that by turn films her skin and peels off it, she hastens up the street.

Her stride is palpably jerky: one leg is prey to a sporadic twitch, its ankle apt to catch. The drizzle has turned the macadam underfoot into a glossy slate, lightly pinpricked. The street is bestrewn with the fresh corpses of leaves, twigs, sprigs: the wrack created by this evening’s storm.

Not one of those journeyman little squalls during which little of note happens, she recalls with pleasure, but an hour-long apoplexy of thunder, lightning, cloudburst. The storm had petered out a couple of hours ago but the sky, though no longer louring with menace, still hangs low, fleecy as a kitsch ceiling.

In the wavy mirror the wetted tarmac makes, she catches downsideup glimpses of herself. Her pumps’ kitten heels tap out a brisk tattoo: the wide, flowy maw of her skirt now yawns away from her shins, now snaps in at them, screening off the upper reaches of her frame.

Deep below the tarmac there gleams a gibbous moon, just as much in a hurry as is she, scudding past armadas of ragged cloudlets. How semisolid and malleable it looks, as if made of curd. Every bit as semisolid and malleable, she muses wryly, as she herself will be in about an hour’s time, yielding herself up to another’s will.

Which flicks to the fore that inner voice she’s been trying continually to fight down out of earshot today: Caved in yet again. Spineless as ever. How much longer can this go on, how far…?

A sudden upcurl of music – no, not music, a species of muzak ubiquitous these days – causes her to start, then to misstep, her ankle turned into a Diwali sparkler of pain. Her ringtone. Muffled yet insistent, it thrums out and up from the innards of her bag. Rummaging through her menagerie of late-evening necessaries, she fishes out her mobile.

“Tell me.”

“On your way?”

“Started out.”

“Can’t wait, you know.”

“Sweat it out, Al.”

“Make it fast.”

“I’ll be there when I’ll be there.”

“Have you … umm … you know…” The voice at the other end is well-nigh frizzling, as if getting sautéed in the throat before it’s let out.

Yes, I know, she says inwardly, just get on with it. Which her caller does, in that exigent hiss again: “Have you deigned to accede to my request? My trifling little…”

“Well,” she says, snapping him short, his urgency starting to infect her, “you’ll soon be seeing for yoursel…” She in turn is pulled up short by the phone sounding a doublet of sharp bleats. Lowering it from her ear, she eyes the screen.

“Of course I will,” Alain’s words, damped now, are yet more crackly for that. “I’m holding my breath, as you can well…”

“Listen. I’ve a call waiting. Can’t not take it. See you when I see you.”

Cutting him dead, she stabs at the untaken number, even as, eyes flickering, she surveys her near surroundings. Deathly quiet here on the road, can’t be any too chancy calling him back now. And when it’s one’s own son calling, one can scarcely turn a deaf ear.

Her call’s taken before the first ring has played out. “Ma,” rasps a tongue adolescently brusque. “Need to talk. You at home?”

“Good evening, sunshine, and thank you for yours,” she says, in light but meant reproach. Pleasantries may not be his strong suit – when were they ever? he having inherited his dour, laconic ways from his father – but persevere she must, try and instill some modicum of affability into the stripping.

“Evening, yeah. You at home?”

“Where else would I be, dearie, at this hour?” she parries. The deft little sidestep – safest tack to take, by her lights. Any number of times over the clutch of years past, when she’s been out on one of her sallies and he’s called, she’s had to press into service some alibi or other – premeditated always, and one she can only hope is more or less impregnable. She’s out at an office party. Or at a restaurant with a woman friend: a new one, one he hasn’t yet met. Or she’s working late: demands of the darling job, all that jazz. To this last one he, knowing beyond his years, has more than once asked, incredulous of tone, “This late? In a government job?”, and she’s had to stave him off with such protestations as, “Well there are government jobs, beta, and there are government jobs” – something not without a tinge of truth to it.

“It’s like this,” he’s saying now.

“Fire away.”

He, for his part, loses no time in coming to the point. He needs money, the sooner the better. Offhand as ever, he doesn’t care to tack on what he needs it for.

There filters into her hearing an uneven crepitus, the sort a Blowplast chair might make when dragged over a scabby floor. It burgeons presently into an irate rat-a-tat that’s all engine, no tyre. Blast, she thinks: had to trot along at precisely this moment, didn’t it. The author of the din draws up alongside: a cruising autorickshaw. Dinky, comely little blobject at any other time of day, unsettling nuisance at this, spewing out all the decibels its lungs can call forth. And as though its two-stroke engine weren’t rackety enough, it’s gone and rent its muffler too, raising ruckus enough for five of its kind.

The fog of bedlam it trails in its rear isn’t the only reason she’s ruffled by its presence. Slowing the pace of his skittery globule down to little more than hers, the squat, burly manikin within the machine casts a speculative glance her way. At first, a sidelong, sly glance, and then, as he passes further up, with measured slowness turning his neck around, a brazenly frank gander at her. The sidelong look was speculative in a purely commercial vein: a handy late-evening fare to round the day off with? The backward look, prurient, is uncommercial through and through. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it’s commercial still, but gesturing at the commerce of another stripe.

Not the safest hour to be out and about on the streets, no. Especially in this retiring pocket of Goregaon, which calls it a day a good deal sooner than the city at large that keeps all abustle until past midnight. But then, there’s her trusty kaali-peeli, and with it the trusty Ramesh bhai, awaiting her not a hundred yards up over at the street corner, obviating any chance of mischief befalling her.

Excerpted with permission from The Enclave, Rohit Manchanda, HarperCollins India.