Abdul was on the run from the police, but he did not do it. He is not the type to take up the sword for himself let alone his father. The authorities have it all wrong. They are taking a statement from a vengeful woman now dying in a Mumbai hospital far away.
He is a good kid and the sole support for his family. All these years, he has kept his head down and worked quietly building his recycling empire. Abdul thought himself even cleaver for avoiding just these types of situations that occur far too often in the slums of Annawadi. How did this one catch him?
Were they persecuting him because his recycle business was making money? Were they trying to force him back into the trash to pick? Was it because his family was Muslim and not Hindu? Abdul’s thoughts were circling his head as he ran across the maidan looking for safety.
“The open lot was quiet, at least – freakishly so. A kind of beach front for a vast pool of sewage that marked the slum’s eastern border, the place was bedlam most nights: people fighting, cooking, flirting, bathing, tending goats, playing cricket, waiting for water at a public tap, lining up outside a little brothel, or sleeping off the effects of the grave-digging liquor dispensed from a hut two doors down from Abdul’s own.” Tonight, after the One Leg set herself on fire, everyone retreated to their huts.
Abdul shook his head of the thoughts and his crazy idea to run away. They would catch him no matter where he ran. The best option was to get a good night of sleep and walk to the police in the morning. He came back to the hut and entered his shed full of recyclables.
“The smell of the One Leg’s burning was fainter in the shed, given the competing stink of trash and the fear-sweat that befouled Abdul’s clothing. He stripped, hiding his pants and shirt behind a brittle stack of newspapers near the door.”
Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is a work of art. Announced in February of this year, it won the National Book Award for nonfiction.
My favorite quote comes from Abdul’s father, Karam Husain. “Your little boat goes west and you congratulate yourself, ‘What a navigator I am!’ And then the wind blows you east.”