Chpt. XII : The Japanese Pay Babu A Visit
He was in his shop when the Japanese came for him.
Blue afternoon, sun beating down. The heavy drowsing air casting a pall over weary patrons. Babu reclined on his wooden chair, idly shifting coins around on the table. Nearby his bottles of water shimmered wetly in the scintillating rays of the afternoon light.
When the Japanese came, it was without warning.
They came upon you like a storm and before you know it your face is in the dust and blood trickles slowly down the side of your face.
Babu stood, almost purely on instinct, body bent forward in a bow. Almost of its own accord. The other customers had already leaped up, in like postures, all staring at the ground, none daring so much as to venture even the slightest glance at the shopkeeper.
The commander's eyes were like fiery ice on his back, raking the pores on his skin. He could feel the intensity of his serpentine gaze without even seeing it.
The commander's mouth opened with the delicacy of shattering poreclain. His diction was pained, ponderous. "You know about the death of our soldier."
It was not a question. Babu could not deny it, nonetheless.
Nearby a Chinese man was being viciously backhanded by a Japanese soldier. Babu attempted to block the sickening sounds of torture. The screams grated nevertheless. Torrents of vicious-sounding Japanese followed suit.
Arbitrary violence was the Japanese doctrine, the grand strategy for keeping Singapore - Former Crown Colony, Disaffected Vassal of the Empire, Recently Liberated Member of the Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere - under tight control.
Abruptly the Japanese commander sat down, a false smile playing on his unpracticed lips.
"I always like your drink."
Babu could only stare dumbly at the ground. He could not have been more surprised if the commander had abruptly begun doing cartwheels and singing an aria to Queen Elizabeth.
The feral grimace (that could almost be a smile) widened. "I tell the men, your drink always good in this hot weather."
The commander was fingering his bayonet. Babu swallowed, sure in the knowledge that whatever role he might be playing in this twisted, surreal little game, this uncanny contrivance of the arbitrary tyrant now dirtying his chair, that he could not possibly understand it. It was beyond him. Thus could he wash his hands off this whole sordid affair, by failing to understand.
"Bring me your drink."
Mutely, Babu brought him his drink.
Carelessly, the commander tossed a coin on the table. Babu eyed it warily, certain that keeping in concordance with this lurid little fantasy, it would morph into some terrifying visage at any time.
The commander's smile faded a bit, to be replaced by a dim expression of annoyance. Promptly, he ordered, "Pick coin up." So Babu picked the coin up.
"Put in pocket." Babu assented, eyes downcast.
The commander smiled a pleased snarl. "Now we the talk." He took a surreptitious swig at the drink and nodded in satisfaction.
Babu, certain in the knowledge that no Jap had ever patronized his shop before, wondered how the commander could possibly know about the goodness of BBB. The goodness of BBB is all-empowering! Babu uses the secret ingredients and best technique to make the drink that will make your day!
Babu's Big Bucks were in trouble. That much he could gather.
"Sit." Babu sat, galled at being offered a seat at his own shop.
"Tell me what you know...about this place, the Haven."
Babu felt a thrill of foreboding course through his spine. "Ha-aven, sir?" He ventured a glance up. "I know nothing about the Haven, sir, except it is a place where orphans go to school, and, you know, things, and I am truly sorry, but-"
"We know about this. Tell more."
"I...I am not sure, sir, what else to say."
Now was the moment where everything goes black and red and stars, he thought.
But the commander only stood, shouldering his bayonet. "You should join INA. Make drinks, meet Bose, free country from British Imperialists."
For a brief brilliant moment the dream of Starbucks floated in his mind. He could join the INA, the Japanese were all over, he could start his Starbucks and sell his BBBs and create chains of stores all over Punjab. He could feature movie stars on his labels and wear tailored coats and sport a Ford car.
For a brief moment, then all was extinguished.
The Japanese shouted commands to his troops and they promptly set off. There was a visible release of tension. Babu was surprised to note that the sun was already setting.
The Japanese had an agenda, of course. But he was a friend of Haven, even if he was not affiliated in the least with them. They were good money, and good friends.
The INA would have to do without his culinary skills.
Perhaps I should start in America instead.
Espying the retreating Japanese, he set off down a side street at a run, determined to get there before the Japanese did.