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The Casual Vacancy, Page 27

J. K. Rowling

Part Three Chapter X



  Parminder worked late on Monday evenings, and as Vikram was usually at the hospital, the three Jawanda children laid the table and cooked for themselves. Sometimes they squabbled; occasionally they had a laugh; but today, each was absorbed in their own particular thoughts, and the job was completed with unusual efficiency in near silence.

  Sukhvinder had not told her brother or her sister that she had tried to truant, or about Krystal Weedon's threat to beat her up. The habit of secrecy was very strong in her these days. She was actively frightened of imparting confidences, because she feared that they might betray the world of oddness that lived inside her, the world that Fats Wall seemed able to penetrate with such terrifying ease. All the same, she knew that the events of the day could not be kept quiet indefinitely. Tessa had told her that she intended to telephone Parminder.

  'I'm going to have to call your mum, Sukhvinder, it's what we always do, but I'm going to explain to her why you did it. '

  Sukhvinder had felt almost warm towards Tessa, even though she was Fats Wall's mother. Frightened though she was of her mother's reaction, a tiny little glow of hope had kindled inside her at the thought of Tessa interceding for her. Would the realization of Sukhvinder's desperation lead, at last, to some crack in her mother's implacable disapproval, her disappointment, her endless stone-faced criticism?

  When the front door opened at last, she heard her mother speaking Punjabi.

  'Oh, not the bloody farm again,' groaned Jaswant, who had cocked an ear to the door.

  The Jawandas owned a patch of ancestral land in the Punjab, which Parminder, the oldest, had inherited from their father in the absence of sons. The farm occupied a place in the family consciousness that Jaswant and Sukhvinder had sometimes discussed. To their slightly amused astonishment, a few of their older relatives seemed to live in the expectation that the whole family would move back there one day. Parminder's father had sent money back to the farm all his life. It was tenanted and worked by second cousins, who seemed surly and embittered. The farm caused regular arguments among her mother's family.

  'Nani's gone off on one again,' interpreted Jaswant, as Parminder's muffled voice penetrated the door.

  Parminder had taught her first-born some Punjabi, and Jaz had picked up a lot more from their cousins. Sukhvinder's dyslexia had been too severe to enable her to learn two languages and the attempt had been abandoned.

  '. . . Harpreet still wants to sell off that bit for the road . . . '

  Sukhvinder heard Parminder kicking off her shoes. She wished that her mother had not been bothered about the farm tonight of all nights; it never put her into a good mood; and when Parminder pushed open the kitchen door and she saw her mother's tight mask-like face, her courage failed her completely.

  Parminder acknowledged Jaswant and Rajpal with a slight wave of her hand, but she pointed at Sukhvinder and then towards a kitchen chair, indicating that she was to sit down and wait for the call to end.

  Jaswant and Rajpal drifted back upstairs. Sukhvinder waited beneath the wall of photographs, in which her relative inadequacy was displayed for the world to see, pinned to her chair by her mother's silent command. On and on went the call, until at long last Parminder said goodbye and cut the connection.

  When she turned to look at her daughter Sukhvinder knew, instantly, before a word was spoken, that she had been wrong to hope.

  'So,' said Parminder. 'I had a call from Tessa while I was at work. I expect you know what it was about. '

  Sukhvinder nodded. Her mouth seemed to be full of cotton wool.

  Parminder's rage crashed over her like a tidal wave, dragging Sukhvinder with it, so that she was unable to find her feet or right herself.

  'Why? Why? Is this copying the London girl, again - are you trying to impress her? Jaz and Raj never behave like this, never - why do you? What's wrong with you? Are you proud of being lazy and sloppy? Do you think it's cool to act like a delinquent? How do you think I felt when Tessa told me? Called at work - I've never been so ashamed - I'm disgusted by you, do you hear me? Do we not give you enough? Do we not help you enough? What is wrong with you, Sukhvinder?'

  In desperation, Sukhvinder tried to break through her mother's tirade, and mentioned the name Krystal Weedon -

  'Krystal Weedon!' shouted Parminder. 'That stupid girl! Why are you paying attention to anything she says? Did you tell her I tried to keep her damn great-grandmother alive? Did you tell her that?'

  'I - no - '

  'If you're going to care about what the likes of Krystal Weedon says, there's no hope for you! Perhaps that's your natural level, is it, Sukhvinder? You want to play truant and work in a cafe and waste all your opportunities for education, because that's easier? Is that what being in a team with Krystal Weedon taught you - to sink to her level?'

  Sukhvinder thought of Krystal and her gang, raring to go on the opposite kerb, waiting for a break in the cars. What would it take to make her mother understand? An hour ago she had had the tiniest fantasy that she might confide in her mother, at last, about Fats Wall . . .

  'Get out of my sight! Go! I'll speak to your father when he comes in - go!'

  Sukhvinder walked upstairs. Jaswant called from her bedroom: 'What was all that shouting about?'

  Sukhvinder did not answer. She proceeded to her own room, where she closed the door and sat down on the edge of her bed.

  What's wrong with you, Sukhvinder?

  You disgust me.

  Are you proud of being lazy and sloppy?

  What had she expected? Warm encircling arms and comfort? When had she ever been hugged and held by Parminder? There was more comfort to be had from the razor blade hidden in her stuffed rabbit; but the desire, mounting to a need, to cut and bleed, could not be satisfied by daylight, with the family awake and her father on his way.

  The dark lake of desperation and pain that lived in Sukhvinder and yearned for release was in flames, as if it had been fuel all along.

  Let her see how it feels.

  She got up, crossed her bedroom in a few strides, and dropping into the chair by her desk, pounded at the keyboard of her computer.

  Sukhvinder had been just as interested as Andrew Price when that stupid supply teacher had tried to impress them with his cool in computing. Unlike Andrew and a couple of the other boys, Sukhvinder had not plied the teacher with questions about the hacking; she had merely gone home quietly and looked it all up online. Nearly every modern website was proof against a classic SQL injection, but when Sukhvinder had heard her mother discussing the anonymous attack on the Pagford Parish Council website, it had occurred to Sukhvinder that the security on that feeble old site was probably minimal.

  Sukhvinder always found it much easier to type than to write, and computer code easier to read than long strings of words. It did not take very long for her to retrieve a site that gave explicit instructions for the simplest form of SQL injection. Then she brought up the Parish Council website.

  It took her five minutes to hack the site, and then only because she had transcribed the code wrong the first time. To her astonishment, she discovered that whoever was administering the site had not removed the user details of The_Ghost_of_Barry_Fairbrother from the database, but merely deleted the post. It would be child's play, therefore, to post in the same name.

  It took Sukhvinder much longer to compose the message than it had to hack into the site. She had carried the secret accusation with her for months, ever since New Year's Eve, when she had noticed with wonder her mother's face, at ten to midnight, from the corner of the party where she was hiding. She typed slowly. Autocorrect helped with her spelling.

  She was not afraid that Parminder would check her computer history; her mother knew so little about her, and about what went on in this bedroom, that she would never suspect her lazy, stupid, sloppy daughter.

  Sukhvinder pressed the mouse like a trigg