Karna’s greatest sin dredged the rust-red bottom of Lake Murray. It was morning. The Carolina sun painted its sky in hues of pink and blue while whisked puffs of white crept over water the same color as the Ganges back home.
“Where is it?”
Karna’s lips lifted. The metal on his wrists clanged as he motioned towards the bank ahead. “It’s where it’s always been, Detective.”
Karna’s jailor took a small step toward the sweetgrass and cattails that lined the water. Heavy boots made craters in the dandelion barrier that stood sentry there. His gaze swept the lake before landing back on Karna.
“If you’re lying to me-“
“-I got no reason to lie. I’m caught.” Karna shrugged; lips still lifted in that half smile his mother had always adored.
“I didn’t catch you, Mr. Reddy. You turned yourself in.” The detective paced a few steps around the dandelion patch before settling. “And I still don’t understand why you’ve done so.”
Water lapped the bank as a breeze blew in and sweetgrass filled the air. Karna loved the scent. It wasn’t anything like home. The Ganges assaulted the senses, but here, the Carolina air swept strands of itself towards you with gentle fingers.
“Detective, do you want to know the best thing about Americans?
“Impatience. Americans are so impatient. It’s your greatest strength. Impatience gives you drive, passion. It rushes you towards all those brilliant ambitions the rest of us have given up on.”
“Guess I never thought of that as a strength before.”
“It’s also your greatest weakness. Ambition is for the young because it requires you to be self-absorbed. When you get to be my age, you don’t have that luxury. You realize those brilliant ambitions were too big to hold onto. You realize that other people matter.”
“So, you’re saying Americans are selfish?”
“I’m saying you’re self-absorbed. You notice only that which relates directly to you. If it falls outside of that, it doesn’t exist.” Karna leaned toward the detective and lowered his voice. “Like a young, fresh off the boat, Indian kid with broken English.”
The detective stared at Karna for a long moment before replying. “I’ve been over the reports a thousand times. No one mentioned seeing an Indian kid at the museum that day.”
Karna grinned. “Because I didn’t exist.”
“So, then why not stay invisible? Why turn yourself in now, after all these years?”
“Like I said, ambition is for the young.”
“That’s it then? The greatest thief in history got old, so he just gives up?”
At this, Karna let out a bellow of genuine amusement. “Greatest thief in history? No, babu. I was just the perfect kid for the job.”
“And who, exactly, did you do this job for?”
Karna let the Carolina air rustle the cattails for a moment. The detective didn’t understand. Most likely, he never would. He was American, after all. He hadn’t dealt with aunties and uncles, hadn’t been given the weight of a family name. The detective had always known freedom, always known his choices were his own. Karna never had his own choices, only Reddy choices.
“The job was my own, Detective.”
Something churned in the lake. Boats and badges took over the Carolina quiet. Karna watched them pull his sin from the water. They’d cuffed it with giant chains, suspending it in the air a few feet before three of the badges huffed and pulled it to the boat.
“They’d better all be there, Reddy.”
Karna met the aviator-gaze of his jailor. “I never sold my sin, detective. When you open that safe, you’ll find them wrapped in my mother’s dupatta. I’d like it back. The dupatta, I mean. I didn’t care about it back then, but now I think it matters I have it.”