Four cups of tea and one Rooh Afza later, Sirius was seeing Playboy bunnies in a new light and, more relevant to horcruxes and the quest, she felt ready to take on the world. She had a new bag that read “Perfect Second Hand Books” — the little girl had giggled when she gave it to Sirius. “You’re like our brand ambassador now,” she said — a map of Mumbai and a copy of Steinem. It was all she could do to not roar and beat her chest. Saying thanks and goodbye, Sirius headed off in the direction that the map insisted was Chembur.
Except now, 20 minutes later, things weren’t looking quite as simple as they had when she’d set out. The red line on her map made it look like Chembur was right here, but looking around her, Sirius was certain this was not the sort of place where Wol D’ Mart would hang out.
For one thing, it was pretty.
There wasn’t one gelled and spiked head of hair in sight and neither were there any construction noises. Instead there were trees lining the streets, the houses were just three or four floors tall. There wasn’t a skyscraper in sight and old people could be seen shuffling along the pavements.
The long and short of it, Sirius realized, was that she was lost. Again.
She stopped the scooter and wondered what she should do. She could call Albus, but the old wizard had already been worried about Sirius being on this quest. If she told him she had lost her way again, who knew how he’d react? In any case, Sirius knew he didn’t think she could do this quest. She’d seen it in his eyes, and she hadn’t liked it. Considering she’d barely begun and already she’d lost a snitch and got attacked by a crazy German voodoo duo, Dumbledore was probably right to think as he did. But that didn’t mean Sirius was going to admit this to him. She had to salvage this quest and her reputation.
An old couple walked past Sirius, giving her a look of curiosity that was magnified by the thick glasses they wore. Sirius smiled at them. They looked away quickly and muttered something to one another that Sirius didn’t catch. A little further ahead, there was a little, circular garden with a few benches. Sirius got off her scooter and walked over to two men sitting in the garden.
“Excuse me, could you help me? I need to get to Chembur.”
“Chembur?” one man asked her.
He nodded in response.
Sirius nodded again.
Sirius smiled tentatively and said, “The way. Could you tell me the way to Chembur?”
Beaming, the man unleashed a torrent of words.
Sirius listened carefully. He nodded. She also nodded. He kept talking and his arms flapped energetically. From his hands, Sirius figured he was giving her directions. This would have been good news if she could have understood what he was saying. Unfortunately, the gurgle of words emerging from his lips sounded like absolute gibberish to Sirius.
Abruptly the man stopped talking. He looked at Sirius expectantly. Sirius smiled unsurely. She wasn’t sure what she should say. Would it be rude to ask for directions in English? Would he be hurt if she asked someone else?
More people were gathering. They were talking to one another, all of them in that gibberish language. Sirius could tell they were talking about her because they were looking at her and the man she’d asked for directions, had pointed at her at least four times.
This was starting to feel uncomfortable. Sirius realized she was almost surrounded by these chittering, old people. Her scooter wasn’t at hand and she’d left her bag on the scooter. Should they attack her for some reason, she was unarmed and defenseless. Thanks to Ute and Russ, she didn’t even have her sanitary napkin. Sirius felt beads of sweat popping up on the back of her neck.
Just then, her phone rang. All the old people leapt back at the sound of the ring. Sirius decided to make the most of their surprise and get out of the garden. With the phone to her ear and her eyes on the people surrounding her, Sirius slowly but steadily started edging backwards.
“Hello?” she said.
“Hi, listen, no time for chit chat. We need to call for some help. I just saw an elephant on the street.”
Sirius stopped for a moment. “I’m sorry?”
“I just saw an elephant. We need to get help. I’m in –“
“Did you just say you saw an elephant?”
“On the road. In front of my eyes. Just lumbering away, exhausted. Poor, poor thing! Why else do you think I’m calling you?”
“I’ve absolutely no idea why you’re calling me. In fact, I’ve no idea who you are, aside from being the person who’s hallucinating elephants on roads.”
“It wasn’t a hallucination! How dare you!”
Sirius barely heard the angry tirade in her ear because she’d noticed there was a change in the crowd around her the moment she’d started talking on the phone. They’d perked up a little and suddenly, a lot of them looked strangely keener. The light was glinting off their bespectacled eyes and false teeth. It was very unnerving. A low hum of conversation, still in that gibberish language, had started up. Sirius wasn’t feeling good about all this at all.
The yelling voice in the phone was loud enough to make Sirius forget the creeping crowd of oldies that had again started to inch closer and closer.
“Hello, yes, I’m here,” Sirius said into the phone.
“Yes, but who are you?”
“I’m Sirius. Who are you?”
There was a pause. “Sirius? You’re Sirius? But what are you doing with the PETA phone?”
“The what phone?”
“Sirius, this is the number to contact PETA. I should know. I’ve had to dress up as a tiger for them.”
“Who is this?”
“This is Bijal. ”
“Why are you dressed as a tiger?”
“I am not dressed as a tiger. I called you about an elephant. Well, I thought I was calling PETA, but it turned out to be you. But that’s not the point. The point is, Sirius, FOCUS! You can’t go around confusing elephants and tigers. You’re on the quest to find the horcruxes!”
Sirius wondered whether there had been something in the Rooh Afza that was making her hallucinate. “Wait. The horcruxes are tigers and elephants?”
“They are?” asked Bijal.
“I don’t know. Didn’t you just say they were? There was something about an elephant…”
“Yes! The elephant, poor thing. That’s why I called PETA, and ended up getting connected to you.”
The old people were started to talk louder and they were looking significantly more anxious and their hand gestures were getting distinctly flappy. Sirius was quite certain she needed to get the hell out of here.
“Listen Bijal, I’m not quite sure what’s going on here. I was given this SIM card by the Order of the Phoenix Mills –“
At the sound of those words, two of the old people yelped out. Sirius almost jumped out of her skin.
“What was that?” Bijal asked.
“I wish I knew,” Sirius replied. “Basically I’ve got lost and first I was attacked by a dog and now I’m going to be attacked by a bunch of senile fogies. This is just —“
“Sirius, just shut up for a second,” Bijal said sternly.
By now, the old people were creating a proper racket. They seemed to be calling somebody, one was singing what sounded vaguely like “God Save The Queen”. Sirius could barely hear Bijal over all the noise.
“I don’t know if you can hear all this, but it’s proper chaos here and I can’t understand a word anyone’s saying,” yelled Sirius into her phone.
“Oh I hear it all right,” replied Bijal. “And I understand what they’re saying too. Sirius, you’ve got to get out of there if you value your sanity. You’re in Dadar Five Gardens and those people around you, they’re speaking Parsitongue.”
“The Parsitongue speakers are not to be messed with, Sirius,” Bijal continued. “Even Wol D’Mart is wary of them. Apparently, the last time he tried to buy some land from them, the Parsitongue speakers attacked him with a platoon of umbrella wielders.”
“That doesn’t sound like a bad thing.”
“The next person to run from the umbrella wielders was Dumbledore. He had suggested they reduce their egg intake by 0.5%.”
“The speakers of Parsitongue are insane, Sirius. You’ve got to get out of there,” Bijal urged.
“I’m working on it,” Sirius replied.
“Don’t work on it. Turn around and run. From what I can hear through the phone, at least two of them want to take you home.”
“How do you know that?”
There was a pause. “I may be able to understand Parsitongue,” Bijal said carefully.
“What?” Sirius yelped. “Are you —“
“Look, there have got to be some advantages to being Gujarati, right? Well, being able to understand Parsitongue is one of the few. But instead of wasting time talking to me, I suggest you focus your attention on getting out of there. There are horcruxes to destroy. You can’t sit around eating akuri and toast, and listening to Parsitongue. Run, Sirius, run. And I’m going to go because that elephant really does need rescuing. Best of luck.” With that, Bijal hung up.
Sirius decided Bijal’s advice was sound. Run, she would. Except the universe clearly didn’t like the idea of her doing physical exercise because within two seconds of Sirius turning and running, she crashed into someone.
The stranger was tall and gangly. Sirius wondered if she could, at a pinch, crawl through his legs and get to the other side. Her scooter wasn’t that far away. But before she could make up her mind, the tall man held out his hand and smiled.
“Hello, I’m Neville Longbottomwala.”