wel­com­ing’

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f rom the shop than to dwell within the odd silent an­tic­i­pa­tory gloom of the street. It was from within less a state than a sus­pen­sion of a state. Briefly, there was not even a flake of snow. The cold, though, was curt and de­ci­sive.

Up­stairs be­hind the cur­tained lunette win­dow, some in­stinct curled awake from within one an­i­mal’s slum­ber and the stu­por of her mistress.

In the base­ment, Mrs Ghosh was pre­tend­ing not to want to show Ian-Aziz to Clara. He had come through from the liv­ing room at the back when he heard his grand­mother reach­ing down one of those cold bot­tles made of glass. He had seen his fa­ther some­times look care­fully around the whole shop, as though it could hide bad men, when it came to those bot­tles at the back. Some­thing clearly lived in them and needed an eye kept upon it. And he knew that he must shield his grand­mother when, as it now seemed to be the case, his fa­ther was away out, not around for some rea­son.

Thus it was that, while two grown sons stood in the dark and cold still of the year’s last night within the small cleared area made by salt and grit, and two women con­ferred over bright shapes with a child in the warm be­low the level of the street, some­thing stirred be­low the stark obliv­ion of the mother be­hind the win­dow at the top of the build­ing, a pair of tired hands drew aside for the first time in days those weary cur­tains, and in one sharp glance knew that she looked out on a black world through ter­ri­ble bared teeth that only she might pos­si­bly ar­rest in their cold snap.

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