For a moment it seemed like the khukuri had no impact. There was the flash of its long, curved blade in the air, the thwack of it hitting flesh, like the sound of a bat striking a ball in the cricket maidan, and then nothing. The man just stood there, his mouth open in shock, his eyes staring blankly at Gohil. A slow red stain was starting to spread across his shirt, where the khukuri had struck, but it seemed disconnected from him somehow, as if someone had spilled a drink on his shoulder and he hadn't noticed. Gohil felt an instant of panic. Mohan must have felt it too, standing behind the man, because he raised his long knife with alacrity, took another swing. This time the blade sank into the man's neck, and there was a satisfying gush of blood. It spurted out from the man's neck and spattered all over Mohan's shirt. Fortunately it was an old shirt - he had warned Mohan not to wear anything better for a job like this. A riot was like Holi, he had said, you put on your oldest clothes, the ones you don't mind throwing away afterwards.
By now the man was staggering drunkenly around the room, his blood spilling all over the carpet. A strange squeal was coming from his lips - not a scream exactly, more like the bleat of some animal being slaughtered. Which is what the man was, in a way. Still, it was annoying. Gohil wished Mohan would get on with it. The man was weaving from side to side now, so Mohan had to grab him by the hair and hold his head steady for the next blow. He looked exactly like the barber back home.
This time the blade bit deep into the man's neck, there was a fresh explosion of blood, and the squealing stopped. Probably that last blow had severed the vocal cords. The man fell limp to the ground, great gouts of gore pulsing out from the gash. He was almost certainly dead. But Mohan was in a frenzy now. He bent down over the bleeding corpse and kept on hacking until the man's head came clear from the rest of his body. That's when Mohan stopped, wrinkling up his nose at the head rolling away by itself. "Jai Shri Ram!" he shouted, as loudly as he could, but to Gohil's listening ears the cry seemed too shrill, too forced. Not so much a shout of triumph as the desperate cry of an anxious schoolboy, demanding the approval of his master.
But then Mohan was a schoolboy, Gohil reminded himself. Just turned seventeen. His eldest brother's son. A schoolboy with his first full moustache, pretending to be a man, hoping it would soon be true. Never even fucked a woman yet. Though with any luck they could fix that in this trip. One of the perks of the riot. He knew Mohan was hoping for it. Not here though. The man's wife was a middle-aged hag and looked mean, and the daughters were only 8 or 9 years old - too young. They weren't monsters, after all.
Thinking about the family, Gohil turned to look at them. They were huddled in a corner of the living room, bewildered and aghast. The mother was clutching the youngest to her side, carefully keeping his eyes turned away so that he wouldn't see what had happened to his father. As though it mattered what the child saw at this point. Her own eyes were fixed directly on Gohil, staring at him in outrage. It was as though the fact that the man they had just killed had been her husband didn't matter, she was more appalled by their having broken into her house with knives and spilled blood in her spotlessly clean living room. Oh, there was fear there too, of course, but it was a resigned, helpless sort of fear, the fear of someone who has nothing left to hope for. Beside her, the two girls were crying soundlessly, unable to comprehend what they had just seen.
If only they would scream, Gohil thought. It was easier when they screamed - then you could just focus on getting the screaming to stop and not notice what you were doing until it was all over. Not notice the eyes. This eerie silence was a little unsettling. What was wrong with these people anyway? Hadn't they just seen their husband / father being hacked down before their eyes? Didn't they realise what was coming? Why in God's name weren't they yelling their lungs out then. What were they waiting for?
There was no question of leaving them alive, of course. Gohil and Mohan had a job to do, and besides, they couldn't afford to leave witnesses. There was the servant boy too, the one Gohil had seen darting out of the room when they'd first burst in. He must be hiding somewhere in the house. They would have to find him and kill him too. Gohil felt a great weariness settle upon him at the thought. Four more to kill here, then the boy to find. So much effort just to kill one family. And this was just their first house of the day.
As he stepped towards the mother, khukuri in hand, Gohil sighed. It was going to be a long day.