Jane whirled around from the window when she heard a sound at the doorway to Khajee’s office. Khajee had left the door open. There was no reason not to at this hour. The office wing of the factory facility was deserted, and a closed door would have made the heat in the tiny room simply unbearable.
Jane could not identify the generically male silhouette figure standing in the open doorway. Her first thought was Ram; but this man was too short, too diminutive.
Then she noticed the mop and bucket that he was pushing. Janitorial staff, obviously.
Jane understood not a single word of Thai. (When she first started interacting with the TRX plant in Thailand, Jane had once dabbled with the language—for about fifteen minutes. Thai struck Jane as several magnitudes more difficult than the French she had studied in high school. Besides, foreign languages had never been her forte.) Nevertheless, it was easy enough to grasp the gist of the brief conversation that transpired between Khajee and the cleaning man: He wanted to clean her office, obviously part of his nightly routine. Khajee replied that she was still using it. Could he come back later?
As the cleaning man shuffled away, pushing his mop and bucket, Jane wondered if the old man’s presence might have been the source of her ongoing, unexplainable unease. Could he have been watching the two of them for a while in secret?
It was possible, though unlikely.
Then Jane saw the child, and she felt her heart jump inside her chest.
The little girl was of an indeterminate age between infancy and the toddler stage—perhaps a year and a half or two years old. Seated in a chair in the opposite corner of the office, she was wearing a red and white dress. Her features were vaguely Asian, which made sense in Thailand; and her hair was braided in two long pigtails.
The little girl sat perfectly still, perfectly silent. She gave Jane a fixed smile. Her expression was superficially innocent, of course; but something about the smile suggested cunning.
Nevertheless, a child.
“A little girl!” Jane gasped aloud. Her next thought was: This is Khajee’s child. Who else would the little girl be?
Then, a cascade of secondary questions: Why had Khajee failed to mention or acknowledge the girl? Jane knew that Khajee was single. How would single motherhood work in a traditional society like that of Thailand? Why was the little girl sitting there so quiet and motionless—not like a typical child at all?
This brought vague speculations of child abuse, of a little girl drugged so that she would not disturb her mother while she was working.
Was the little girl sufficiently fed, or held to starvation rations?
But Khajee responded to Jane’s open alarm with a gentle laugh. “She’s not a real little girl. She’s only a doll!”