Krishna is a Gurkha, a member of a Nepalese people famed for its tireless trackers and fearless soldiers. The British had used Gurkha battalions since 1817, and still do. Even in the modern U.K., their regimental heraldry includes a fully functional kukri knife. She wasn’t scared, not yet anyway, so much as determined. She was faced with a task and set out to accomplish it: I’m going to find home.
She wandered the stretch of Queens Boulevard for a time, poking around side streets with alien names like Jacobus and Ireland. Krishna still believed Anu’s home was just around the corner. In reality, she was now in Elmhurst and heading toward LeFrak City.
Krishna knew the word home. She also knew help—Anu had taught it to her as part of her emergency-training boot camp. Somehow, from the depths of memory, a third word appeared: mistake. Perhaps these words could be fashioned into something useful. “Help, mistake, home.” No, even better: “Help, home, mistake.” This could work. She approached a friendly looking man with it, but he recoiled. Am I saying it right? “Help, home, mistake.” She tried it again, on a woman with a small child, but got the same reaction, plus a few unintelligible words over the shoulder as the woman speed-walked away, pushing her stroller. This was hopeless. Even if someone understood her, she wouldn’t be able to understand the response.
At about 10 a.m., Krishna saw two girls in tracksuits and sneakers, walking purposefully in front of her down Queens Boulevard. She concluded they were going jogging in the same park she had been headed for. The scale of the city was still incomprehensible to her—she didn’t even ponder the idea that there could be other parks. So she followed the girls around the corner and down Grand Avenue, for a dozen blocks. When Krishna began to lose faith in the effort, a promising thatch of greenery appeared in front of her, and she hurried toward it. But it wasn’t a park. It was a Catholic cemetery. Shocked by the size of it, Krishna missed the moment when her accidental tour guides abruptly disappeared. Steeped in the supernatural lore in Nepal, she assumed the two girls were apparitions. Cemetery ghosts. She kept walking.
Soon it was past noon. Her feet were beginning to hurt. Hunger made itself known. Having wandered for five hours, she was now nearly five miles away from home and more uncertain than ever of how to find her way back there.
Back in Woodside, Anu, who works as an au pair, had awakened around 8 a.m. By 9, she knew something was off—her mother should have been back from her jog. Another hour later, Anu called Shyam, who was at work in New Jersey. He took the rest of the day off and returned to Queens.
Anu’s first thought was a robbery gone wrong. After all, Krishna was wearing all that jewelry. Anu had never been mugged herself but was convinced, from films, TV, and press, that this sort of thing happens all over the place and to everybody. “In New York,” she says, “you see this story every time you read the newspaper.” Shyam assumed the voice-of-calm role, but Anu was still worried. Even if there wasn’t a robbery, so what? Her mother, the mother she had brought all the way here, the mother who had, upon her arrival, essentially become a child—naïve, vulnerable, dependent on her—was gone.
The Gurungs, like many Gurkhas, prefer to exhaust all other options before involving the police, but by 6:30 p.m. the couple had become concerned enough to call 911. Almost an hour later, when no one had showed up at the house, they went to the police themselves. The Gurungs’ house, it turns out, stands near the border of three precincts, and an hour or so was wasted on jurisdictional back-and-forth. When the family finally got to the right precinct, they were told the officers were waiting for them at the house. To Anu’s shock, the police began by conducting a full-blown search, looking under the bed and into the closets while a detective started by asking if she and her mother had had an argument recently. At 9 p.m., the police filed a missing persons report. They told Anu that they would begin calling hospitals and checking for a Nepalese Jane Doe matching Krishna’s description. They suggested the family do the same.
The Gurungs brought with them from Nepal a deep belief in astrology and fortune-telling. On Friday night, a friend of Anu’s went to a local fortune-teller, who told her Krishna was “under water.” Anu began to cry. Shyam tried to convince her that “under water” might mean “in the rain”—it was, after all, still raining. But he, too, began to imagine the worst.