She wants to call Clare. Tell her to bring a bottle of wine, which they can sneak to her room and enjoy by themselves. She sits back down at the table and starts to peel the carrots.
"Onions first!" her mother says. It is going to be a long New Year's Eve night, Preethi thinks. But tomorrow will be 1983, and something good should come of it.
Nandini finally in the shower, Victor takes another journey around the theatre of his house, imagining the characters who will be there shortly, seeing them stand with drinks in their hands, their colognes mixing with smoke, the perfumed silk-saried ladies perched on the chairs he has placed around the sitting room and dining room. The table is laid: Rohan and Gehan helped Preethi by lifting it and pushing it into the centre, so that people can travel around it, serving from the various dishes Nandini has prepared. They argued this morning, about the expense of a party. Nandini said he should have asked fewer people. But he knows that not everyone will come. Nandini is tired all the time, he reminds himself: he had been on Preethi's side. He would have let her go to college. She was happy at the local school. But Nandini took a second job, begged the private school to take Preethi on. Every penny is saved - no, he won't think about it now. He wears a Nehru shirt, khaki, and cream slacks. He looks into the hall mirror, combs his floppy straight hair back into the quiff he has worn since he was eighteen. All his friends wear their hair this way.
The clock in the hall strikes seven. Gertie said she may come early, but the rest of the crowd are always late. Victor can hear the television upstairs in his bedroom. He helped Rohan carry it up there, in case the younger crowd got bored. He walks upstairs to see what they are watching. He looks around the door. His three children are lying on his double bed. Gehan holds the video buttons and leans on his elbows, flat out on his tummy. He is still a baby behind his glasses. Rohan and Preethi lie leisurely side by side, propped up by pillows. The tape finishes rewinding, and Gehan presses PLAY.
The familiar trumpet solo, the white words, and then the fade into a single face, a stilted Italian accent: "I believe in America."
"The Godfather, The Godfather - it is all you watch," he says from the doorway. They shush him. "Hmm, hmm - that can wait. Your mother will need to get ready. Enough, enough. Go and change, Gehan. Rohan."
"I'm changed, Papa," Preethi says.
"I know you are, darling. You look lovely," he says as she walks past. He touches her face, pinches the burgundy satin of her dress. "Come and choose some music with me," he says gently. "They will all be here soon."
Preethi watches from her window for Clare. She managed to call, and Clare said to look out for her dad's Mercedes. Clare is staying the night, as her parents are going to a party in a hotel in town. Down the road, there is laughter, reggae music, shouting. Preethi wishes she was there: all her friends at her old school were black. She misses Sonia and Marcia and Shanelle. She wonders if they are partying somewhere, maybe in that club in Peckham they used to go to.
She can see cars stopping on the street and people getting out. Saris, men in suits. She turns to her door: "Someone's here! They're here!"
Chitra and Richard don't arrive until nine thirty. They have battled with public transport, pushed against the crowd on their way to Trafalgar Square, and now walk leisurely up to the door.
"Listen," Chitra says. Richard pulls her to him and kisses her. "Listen," she says again.
"Music. Baila music. And can you smell it? Can you smell the curry?"
She stands on the doorstep but doesn't ring the bell. What will they say? The people who knew her before she left her husband for Richard will all be there, sitting as they always do, in vicious eyeing circles around the room. But she cannot resist, and Victor said he wanted her to come. He insisted that she come. And she is proud of Richard, this famous writer, this gorgeous god with his shoulder-length, greying, Byronesque hair. Suddenly the door opens, and she peers in as Preethi throws her arms wide.
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