"Aunty! Come, come!" and they are pulled into the warm embrace of the party.
Victor knows they are expecting him to say something. Nandini has indicated with a nod that the food is ready to serve. He looks around him, from face to face. There are thirty or forty people there, talking, laughing, some kissing on either cheek. Mr. Basit is sitting in the centre of the sofa, his wife, Rita, perched on the arm next to him; Jenny, their daughter, is upstairs. Nandini is not happy, because Mr. Basit brought a bottle of whisky and insisted that Victor try some. Victor gave up drinking in the summer of '77, the same week Elvis died. But Victor respects Mr. Basit, and it is an honour that he brought such a special bottle of whisky - old whisky, Basit says. Victor had opened the bottle, taken cut-glass tumblers from the kitchen (Nandini had specifically told him earlier that only plastic cups must be used), and poured a glass for Mr. Basit, a glass for Wesley, a glass for Hugo, a glass for Mr. Chatterjee, and a glass for himself. He had not offered any to Kumar, Shamini's cousin, even though he had slinked about the back door, purring obsequiously at Victor. Nasty-looking fellow, drunk when he got here, Wesley said. They had stood together outside in the garden, five friends, toasting the New Year. It had been a quiet moment of clarity, filled with the resonance of the cold, bell-like clinking of their glasses. They had all knocked the drink back, in one, as they would have done with arrack in Sri Lanka. And the salt harshness of the spirit on his lips dances there still. He looks around at the party, and he sees them all in the swimmer's gaze of a whiskied moment. Nandini's eyes shine black and hard as he raises his glass and shouts, "Friends! A toast! Here is - I mean - to US!" and he stumbles a little, and laughs. "Time to eat, time to eat... "
Nandini turns, calls to Preethi, and Preethi and Nil, Siro and Chitra, follow her to the kitchen to start bringing through the tureens of mutton, lentils, silver platters of yellow rice, glass bowls of salads, and baskets of poppadoms.
Victor sits down next to Gertie. Her foster child, May, is with her.
"Hello, little girl," he says, pinching her cheek lightly. "There are a lot of other little girls upstairs. Why don't you go and play?"
She shakes her head.
"Shy, shy," Gertie says. "Talk to my brother, will you? He's another shy one, nayther?" she says, poking the young man sitting beside May. Victor nods to the man, an officer in the army.
"Come and eat," he says to the fellow. The brother was introduced but Victor cannot remember his name. The whisky has clouded his mind, and all he sees are colours now, around each person - greens, purples, golds, crimsons. Around this man there is a yellow fire, an easy lion aggression: if the fellow were to open his mouth, a roar of the fire would belch out, and Victor realises he hates him, without reason. On impulse, he takes the man's hand, pulls him from his chair, and, pushing his shoulder lightly, leads him to the dining room, where people are already loading their plates. Nandini stands watching the dishes empty, waiting to swoop down to refill them. He catches her eye: she smiles from the side of her mouth. Victor looks at her across the party, and a tenderness for her erupts from him, and to his embarrassment and surprise, he imagines their warmth in the dark, the smell of her neck, the soft, flabby skin of her stomach, crushed and stretched and worn. And he sees around her a glow of pink and mauve, which takes his breath away.
Upstairs, The Godfather has got to the wedding night, and Rohan has stopped the video. There are too many little children wandering in and out of the room, and he is embarrassed by the actress's high, pale breasts: so ugly to him, so unnatural, the way she turns to Michael and removes her slip. The older kids are annoyed, and he is ushering children down the stairs to go and eat. But there is a crush in the hallway, so children run up and down the stairs, trying to go farther upstairs to see what Preethi is doing in her bedroom. Gehan has taken the boys his age into his own room, and they are playing Monopoly for real money they have rummaged from coats hanging on the banister.
Excerpted from Homesick by Roshi Fernando. Copyright © 2012 by Roshi Fernando. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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