"Stop dreaming, Pappa," said Coomy. "Please pay attention to what we say."
Nariman thought he smelled the benign fragrance of earth after rain; he could almost taste it on his tongue. He looked outside. Yes, water was dripping to the pavement. In a straight drip. Not rain, then, but the neighbour's window boxes.
"Even with my healthy legs, Pappa, walking is a hazard," said Jal, continuing the daily fuss over his stepfather's outing. "And lawlessness is the one certainty in the streets of Bombay. Easier to find a gold nugget on the footpath than a tola of courtesy. How can you take any pleasure in a walk?"
Socks. Nariman decided he needed socks, and went to the dresser. Looking for a pair in the shallow drawer, he spoke into it, "What you say is true, Jal. But the sources of pleasure are many. Ditches, potholes, traffic cannot extinguish all the joys of life." His hand with its birdwing tremble continued to search. Then he gave up and stuffed bare feet into shoes.
"Shoes without socks? Like a Pathan?" said Coomy. "And see how your hands are shaking? You can't even tie the laces."
"Yes, you could help me."
"Happily--if you were going somewhere important like the doctor, or fire-temple for Mamma's prayers. But I won't encourage foolishness. How many people with Parkinson's do what you do?"
"I'm not going trekking in Nepal. A little stroll down the lane, that's all."
Relenting, Coomy knelt at her stepfather's feet and tied his laces as she did every evening. "First week of August, monsoon in fury, and you want a little stroll."
He went to the window and pointed at the sky. "Look, the rain has stopped."
"A stubborn child, that's what you are," she complained. "Should be punished like a child. No dinner for disobedience, hanh?"
With her cooking that would be a prize, not a punishment, he thought.
"Did you hear him, Jal? The older he gets, the more insulting he is!"
Nariman realized he'd said it aloud. "I must confess, Jal, your sister frightens me. She can even hear my thoughts."
Jal could hear only a garble of noise, confounded by the earpiece that augmented Coomy's strong voice while neglecting his stepfather's murmurings. Readjusting the volume control, he lifted his right index finger like an umpire giving a batsman out, and returned to the last topic his ears had picked up. "I agree with you, Pappa, the sources of pleasure are many. Our minds contain worlds enough to amuse us for an eternity. Plus you have your books and record player and radio. Why leave the flat at all? It's like heaven in here. This building isn't called Chateau Felicity for nothing. I would lock out the hell of the outside world and spend all my days indoors."
"You couldn't," said Nariman. "Hell has ways of permeating heaven's membrane." He began softly, " 'Heaven, I'm in heaven,' " which irritated Coomy even more, and he stopped humming. "Just think back to the Babri Mosque riots."
"You're right," conceded Jal. "Sometimes hell does seep through."
"You're agreeing with his silly example?" said Coomy indignantly. "The riots were in the streets, not indoors."
"I think Pappa is referring to the old Parsi couple who died in their bedroom," said Jal.
"You remember that, don't you, Coomy?" said Nariman. "The goondas who assumed Muslims were hiding in Dalal Estate and set fire to it?"
"Yes, yes, my memory is better than yours. And that was a coincidence--pure bad luck. How often does a mosque in Ayodhya turn people into savages in Bombay? Once in a blue moon."
"True," said Nariman. "The odds are in our favour." He resisted the urge to hum "Blue Moon."
"Just last week in Firozsha Baag an old lady was beaten and robbed," said Jal. "Inside her own flat. Poor thing is barely clinging to life at Parsi General."
Excerpted from Family Matters by Rohinton MistryCopyright 2002 by Rohinton Mistry. 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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