"Which side are you on?" asked Coomy, exasperated. "Are you arguing Pappa should go for a walk? Are you saying the world has not become a dangerous place?"
"Oh, it has," Nariman answered for Jal. "Especially indoors."
She clenched her fists and stormed out. He blew on his glasses and polished them slowly with a handkerchief. His fading eyesight, tiresome dentures, trembling limbs, stooped posture, and shuffling gait were almost ready for their vesperal routine.
br> With his umbrella, which he used as walking stick, Nariman Vakeel emerged from Chateau Felicity. The bustling life was like air for starving lungs, after the stale emptiness of the flat.
He went to the lane where the vegetable vendors congregated. Their baskets and boxes, overflowing with greens and legumes and fruits and tubers, transformed the corner into a garden. French beans, sweet potatoes, coriander, green chilies, cabbages, cauliflowers bloomed under the street lights, hallowing the dusk with their colour and fragrance. From time to time, he bent down to touch. Voluptuous onions and glistening tomatoes enticed his fingers; the purple brinjals and earthy carrots were irresistible. The subjivalas knew he wasn't going to buy anything, but they did not mind, and he liked to think they understood why he came.
In the flower stall two men sat like musicians, weaving strands of marigold, garlands of jasmine and lily and rose, their fingers picking, plucking, knotting, playing a floral melody. Nariman imagined the progress of the works they performed: to supplicate deities in temples, honour the photo-frames of someone's ancestors, adorn the hair of wives and mothers and daughters.
The bhel-puri stall was a sculptured landscape with its golden pyramid of sev, the little snow mountains of mumra, hillocks of puris, and, in among their valleys, in aluminium containers, pools of green and brown and red chutneys.
A man selling bananas strolled up and down the street. The bunches were stacked high and heavy upon his outstretched arm: a balancing and strong-man act rolled into one.
It was all magical as a circus, felt Nariman, and reassuring, like a magic show.
On the eve of his seventy-ninth birthday, he came home with abrasions on his elbow and forearm, and a limp. He had fallen while crossing the lane outside Chateau Felicity.
Coomy opened the door and screamed, "My God! Come quick, Jal! Pappa is bleeding!"
"Where?" asked Nariman, surprised. The elbow scrape had left a small smear on his shirt. "This? You call this bleeding?" He shook his head with a slight chuckle.
"How can you laugh, Pappa?" said Jal, full of reproach. "We are dying of anxiety over your injuries."
"Don't exaggerate. I tripped on something and twisted my foot a little, that's all."
Coomy soaked a ball of cotton wool in Dettol to wipe the scrapes clean, and the arm, smarting under the antiseptic, pulled back. She flinched in empathy, blowing on it. "Sorry, Pappa. Better?"
He nodded while her gentle fingers patted the raw places, then covered them with sticking plaster. "Now we should give thanks to God," she said, putting away the first-aid box. "You know how serious it could have been? Imagine if you had tripped in the middle of the main road, right in the traffic."
"Oh!" Jal covered his face with his hands. "I can't even think of it."
"One thing is certain," said Coomy. "From now on you will not go out."
"I agree," said Jal.
"Stop being idiotic, you two."
"And what about you, Pappa?" said Coomy. "Tomorrow you'll complete seventy-nine years, and still you don't act responsibly. No appreciation for Jal and me, or the things we do for you."
Nariman sat, trying to maintain a dignified silence. His hands were shaking wretchedly, defying all the effort of his will to keep them steady in his lap. The tremor in his legs was growing too, making his knees bounce like some pervert jiggling his thighs. He tried to remember: had he taken his medication after lunch?
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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