And he, when he looked back on it all, across the wasteland of their lives, despaired at how he could have been so feeble-minded, so spineless, to have allowed it to happen.
But a year after the marriage, into their lives had come the little miracle. Roxana was born, and with the quantities of affection lavished on the baby, it was inevitable that the warmth of it should touch them all. Love for their little Roxana rescued them from their swamp of rancour; unhappiness was thwarted for the time being.
Six o'clock approached, and Nariman began to get ready for his birthday dinner. He had been waiting eagerly for this evening, to see Roxana and her family. And as he dressed, that enchanting time of his daughter's birth filled his mind.
The rain started again after having let up most of the day. A new shirt, Jal and Coomy's gift, was waiting on the dresser. He removed it from its cellophane wrap and grimaced, feeling the starched fabric. No doubt, it would bite him all evening. The things one had to endure for one's birthday. There were perfectly good shirts in his dresser, soft and comfortable, that would outlast him.
Over the thrumming of the rain a hammer commenced its noise somewhere in the building while he fumbled with the tight new buttons. No one considered the problems of the old and the frail, the way they packaged shirts for sale with impregnable plastic wrappers, pins stuck in all the trickiest places, cardboard inserts jammed hard under the collar.
He smiled as he thought about Roxana, her husband, and their two sons. He'd never imagined, delighting in her as a tiny baby, that one day she would be grown up and have her own children. He wondered if all fathers marvelled like him.
And if she could have remained that little baby for a while longer? Perhaps that one period of his wedded life when he'd been truly happy might have lasted longer too. If only we could have the impossible, he thought, we could vanquish unhappiness. But that was not how things worked in the world. The joyous family time had been short. Much too short.
He remembered the moment when Jal had taken the baby in his arms. How thrilled he had been as she clutched at his finger. "What a grip she has, Pappa!" Then Coomy had clamoured to hold her sister. "Look, she's blowing bubbles, just like my ring!" she had exclaimed in delight, referring to the soap-bubble kit she had bought at a fun-fair.
But Jal and Coomy's devotion to Roxana--even that had come to an end, felt Nariman, after she married and left to live in the flat he had procured by paying an enormous pugree. That was the time when they first began throwing at him the "flesh and blood" phrase, accusing him of partiality.
If at least the childhood bond, when relations were not tainted by "half" or "step" combinations because hyphens were meaningless to them then--if at least that had endured, it would have offered some consolation, something good salvaged from those miserable years. But this, too, was denied him. Naturally. Only a rotten ending could come out of such a rotten beginning.
And what was the beginning, he wondered. The day he met his darling Lucy, the woman he should have married? But that was not a rotten day, it was the most beautiful of mornings. Or was it later, when he renounced Lucy? Or when he agreed to marry Yasmin Contractor? Or that Sunday evening when his parents and their friends first broached the idea--when he should have raged and exploded, stamped out the notion, told them to mind their own damned business, go to hell?
Thirty-six years had passed since. And still he remembered the Sunday evening, the hebdomadal get-together of his parents' circle of friends. In this very drawing-room, where the furniture was still the same, the walls carried the same paint, and all their voices still echoed from that Sunday evening.
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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