Much rejoicing had erupted when his parents announced that their only son, after years of refusing to end his ill-considered liaison with that Goan woman, refusing to meet decent Parsi girls, refusing to marry someone respectable--that their beloved Nari had finally listened to reason and agreed to settle down.
He could hear every word on the balcony where he sat alone. As usual, Soli Bamboat, his parents' oldest friend, semi-retired and still a very influential lawyer, was the first to respond. "Three cheers for Nari!" he shouted. "Heep-heep-heep!" and the rest answered, "Hooray!"
Soli Bamboat's vocal machinery, despite a lifetime's struggle with the treachery of English vowels, was frequently undone by them. His speech had been a source of great puzzlement and entertainment for Nariman in childhood.
Counting his parents, there were ten Sunday-evening regulars. No, nine, he corrected himself, for Mr. Burdy's wife, Shirin, had died the year before, following a swift illness. After the mourning, Mr. Burdy had reappeared at the Sunday gatherings and, in Nariman's opinion, tackled the part of widower with admirable diligence. A tasty pakora or someone's special homemade chutney would make him sigh dutifully, "Oh, how my Shirin would have enjoyed it." After laughing at a funny anecdote he would at once add, "In humour my Shirin was number one--always the first to appreciate a joke." But he never seemed comfortable in this role and, a few months later, decided to try the jovial born-again bachelor. The group accepted the change, giving its approval tacitly; Shirin was no longer mentioned on Sunday evenings.
So much for love and loyalty and remembering, thought Nariman. Meanwhile, the group responded thrice to Soli's heep-heep-heep before commencing with an assortment of individual cheers and good wishes for his parents.
"Congratulations, Marzi!" said Mr. Kotwal to his father. "After eleven years of battle you win!"
"Better late than never," said Mr. Burdy. "But fortune always favours the bold. Remember, the fruits of patience are sweet, and all's well that ends well."
"Stop, Mr. Proverb, enough," said Soli. "Save a few for the rest of us."
Curious about their comments, Nariman shifted his chair on the balcony so he could observe them without being seen. Now Mrs. Unvala began professing that she had always had faith in the boy to make the right choice in the end, and her husband, Dara, nodded vigorously. Their opinions were offered as a team; the group called him the Silent Partner.
Then Soli entered the balcony, and Nariman pretended to be engrossed in a book. "Hey, Nari! Why are you alone? Come and join the circle, you seely boy."
"Later, Soli Uncle, I want to finish this chapter."
"No, no, Nari, we nid you now," he said, taking the book away. "What's the rush, the words won't vaneesh from the page." Seizing his arm, he pulled him into the drawing-room, into the centre of the gathering.
They thumped his back, shook his hand, hugged him while he cringed and wished he hadn't stayed home that evening. But he knew he would have to face them at some point. He heard Soli Uncle's wife, Nargesh Aunty, ask his mother, "Tell me, Jeroo, is it sincere? Has he really given up that Lucy Braganza?"
"Oh yes," said his mother. "Yes, he has given us his word."
Now Mrs. Kotwal scuttled across the room, pinched his cheek, and said, "When the naughty boy at last becomes a good boy, it's a double delight."
He felt like reminding her he was forty-two years old. Then Nargesh Aunty beckoned from her seat on the sofa. She was the most softspoken of the group and usually drowned by its din. She patted the place beside her and bade him sit. Taking his hand in hers, which was shrivelled from burns in a kitchen accident during her youth, she whispered, "No happiness is more lasting than the happiness that you get from fulfilling your parents' wishes. Remember that, Nari."
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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