Her voice came to him from a great distance, and he had neither will nor energy for argument. He was remembering the week before, when he and Lucy had watched the tide go out at Breach Candy. Some children were dragging a little net in pools of water among the rocks, searching for sea life forgotten by the amnesiac waves. As he watched them splash and yell, he thought about the eleven years he and Lucy had struggled to create a world for themselves. A cocoon, she used to call it. A cocoon was what they needed, she said, into which they could retreat, and after their families had forgotten their existence, they would emerge like two glistening butterflies and fly away together . . .
The memory made him weaken for an instant--was he making the right decision? . . . Yes. He was. They had been ground down by their families. Exhausted by the strain of it. He reminded himself how hopeless it was now--Lucy and he had even reached the point where scarcely an evening went by that they did not quarrel about something or the other. What was the purpose in continuing, letting it all crumble in useless bickering?
Then, while the children nearby squealed with excitement at a creature caught in their net, Lucy tried one last time to convince him: they could turn their backs on everyone, walk away from the suffocating world of family tyrannies, from the guilt and blackmail that parents specialized in. They could start their own life together, just the two of them.
Struggling to maintain his resolve, he told her they had discussed it all before, their families would hound them, no matter what. The only way to do this was to end it quickly.
Fine, she said, no use talking any more, and walked away from him. He found himself alone beside the sea.
And now, as his parents and their friends discussed his future while sipping Scotch and soda, he felt he was eavesdropping on strangers. They were delightedly conducting their "round-table conference," as they called it, planning his married life, having as much fun as though it was their whist drive or housie evening.
"There is one problem," said Mr. Burdy. "We have indeed shut the stable door before the horse bolted, but we must provide a substitute mare."
"What did he say?" asked Nargesh Aunty.
"Mr. Proverb believes the bridegroom is ready, but we nid to find heem a bride."
"Don't you think," she said timidly, "that love-marriage would be better than arranged?"
"Of course," said his father. "You think we haven't encouraged it? But our Nari seems incapable of falling in love with a Parsi girl. Now it's up to us to find a match."
"And that will be a challenge, mark my words," said Mr. Kotwal. "You can look as far from Bombay as you like. You can try from Calcutta to Karachi. But when they make inquiries, they will find out about Nari's lufroo with that ferangi woman."
"Impossible to hide it," agreed Mrs. Unvala. "We'll have to compromise."
"Oh, I'm sure Nari will find a lovely wife," said his mother loyally. "The cream of the crop."
"I think we'll have to forget about the cream of the crop," said Mr. Burdy. "As you sow, so shall you reap. You cannot plough the stubble of the crop one day, and expect cream the next."
They laughed, and their jokes became cruder. Soli said something insulting about ferangis who wiped their arses with paper instead of washing hygienically.
The detachment with which Nariman had been listening evaporated. "How sorry I feel for you all," he said, unable to choke back his disgust. "You've grown old without growing wise."
His chair scrooped as he pushed it away and returned to the balcony. He picked up his book, staring blankly at the pages. There was a light breeze coming in from the sea. Inside, he could hear his parents apologizing, that the poor boy was distraught because the breakup was still fresh. It infuriated him that they would presume to know how he felt.
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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