"Her husband is still working," said Razia, as if she were the provider of the information.
"The husband is working, but still she cannot fill her stomach. In Bangladesh one salary can feed twelve, but Jorina cannot fill her stomach."
"Where is she going? To the garment factory?"
"Mixing with all sorts: Turkish, English, Jewish. All sorts. I am not old-fashioned," said Mrs. Islam. "I don't wear burkha. I keep purdah in my mind, which is the most important thing. Plus I have cardigans and anoraks and a scarf for my head. But if you mix with all these people, even if they are good people, you have to give up your culture to accept theirs. That's how it is."
"Poor Jorina," said Razia. "Can you imagine?" she said to Nazneen, who could not.
They talked on and Nazneen made more tea and answered some queries about herself and about her husband, and wondered all the while about supper and the impossibility of mentioning anything to her guests, who must be made welcome.
"Dr. Azad knows Mr. Dalloway," Chanu had explained to her. "He has influence. If he puts in a word for me, the promotion will be automatic. That's how it works. Make sure you fry the spices properly, and cut the meat into big pieces. I don't want small pieces of meat this evening."
Nazneen asked after Razia's children, a boy and a girl, five and three, who were playing at an auntie's house. She made inquiries about Mrs. Islam's arthritic hip, and Mrs. Islam made some noises to indicate that indeed the hip was troubling her a great deal but it was nothing she could mention, being in fact a stoic. And then, just when her anxiety about supper was beginning to make her chest hurt, her guests stood up to leave and Nazneen rushed to open the door, feeling rude as she stood by it, waiting for them to go.
From Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Copyright Monica Ali 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
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