The Indian girl at the door said, Very crowded. Theres a wait, Im afraid. Unless you wish to share a table.
Audie smiled at the girl. The nameplate pinned to her yellow and white sari was lettered Anna. She was lovelyhed seen her at the spa in the white pajamas the massage therapists wore.
No problem here, the Indian said.
If you dont mind, Beth said.
I could seat you quicker if you sat together, the Indian girl, Anna, said.
Audie tried to catch his wifes eye to signal well waiteating with strangers affected his digestionbut she had already agreed. He hated to share. He hated the concept, the very word; he had spent his life in pursuit of his own undivided portion of the world.
Within minutes of their being seated, the Indian (Bill?) had told him that he lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland; that he owned a company that leased vending machines (bottled and canned beverages and mineral waters) and his budget projections had never been better; that he had an acre of warehouse space and a large house; that his elderly father lived with them, and he had two children, one attending Georgetown, a boy, economics major, and a daughter, a Johns Hopkins graduate, now a stock analyst for Goldman Sachs, doing very well, loved her work. This was their second day at Agni. They had family in Dehra Dun, one more day and theyd be back in Delhi, preparing to take the direct flight to Newark, a new service, so much better than having to make stops in Frankfurt or London.
Very spiritual here, he said after an awkward pause, having gotten no response from Audie.
Audie smiled. How was it possible for people to talk so much that they were oblivious of their listener? Yet Audie was relieved he didnt want to give out information about himself. He did not want to lie to anyone, and knew that if anyone asked a direct question he would give an evasive or misleading reply. Talkative people made it so easy for him to be anonymous.
What do you do for a living? he was sometimes asked.
Whole bunch of things, he would reply. Ive got a bunch of companies. Im involved in some start-ups and rebrandings. Were in housewares. Hard furnishings. White goods. We used to do a lot of mail order, catalogue inventory, and now its mostly online.
The Indian woman said to him, Where do you live?
Tough question, Audie said. This time of year were usually in our house in Florida. Weve got an apartment in New York. We mostly spend our summers in Maine. Weve got a condo in Vermont, ski country. Take your pick.
But the woman wasnt listening to him. She was talking about her daughter, who lived in New York City and was now twenty-seven and a little overdue to be married. Theymother and father were in India to meet the parents of a boy they hoped would be a suitable husband. The boy happened to be living in Rochester, New York, where he taught engineering.
Arranged marriage, she said. Best way.
She seemed to be twinkling with defiance, challenging Audie to question her adherence to the custom of arranged marriage. He enjoyed hearing her overselling it.
Rupesh and I were arranged by our parents. Americans find it so funny. She shrieked a little and wobbled her head. I didnt know his name. Only his horoscope. He was almost stranger to me. Almost thirty years together now!
While insisting on her approval of the custom of arranged marriage, she was also presenting herself as an antique, if not an oddity, and wished to be celebrated that way. She lived in the USA; she had shocked her American friends with this sort of talk and was defying Audie to be shocked. But Audie decided to defy her in return by smiling at her.
Copyright © 2007 by Paul Theroux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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