"Finally, a chance to use those regional accents I taught you," he said. "You're very good, Angie, you're the best student I ever had."
"That'll be five dallars," she said, remembering.
Chicago o's sound like a's. So do Boston r's.
"I told you at graduation you had to leave this place before you got trapped in a rotten marriage. I'm telling you again, let that happen and you're as good as dead."
Why do they say as good as dead? Why not as bad? But this was not the time to ask. He seemed about to put his hand on her arm and she felt excited. "I have dreams for you. You get married to some boy from here, and the dream dies. You'll never see the world." He studied her T-shirt. "No... Dortmund, no Bratislava. You'll have kids and a husband who's jealous of your intelligence and your English and won't let you out of the house, and that would break my heart." This time, he did put his hand on her arm - "You understand?"
Ali snapped up the plate of sweet crumbs as though it was crawling with ants and noisily dumped it into a bowl of soapy water. He was jealous of her! He was just a child. He lifted his dripping fingers to eye level and glared at a chip on a painted fingernail.
"All I've done is give you a start. The rest is up to you."
In the movies, there was a moment of accounting. She wouldn't be allowed to leave her benefactor's house, not without a favor, or worse. The rest is up to me? The door would be blocked. He'd reach for her hand, then close in on it, like a trap. But Peter was her teacher and a teacher's help had purity and noble intentions behind it. It came from his heart because she had earned it honorably. Peter was smiling and even Ali was smiling, and Peter held out his hand to her and said, "Good luck, Angie."
She took his hand. Ali thrust out his, which confused her: shake a servant's hand? Up close, she could see a fine line of kohl limning his eyes. In that moment of confusion she saw Peter's arm reach around Ali's waist and pull him close. "I hope you'll find happiness too," he said.
More words followed, in Urdu, and Ali laughed and said in English, "Good luck, Anjali."
Then he walked her to the bus stop.
Excerpted from Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee. Copyright © 2011 by Bharati Mukherjee. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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