Could fulfillment ever be felt as deeply as loss? Romantically she decided that love must surely reside in the gap between desire and fulfill-ment, in the lack, not the contentment. Love was the ache, the anticipation, the retreat, everything around it but the emotion itself.
The water boiled and the cook lifted the kettle and emptied it into the teapot.
Terrible, he said. My bones ache so badly, my joints hurtI may as well be dead. If not for Biju. . . . Biju was his son in America. He worked at Don Polloor was it The Hot Tomato? Or Ali Babas Fried Chicken? His father could not remember or understand or pronounce the names, and Biju changed jobs so often, like a fugitive on the runno papers.
Yes, its so foggy, Sai said. I dont think the tutor will come. She jigsawed the cups, saucers, teapot, milk, sugar, strainer, Marie and Delite biscuits all to fit upon the tray.
Ill take it, she offered.
Careful, careful, he said scoldingly, following with an enamel basin of milk for Mutt. Seeing Sai swim forth, spoons making a jittery music upon the warped sheet of tin, Mutt raised her head. Teatime? said her eyes as her tail came alive.
Why is there nothing to eat? the judge asked, irritated, lifting his nose from a muddle of pawns in the center of the chessboard.
He looked, then, at the sugar in the pot: dirty, micalike glinting granules. The biscuits looked like cardboard and there were dark finger marks on the white of the saucers. Never ever was the tea served the way it should be, but he demanded at least a cake or scones, macaroons or cheese straws. Something sweet and something salty. This was a travesty and it undid the very concept of teatime.
Only biscuits, said Sai to his expression. The baker left for his daughters wedding.
I dont want biscuits.
How dare he go for a wedding? Is that the way to run a business? The fool. Why cant the cook make something?
Theres no more gas, no kerosene.
Why the hell cant he make it over wood? All these old cooks can make cakes perfectly fine by building coals around a tin box. You think they used to have gas stoves, kerosene stoves, before? Just too lazy now.
The cook came hurrying out with the leftover chocolate pudding warmed on the fire in a frying pan, and the judge ate the lovely brown puddle and gradually his face took on an expression of grudging pudding contentment.
They sipped and ate, all of existence passed over by nonexistence, the gate leading nowhere, and they watched the tea spill copious ribbony curls of vapor, watched their breath join the mist slowly twisting and turning, twisting and turning.
Nobody noticed the boys creeping across the grass, not even Mutt, until they were practically up the steps. Not that it mattered, for there were no latches to keep them out and nobody within calling distance except Uncle Potty on the other side of the jhora ravine, who would be drunk on the floor by this hour, lying still but feeling himself pitch aboutDont mind me, love, he always told Sai after a drinking bout, opening one eye like an owl, Ill just lie down right here and take a little rest
They had come through the forest on foot, in leather jackets from the Kathmandu black market, khaki pants, bandanasuniversal guerilla fashion. One of the boys carried a gun.
Later reports accused China, Pakistan, and Nepal, but in this part of the world, as in any other, there were enough weapons floating around for an impoverished movement with a ragtag army. They were looking for anything they could findkukri sickles, axes, kitchen knives, spades, any kind of firearm.
Copyright © 2006 by Kiran Desai. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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