Victor is thinking of other parties, of his childhood: quiet, dignified, the productions of an excitable wife of a dour clergyman. Homemade marshmallows, he remembers, lightly coloured with cochineal, dusted with icing sugar. He stands in the hallway of his own home in southeast London, looking at the late afternoon sun colouring everything with a honey glaze. My, he thinks, he can even see his own pudgy hand, reaching up to the table to steal a sweet, and a servant clucking away behind him, shoo-shooing him, as if he were an escaped hen. If his father had seen him, there would have been the nasty, damning words about thieves, about hell. He hears Preethi and Nandini in the kitchen, the pan lids banging, the murmured voices, one of them chopping at the table, a small laughter. I am rich, he thinks.
He walks into the sitting room, adjusts cushions on the plush cream sofas, a recent investment. The plastic covers have been removed for this evening but will go back tomorrow: Nandini said that, once bought, this three-piece suite would be their last. It must survive thirty years, then, he thinks, for we are so young still, barely fifty. The sun is setting. He stands by the window, looking out to the opposite houses. Already there is music from the end of the street: West Indians, their party will be raucous. Never mind, never mind. He takes his C. T. Fernando record out of its sleeve, holds it carefully by the edges, blowing the dust away gently into the last pink rays of the sunshine. When he places the needle onto the crack-crack of the grooves, he can smell poppadoms frying, he can feel the warmth of other air, he can hear the voices of people long left behind. And Victor's eyes fill with tears, for there is no going back in his life, only the moving forward to better things. There is only the climb up steep green hills that signify this Britain. He sits gingerly on the sofa as if he were the guest and the sofa the host. "Ma Bala Kale," C. T. sings, and Victor hums along, remembering that the poppadoms will not be fried until the evening.
Preethi is angry. Nandini is again talking of money, of wasted opportunities. She is talking about resolutions, and Preethi is tired of saying - yes, Ammi, I will work harder, I will forget that under this skin there is me. She wants to say - you know I'm slow, I'm not like Rohan and Gehan, I just can't do what you want me to do. But she changes the subject. Talks about Clare, her friend from school, coming to the party.
"She's got the whole of Brideshead on video. Sometimes we watch two episodes-"
"Watch? But I thought you studied together?"
"Yes. We do. But sometimes we take a break and watch - and it is by Evelyn Waugh. And you used to watch it with me." Which wasn't true, she thought - Ammi was always asleep on the sofa.
They are silent.
"So, who is coming tonight, Ammi?"
"Wesley and Siro. This one, Gertie - she is bringing that foster child of hers. And her brother. He's done very well. He is here attending Sandhurst."
"What? For the army? Which army?"
"The Sri Lankan army, fool."
Preethi pauses for effect. "The Sri Lankan army who like to repress and murder Tamil people. You know, Tamil people like me and Dad?"
"Don't be clever-clever. We left that behind, all that talk. You're in England. Talk of English politics. How can you understand Sri Lanka? It is not ours to understand anymore."
"That's rubbish," she starts, but her mother slaps her hand. It stings.
"Don't say 'rubbish' to me. Do you think I would have said 'rubbish' to my mother?"
Preethi washes her hands and, wiping them on her backside, edges around her mother's chair in order to leave.
"Where are you going? Come and chop the rest of these onions, then peel the carrots and grate them."
Excerpted from Homesick by Roshi Fernando. Copyright © 2012 by Roshi Fernando. 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
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