“Tell her what?” “Tell her about me and Farouk. “You’ve dealt with him all day. She knew he was trying to help, but at the same time she sensed that his patience was wearing thin. But his head throbbed and things began to spin, the paper pyramid on the bedside table no longer where it had been a second ago, and the need to be horizontal overwhelmed him, pulling him back to the pillows on the bed. He was trembling but otherwise happy, intent on his task, the water up to the middle of his chest, the mere sight of him sitting there, unattended, causing Sudha to emit a series of spontaneous cries and a volt of fear to seize her haunches. “Oh, that nice couple at our table gave me a ride. • On the tenth ﬂoor, they stopped, then walked to the end of the hallway. She was a thirty-ﬁve-year-old woman, already married and divorced. Then he stopped, relieved. He did not sign his name. The water was calm and shallow, but he preferred swimming in the pool. Sudha had waited until college to disobey her parents. “It’s not driving you crazy, living at home this way?” “It’s not so bad.” She was grateful that he was talking to her, afraid to pressure him. “Will you go with me?” he asked as they walked back to the car, and he was shaken enough for her to assure him that she would. It was the one battle he hadn’t had the courage to ﬁght—his parents’ expectation that he go to medical school, their assumption that he become a doctor like his father. That side of the house was coolest.” She tried to think of her parents’ house transformed this way. An hour before you were expected, she turned on the oven. “Hey, don’t walk on my bed with your shoes on,” her father said suddenly to Akash, who had gotten onto the bed and was walking with large, deliberate steps around the bedcover. Their hearts had been broken by the same man, only my mother’s had long ago mended, and in an odd way, as my parents approached their old age, she and my father had grown fond of each other, out of habit if nothing else. And it touched her to be treated, at thirty-seven, like a teenaged girl. From college.” “You don’t have to explain it to me,” Paul said. With them, alongside them, were children and grandchildren, the generations knit casually and fondly together. He decided to ride out to Concord on his bike, to see Emerson’s house; on Saturday morning, he discovered that the chain needed to be ﬁxed, and he brought the bike up to the 201 deck. Still, he never believed that the pictures would be published until Espen sent them to the right people. I hated Doctor Who, the one show you liked on television. Academically it was far superior to the school he’d been attending, his father told him, mentioning the percentage of Langford graduates who went on to Ivy League colleges. “I didn’t make it up.” “I mean, it’s one thing for you to like me, Paul,” she continued. Rahul was already awake when she came downstairs the next morning, sitting at the table with Roger, a T-shirt sticking to his thickened body, sweaty hair plastered to his face. “If she were your mother, she would let you do whatever you wanted, because she wouldn’t care. The money would be better, but that wasn’t what had attracted Kaushik. “He is throwing his life away.” The wedding was at a church in Ipswich, with a reception at a country club. As the weather grew hotter, we started going, once or twice a week, to Walden Pond. “There’s a place not too far down 128. Chitra and the girls gathered around. A band was setting up to play. He had balked at the cost of law school, but when she’d gotten into Northeastern he had paid for it all the same. Normally we went to Sears. w His feet touched the bottom, and so he let go. She envied him for his lean limbs while she grew slightly pudgy once her period came, and she envied him because people could call him Raoul, that he could intro- 137 duce himself in crowds without questions. He wanted to be alone, to lie down and think. When I returned, they were eating a heavy Bengali lunch, hunched over plates of rice and dal and the previous night’s leftovers. “I prefer to wait in the car.” His voice faltered as he spoke, as it had the day he’d called Sudha in college, to tell her his father died. But Ruma knew no one in Seattle, and the prospect of ﬁnding someone to care for her child in a strange place seemed more daunting than looking after him on her own. In the afternoon, her sister called, from London, with a voice identical to Sang’s. I could never get over that.” She told my mother that she had tried, for years, to get Pranab Kaku to reconcile with his parents, and that she had also encouraged him to maintain ties with other Bengalis, but he had resisted. “Did you?” she asked him now. The padrone seated them at the table in the corner where they had sat before. By allowing her to leave her job, splurging on a beautiful house, agreeing to having a second baby, Adam was doing everything in his power to make Ruma happy. His civil engineer’s explanations went over my head, were irrelevant to my needs, but to be polite I listened. “It’s different, actually.” I said. My parents felt slighted by your parents’ extravagant visions, ashamed of the modest home we owned. “Best in all Calcutta.” 277 “No, thank you.” “This room is cold,” she continued. I saw from the other car in the driveway that my father was home, and he stood behind the storm door, waiting for me to come in with my things. And then you let the needle drop. Both Paul and Heather were surprised by this; neither of them had made an effort to do much to their rooms when moving in. The gesture reminded her of being small, and the little ways her father had come to her rescue, pulling out a handkerchief if she’d spilt food on her clothes, or needed to blow her nose, or had scraped her knee. She was that rare, unsettling thing, a teenage girl already conscious of her power over men while at the same time uninterested in them. My parents were seated next to each other, and I was stunned to see that they complied, that my father’s brown ﬁngers lightly clasped my mother’s pale ones. “I can’t believe you were born and I didn’t know it. . “At a wedding, of all places.” And yet he felt justiﬁed. Beginning in America, and spilling back over memories and generations to India, Unaccustomed Earth explores the heart of family life and the immigrant experience. The phone rang half an hour later, and he ignored it again. And so Hema had not yet called anyone, not contacted any of Giovanna’s friends so that they could meet her for a coffee or drive her out to Tivoli or to Ostia, as Giovanna assured her they would. I saw a massive surge of water moving so quickly that the tape seemed to be playing at an unnatural speed. “Was it in a room like this that you had sex for the ﬁrst time?” It was something, after all these years, that she didn’t know 125 about him. But she said none of this, knowing that if she did, the door he tentatively held open for her beneﬁt would slam once more in her face. Something told him that she’d try again. “But mainly I ate pizza.” “You spent three weeks in Italy and all you ate was pizza?” “It was quite tasty pizza.” UNACCUSTOMED EARTH She shook her head. The women were in their ﬁfties, both dressed in silk jackets and with heavy pieces of silver jewelry, and Amit suspected they had something to do with television. “There’s a brunch,” he remembered, and suddenly he felt hopeful, that there was still a bit of the wedding left, that he could make an appearance, make up for what he’d missed. At this point, Heather would sometimes say, “God, Sang, I can’t believe you’re complaining. By then, the painting was ﬁnished, the dreary room transformed. “They will laugh at us in school.” “I am afraid to go to school,” Piu said, shaking her head and covering her eyes with her hands. There was a bookcase along one wall which had fallen to the ﬂoor, its books in a heap. Their open affection for each other, their easily expressed happiness, was a new and romantic thing to me. YEAR’S END Though she had rarely done the dishes, though it was in fact I who had mostly done the dishes in those days, I imagined her hands on the taps of the sink, her slim form pressed against the counter. She alerted her parents, prepared herself for another call from the police. He was wearing shorts, the hair on his dark legs curlier than she remembered. You need to work a little harder.” “I did work hard,” he said. “Why is there no railing?” Chitra repeated. Adam would be away that week, on another business trip. He had been gone two months when Sudha discovered that she was pregnant; one night during her miserable honeymoon, her body had begun to make a life. There was my father, of course, but he seemed to be the least relevant in a way. “I told you she called.” “But you didn’t tell me this.” “No.” She opened her eyes wide, incredulous. After breakfast, he showed Ruma what he’d done. You remained where you were, looking down at the tombstone of Emma Simonds, and eventually, when I calmed down, you began to walk back to our yard. Instead, they were people he met working at the restaurant, people he never bothered to invite home. She seemed relaxed, willing to talk, in no apparent rush. Her hair was undone, hanging toward the ﬂoor, partly shielding her face. She was trusting me to take her children to a place she’d never heard of and would not be able to ﬁnd. That’s why she tried here.” NOBODY’S BUSINESS She seemed strangely excited by her convoluted explanation. UNACCUSTOMED EARTH “And you? In the drainer was a clean bowl, spoon, juice glass, and mug. Being an only child, I enjoyed this occasional company.
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