“This is all your fault,” he said, feeling utterly exhausted.
“Things look,” she began, “different in the darkness.”
“You cannot see … your mind moves faster.”
“What’s got into your head?”
“But there’s an advantage,” she went on, “your eyes manage to get some rest.”
“You’ve gone crazy.”
“You’re in a great mood today,” he said. “Spoiling for a fight, aren’t you … with everybody?”
“Not with everybody,” she snapped, “just with you.” She used the more formal aap, not a familiar tum.
“I can tell you’ve come here straight from a brawl with Mahmud.”
“Mahmud is my husband.”
“What goes on between him and me is my personal business.”
“I’m not part of your personal business?”
“You are not part of my personal business.”
“You’ve got to be joking.”
“No, I am not.”
“Oh,” he said, suppressing his anger. “How I wish it were true.”
“But it is true. You have no part in anything that has to do with me.”
“Then do me a favor, will you? Tell everybody else that.”
“Because I’m pretty sick of trying to keep the peace between you and Mahmud all the time.”
“Well, you can blame yourself for it. After all, you created the mess.”
“I created the mess?”
“You fixed my marriage with Mahmud—didn’t you?”
“So I’m to blame for it—is that it?”
“At least you’re responsible for it.”
“So I’m to blame for it?” he repeated, genuinely shocked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything.”
It was staggering, completely unexpected. The otherwise clear, luminous region of the mind which might have registered the impact of what was happening—and so fast—suddenly went blank. He stopped thinking about everything, concentrating on the floor, now littered with spilled milk, tea and sugar. Then getting up so effortlessly to pick up the scattered cups and saucers a little while later, setting them back upon the tray and straightening the overturned table, the tragedy of the soiled carpet and the shattered teacup suddenly hit him in all its comic intensity. He could not believe that this woman—so fiercely independent now, unrestrained in her acts and words (come to think of it, when, in all those thirty years, had she ever looked any different?)—had always seemed to him something like an empty teacup—fragile, vulnerable, even dumb! And he thought he had known her for ages, the ages required to know somebody well! Ages—including childhood, when, unaware of the passage of time, one played with friends in far‑flung spaces nobody else knew existed, and played games so intimate that one even became familiar with the scent of the other’s skin. The time that left its indelible imprint on all the subsequent stages of one’s life, so that later even a casual walk through a spot vaguely resembling a place in childhood evoked warm memories of that rich time, of those places, names, voices, and sometimes, even an unfinished gesture, or a sudden gleam in someone’s eye. Every moment in childhood lasted a whole lifetime. He knew her from back then.
“I’m fed up.”
“Your foolish quarrels.”
“Who asked you to …”
“… stick your nose into my affairs?”
“But I had to.”
“Had to—how so?”
“How? Well … because … because I’m your … oh, well.…”
“Yes, yes, go on, because you’re my what?”
“Well, I mean a member of your family—or almost.”
“But there are other members in my family.”
“Then, I suppose, because I’m responsible for arranging a match for you.”
“Who asked you to?”
“Who? Well … dammit, your family—who else?”
“But I didn’t! Did I?”
“You … er‑r‑r, well, you … you knew about it all right.”
“The important thing is, did you ask me?”
“What difference …”
“… does that make—right?”
“So what do you want me to do now?” he said in a dead voice.
“You just keep out of my affairs, that’s all.” She again used the polite but formal aap.
Even her curt, aggressive manner was new to him. They both went back a lot of years, and he could swear she had never, absolutely never, talked to anyone like this, at least not on a personal level.
“Aap, aap …” he said, “cut it out. Stop this litany. Can’t you speak to me in plain language?”
“Aap … that’s the right word. Yes—aap.”
“Ah‑h‑h‑h!” he emitted a deep, tormented sound.