But last month Usha had begged her husband to come. “Year after year I go on my own and they’re always asking about you. What do I keep telling them? I’m running out of excuses. Soon I’ll have to say you’re dead.” She had looked at him with a sad face and threatened him with tears and he couldn’t say no. But Mr Munshi knew it wasn’t just a plane fare. These gifts being purchased were for her sister, his brother, nieces, nephews and now the grandchildren that had begun to pop out one by one. There was no stopping these damned babies, he thought, gloomily. And once they went back, every evening their house would be filled with visitors who needed to be fed and entertained. That was another added expense.
Usha went home too often– every year, sometimes twice. She never told anyone in Calcutta they owned a shop on Lexington. She called it, “our business.” She told them stories about the conventions and the Pujas and their clients from California and Texas; how Mimi was receiving top marks and writing beautifully. She was sure to become a poet one day.
At first it used to annoy Mr Munshi but not anymore. Nowadays he looked forward to December. When she was gone his teatime with Mohon extended till ten. Sometimes, the shopkeeper came by to share with Mr Munshi packed lunches he brought from home. His wife made a delicious cauliflower dish.
Dada. Elder brother. Nowhere else did they call him that. In Calcutta he was always Mr Munshi or Babu. Only family and very close friends called him Anil or Anil-da. Usha’s sister still called him Jamai. But here, on these few blocks of Lexington, he was like everyone else––opening his shutters at nine, closing them at eight, seven days a week. He was open on Christmas, on Thanksgiving, on Durga Puja and Diwali. Such was the life of retail.
“Look, there comes Dada,” they would say as they saw him amble closer, from two blocks away. They had seen him here for almost twenty years, so long that he had become a fixture on the avenue, like the ancient signboards and the rundown buildings that were condemned by the city housing department. The very sight of his short, squat body, walking up and down Lexington Avenue, maintained, for them, a sense of order in this random world.
“Did Maya have all her food this morning?” she asked.
“Mostly. She didn’t like the carrots. She spit them on the floor.”
“She always does that with carrots.”
“She doesn’t like them.”
“No. She doesn’t like them at all.”
“But you could try mixing them with apple-sauce,” she added. “She loves that”
“Apple-sauce,” he repeated, slowly. He may have been writing it down. He had a bad memory and she always made him write out lists. Once she even made him a list of all the things she wanted him to do in bed. But he looked at her with disgust and said that’s not what he was—a toy that turned on and off at her bidding.
She liked silence nowadays. It was the music she strained to listen to, in this bustling world, the music most rare.
Here, the bodegas were simple, the sidewalks untouched by organic clothing stores, day care centers, fair-trade coffee and tapas bars. The disrepair was romantic, commensurate with the direction her life was headed. She liked that she could cross a river and start all over.
Sometimes, she feared there were no new beginnings for people like her—people with no real longing and this was just the second part of the same journey. Different mistakes, the same failure. What a shame people would say. She had so much promise.
Over time, her parents grew more poised and reticent. They were worried these days that like many of their friends’ children, she would come back home, demand coffee be brought to her bedside at noon. With all bold ambitions, the greater is the risk of failure. She would tell them this, What did you suppose? It was you who set me on the path of great expectations.
She practically heard the sky exhale. The headiness of victory.
No. The relief.
Only when you do good things can you look back and say– everything happens for a reason. Else, it’s all a waste.