Book: An American Brat
Feroza hugged the adventure of her travel to America to herself throughout the flight. As she hurtled through space, she became conscious also of the gravitational pull of the country she was leaving behind. Her sense of self, enlarged by the osmosis of identity with her community and with her group of school friends, stayed with her like a permanence -- like the support that ocean basins provide the wind- and moon-generated vagaries of its waters. And this cushioning stilled her fear of the unknown: an unconscious panic that lay coiled somewhere between her navel and her ribs and was just beginning to manifest itself in a fleeting irregularity of her heartbeat.
Feroza finally gathered the courage to ask a gray-haired woman, where she had gotten her cart. The woman hastily pointed out a shining caterpillar of stacked carts.
Feroza was struggling to extract one when a breezy young man inserted a dollar bill in a slot and calmly walked away with the cart. Feroza stared at the slot-box in bewilderment. When another young man in patched jeans hustled up with the same intent, Feroza stepped right in front of the box, barring access:
"It's my turn!"
The slight, sunny-haired youth's sneakers squeaked as he came to an astonished halt. Feroza realized how strange and rude she must sound. She caught hold of the cart handle. "I don�t know how to get this," she explained, half apologetic, half appealing for help. "Can you show me?"
The young man bent his sunny head to catch her breathy rush of words.
Feroza delved into her purse and fetched up a small wad of dollar bills of different denominations. She held them out for his inspection.
The lean young man's smoky gray eyes were appraising her with the kind of interest and candor that would have fetched him a bullet from any self-respecting Pakistani father.
Feroza lowered her lids in confusion and unwittingly acquired a haughty air. He was half a foot taller than her five feet four inches. He appeared to her a great deal taller.
Teasingly attempting to look into her eyes, aware of her embarrassment, the youth leaned closer. He smiled flirtatiously, warmly, and, talking in an accent she found difficult to follow but pleasing, showed her how to insert the dollar bill.
Feroza loaded her suitcases and hand luggage on the cart. Her mind was now filled with images of the slender young American and his candid, admiring eyes. How easily he had talked to her, his gestures open, confident. She wished she could have responded to his readiness to be friends, but she was too self-conscious.
That was it: the word she was seeking to define her new experience. He was unselfconscious. And, busy with their own concerns, none of the people moving about them had even bothered to glance their way or stare at her, as they would have in Pakistan.
Her wide-open eyes soaking in the new impressions as she pushed the cart, a strange awareness seeped into Feroza: She knew no one, and no one knew her! It was a heady feeling to be suddenly so free -- for the moment, at least -- of the thousand constraints that governed her life.
Holding the letter in her inert fingers, the obscene photograph having already fluttered to the bedroom floor, Zareen found it hard to breathe. That Feroza should have chosen to send this photograph, of a man with his legs bared almost to his balls, was significant. Surely she must be aware of the assault on their parental sensibility. A subliminal cloud of nebulous conjectures and a terrible fear entered Zareen's mind. She grasped the basic premise -- that Feroza was preparing Cyrus and herself for a change -- but a change of this magnitude? She was confronting the "unknown," and she felt helpless in the face of it.
Once she had scanned the first few lines of the letter, her vision became so acute, so superbly lucid, that she felt able to absorb all the crowded lettering on the typed sheet without once needing to move her eyes. She felt a dizzying rush of blood to her head and was as close to fainting as she'd ever be.
After a while Zareen became conscious of the servants chattering in the kitchen, the cook laying the table for lunch, and as the initial shock wore off slightly, the news, with its tumult of ramifications, settled deeper into her sinking heart.
Feeling drained of strength and feeling each one of her forty years -- she had crossed the distressing threshold the week before -- Zareen hobbled over to the phone at her desk, and dialed her husband's office. She heard Cyrus's preoccupied, "Hello," and a wave of relief swept over Zareen at the thought of transmitting her anguish. She began to cry.
"What's the matter?" Cyrus's panicked voice asked.
"I got a letter from Feroza," she said haltingly.
"Feroza?" Cyrus shouted, "What's happened to Feroza?"
Zareen blew her nose, swallowed, and with a supreme effort of will, suspended her weeping to gasp, "She wants to marry a non."
Cyrus found his wife huddled on their bed beneath the slowly rotating blades of the ceiling fan, her attractive eyes swollen, her elegant nose red. He gave her a commiserating hug and, pressing her beautiful head against his incipient paunch, scanned the letter silently. His eyes automatically focused on the significant sentences, the casual note their daughter had adopted stabbing his heart and guts like so many daggers.
Feroza wrote that she had met a wonderful boy at the University. Like her, he was also very shy. She had agreed to marry him. She knew they would be very upset, particularly her grandmother, at the thought of her marrying a non-Parsee. His parents were Jews. The religious differences did not matter so much in America. They had decided to resolve the issue by becoming Unitarians. "Please, don't be angry, and please try to make granny understand. I love you all so much. I won't be able to bear it if you don't accept David."
Zareen suddenly reached down, causing Cyrus's reflexes to jump at the thought that his wife had fainted, and retrieved the photograph with the tips of her manicured nails as if the image was contaminated by disease. She showed it to Cyrus.
Zareen's anxious eyes had already detected a sinister cast in her potential son-in-law's blue eyes, a profile that struck her as actorishly handsome, phony and insincere, and frivolous gold-streaked, longish hair. But what upset Cyrus most were the pair of overdeveloped and hairy thighs, which to his fearful eyes appeared to bulge as obscenely as a goat's as they burst from a pair of frayed and patched denim shorts.
"You'd better go at once," Cyrus said. "He can't even afford a decent pair of pants! The bounder's a fortune hunter. God knows what he's already been up to."
The last, an allusion to the imagined assault by those hairy thighs on the citadel of their daughter's virtue, was not lost on Zareen.