Ro Krishna crouched on a white wooden dock and peered into the rapidly darkening Harrington Sound. Then he straightened his back and looked up at the fading sky. He didn’t have much time. He slipped noiselessly into the water. He’d dive another day.

The water was the same temperature as the air, like in a sensory deprivation tank. He backstroked toward a large raft anchored a short distance away. Clambering on, he flopped onto his back and crossed one leg over the other at the knee. He placed his hands behind his head and lay on his back with his eyes open, studiously turning his mind blank. Ro had once read that soldiers managed to get through war by turning their minds blank. He was now uncommonly good at this, as he had been at war for some time now.

He lingered on the raft, looking at the first stars of the evening, deliberately cutting it close.

Finally, he lowered himself into the now-inky water and swam back to the dock. Pulling on his “Surf Leucadia” T-shirt, he padded barefoot up the hill. As the large Colonial-style house came into view, he saw that preparations for the party had advanced significantly while he was in the water. At least two bars were now set up on the lawn. A peculiarly international selection of food trucks had formed a queasy circle. Several people were struggling to set up a bouncy castle that was clearly too large for the space it was meant to occupy.

Ro continued up the path and entered the house via an inconspicuous side door. Walking into his room, he picked up the watch on the bedside table and saw he still had thirty minutes to get ready. He would be all right.

A shower first. He took off his T-shirt and his navy blue swim trunks. As he walked toward the bathroom, his eyes fell upon his phone, lying on the bed. He picked it up to give it a cursory glance, and then he froze. There were an unusual number of notifications, in an unusual number of ways: texts, emails, several missed calls. Other messaging apps. He decided to begin with his emails and scrolled down to the earliest unread message.

And then time stopped. Ro stared into space, his eyes vacant, his mouth hanging open. His phone dangled from his hand.

Post-shower, still towelling his hair, Ro stood in front of the closet and evaluated his options. A 40th birthday party in Bermuda in the shoulder season was a minefield in terms of attire and, whether innocently or mischievously, Rollo had not given a dress code. Every event had a theme, Ro mused. Sometimes overt, sometimes covert. He would have to figure out tonight’s theme by himself.

Fortunately, he now had all the time in the world.

The shirt he eventually chose was plain white cotton except for its collar, onto which rocket ships, rainbows, and snakes were embroidered whimsically, ostensibly justifying the shirt’s equally whimsical price. But the lower half of his body remained a problem. None of his jeans or trousers seemed right. Then his eyes fell upon a pair of sky-blue Bermuda shorts tossed over a chair.

When in Rome.

Ro added a grey-blue woven leather belt and grass-green suede moccasins. Buckling on his father’s old gold-and-steel Cartier Panthère watch, Ro looked in the mirror and nodded. With regards to the theme, he was fairly sure he’d nailed it.

Leaving the room, he turned to the left, walked two feet, then knocked on the next door.

“Come in,” a familiar voice said.

Connie was Ro’s best friend from college. She sat at a table looking into a mirror, applying makeup, her hair up in a loose chignon. She wore an emerald green dress made of pleated silk faille. The room was chaotic. Connie’s shoes were splayed gorily all over the floor of the closet. “Will you grab the gold ones?” Connie asked, applying mascara. “No, not those. The strappy ones.” Ro silently handed them over.

She placed them on the floor. Once she was done with her eyes, Connie stood up, turning her back to him. She picked up a bottle of perfume, spritzed some – Samsara, by Guerlain, although Ro didn’t know that – into the empty air in front of her, and walked into the cloud. Then she sat down on the bed and began to fasten her shoes.

“Can you hand that over?” she said, pointing to a fabric pouch Ro had bought for her in Bhutan. Opening it, she pulled out what seemed to be yards of gold and began to arrange them around her neck. The necklace was an improbably long Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra chain made of gold, mother-of-pearl, malachite, and onyx. Connie saw Ro’s admiring look in the mirror. “My mother’s. It’s from the 70s. Can you help?” Ro fastened it for her.

“Oh, I almost forgot.” Connie unpinned the chignon, shook out her long, dark, lustrous hair, and stood up. She took a shopping bag out of the closet. “Rollo’s present. Want to see?” Carefully untying the brown ribbon, she opened the orange box to reveal a large green travel wallet. “Dartmouth green,” she said, satisfied.

Ro just smiled.

“Let’s go,” Connie said, picking up her bag. She caught Ro’s eye in the mirror and sighed. “Ugh. You have the best hair.”

Ro smiled again, shrugging.

It was true.

He did have great hair.

Excerpted with permission from Death in the Air, Ram Murali, Penguin India.