Mr Das picked up a handful of pistachios while looking around the lounge and tossed them into his mouth. He also sputtered as the shells hit his teeth and poked the inside of his mouth. He spat them out into a napkin.
“They could at least shell the nuts,” Mr. Das said.
“Why did you agree to be on the same flight?” Tina asked, placing her glass down. “And why are you wearing a turtleneck? Don’t they give you headaches?”
She picked up the remaining origami swans and crushed them all into a ball.
“Your mother booked my ticket as well and she thought it would be nice for all of us to be on the same flight and who am I to argue? I’m wearing a turtleneck because Esquire says it’s dignified and makes men look more intelligent,” Mr Das said.
He picked up the ball of crushed swans and tried separating them and pressing out the wrinkles. “He might look good but there’s no way a restaurant manager can afford a business class ticket to India, let alone one for her as well. But how on earth does his gray hair make him look so dignified?”
“Ma probably paid,” Tina said.
“Exactly,” Mr. Das said. “With my money.”
“You don’t pay alimony,” Tina said.
“Not my money exactly but family money, Tina,” Mr Das said.
“Why are you swinging your arm?” Tina asked, noticing her father swaying his right arm off the side of his chair.
He lifted his wrist to Tina and said, “Fitbit.”
He had bought a Fitbit last week but discovered that it tracked steps based on movement so he had been keeping his arm swinging even when he wasn’t walking in order to increase his step count. Figuring out how to maximise his step count while minimising the number of actual steps he took was more challenging than just walking around endlessly.
Maybe he would buy one of those mobiles they give infants to keep them occupied and attach his Fitbit to it. But that movement might be too smooth to register as steps. What he needed was one of those large clocks like his family used to have in Calcutta with a swinging pendulum.
“Marianne,” he said. “How have you been? Where is your skinny little husband? Tell him to come along. He can still hop on a flight tomorrow and be there for the fun parts.”
“Just boyfriend,” Marianne said. “Not husband. And I can’t imagine Shefali would be too happy about having to rethink the seating arrangements last minute.”
Tina and Mr Das laughed.
“Marianne. Sometimes I genuinely forget how white you are,” Tina said. “Seating arrangements? There ’s going to be over a thousand people at this wedding. Nobody’s sitting anywhere.”
“You know, for our wedding, the invitation card said You and your friends and family are invited to celebrate. I didn’t recognise more than half of the guests at our wedding,” Mr Das said. “Book that fellow a flight. I like him. Tina, that’s the kind of man you need to meet. Marriage material – isn’t that what your generation says?”
“I don’t need any kind of man, Papa,” Tina said. “Isn’t that how you raised me? Not to need a husband or a boyfriend.”
“Everyone has a boyfriend,” Mr Das said, no longer listening. “Even your goddamn mother. Sorry, I meant, even your lovely mother. Not just his chest, even his shoulders are broad. Do you think he lifts weights?”
Mr Das twisted around in his chair to look at his ex-wife and her boyfriend again. He raised his glass at them and smiled, and David waved energetically while Radha nodded gently in his direction. Mr Das swivelled back around and had a large gulp of prosecco.
“You’re being awfully nice,” Tina said. “Are you seeing a therapist?”
“No therapists for me, Tina. Living with your mother all those years was enough. I’m sure her patients get a lot from her but I personally am sick of being analysed. That’s for David Smith to deal with now.”
“Then why the sudden generosity, Uncle?” Marianne said.
“Marianne, I like that you call me Uncle. You’re an honorary Indian,” he said.
He pulled at his collar.
“It’s hot in here. Is anyone else hot? This turtleneck is giving me a headache. Do either of you have Tylenol in your purse?”
“It’s so hot in here,” Radha said to David at the opposite end of the lounge, near the big windows. She took off her Eileen Fisher black cardigan under which she was wearing a black, sleeveless tunic top over a pair of black leggings. While planning what to wear for the journey, she had googled “best travel outfits” and scrolled through a slideshow of celebrities in airports. How did women travel in such tight jeans and high heels?
“How do I look?” she asked David. She hadn’t had her arms bare outside a beach or a bedroom in nearly two decades and the skin on her shoulder was wrinkled in a way no models in magazines ever wrinkle but it didn’t matter. Let young people waste time worrying about their bodies, their perfect bodies – she was happy with this one, wrinkles and all, especially sitting here right now drinking a glass of wine with David.
“Beautiful,” David said. “Better than anyone else in this entire airport.”
This was exactly why she could never trust David’s compliments. If she had asked Neel the same question, he would have looked at her, really looked at her, and said, “None of us can compete with the youngsters anymore but you look quite good for your age. I don’t know why you always complain about your upper arms – they’re only slightly big for your body.”
But David always took compliments too far – she knew perfectly well that she didn’t look better than young people, and by saying that she did, he undid the compliment. Never mind. The bare arms were not about him, they were about herself.
It was what she told all her clients all the time – needing external validation is risky. She glanced quickly at her husband – ex-husband – sitting there talking to their daughter and her best friend. Why was Neel swinging one arm continuously? She noticed the Fitbit on his wrist. Right, his step count.
David, meanwhile, was flipping through a guidebook on India. On the cover there were three poor children smiling and showing teeth so white you’d think they belonged in Hollywood.
“Let’s go sit with Tina and the others,” Radha said to him.
“May we join you?” she asked as they approached Tina, Marianne, and Neel. How silly to be so formal with her own daughter and ex-husband.
“Of course,” Mr Das said. “Come, come. Have a seat. Nice to see you, David Smith. Radha, I was just telling the girls here that I am following in your footsteps. I have met someone. Well, I have met some- one over email and I am about to meet her in person.”
Tina drained the rest of her drink.
“Meera and Rakesh introduced me to this woman in East Delhi who runs a matchmaking agency for widows,” Mr Das was saying. He turned to David and added, “Meera and Rakesh are Shefali’s parents, David Smith. Meera is my sister. They’re the ones paying for all of our rooms at the club. Yours as well. You probably know that. Anyway, this Mrs Ray has clients all over Delhi and even the United States and I think maybe Singapore now. And she introduced me to Mrs Sethi and we ’ve been in touch over email these past few months.”
“I have to use the bathroom,” Tina said, and she got up and walked away from the group.
Now her father was going to start dating. And he was discussing it so openly. She stood near the bar and looked back toward her father, still alternately tugging at the neck of his turtleneck and swinging his arm, speaking to her mother and David.
“You aren’t a widow,” Radha said, slightly more softly, perhaps, than she had intended.
“Widower,” David said. “Male widows are called widowers. But there’s so few nobody even uses the right term for them.”
Mr Das looked over at David and nodded. Smart man.
“He is correct,” Mr Das said. He lifted his glass in appreciation and continued.
“And you are correct as well, Radha. I am not a widower; you aren’t dead. But there are so few male widowers that Mrs Ray also works with male divorcés. Not female ones, though, so, Radha, you’re out of luck.”
“It sounds like a scam,” Radha said. “And I have David; I don’t need some strange matchmaker in East Delhi.”
“Of course,” Mr Das said. “Anyway, this Mrs Sethi seems absolutely lovely.”
Even though he was playing it cool now, Mr Das had also been rather surprised when his sister suggested this. But the world was changing, Mr Das thought. He had been so embarrassed by the idea of divorce at first, thinking Indians didn’t get divorced unless they were academics or artists, but clearly India had been changing behind his back if a widowed woman was running a matchmaking agency for widows and divorcés in Delhi.
Excerpted with permission from Destination Wedding: A Novel, Diksha Basu, Bloomsbury.