A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry Read Free Book Online

Book: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rohinton Mistry
always rely on him for entertainment.”
    The lights dimmed, and the two performers appeared on stage to scattered applause. “By the way, I’m Rustom Dalai,” he said, leaning closer and holding out his hand while the flute received the piano’s silver A and offered its own golden one in return.
    She whispered “Dina Shroff” without taking his hand, for in the dark she did not immediately notice it being held out. When she did, it was too late; he had begun to withdraw it.
    During the interval Rustom asked if she would like coffee or a cold drink.
    “No, thank you.”
    They watched the audience in the aisles, bound for the bathrooms and refreshments. He crossed his legs and said, “You know, I see you regularly at these concerts.”
    “Yes, I enjoy them very much.”
    “Do you play yourself? The piano, or —?”
    “No, I don’t.”
    “Oh. You have such lovely fingers, I was sure you played the piano.”
    “No, I don’t,” she repeated. Her cheeks felt a little hot, and she looked down at her fingers. “I don’t know anything about music, I just enjoy listening to it.”
    “That’s the best way, I think.”
    She wasn’t sure what he meant, but nodded. “And what about you? Do you?”
    “Like all good Parsi parents, mine made me take violin lessons when I was little,” he laughed.
    “You don’t play it anymore?”
    “Oh, once in a while. When I feel like torturing myself, I take it out of its case to make it screech and wail.”
    She smiled. “At least it must make your parents happy, to hear you play.”
    “No, they are dead. I live alone.”
    Her smile collapsed as she prepared to say she was sorry, but he quickly added, “Only the neighbours suffer when I play,” and they laughed again.
    They always sat together after that, and the following week she accepted a Mangola during the interval. While they were in the lobby, sipping from the chilled bottles, watching moisture beads embellish the glass, Mr. Toddywalla came up to them.
    “So, Rustom, what did you think of the first half? In my opinion, a borderline performance. That flautist should do some breathing exercises before he ever thinks of a recital again.” He lingered long enough to be introduced to Dina, which was why he had come in the first place. Then he was off, gambolling towards his next victims.
    After the concert Rustom walked her to the bus stop, wheeling his bicycle. The departing audience had their eyes on them. To break the silence she asked, “Are you ever nervous about cycling in this traffic?”
    He shook his head. “I’ve been doing it for years. It’s second nature to me.” He waited for her bus to arrive, then rode behind the red double-decker till their ways parted. He could not see her watching him from the upper deck. She followed his diminishing figure, her eyes sometimes losing him, then finding him under a streetlamp, travelling with him till he became a speck that only her imagination could claim was Rustom.
    In a few weeks the concert regulars came to regard them as a couple. Their every move was viewed with concern and curiosity. Rustom and Dina were amused by the attention but preferred to dismiss it in the same category as Mr. Toddywalla’s antics.
    Once, on arriving, Rustom looked around to find Dina in the crowd. One of the first-row sisters immediately came up to his elbow and whispered coyly, “She is here, do not fear. She has just gone to the ladies’ room.”
    It had been raining heavily, and Dina, soaked, was trying to tidy herself up in the ladies’ but her tiny hanky was not equal to the task. The towel on the rod looked uninviting. She did the best she could, then went out, her hair still dripping.
    “What happened?” asked Rustom.
    “My umbrella was blown inside out. I couldn’t get it straight quickly enough.”
    He offered her his large handkerchief. The significance of this proposal was not lost on the observers around them: would she or wouldn’t she?
    “No, thanks,” she

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