Well, “dealing” with Ryan turned out to consist of three major pastimes (in order of importance): admiring Ryan’s scooter, admiring Ryan’s records, admiring Ryan. But though other girls might have balked at dates that took place in Ryan’s garage and consisted entirely of watching him pore over the engine of a scooter, eulogizing its intricacies and complexities, to Clara there was nothing more thrilling. She learned quickly that Ryan was a man of painfully few words and that the rare conversations they had would only ever concern Ryan: his hopes, his fears (all scooter-related), and his peculiar belief that he and his scooter would not live long. For some reason, Ryan was convinced of the aging fifties motto “Live fast, die young,” and, though his scooter didn’t do more than 22 mph downhill, he liked to warn Clara in grim tones not to get “too involved,” for he wouldn’t be here long; he was “going out” early and with a “bang.”
Pulchritude. From the Latin, pulcher, beautiful. That was the word that first struck Joyce when Millat Iqbal stepped forward onto the steps of her conservatory, sneering at Marcus’s bad jokes, shading his violet eyes from a fading winter sun. Pulchritude: not just the concept but the whole physical word appeared before her as if someone had typed it onto her retina–Pulchritude–beauty where you would least suspect it, hidden in a word that looked like it should signify a belch or a skin infection. Beauty in a tall brown young man who should have been indistinguishable to Joyce from those she regularly bought milk and bread from, gave her accounts to for inspection, or passed her checkbook to behind the thick glass of a bank till.
But the fact was Millat didn’t need to go back home: he stood schizophrenic, one foot in Bengal and one in Willesden. In his mind he was as much there as he was here. He did not require a passport to live in two places at once, he needed no visa to live his brother’s life and his own (he was a twin, after all). Alsana was the first to spot it. She confided to Clara: By God, they’re tied together like a cat’s cradle, connected like a see-saw, push one end, other goes up, whatever Millat sees, Magid saw and vice versa! And Alsana only knew the incidentals: similar illnesses, simultaneous accidents, pets dying continents apart. She did not know that while Magid watched the 1985 cyclone shake things from high places, Millat was pushing his luck along the towering wall of the cemetery in Fortune Green; that on February 10, 1988, as Magid worked his way through the violent crowds of Dhaka, ducking the random blows of those busy settling an election with knives and fists, Millat held his own against three sotted, furious, quick-footed Irishmen outside Biddy Mulligan’s notorious Kilburn public house. Ah, but you are not convinced by coincidence? You want fact fact fact? You want brushes with the Big Man with black hood and scythe? OK: on April 28, 1989, a tornado whisked the Chittagong kitchen up into the sky, taking everything with it except Magid, left miraculously curled up in a ball on the floor. Now, segue to Millat, five thousand miles away, lowering himself down upon legendary sixth-former Natalia Cavendish (whose body is keeping a dark secret from her); the condoms are unopened in a box in his back pocket; but somehow he will not catch it; even though he is moving rhythmically now, up and in, deeper and sideways, dancing with death.
“Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him. He lay forward in a prostrate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed either side like some fallen angel; scrunched up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him. A little green light flashed in his eye, signaling a right turn he had resolved never to make. He was resigned to it. He was prepared for it. He had flipped a coin and stood staunchly by its conclusions. This was a decided-upon suicide. In fact it was a New Year’s resolution.”
“I’m a Muslim,” said Samad, pushing a plate of pork away. “And my Rita Hayworth leaves me only with my soul.”
“Why don’t you eat it?” said Archie, guzzling his two chops down like a madman. “Strange business, if you ask me.”
“I don’t eat it for the same reason you as an Englishman will never truly satisfy a woman.”
“Why’s that?” said Archie, pausing from his feast.
“It’s in our cultures, my friend.”
Samad is a testy fellow.