“I intend to betroth Fatima, the Maulvi’s eldest.”
“Fat chance. Do you know how many eligible suitors she has?”
“Maybe, but she has eyes only for me.”
“Is that so, preying in your own backyard, eh?” Fakir thumped Kemal’s back and leered at his cousin. “Quite the playboy, eh—we didn’t know you had it in you—you quiet operator!”
“Have you the dowry,” pressed Dawood.
“I do—enough that he cannot say no—I’ve been saving up for over three years, ever since I set my eyes upon her.”
“Yes, we can see you’ve been saving,” Fakir said, feeling the cheap cotton fabric on Kemal’s kurta.
“You don’t get it,” Kemal protested, rising from the bed, shaking off Fakir’s embrace, as it got sickeningly tighter. “The old man is going to call off the Eid feast because his goat is sto—made away by the faithful. It was during the feast he was going to give away Fatima’s hand in marriage to the suitors present.”
“You can wait till the next Eid.”
“No!” Kemal pointed a shaking finger at the cousins. “I want you both to come away with me this instant and tell the Maulvi—I had nothing to do with all this.”
The cousins roared with laughter. “Do not go into denial after burping the biryani, friend—and what are you worried about—no one will ever know.”
“Haji would know…and so would Ammi Jaan—the grocery store widow.”
“How,” the cousins cried.
“Because, as of this morning I told them I had 10 kg’s of mincemeat to give away.”
“You fool, what would you do that for?”
“Because I was so hungover from last night, I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember from where the meat came. I blurted it all out, in my innocence.”
The cousins glanced at each other in rising panic. Dawood grabbed Kemal’s arm and pulled him out into the sunlight-swept courtyard. Fakir closed the door behind them.
“We have nothing to do with the disaster you bring upon yourself, understand?” growled Fakir, his jaw set. Dawood began to twist Kemal’s arm slowly. “Yes, it is your own doing,” he snarled.
“Your fate—we’re not a part of it.”
“We did good by you—feeding you liquor and meat every weekend at your home.”
“That’s because you two can’t drink in your own homes,” cried Kemal.
“Exactly, we’re respectable family men, not bastards like you.”
With a jerk, Kemal freed himself of Dawood’s arm lock; “You used me,” he said, the pain bringing tears to his eyes.
“You let us.” Fakir began to push Kemal toward the staircase.
“We never met.”
“We don’t know who you are—we don’t even know if you’re fit for our company—for all we know, you aren’t even a Muslim.”
“Yeah, who knows—let’s find out,” Dawood leered, and lunged for Kemal’s pajamas; finding the cord, he tried to yank them down.
“Get lost, if you don’t want to go down the street naked,” Fakir said, restraining his cousin, who’d grabbed a hoe from the lavender bed. “Or before you too get butchered by my cousin here.”
“I trusted you, I welcomed you in my home,” Kemal wailed, backing away.
“We never met.”
“We don’t know who you are.”
“We don’t know what you speak of,” they shouted after him as he scampered down the stairs.
“What goat?” He could hear the yells and laughter as he tore down the street. “Go own up to your doing. Confess!”
People paused on the street hearing the cries coming from the rooftop, and hastily separated to make way for Kemal as he scuttled down the street with his arm across his face.