Firoze Yazdani emerged from the kitchen, his round face damp from heat. Wiping floury hands on his apron, he said, "What is your pleasure today, my dear Perveen? The dahitan were fried an hour ago and are soaking in sweet rose syrup. And of course, there are the cashew and almond fudges, and the pudding and custard cups."
Because of her inward agitation, Perveen didn't think she could force anything sweet down her throat without gagging. At the same time, she couldn't walk away without a purchase. "I'm welcoming an old friend from England at Ballard Pier later on today, so I'd like you to pack me a small box of your prettiest dahitan."
"Most beautiful and sweet. Just like you!" Firoze's wide grin split his face like a cracked persimmon.
"By the way—did you serve a fellow from outside Bombay this morning?"
Firoze looked puzzled, but Lily spoke up. "We had a dark and grumpy customer with a funny accent. He bought a date-nut cake and some almond fudge. I told him he could sit at a table, but he went outside."
"He stayed outside for a few hours," Perveen said. "I asked him something, and he ran away as if I were a nasty British policeman!"
"Probably he arrived on the overnight train because he seemed quite tired," Lily reflected. "He asked in the funniest accent what time law offices opened up in this area. I said nine o'clock for most firms and half nine if it's the Mistrys."
"What are you doing giving out such information about our esteemed neighbors?" Firoze wagged a reproving finger at his daughter.
Firoze knew things about Perveen that he'd blessedly never disclosed. She could have said the name Cyrus to him, and his eyes would have flared with recognition. But she would not parade her past mistakes in front of his impressionable daughter. "That accent is a Bengali one. Now that Lily's described him, do you recall him?" she asked him.
The baker shook his head. "My cardamom dough needed attention, so I was in back. It's good that you told off that velgard!"
"A wise woman can catch trouble before it starts," Lily said as she tied a fine bow around the box of sweets. "Pappa, would you let me run your business later on, just as Mistry-sahib is doing with Perveen?"
"My father has hardly done that! He'll work for many more years, and I still must prove my worth." Perveen spoke sincerely; it was a heavy responsibility to be the only woman solicitor in Bombay. She couldn't bring shame on Jamshedji Mistry. This was why the stranger's presence bothered her—and the reason she wasn't going to tell her father about it.
BEHIND A CURTAIN
Bombay, February 1921
Back at Mistry House, Perveen handed off the sweets to Mustafa for safekeeping and gave a brief summary of the words she'd exchanged with the stranger, not mentioning Cyrus. She didn't want the garrulous Mustafa to ask any more questions. She needed to work.
Upstairs she opened the file cabinets to search for any documents relating to the late Omar Farid. There was plenty to wade through: property deeds, maps of land holdings, contracts with the government for the production of khaki drill cloth. She was startled two hours later when Mustafa knocked on the door to say lunch was served. Her father had just come in and was washing his hands downstairs.
She put the papers aside. "Did my father tell you the outcome?"
"He said he's hungry."
Perveen hurried down to the dining room, where her father was seated at the long rosewood table. Jamshedji Mistry was a trim, good-looking man of fifty with a thick head of graying brown hair. His most dominant feature—which Perveen had inherited in a slightly reduced version—was a beaky nose. Outsiders joked about Parsi noses, but Perveen loved their shared trait.
The two bent their heads and recited their prayers. Then Mustafa served up the lunch sent by John, the Mistrys' Goan cook. John had worked hard preparing lamb koftas, a tamarind chicken curry, a thick yellow dal with mustard greens, and caramelized rice. He'd also sent tangy vegetable pickles, fragrant wheat rotlis, and a tin of almond-honey brittle large enough to last a week.
Mustafa looked disapproving when Perveen requested smaller servings than usual, but her nerves had affected her appetite.