I climb in carefully from the passenger side. The swanky car smells as if it is barely out of the show room. What is she making as an estate agent? I wonder as I try some small talk with ever-smiling Nina.
“You didn’t sound so young, organized and efficient over the phone.”
Nina shoots me a sideway glance and shift gears with a veteran’s ease.
"Both sides of my family have an army backdrop. If that could be an explanation.” She turns the car into a side street and parks outside the apartment block.
"I have the keys,” she tells the uniformed security guard.
The elevator takes us to the fifth floor and she rings the door bell on 501. A short man with a paunch and powerful smell of Brute about him opens the door and says "hi" in a thin, precise voice.
I can’t possibly afford this, I tell myself as soon as I enter. The hall is larger than the apartment I currently live in.
"This way," Nina leads me to the terrace lined with potted palms and terracotta tubs of Marigold. "Nice view of the Jogger’s Park on one side, school compound on the other side. Plenty of sunlight from this side and excellent ventilation all over the place.
"One bedroom on either side of the drawing room," Nina says as we walk into the master bedroom.
Dusty furniture is stacked in a corner. The double bed is covered with suitcases and stacks of old COSMOs and Vogues.
I draw the velvet curtain to look outside.
Nina is right behind me. She knocks on the glass pane. "Air tight and insulated. No traffic noise. See?"
She takes me to another bedroom that too looks unused and dusty.
I check the night lights and taps in the bathroom. Then we walk over to examine the kitchen.
"Black marble platform, double exhaust fans and electric chimney. I know you like it," Nina tells me with a smug smile.
The short man with Brute smell reappears. He smiles a cryptic smile and lets us out from the drawing room.
“He has fifteen like this. He treats the real estate business as stock market. The cycle is longer, needs deeper pockets and steadier nerves, that is all. He has lawyers. Powerful friends in local registry and banks. He has a dozen agents like me who works for commission.” Nina informs me in the elevator.
“What do you mean?”
“He waits to sell till the market hits upper circuit. He buys whenever there is a slump. Every thing is safe. Legally protected, frequently funded by banks, marketed by experts like me,” Nina winks.
We are out of the compound gate now, standing next to Nina’s silver blue Skoda.
“I can drop you at the taxi stand on the way. When do you want to shift your household?”
I shrug, still very much non committal. “Eight million is way up for me. I can use a smaller apartment. We are just two of us, me and my husband.”
“Let’s talk in the car.” Nina turns the door key and climbs in. I follow.
Nina points at the apartment building as if it is Taj Mahal. “Look! This is made for you.”
“Can’t afford it.”
“I will knock off fifty grand or half percent from my commission. More discounts if you do something right.”
“I am not in a hurry really. Let the prices come down.”
Instead of starting the car, Nina turns sideways and looks in to my eyes. She is not smiling anymore.
“Your second cousin Joseph. How often do you meet?”
“Joseph Gonzales.... who works in some IT or telecom company? How do you know him?”
“Through his girl friend. Her name is Elsie.”
“I don’t know her.”
“Like Elsie, we are Ismaily Khoja, not more than five hundred odd family in this six and half million strong city. Our community is getting smaller because of too many marriages out side the cast, like Parsis.” She licks her lips, pauses to let it sink. “We are a smart, sensible, business community. We don’t fight. We don’t go to court. We have an informal committee that is much swifter than the government courts. We patch up, make piece and pull up, get help for each other.”
“That’s good but…”
“Elise is pregnant with your Joseph’s child and he has to marry her. Someone will put one fourth for your apartment if your Joseph says yes to the marriage proposal.”
“My Joseph?” I laugh nervously. “Two million for convincing my second cousin to marry the girl he has made pregnant? I don’t know Joseph all that well but I can try…”
“They can marry abroad. In the
it doesn’t matter if a woman bears a child six months after the marriage. They will be a happy couple, I know that for a fact.” US
“How do you know he is going abroad?”
“The company will send him. He will earn in dollars when most of them are accepting pay cuts or loosing jobs out there.”
“That’s nice but how…”
“Somebody owns twenty percent of the company Joseph works in. Things can happen.” Nina inserts the keys into ignition and releases the clutch.
I look away. An elderly man is walking out of the gate with a shiny
Labrador. The dog sniffs the ground and drags the owner behind him.
“Have you met Sheila Mukadm lately?” Nina spits the question at me.
“Sheila? How does she come in this?”
“Your maternal uncle’s niece. She has two adorable kids, third on the way, her husband is working in a five star restaurant kitchen…”
We are on the main road now.
“Yes, of course.”
“Her husband can lose his job, can get transferred to
, he can walk out on her…” Beijing
“Wait a minute, what is happening? That wasn't an arranged marriage for sure. They met during college, he courted her for five years for all I know. That was a love marriage. "
“This too will be a love marriage, your Joseph and my Elsie.”
Something is churning violently in my stomach and it probably shows on my face as I say:
“I love it. I want this apartment.”