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Tears come. I want to stand, scream, make an awful scene. I long for ugly, nasty rage.

The actor is ranting, flinging spittle. Give me a chance. I’m not finished, I can get back on the board. I tell that asshole, give me a real lead. And what does that asshole give me? Patels. Nothing but Patels.

This time Imre works an arm around my shoulders. “Panna, what is Patel? Why are you taking it all so personally?”

I shrink from his touch, but I don’t walk out. Expensive girls’ schools in Lausanne and Bombay have trained me to behave well. My manners are exquisite, my feelings are delicate, my gestures refined, my moods undetectable. They have seen me through riots, uprootings, separation, my son’s death.

“I’m not taking it personally.”

The fat man looks at us. The woman looks too, and shushes.

I stare back at the two of them. Then I stare, mean and cool, at the man’s elbow. Under the bright blue polyester Hawaiian shirt sleeve, the elbow looks soft and runny. “Excuse me,” I say. My voice has the effortless meanness of well-bred displaced Third World women, though my rhetoric has been learned elsewhere. “You’re exploiting my space.”

Startled, the man snatches his arm away from me. He cradles it against his breast. By the time he’s ready with comebacks, I’ve turned my back on him. I’ve probably ruined the first act for him. I know I’ve ruined it for Imre.

It’s not my fault; it’s the situation. Old colonies wear down. Patels — the new pioneers — have to be suspicious. Idi Amin’s lesson is permanent. AT&T wires move good advice from continent to continent. Keep all assets liquid. Get into 7-I IS, get out of condos and motels. I know how both sides feel, that’s the trouble. The Patel sniffing out scams, the sad salesmen on the stage: postcolonialism has made me their referee. It’s hate I long for; simple, brutish, partisan hate.

After the show Imre and I make our way toward Broadway. Sometimes he holds my hand; it doesn’t mean anything more than that crazies and drunks are crouched in doorways. Imre’s been here over two years, but he’s stayed very old-world, very courtly, openly protective of women. I met him in a seminar on special ed. last semester. His wife is a nurse somewhere in the Hungarian countryside. There are two sons, and miles of petitions for their emigration. My husband manages a mill two hundred miles north of Bombay. There are no children.

“You make things tough on yourself,” Imre says. He assumed Patel was a Jewish name or maybe Hispanic; everything makes equal sense to him. He found the play tasteless, he worried about the effect of vulgar language on my sensitive ears. “You have to let go a bit.” And as though to show me how to let go, he breaks away from me, bounds ahead with his head ducked tight, then dances on amazingly jerky legs. He’s a Magyar, he often tells me, and deep down, he’s an Asian too. I catch glimpses of it, knife-blade Attila cheekbones, despite the blondish hair. In his faded jeans and leather jacket, he’s a rock video star. I watch MTV for hours in the apartment when Charity’s working the evening shift at Macy’s. I listen to WPLJ on Charity’s earphones. Why should I be ashamed? Television in India is so uplifting.

Imre stops as suddenly as he’d started. People walk around us. The summer sidewalk is full of theatergoers in seersucker suits; Imre’s year-round jacket is out of place. European. Cops in twos and threes huddle, lightly tap their thighs with night sticks and smile at me with benevolence. I want to wink at them, get us all in trouble, tell them the crazy dancing man is from the Warsaw Pact. I’m too shy to break into dance on Broadway. So I hug Imre instead.

The hug takes him by surprise. He wants me to let go, but he doesn’t really expect me to let go. He staggers, though I weigh no more than 104 pounds, and with him, I pitch forward slightly. Then he catches me, and we walk arm in arm to the bus stop. My husband would never dance or hug a woman on Broadway. Nor would my brothers. They aren’t stuffy people, but they went to Anglican boarding schools and they have a well-developed sense of what’s silly.

“Imre.” I squeeze his big, rough hand. “I’m sorry I ruined the evening for you.”

“You did nothing of the kind.” He sounds tired. “Let’s not wait for the bus. Let’s splurge and take a cab instead.”

Imre always has unexpected funds. The Network, he calls it, Class of ’56.

In the back of the cab, without even trying, I feel light, almost free. Memories of Indian destitutes mix with the hordes of New York street people, and they float free, like astronauts, inside my head. I’ve made it. I’m making something of my life. I’ve left home, my husband, to get a Ph.D. in special ed. I have a multiple-entry visa and a small scholarship for two years. After that, we’ll see. My mother was beaten by her mother-in-law, my grandmother, when she’d registered for French lessons at the Alliance Française. My grandmother, the eldest daughter of a rich zamindar, was illiterate.

Imre and the cabdriver talk away in Russian. I keep my eyes closed. That way I can feel the floaters better. I’ll write Mamet tonight. I feel strong, reckless. Maybe I’ll write Steven Spielberg too; tell him that Indians don’t eat monkey brains.

We’ve made it. Patels must have made it. Mamet, Spielberg: they’re not condescending to us. Maybe they’re a little bit afraid.

Charity Chin, my roommate, is sitting on the floor drinking Chablis out of a plastic wineglass. She is five foot six, three inches taller than me, but weighs a kilo and a half less than I do. She is a “hands” model. Orientals are supposed to have a monopoly in the hands-modelling business, she says. She had her eyes fixed eight or nine months ago and out of gratitude sleeps with her plastic surgeon every third Wednesday.

“Oh, good,” Charity says. “I’m glad you’re back early. I need to talk.”

She’s been writing checks. MCI, Con Ed, Bon wit Teller. Envelopes, already stamped and sealed, form a pyramid between her shapely, knee-socked legs. The checkbook’s cover is brown plastic, grained to look like cowhide. Each time Charity flips back the cover, white geese fly over sky-colored checks. She makes good money, but she’s extravagant. The difference adds up to this shared, rent-controlled Chelsea one-bedroom.

“All right. Talk.”

When I first moved in, she was seeing an analyst. Now she sees a nutritionist.

“Eric called. From Oregon.”

“What did he want?”

“He wants me to pay half the rent on his loft for last spring. He asked me to move back, remember? He begged me.”

Eric is Charity’s estranged husband.

“What does your nutritionist say?” Eric now wears a red jumpsuit and tills the soil in Rajneeshpuram.

“You think Phil’s a creep too, don’t you? What else can he be when creeps are all I attract?”

Phil is a flutist with thinning hair. He’s very touchy on the subject of flautists versus flutists. He’s touchy on every subject, from music to books to foods to clothes. He teaches at a small college upstate, and Charity bought a used blue Datsun (“Nissan,” Phil insists) last month so she could spend weekends with him. She returns every Sunday night, exhausted and exasperated. Phil and I don’t have much to say to each other — he’s the only musician I know; the men in my family are lawyers, engineers, or in business — but I like him. Around me, he loosens up. When he visits, he bakes us loaves of pumpernickel bread. He waxes our kitchen floor. Like many men in this country, he seems to me a displaced child, or even a woman, looking for something that passed him by, or for something that he can never have. If he thinks I’m not looking, he sneaks his hands under Charity’s sweater, but there isn’t too much there. Here, she’s a model with high ambitions. In India, she’d be a flat-chested old maid.