On one side of Karachi lives Monty, whose father owns half the city. But Monty wants more than fast cars and easy girls. When the rebellious Layla joins his school, he knows his life will never be the same again…
Here is an excerpt from Fatima Bhutto’s The Runaways that will introduce you to Monty!
During the summer, Papa spent about two weeks with the family in their Sloane Street flat, before work called and
he had to return to Pakistan or China or Saudi Arabia for meetings. Even though he spent his evenings having drinks with business associates or else on conference calls, pacing through the park with his earphones connected to his phone, disturbing the birds, it was the most time Monty and his father spent together in any given year.
When Monty was ten, Papa had taken him to Windsor Park and driven through the animals with the radio on Kiss FM, humming along to all the summer hits while Monty cowered in the back seat as lions and baboons circled the car. ‘Sit up, Monty,’ his father ordered, ‘look at the beasts! It’s like being on safari in Africa!’
Monty could see them just fine from where he sat, glued against the door of their rented car so that the animals couldn’t see his head in the window, but he would attempt a straightening- up, first making sure that his seatbelt was secure.
‘Can you see the lions? Can you see them from there?’
Yes, Monty would assure Papa, yes – you could see them a mile away, you could smell their muddy, earthy, dirty- skin scent even with the windows closed.
‘Be brave, beta,’ his father eventually snapped, ruining their father– son day without stopping to consider that Monty was being brave. He had been using his reserve tank of brave to get through the safari park where animal roamed free all day.
The next summer they didn’t go back to Windsor, but to Centre Court at Wimbledon. Monty watched Roger Federer play. He had nurtured a feverish crush on Anna Kournikova, with her short white skirts and tanned, endless legs, but she no longer played, not at Wimbledon at least. The sun – rare for London – had given Monty a migraine and he spent the day trying to hide it from his parents, who drank Pimm’s – even Mummy, because Papa told her there was no alcohol in it – and ate strawberries and cream like real English people.
Everything Monty knew about culture he had learned in London. Watching plays in the West End, eating fine food in Mayfair, watching his father buy tailored suits on Savile Row and feeling not pride, but confidence, when he saw his father step out of a dressing room in expensive cloth cut to his precise measurements. Akbar Ahmed stood with his arms spread akimbo, like the Rio Jesus, while a whitehaired English tailor adjusted his cuffs, stepping back admiringly, before bending to his knees to attend to the fall of the elegant charcoal- black silk trousers.
When he was eighteen, Papa said, he would bring Monty to Anderson & Sheppard for his first bespoke suit. Until then, Monty had to study and work hard and make his father proud. The rewards would follow – nothing could be denied to a man who faced his responsibilities head- on. Nothing could be denied to a man who upheld the honour of his family’s name.
This summer, the summer Monty turned seventeen, Akbar Ahmed couldn’t find the time to spend with his son. There was no boating in Regent’s Park, no steaks at The Wolseley, no strawberries and no Pimm’s. I’m busy, was all Papa said, can’t make it. Tomorrow, day after, at the weekend.
But Monty had walked by Ladurée, behind Harrods, and seen Papa sitting outside under a pale- green umbrella, sipping an espresso by himself, just watching the world go by. He hadn’t looked very busy then. Monty paused, standing on Brompton Road, and wondered whether he should approach his father, whether he should walk across the street and join him, sitting down for a coffee, but Papa looked so happy, so content, sitting at his table alone that Monty bowed his head so his father wouldn’t see him and walked back home without saying anything.
The Runaways is an explosive new novel that asks difficult questions about modern identity in a world on fire.