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Meet Sunny from Fatima Bhutto’s ‘The Runaways’

Far away in Portsmouth, Sunny fits in nowhere. It is only when he meets his charismatic, suntanned cousin Oz-whose smile makes Sunny feel found-that that he realizes his true purpose.
Here is an excerpt from Fatima Bhutto’s The Runaways that will introduce you to Monty!

Cricket had been the early love of Sunny’s life. It was a gentleman’s game, a slow, elegant sport that cultivated not only stamina in a player, but also subtle perception. But when his modest athletic scholarship to the University of Portsmouth came in, it was on the strength of his boxing, not his fast bowling, that Sunny had been selected.
Whatever his own personal failures, Sulaiman Jamil had always cheered his son’s successes. Sunny’s victories couldn’t come fast enough. First, a Bachelor’s degree from a marvellous university, next a beautiful job in a booming industry, then an office in the city, a Jaguar, a warm and loving wife, some children. Mixed- race, Hindu, Muslim, Sulaiman Jamil didn’t mind.
That was all Sunny ever heard at home.
Be someone else. Do something else. Be better. Fit in more, try more, work hard. Don’t get stuck in a dead- end job, don’t marry the first lady who comes your way, don’t be a slave all your life. Pa repeated his mantras, smoothing down his soft brown hair, its colour fading with age, absenting himself from his life’s own failures, transmuting his personal traumas into general advice.
I only want you to be happy, he told his son repeatedly. What father can rest until he sees his boy settled?
It made Sunny laugh, coming home from running in the park to see his pa sitting at the kitchen table, the acceptance letter with the second- class stamp propped up before him. The first time that he’d done right by him, it felt like. He would major in business studies for Pa too; he would have preferred Islamic history or even sports therapy, but there was no money in that, no future, Pa said. And a future was all a man really ever had.
‘My boy,’ his widowed pa, Sulaiman Jamil, sang softly when he held the thin acceptance letter in his hands. Sunny had left the envelope with the second- class stamp on the kitchen counter for his father to see. It was one of the few times he had sought his approval. ‘What a thing you’ve done . . . what a marvellous thing you’ve done . . .’ As though Pa knew all about the place, as if he’d got in himself. He hadn’t gone to university, only a polytechnic back in the old country, but his parents couldn’t afford it and, after a year, Pa was forced to drop out. It was a story he told Sunny over and over, embellishing the drama of his life with extra details in every telling.
It had been the first of his life’s tragedies.

‘Look at you now,’ Sulaiman Jamil smiled at his young son. This was the moral of the story: Sulaiman Jamil had fought the karma of his life to build something new, something better for his precious child, his only boy. ‘We did all right, didn’t we?’
Sunny nodded at his pa.
‘You and me, the two of us? We did good, didn’t we?’ Standing at the kitchen counter, Sunny watched his
father’s eyes fill with tears. He bowed his head and nodded once more.
‘You have a home, you have a city, a country even – a place in the world.’ Sulaiman Jamil’s voice broke with emotion. ‘You have a father who loves you. What more could your poor papa have given you?’
Just a moment ago, holding his University of Portsmouth John Doe acceptance letter, they were happy. Sunny was happy. He felt it. But it was gone now. Happiness didn’t hold. Nothing lasted very long for Sunny Jamil.
‘Nothing,’ Sunny mumbled, reaching out his arm to squeeze his old pa’s shoulder, massaging him for a moment, before leaning forward to embrace him. His pa. His protector, his defender. ‘I’ve got everything I need.’

The Runaways is an explosive new novel that asks difficult questions about modern identity in a world on fire.

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