No Good Deed Un­pun­ished

The Iowa Review - - FRONT PAGE - Dinika m. amaral

Since you left to be­come an English ma­jor in the U.S. of A., things went bad, as Bom­bay has been over­run by Brit­ney Spears girls. Plaid minis, knee-high socks, shirts ajar be­tween the but­tons, sex­i­ness feign­ing in­no­cence. Straight­for­ward girls like us—who would never be­tray a friend—are not around any­more. Things also went bad be­cause of me, so I’m writ­ing to beg for­give­ness, one straight­for­ward girl to another. Your for­give­ness. Okay, okay, more TK. I’ve started cy­cling. While on a hunt for a Gate­way of In­dia post­card for you, I imag­ined you cy­cling by my side. I went fast and slow, ac­cord­ing to your cy­cle’s speed. Then, at the junc­tion near Re­gal Cinema, I lost you un­der a truck or a bus. Hey, Ti­tanic is com­ing to Re­gal next week. All Brit­ney Spears girls are ob­sessed with Leonardo Di­caprio. Think it’s worth get­ting aboard? My bike is new. An AT­LAS 300! Man oh man, it’s purple, and I got purple sun­glasses and shoelaces. I look awe­some on it. No­tice my “awe­some” and “TK” Amer­i­can­isms? On your note about fi­rangi teach­ers and sen­tence vari­a­tion . . . what­ever, man! Tell them the lan­guage of a good tale is im­ma­te­rial. Who says “tale” any­more? Back to my AT­LAS 300! Be­fore I lost you or reached the Hanu­man tem­ple, be­fore I even left home, I took the long way via Bad­hwar Park. Why, you ask? One word: Pitawich. Yes, let your mouth—filled with the bland cam­pus food there—wa­ter! I ate your fa­vorite, cau­li­flower Manchurian, and not mine, East West. I skipped our usual post-pitawich nariyals. But when I rode by, the Co­laba Cause­way nariyal man ran out on the street hold­ing a half-cut co­conut in his hands that fell, bounced, and rolled onto the road, barely miss­ing a bul­lock cart. Do we owe him money? Arre, you need to tell me. I mostly eat at home now, so I’ve no idea of our debts. Our old haunts make me lonely. I’m fail­ing physics. Another rea­son, apart from the klepto Brit­ney girls, I need for­give­ness. How to tell my dad I’m fail­ing? That I pre­fer il­lus­trat­ing to study­ing? Dad thinks I’ll be a doc­tor like my dada. Since my fluke 92 in maths, he tells ev­ery­one, “My fa­ther’s death caused a vac­uum in car­dio­vas­cu­lar medicine in In­dia. And the vac­uum will be filled by. . . ”

By no one. There’ll never be another like my grand­fa­ther. But I was happy to hear Dad boast to his friends, who usu­ally boasted about their Brit­ney Spears daugh­ters’ model­ing, TV, and Bol­ly­wood ap­pear­ances and what­not. You’re right. “What­not” is de­rived from the French étagère. But did you know it be­came an English word al­lud­ing to a piece of fur­ni­ture and then to bric-a-brac be­cause the Vic­to­ri­ans stored or­na­ments on étagères? I think merg­ing other lan­guages into English is why words have mul­ti­ple mean­ings. What say we merge some Hindi into English? Part of me was up­set. “Con­quer the world” and “With knowl­edge and love you can do what­ever you want” are ex­am­ples of dada-isms. Noth­ing about fill­ing shoes or vac­u­ums! For­tu­nately, Dad was trav­el­ing. Oh, with bro. Since bro mar­ried bhabhi, he has been in­cluded in the fam­ily busi­ness. As soon as they were back, I knew Mom and bhabhi would fight for bro’s at­ten­tion like hens over a cock. This would, I had hoped, buy me more time with Dad. Speak­ing of cocks, bhabhi said the most in­ter­est­ing thing to me: “The pe­nis is the ugli­est thing, but if you have it once, you want it al­ways!” Don’t be scan­dal­ized. I’m not say­ing we should be­come Brit­neys, or that bhabhi is one, but in the U.S. of A., sex is nor­mal, yaar, like go­ing to the bath­room. Amer­i­cans share their in­ter­est and lik­ing of it openly. And, be­cause you’re in America, we need to stop be­ing prudes, so—pe­nis pe­nis pe­nis pe­nis pe­nis pe­nis pe­nis! Bhabhi said this af­ter Mal­ibu Spice. Her friends were over. It’s crazy that America has fake IDS, keg­gers, mar­i­juana—or pot as they call it—and frat par­ties, but no Mal­ibu Spice. Don’t fly with pot; we have it here. A small joke, yaar. It’s okay to party and drink to un­der­stand the Amer­i­can way, the cul­ture, and the Amer­i­can peo­ple, but: “You have a choice. Say no to drugs!” I’m sur­prised Archie comics aren’t pop­u­lar there. Are Host­ess Twinkies as good as our red­headed buddy Archie says? The nariyal guy threw me off. Yet my AT­LAS 300! zipped through a foot of space be­tween a taxi and bul­lock cart, and I stopped out­side the blue Hanu­man tem­ple at the end of Co­laba Cause­way. Of all the gods, Hanu­man is my fa­vorite. Not be­cause of his mon­key face, but be­cause Dada told me Hanu­man’s tail set fire to Sri Lanka. I knew a sa­cred bindi mark­ing my fore­head would delight Mom. Then, the bells started ring­ing, and the priests started singing the bha­jans, and I saw the cows in there shit­ting, and I just wasn’t in the mood to smell it. In­side the shop, I looked for post­cards. Out­side, a band of naked chokras sur­rounded my parked AT­LAS 300! They chat­tered ex­cit­edly.

Some were bold enough to touch. I didn’t mind. Who wouldn’t want to touch my AT­LAS 300!? But if they’d tried mount­ing it, I would’ve jumped on them. I would’ve clob­bered their heads back into their ribcages. I’m not so dumb. Hands in the post­card bin, I squint with one eye­ball on the bin and the other on the chokras when a ran­dom fi­rangi man steps in front of me. Colo­nial­ism is over. Move! is what I want to shout, but what­ever, on with my stor...no, my TALE. I moved. He moved. I moved to the next bin. He fol­lowed. I looked up—scathingly, trust me—at his tanned, blond smile. “Do you know where I could get a busser root map?” What? you might ask. “What?” I cer­tainly asked. He re­peated it un­til I held up my hand and said, “A busser root?” He pointed to a bus out­side, and I got it! “Bus route” map. Then a bony chokra was rac­ing away on my AT­LAS 300! I dashed out. I chased, man. I al­most got run over twice. Un­will­ing to see my AT­LAS man­gled, I gave up. And then I cashed in all my good karma chips be­cause an old man, a real dar­ling as it turns out, hit the chokra on the back with his walk­ing stick! I ran straight to you-know-what. I held my AT­LAS 300! so close. I kissed the purple let­ters of its name, the purple-sil­ver bur­nish of the rest of it. Man oh man, I’ve never been more emo­tional. “You okay?” asked the un­cle. I nod­ded and took his name, Dr. Sainath Nay­yar. Dad al­ways says, “Never leave a good deed un­pun­ished.” The chase had led me to Scheherazade, the build­ing op­po­site Fariyas Ho­tel. It’s near Ashoo’s. Start Ashoo’s French lessons again? Il y a longtemps ou­blié le peu de français que j’ai ap­pris à l’école. Amer­i­cans hate the French, but they’ll love French from a sexy desi! Okay, here goes: as physics and my dad were the first of the three com­po­nents of my apol­ogy, so Mal­laika, who lives in Scheherazade, is the sec­ond. The good Dr. Sainath Nay­yar and I lit­er­ally bumped into this ul­ti­mate ooh babeh babeh girl. Mal­laika was do­ing a morn­ing con­sti­tu­tional she didn’t need, in a white T-shirt that wasn’t see-through un­til she de­cided to wear her BLACK padded bra. We—the good doc­tor un­cle and I— apol­o­gized. Then, we—mal­laika, the good doc­tor un­cle, and I—spoke for a bit. Then she in­vited me to her house for break­fast. Know­ing your sen­ti­ments, I hes­i­tated. Dur­ing the pause, the good Dr. Sainath Nay­yar bid us good morn­ing and left. As we watched him walk away, she in­vited me to break­fast again. I was tempted. Yaar, for­get break­fast, I needed wa­ter. I’d been cy­cling for over an hour. The sun was fully out. Mom was go­ing to kill me. She tells ev­ery­one I have “wheat-

col­ored skin.” Why do boys only need to worry about fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity, but girls have to be fair AND ac­com­plished? Hor­ri­ble dou­ble stan­dard. Still, out of re­spect for you, I held off ac­cept­ing her in­vi­ta­tion. Fool that I am, I de­cided to see if she’d changed, so I asked if she was game for a joke. “Al­ways,” she replied, with­out skip­ping a beat. Leav­ing my AT­LAS 300! in the care of Scheherazade’s chowkidar— who had a purple hand­ker­chief around his neck that Mal­laika said clashed with the khaki color of his uni­form but that I thought a good omen—we raced back to the tourist shop. From a dis­tance, my blueeyed fi­rangi spied us. I was right in my ear­lier as­sump­tion that none of the chokras or the shop­keeper would help him. Even if some­one knew Hinglish, be­lieve me, the fi­rangi’s ac­cent was so bad he wouldn’t have been un­der­stood. Mal­laika and I de­cided to jog the re­main­ing dis­tance be­tween us. We waved at him as we jogged. His face lit up. He waved. All three of us waved. Laugh­ter within our holy trin­ity. “Hel—” said I; “—lo,” said Mal­laika. We gasped for air, pro­long­ing the drama. “Hello,” he said. “You know where I could get busser route map?” “Sir,” I said, strug­gling not to gig­gle. “This is my friend, Mal­laika.” “Hello, sir,” she said. Again, hel­los made their way around the tri­umvi­rate. “Sir,” I said, “Mal­laika doesn’t know where you can get a bus route map ei­ther!” It was too funny, man. Think­ing of it, my stom­ach still hurts. My stom­ach also hurts think­ing of break­fast at Mal­laika’s. For chai, her mother gave me black tea with lemon. I called home so my mother could scream at me and then send the car. Still hun­gry, I in­vited Mal­laika to lunch at our fa­vorite restau­rant. Things only got worse from there on, so brace your­self. At In­dian Sum­mer, she or­dered veg­etable au gratin. If it sounds health freaky, take com­fort in the cheese. Gratin is all about cheese. Lately, she told me, the boys at H.R. dis­ap­pointed her. Who wouldn’t at a col­lege named Has­saram Ri­jhu­mal? She asked if Jai­hind had “cute boys.” I was like, “Hello, non-brit­ney here.” Not that she’d be into the braini­acs at my col­lege, man. Her not hav­ing a boyfriend left her to taxis or the bus, as she didn’t have her own car. I of­fered to stand in with my car un­til a suit­able au­to­mo­bile-own­ing boy pre­sented him­self. The next day she vis­ited me with a present—gum. It was im­por­tant to al­ways carry gum, claimed Mal­laika, for kiss­ing. Gum, not its in­ef­fec­tive cousin, mints. Take the gum out of your mouth, stick it some­where safe—waste not, want not.

Or it got swal­lowed, or pushed down your throat with a pas­sion­ate tongue. Kiss­ing with gum meant you tasted it ver­sus the ma­kee-outer’s spit. She’s made out at Lovers’ Point. In pub­lic, so close to my home! I won­dered if Mom, who takes evening walks there, would rec­og­nize her. That, yaar, would be the best joke. Rest as­sured, Mal­laika and I hang­ing out was not at all like us hang­ing out. You and I are of the same mind, the same per­son in two dif­fer­ent bod­ies. She’s to­tally dif­fer­ent. She’s tall. Her hair is glossy, straight, pitch black. She’s groomed with man­i­cures, fa­cials, waxes, di­ets, ex­er­cises. Plat­form shoes and skintight jeans or tights em­pha­size her model fig­ure. We are dumpy and pim­ply. We wear boy Levi’s, sneak­ers, and loose shirts. Although I did buy a white T-shirt and had bro get me a black bra abroad. NON-PADDED. Un­like you, Mal­laika and I have braces. They don’t stop boys from drink­ing in the river of . . . okay, bad metaphor, sorry. But give me points for try­ing, and while talk­ing to a writer in the U.S. of A., no less! It gives me hope that boys are not wor­ried about get­ting their lips or tongues cut on the braces, or about the food stuck in them. Per­haps one will kiss me. Ick, though—some­one else’s saliva. How will I han­dle a pe­nis in . . . okay, okay, TK, TK. Af­ter mar­riage. Maybe I am a prude too. In my bed­room I learned Mal­laika’s two ob­ses­sions. Cross my heart, I’ve never known any­one so ob­sessed with Leo. Ev­ery­thing was “Leo this . . . ” and “Leo that . . . ” She went mad on my Romeo + Juliet poster, kiss­ing his lips, lick­ing his teeth, his chin, his neck, ICK. With all her spit, it wasn’t mine any­more, so I had her roll it off the wall and keep it. She hugged and kissed me on both cheeks, of­fer­ing me, if I liked, kiss­ing lessons. “No way!” I said. “I’ll show you on the hand. We can wash it and it’s not per­sonal, if you’re afraid of . . . ” Here I’d given her a poster im­ported from Lon­don, and my re­pay­ment was be­ing called a coward. You know me. I am many things. But the one thing I am is COURA­GEOUS. Or, since we’re work­ing on pe­nis-lingo, ballsy. Au con­traire, you think, au con­traire dans l’ab­solu! I locked the door. We sat on the bed. I puck­ered up. It wasn’t too bad. She kept her prom­ise. Dry lips. No tongue. “You need a hair­cut,” she said, touch­ing my hair. I nod­ded. “I have to use spit,” she said. “Mouths are never to­tally dry.” When I nod­ded at that, she licked her lips. It made sense. I closed my eyes, ready again, though this time with a saliva twist. It was nice. Com­fort­ing. Her thumb rubbed my in­ner wrist and palm, which also felt good. For the next time, I wanted to try tongue.

But when you get to the end of this let­ter, you’ll see why another les­son is un­likely. In ad­di­tion to a cut-above-brit­ney bod and the choice abil­ity of teach­ing kiss­ing, Mal­laika’s a brainiac. When we ex­ited my bed­room, Mom rec­og­nized her from school and quizzed her about her marks. I felt the first twinges of jeal­ousy. Mom wanted us to study to­gether. The next day, a Fri­day, I was in her house for our study date and found out her other ob­ses­sion: choco­late. A typ­i­cal girlie thing, but Mal­laika could sur­vive en­tirely on choco­late. A mys­tery how she main­tained her fig­ure, given the co­pi­ous amounts of Amul and Cad­bury she im­bibed. Thank­fully, she has a flaw: acne. On her cheeks, chin, nose. It varies from ex­tremely red and bumpy like the skin of a jack­fruit to a slightly pink­ish ir­ri­ta­tion like prickly heat. A source of great woe, it makes her, her mother, her fa­ther très dé­solé. She’s had it since she was a child and her face was so fat you could put a school com­pass on her nose and go round! She asked me to ac­com­pany her to the al­ler­gist. Her mother got to go into the doc­tor’s of­fice with her. I looked wist­ful as she told me to sit in the wait­ing room, but she didn’t take my hint. It wasn’t a to­tal waste; in the mag­a­zines I saw pic­tures of skin bub­bles and Pilonidal cysts—you don’t want to know where these are lo­cated. The skin is the largest or­gan of the body, the sur­face with which we in­ter­face with the world, so how, de­spite her acne, could Mal­laika still be con­sid­ered, you know, sexy, a bomb­shell, you-name-it? Again the jeal­ous mon­ster in me raised its green head. They ran tests. On her arms and back. One-inch hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal in­ci­sions at a half-inch dis­tance from each other. Over a hun­dred in­ci­sions. They tested for ev­ery­thing: peanuts, mush­rooms, co­conut, fab­ric types. My mor­bid en­thu­si­asm, my cu­rios­ity, irked her. She had a fever for a cou­ple days af­ter­ward. I felt guilty and re­al­ized she’d be­come my friend. I couldn’t delight in her suf­fer­ing. In­stead, I ran a sym­pa­thy tem­per­a­ture my­self. “Milk?” I con­firmed when, two weeks later, I gave her a lift to H.R. Col­lege. I hung onto the gi­ant Toblerone that Dad and bro, who were back, got me from duty-free. Too bad about her lac­tose in­tol­er­ance. But—waste now, want later. I thought I’d take the Toblerone home. It had dif­fer­ent plans. We hit a pot­hole. Jump­ing out of my hands, it went un­der the driver’s seat. “Yup, no choco­late,” said Mal­laika, hav­ing emerged with my Toblerone. “And dahi, pa­neer, crepes, eggs, cheese, ice cream.. . ”

“I can’t eat any­thing dairy. Any­thing at all! Do you re­ally want me to name them all?” “I’m sorry you can’t eat choco­late,” I said, reach­ing for the gi­ant Toblerone. “That’s okay,” she said and be­gan open­ing it. “Nice hair­cut, by the way.” It’s no big deal. I tagged along when bhabhi went for a trim, and I got lay­ers. Okay, lay­ers and BANGS. There! I’ve told you. No Big Deal. They frame my face bet­ter. NBD. Speak­ing of Bs and Ds, what about Big D? Heard from him? I know he wasn’t your of­fi­cial boyfriend when you left, but are you two keep­ing in touch? Writ­ing, call­ing, or chat­ting? Read on, read on. That bas­tard is the third com­po­nent of why I’m writ­ing to beg for­give­ness. Any­one with an ICQ han­dle “Big D” has a small pe­nis. Noth­ing of his is big. Least of all his heart, man. And my best friend on earth de­serves a big-hearted, big-penised boy. Bhabhi feels that size doesn’t mat­ter, but for her friend, who got us Mal­ibu Spice from Dubai: “It to­tally does.” I don’t get the joke, do you? Ask your fi­rangi friends. Do they wear leather jack­ets like Brenda? I want one, man. How hot is Dylan? No! Bran­don is not hot­ter and never will be. To quote Def Lep­pard, mak­ing love to Big D will drive you, not him, crazy. Lov­ing him bites. Re­mem­ber our party in bhabhi’s empty apart­ment? I moved ev­ery­one out of the hall and left you two alone. Your face was so happy as you served him Maggi noo­dles. He didn’t eat. Tech­ni­cally, be­cause I came in. But he wasn’t go­ing to. No sooner than I en­tered, or even be­fore, he was stand­ing, and then he packed us all off to Jade Gar­den. He was above two-minute noo­dles. Noth­ing wrong with five-star restau­rants, but he’d never en­joy the sim­ple things, de­spite know­ing the big things. Or un­der­stand why, if there’s no heart in stuff, it’s no good. He’d never go to the Taj in pa­ja­mas. The hu­mor would elude him, as would the smiles of the ho­tel staff. Yaar, I would have eaten all the noo­dles you served me and would have asked for more! Wish you were here—we could keep prank-call­ing him. It’s too funny how he gets so worked up. If he were re­ally Big—d or what­ever aside— he’d laugh with us over the phone, af­ter re­al­iz­ing our prank. But, what­ever, I’ve been keep­ing an eye on him for you. I fol­lowed him in dif­fer­ent cars to en­sure I wouldn’t be made. I’m sure a self-in­volved prick like him wouldn’t no­tice me even if I was on my AT­LAS 300!, but I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him. And, be­cause Dad and bro were back and Mom and bhabhi were busy, I had four cars

to shuf­fle around. Okay, okay, no more stalling. In my shad­ow­ing of Big D, I made a mis­take. A big one. THE REA­SON things went bad here. I took Mal­laika along. For com­pany, but no ex­cuses. It was wrong of me. I’m so, so sorry. Please, your anger is jus­ti­fied, is right­eous, but . . . I got lonely, man, donc très soli­taire! I thought Ooh babeh babeh and I were friends and I could trust her. But I am dumb and I HOPE YOU FOR­GIVE ME. “I thought bangs would be dumb,” I said, strug­gling to check my bangs in the rearview mir­ror un­til Mal­laika with­drew a com­pact from her purse and gave it to me. “You sure you want to eat that candy bar?” I said. “Hmm? You’re right,” said Mal­laika, hand­ing me the Toblerone opened but un­touched. I felt its fresh­ness evap­o­rat­ing. “There’s this thing I need to do,” I said. “Want to come along?” I had to pay the nariyal guy. Dada al­ways said, “Never a bor­rower or a lender be.” When Mal­laika was there, street ven­dors treated us like princesses. I knew he’d be nice about the de­lay if he saw her. He was so nice, he re­fused money for the co­conut that fell when I’d passed by on my AT­LAS 300! “I’d keep the money if I were you,” said Big D to me at the Co­laba Cause­way nariyal stand. I was shocked to see him. But you know how that street works—as soon as we made the turn, he saw us. Still, I should have led us away. How­ever, at that mo­ment, I felt I couldn’t. His John Len­non–glasses friend, who can hack into Hot­mail, tried pay­ing for the nariyals Mal­laika or­dered. I re­fused. John Len­non was sur­prised and looked down. In my white T-shirt and black bra, I was flus­tered. Still, I couldn’t tell if he was look­ing at the ground or. . . not. “I think it means more to him than it does to me,” I qui­etly said to Big D and placed the notes on the ta­ble. The nariyal guy held them with his wet fin­gers be­fore they flew away. “Aww,” said Mal­laika, wrap­ping her arm around me. I leaned in. DIS­GUST­ING, I know. I’d be­come a Brit­ney. Reach­ing for her nariyal, Mal­laika told Big D to hand her a straw. “You don’t even know my name, and you want me to what with a straw?” he said, grin­ning evilly at her. His other friend, the short one, dark and with braces, snig­gered. “Fine,” said Mal­laika, huffily ex­tend­ing a man­i­cured hand. Big D quickly poked a straw into her co­conut hole. John Len­non strawed my nariyal and in­quired af­ter you.

“She’s fine,” I said and sipped. I should’ve asked Big D if he was keep­ing in touch, you know, to nee­dle him a lit­tle. But I couldn’t. There was some­thing in the way Mal­laika and he made eyes at each other and looked away in uni­son that made it im­pos­si­ble. I wasn’t afraid or em­bar­rassed about you. I am never em­bar­rassed about my best friend! On the con­trary, I take great pride in your awe­some­ness, in how lucky I am that you chose me for your best friend. In the at­mos­phere of the nariyal stand, I felt it would cheapen you to men­tion you. It would make you sor­did. So I si­lently drank up as quickly as I could and, as one shov­els dung or rot­ten garbage, shov­eled Mal­laika into the car. “Was that the thing?” she asked, pulling my hand out of my mouth. I frowned at her and re­sumed bit­ing my nails. “Har­bir, please fol­low them.” Har­bir did. Mal­laika com­plained. She never signed up for this. She never missed class. She felt you and I were crazy. I kept quiet. Then, when Big D’s car en­tered the odi­ous mansion his fam­ily owns in Worli, her tune changed. “Wait, is he the only son of . . . ” I swear there were dol­lar—no, not ru­pee—d$ll$r signs in her eyes. I dropped her off at H.R. and went to class at Jai­hind and then picked her up and dropped her home. Oh, I gave Har­bir the Toblerone. The golden tri­an­gles light­ing his eyes were deeply grat­i­fy­ing. They warmed me all the way home, where a storm had been brew­ing since mid-morn­ing. My report card ar­rived on the one day bhabhi had a den­tal ap­point­ment and was un­able to in­ter­cept it. Dad signed for it. He was so mad, yet he wouldn’t talk to me. He whis­pered things to Mom in their room. Bro, bhabhi, and I tried to eaves­drop, but we couldn’t de­ci­pher the words. Given this ten­sion, I couldn’t leave home for col­lege, or Ashoo’s, or Mal­laika’s, or Big D’s. Bound to my desk, I pored over my books, pray­ing Dad would walk in and see me. On the sec­ond day of Dad not talk­ing to me and ig­nor­ing me, I had one glass of juice all day. Mom tried to ca­jole me into eating lunch with her. But I wouldn’t. Fi­nally, in the evening, when Mom and bhabhi were strolling at Lovers’ Point and bro was out, Dad came home. His voice called me into the hall. Dad was sit­ting non­cha­lantly, read­ing the Times. Neatly ar­ranged on the din­ing ta­ble were fold­ers. He leafed through the news­pa­per, and I, through the fold­ers, which had all his prize cer­tifi­cates, medals, and report cards since the first stan­dard. Dad could have been a doc­tor, an en­gi­neer, an as­tro­naut. He could have, with his av­er­age of 98 per­cent, been any­thing. Dad CHOSE not to fol­low in Dada’s foot­steps. He wanted to be a busi­ness­man. To start

a tele­vi­sion net­work and ex­pand into other busi­nesses spurred by the profit of that first en­deavor. Dad’s is­sue with me wasn’t that I was fail­ing physics. “It doesn’t mat­ter to me if you fail ev­ery sin­gle exam you take, but it mat­ters that you aren’t try­ing.” I sniffed. My dad is as great as my dada. I just didn’t know him as well. It’s true, what he said. Lately, I hadn’t both­ered with stud­ies be­cause I missed you. Dad said that was no ex­cuse. “Peo­ple think desi women need to take care of their looks un­til mar­riage and then their hus­bands and the house while mak­ing ba­bies.” I knew Mom thought that, but he didn’t say so. And then he said what Dada had said many times to me: “You can do any­thing you set your mind to.” I cried, man. I sobbed. Even now, my eyes are wa­ter­ing. Dad ex­pects great things of me be­cause I can achieve them. “Not me, not your brother, only you can fill Dada’s shoes. You have his cre­ativ­ity. I had the work ethic, the brains, but no cre­ativ­ity. It takes all three to be a great med­i­cal prac­ti­tioner who rev­o­lu­tion­izes the field. You have all three.” We spent the next week study­ing. I re­took all the physics ex­ams of the year and aced them. Well, I didn’t even come close to his 98 per­cent, but I can hon­estly say I grasped the con­cepts and will be able to ap­ply them. Waves and vi­bra­tions will never tidally scare me again! Dur­ing all this, which went on for a cou­ple weeks, Mal­laika didn’t call. We didn’t talk all the time like you and I do, but ev­ery other day. I, im­pul­sively, made Har­bir go to Scheherazade. Mal­laika wasn’t home. Be­fore go­ing to Jai­hind—i’ve promised not to bunk classes again— Har­bir drove me by H.R. It was strangely quiet. We had sand­wiches from the guy out­side. Af­ter we washed them down with En­ergees, I went to H.R.’S gate and talked to the watch­man. In the evening, Mal­laika called. Af­ter gen­eral chitchat, she told me she’d been very busy. “With col­lege work?” “Yes.” “But I went by H.R. and learned the hol­i­day break for Di­wali al­ready started for you. . . ” “Oh, come on!” she snapped. “Are you stalk­ing me?” Of course I wasn’t. It was NBD, but she made such a Big Deal about it, I got sus­pi­cious. I be­gan stalk­ing her with in­tent. I parked my AT­LAS 300! be­hind the fruit ven­dor on the cor­ner right be­fore you en­ter Co­laba Mar­ket. You know, the one with the moun­tains of or­anges? I watched Scheherazade’s en­trance as the sun got brighter and hot­ter, beat­ing on me, dark­en­ing me; I knew Mom would con­fis­cate my bike. But what is the—hope­fully, tem­po­rary—loss of a bike, al­beit an AT­LAS

300!, when your friend, your best friend, is in need? “Noth­ing,” you would say. “A mere drop!” Dada would have said. Both of you’d be right. Also, I was de­ter­mined to get to the bot­tom of my hunch. A fancy black Cielo pulled into Scheherazade. The driver, in­vis­i­ble be­hind the cus­tom re­flec­tive tinted wind­shield, beeped his horn. Mal­laika, in tall shoes and a miniskirt, ran out, and—man, this is re­ally hard!—big D came out and opened the door for her. See­ing that was AW­FUL ENOUGH. But—sorry to have to write this, but you de­serve to­tal hon­esty—well, it promptly got worse. His arms en­cir­cled her Barbie waist. Her not-that-in­no­cent hands in­ter­laced at the back of his neck. Her thumb stroked his hair, his ear. I still hoped I was wrong. But then, she KISSED him, man! Right there, in pub­lic. Then, no “oops!” to it, she did it again. She pressed up against him. He kissed her; he cupped her bot­tom. She smacked him in a yeah yeah yeah yeah man­ner, and, while he held the door open, she laugh­ingly hopped into the pas­sen­ger seat. I was frozen, but my body acted of its own vo­li­tion. It mounted my AT­LAS 300! and rode it in the mid­dle of the road, in front of their Cielo. De­lib­er­ately, my ro­bot body went slowly. De­spite Big D blar­ing his horn, screech­ing his tires, com­ing re­ally close to my back wheel and al­most kiss­ing it be­fore brak­ing loudly—my body, perched on my bike, crawled. Con­sciously, yet un­con­sciously, I forced their car to go ac­cord­ing to the speed I dic­tated. In my head, a snarl: “You will yield to my AT­LAS 300!, DAMMIT!!” It sounds silly as I write this, but it was the great­est thirty sec­onds of my life: show­ing up that ooh babeh babeh whore and her small dick. As I cy­cled and my shoelaces made purple cir­cles in the air. It was like I wasn’t cy­cling on my AT­LAS 300!—rather, we floated as one piece. I can’t do it jus­tice. It was an in­de­scrib­able feel­ing. Surely life has a few of those? What­ever—the mo­ment will al­ways stand out be­cause it was so short, yet so fraught. As soon as I got home, I would burn the white T-shirt and black bra, I would throw the nail file and trans­par­ent pol­ish into the sea, I would get a boy’s hair­cut. But right then, in front of the mob gath­ered at Co­laba Mar­ket, I wanted to pull Mal­laika out of the Cielo and pound her into the pave­ment. In­stead, at the in­ter­sec­tion—you know the one, right past She­ma­roo video store—where Big D could turn and lose us, where he could free him­self of the dic­tates of me and my AT­LAS 300!, I paused and turned around. I slipped my purple sun­glasses down my nose. I whipped up my hand. I showed them my MID­DLE FIN­GER. And, be­fore they closed

their stupid mouths, I raced the wrong way up the one-way road lead­ing to Ashoo’s, so I couldn’t be fol­lowed. I’m so sorry, man. Please, please, please for­give me? Yaar, there was no way I could’ve known. There was no way I could have fore­seen Mal­laika’s ca­pac­ity for be­trayal. That a boy like Big D—who’d dump her as soon as the next best thing came along—would go for a girl like that over you? I’m sorry, I know you like him, but I’m glad his dick­ish­ness is out for ev­ery­one to see. And, most im­por­tantly, for you to see, but I’m hor­ri­fied it hap­pened this way. That I had to be the mes­sen­ger, the in­sti­ga­tor, the cat­a­lyst for this DISGUSTINGNESS. But you are right. She is a bitch. She al­ways will be a mega bitch. A back­stab­bing bitch. Her heart is blacker than the devil him­self. I was a mo­ron to be­lieve bet­ter of her for even a nanosec­ond. Death to all Brit­neys! Please say you’ll for­give me? You have to. You just do! Best friends have to weather life to­gether, man. And life brings us bad, good, ugly, and all sorts of mad mad things. Please, I beg you, please, mille moyens! Don’t leave me alone with the Brit­neys and their black­ness dis­guised as in­no­cence and light. I swear, if you don’t say you for­give me, I’ll have to hang my­self from the Gate­way of In­dia, as I’ve drawn in the fig­ure be­low. Yours hang­ing, as I wait to hear back.

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