Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating

Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating

Adiba Jaigirdar

To all the Bengali kids who grew up never seeing a reflection of themselves

content warnings:

This book contains instances of racism, homophobia (specifically biphobia and lesbophobia), Islamophobia, toxic friendship, gaslighting, and parental abandonment.

chapter one


I’M WRAPPED UP IN BIOLOGY HOMEWORK WHEN MY phone buzzes. Once, twice, three times before swiftly buzzing off the corner of my desk and into my bin.

“What the fuck?” I mumble to the air, shutting my biology book with a thud and diving into the bin full of nothing but used makeup wipes and torn-up pieces of paper. I didn’t know that my phone was a) that desperate to be trash and b) that sensitive to receiving texts.

To be fair, getting texts is not really something that I’m accustomed to, so I guess my phone isn’t either. It is, after all, a cheap three-year-old thing that takes at least a whole minute to load anything up anymore.

The phone is still vibrating when I finally find it. This time, with a call, of all things.

I don’t remember the last time I received a call. It was probably from Ammu or Abbu calling to let me know they would be home late or something. This time, though, the phone screen is flashing my older sister’s name: Nikhita.


“Ishu, thank God!” Nik’s voice sounds so weird over the phone—way higher than I remember it to be. Maybe it’s just been that long since I spoke to her. She left two years ago to study at University College London, of all places. Talk about setting the bar high.

Nik has been back exactly once since she waved goodbye to us at the airport two years ago, for a two-week holiday. She spent the whole time poring over her medical books before swiftly boarding her return flight with bloodshot eyes, looking as if she hadn’t been on a holiday at all. Such is the life of a medical student at UCL. She rarely even calls Ammu and Abbu, but they’re mostly okay with it because Nikhita is making the family proud. She’s making her dreams come true.

“Um, why are you calling?” I only register that it’s kind of a rude question when the words are already out of my mouth. The thing is, Nik never calls me. In all our years of being sisters, I’m pretty sure she has never called me once. She only occasionally texts me on WhatsApp when Ammu and Abbu aren’t available, to ask when they will be available. Never to have a chat with me, or to check up on me.

“God, Ishu, I can’t just call my little sis? Why did it take you so long to pick up?” Her voice comes across as frustrated, but I can sense something else there too. Some kind of nervousness that she’s trying to hide. What does perfect Nikhita have to be nervous about?

“I was studying. Leaving Cert coming up, you know?” She can’t have already forgotten about the state exams that decide what universities we get into.

“Oh, ha. Yeah, the Leaving Cert. Wow, I remember those days. Wish I could go back to that.” She wants to sound biting and sarcastic, I can tell. But it comes across flat. Like her heart is not quite in it. “So, um. Are Ammu and Abbu in yet?”

There it is.

“Um, yeah, I’m pretty sure they are.” I turn in my chair to face the window—it’s already pitch black outside. I was so absorbed in my work I didn’t realize that it’s well into the evening. The clock hanging up on my wall reads 8:33 p.m. “They’re downstairs, watching something on TV, I think.” I can hear the low hum of the television, the words of a Hindi natok floating up through the small crack in my bedroom door.

“Cool, cool. Well, listen. I really need you to do me a favor, okay?”

I sit up straight. A favor is definitely a first. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to respond to that. Should I demand she tell me what it is before agreeing to it? Should I demand a favor in return? Before I’ve made up my mind, Nik has already launched into what she needs from me.

“Basically, I’m coming back home for a few days to surprise Ammu and Abbu. But I left my keys with them last time I visited, so I just need you to let me into the house tomorrow after school. You can do that, right?”

“You’re surprising Ammu and Abbu?” I can’t wrap my head around the word “surprise.” You don’t “surprise” Bengali parents unless you want a thappor to your face. Not that Ammu and Abbu are the kind of people to go around giving thappors willy nilly—or ever—but still. Surprises and Bengali parents do not go together.

“Don’t say it like that.” Now Nik sounds offended.

“Like what?”

She sighs. “Never mind. Can you just help me, please?”

“You know it’s the middle of the school year, right? Why are you coming tomorrow? Is everything okay?”

“Everything is fine,” Nik says in a voice that suggests that everything is definitely not fine. I hope when she’s a doctor she’ll be better at reassuring her patients. “I just haven’t seen you guys in so long, and … I have some news. Will you help me or not?”

“Well, I’m hardly going to slam the door in your face.”

I can hear an exasperated breath on the line, as if Nik has been trying really hard to keep her exasperation to herself but I’ve made it impossible. “Okay. Thanks, Ishu. Um. I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.”

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