Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating(7)

When I sit down to eat, though, I have to admit that it isn’t bad. It’s not quite as good as Ammu’s biryani—but she’s had years of practice, and Nik and I have had none. We’ve kind of outdone ourselves.

I’m bubbling over with pride and good biryani when Nik drops the bombshell.

“Ammu, Abbu …” she says. “I didn’t just come home to see you. I have some news.”

“Oh?” Ammu leans forward. No doubt, she expects something good: Nik has won an award, she has an internship, she’s somehow graduating early. Something worthy of a star daughter.

Nik takes a deep breath and says, “I’m taking a year out of uni. I’ve … met someone.”

Suddenly, it’s like someone has sucked all the air out of the room.

chapter four


“WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’VE MET SOMEONE?” ABBU asks, at the same time that Ammu shrieks, “A year away from uni?”

Everybody’s forgotten about the biryani now. It sits untouched in front of them.

Well, I haven’t forgotten about the biryani, but I can hardly dig in while we’re having a family crisis.

Nik isn’t looking at either of our parents. Her eyes are trained on her plate, like that’ll somehow dig her out of this hole. Of all of the bad news I could have imagined Nik sharing, I would have never imagined this.

“It’ll just be for a little while,” Nik says. “We’re … I mean, we’ve been seeing each other for a while. And … well, we want to get married, and I can’t really study and manage wedding planning at the same time. And—”

“Are you pregnant?” Ammu interrupts. “Is that what this is about?”

“No!” Nik finally looks up, and I can see unshed tears in her eyes. Confessing all of this must really be taking a toll on her. Seeing her like this sends a little pang through my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nik cry before. Maybe when we were kids, but not in years and years. Nik is made of stone. Nik is invincible.

At least, that’s what I used to think.

“I just …” Nik mumbles slowly. “Isn’t that something you want from me? To get married and start a family? Isn’t that what you did, Ammu?”

Ammu shakes her head, even though that is what she did. She got married just before her final year of university, barely pulling it together to scrape a pass in her final exams. She’s only ever used her degree to help Abbu with his grocery shop—never to find a job that’s all her own. She’s always wanted more from us. Both Ammu and Abbu always have.

“Not yet,” Ammu says. “You’re at UCL, Nikhita. You’re studying medicine. This is your dream. You can’t give it up for some man who obviously doesn’t want you to achieve your dreams if he’s asking you to take time off.”

“He’s not asking me.” Nik’s voice is firm now. “I’m the one who wants to take time off. I … I need it for myself. For us. We’re getting married. It’s a big commitment. It’s a lot. And taking time off, it’s not forever. Just a year, and then I’ll go back. It’ll be like I was never gone. I promise.” There’s a whine in her voice as if she’s a child asking her parents for a birthday present, not an adult who is apparently about to get married.

Shit, Nik is about to get married.

“Who is this guy?” Abbu demands. “Some Londoner?”

Nik shakes her head. “His name is Rakesh. He’s Indian too. He graduated with his engineering degree last year.”

I look to Abbu and Ammu. Surely, an Indian engineer will make them satisfied, if not happy. You can’t really ask for much more, can you? Nik chose the kind of guy that Abbu and Ammu would have chosen for her. Still, my parents are wearing twin expressions of disgust, like Nik has just told them she was planning to marry a shada guy with no prospects.

“I can’t believe after everything we’ve done to make sure you get into a good university, to make sure you get the best education …” Abbu trails off, shaking his head. He stands, his chair scraping loudly against the tiles of the kitchen floor. For a moment, he looks at Nik like he has more to say, before turning around and storming up the stairs. Ammu follows after him a minute later.

Nik just sits in her chair, silent tears sliding down her cheeks. I don’t know what to say or do.

How could Nik be so … foolish? How could she come here after months and months and declare that she is going to leave uni to get married? Why would she leave uni to get married?

“They’ll … come around,” I offer, placing my hand on Nik’s shoulder in what I hope is a soothing gesture. She shrugs me off, like my touch burns her.

“They won’t,” she says. “God, I don’t know why I thought there was even a chance they’d understand.”

“It’s big news,” I say defensively. “You can’t really blame them for being angry. You’ve worked so hard to get into UCL, and to throw that away—”

“I’m not!” Nik exclaims. “I said … I said I’d go back and finish the degree. Just … right now isn’t … it’s not a good time. I need time …” It sounds more like she’s trying to convince herself than me.

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