The Henna Wars(10)

My phone pings in my purse. I root around for it only to find a WhatsApp message from Priti. I turn to give her a questioning look. She smiles cheekily and gestures that I should read it.

For a moment I think she’s being nice, though that’s obviously more than I should expect from my little sister. Three photos load from the wedding, all of me and Flávia on stage with Sunny Apu and Dulabhai. I smile, until I scroll to the bottom.

So what’s the deal with you and Flávia?

I frown. I really did think Priti would forget about it after the cake. I suppose the cake was lackluster; if it had been better, maybe …

Nothing, I type quickly. I pause for a moment before adding, can we leave it?

I can see Priti reading the text. She doesn’t type anything back, or say anything, so I think that’s that. But later, as I’m unclipping my dangly earrings and nose ring, Priti slips in through the door. She’s already changed into her pajamas and stripped her face of makeup. She’s fast.

“I just didn’t think we kept secrets from each other,” she says, like we left off in the middle of a conversation and she’s just picking it up. “I mean, we haven’t before.”

“There’s no secret.” I catch her eye in the mirror of my dressing table.

“Well, then, tell me.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“I know that look on your face, you know?”

“What look?” I ask, even though I know exactly the look she’s talking about. Priti has lived through too many of my crushes, all of which ended in nothing. In a way, it was better, I guess. All I have left of these—probably—unrequited crushes are the dreams and memories, and that familiar feeling of butterflies in my stomach.


“She didn’t know anybody there. Like I said.”

“You wanted me to send the pictures.”

“Just to like … keep, you know. You took them.”

“You made a weird face when you said it.”

I turn around. “What?”

“A weird face. Like, I don’t know. It was kind of goofy. I hope you didn’t make that face in front of her.”

I pull a goofy face then and Priti giggles. She slips away from the doorway and plops down onto the bed.

“I didn’t think she was your type,” Priti says after a moment of silence.

“I don’t have a type,” I say, and it’s true; I’ve never really thought about having a type. I guess my type is … beautiful girl. Which is a lot of them. Most of them? Pretty much all girls.

“Well, but … you do like her, right? That’s what that was about?”

I purse my lips and sit down next to her. Do I? The butterflies in my stomach and the staring and the thinking about how holding hands with her is better than biryani would indicate yes. But maybe it was just the rush of any pretty girl more than her.

“Just … be careful, okay?” Priti says.

“I probably won’t ever even see her again. Also, I’m the older sister. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to tell you that.” Priti just smiles.

I’m kind of ashamed to say that I spend a lot of time lingering over the photos on my phone. There are only three of them, and Flávia and I aren’t even next to each other.

In primary school, she was one of the smallest girls in our class. She hadn’t had her growth spurt yet. She was quiet, too. She liked to keep to herself, and didn’t have many friends for the few years that I knew her.

I dig up one of our old school photos. She’s easy to spot, but so am I. We’re both darker than the rest of the girls, standing on either end of the picture. She’s smiling with her teeth, showing a glint of braces. Her hair is tied up neatly in a short ponytail. Her hands hang limp by her sides, making her look uncomfortable.

At the wedding she seemed completely different. There was an air of confidence around her that I don’t remember back in school. That happens, I guess. People change when they go from primary to secondary school. They take on new personas, like they’re testing out a new self.

Of course, all of the things I remember about her don’t appear in the school photo. Like the fact that for my first few weeks in school, Flávia was the only one who would speak to me. That when Ammu gave me rice and daal for lunch and all the other girls made fun of me, Flávia stuck up for me. That I’m pretty sure she was my first crush ever, but I’m only realizing it now in hindsight. Back then, I didn’t even think about being gay, but I did think a lot about Flávia and the freckles that dot her cheeks.

After I’ve basically burned the three photos from the wedding into the back of my eyelids, I log onto Instagram and go to Priti’s account. I scroll through all of the pictures she’s put up just from today. I’m tagged in almost all of them. There’s the photo of her and me up on stage with Sunny Apu and Dulabhai, of course. Priti looks absolutely prim and proper. I look like kind of a mess.

There’s also a selfie she must have taken in the bathroom of the wedding hall, and there are photos of the wedding cake. The last photo is of Priti and me in my bedroom. It was after we’d finished getting ready, and Priti insisted that we needed a photo before we left for the wedding hall, just the two of us. She also insisted that we find a way to showcase the henna I’d spent all summer perfecting, so our hands are at awkward angles in front of us. We look totally unnatural, but in a way, it also totally captures our essence: goofy and weird. I smile. We could almost pass for twins. With our identical salwar kameezes and our thick black hair falling around us, you almost can’t tell where I end and Priti begins.

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