The Henna Wars(2)

“Ammu, Abbu, I have something to tell you,” I finally say, trying to breathe normally but somehow forgetting how breathing works.

They’re sitting at the kitchen table with their phones in their hands, Abbu reading the Bengali news, and Ammu scrolling through Facebook—so reading the Auntie news/Bengali gossip.

“Yes, shona?” Abbu says, not bothering to glance up from his phone. At least my momentary breathing amnesia isn’t obvious.

I stumble forward, nearly spilling my tea, and somehow make it to the chair at the top of the table.

“Ammu, Abbu,” I say again. My voice must sound grave because they finally look up, twin frowns on their lips as they take me in, trembling hands and all. I wish all of a sudden that I had spoken to Priti. That I’d allowed her to talk me out of it. I am, after all, only sixteen, and there’s still time. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never even kissed a girl, only dreamed of it while staring at the cracks on my ceiling.

But we’re already here and my parents are looking at me with expectation in their eyes. There is no turning back. I don’t want to turn back.

So I say, “I like women.”

Ammu frowns. “Okay, that’s good, Nishat. You can help your Khala with the wedding.”

“No, I’m …” I try to remember the word for lesbian in Bengali. I thought I had committed it to memory, but clearly not. I wish I’d written it on my hand or something. Like a cheat sheet for coming out.

“You know how Sunny Apu is going to marry Abir Bhaiya?” I try again.

Ammu and Abbu nod, both looking equally bewildered by the turn this conversation is taking. I’m right there with them, if I’m being perfectly honest.

“Well, I think in the future I won’t want to marry a boy at all. I think I’ll want to marry a girl instead,” I say lightly, like this is a thought that just popped into my head, not something I’ve spent years agonizing over.

There’s a moment when I’m not sure they understand, but then their eyes widen, and I can see realization settling into them.

I expect something. Anything.

Anger, confusion, fear. A mixture of all of those things, maybe.

But Ammu and Abbu turn to each other instead of me, communicating something through their gaze that I don’t understand at all.

“Okay,” Ammu says after a beat of silence passes. “We understand.”

“You do?”

Ammu’s frown and the chill in her voice suggests anything but understanding.

“You can go.”

I stand up, though it feels wrong. Like a trap.

The mug of tea burns into my skin as I grab hold of it and carry it upstairs, stealing glances back the whole way up. I’m waiting—hoping—for them to call me back. But there’s nothing except silence.

“I told them,” I say as soon as Priti slips in the door. It’s just past nine o’clock. I don’t even give her a chance to breathe.

She blinks at me. “You told who what?”

“Ammu and Abbu. About me. Being a lesbian.”

“Oh,” she says. Then, “Oh.”


“What did they say?”

“Nothing. They said … ‘okay, you can go.’ And that was it.”

“Wait, you actually told them?”

“I just said I did, didn’t I?”

“I thought maybe … you were kidding. Like an April Fool’s joke or something.”

“It’s … August.”

She rolls her eyes and shuts the bedroom door behind her before flopping onto the bed beside me.

“You okay?”

I shrug. I’ve spent the last few hours trying to figure out exactly that. I’d spent years going through all of the various scenarios of coming out to my parents. None of those scenarios had included silence. My parents have always been forthcoming enough about their thoughts and feelings; why is now the moment they choose to shut themselves up?

“Apujan,” Priti says, wrapping her arms around me and resting her chin on my shoulder. “It’ll be okay. They probably just need to think, you know?”

“Yeah.” I want to believe her. I almost do.

To distract me Priti pulls up a movie on Netflix, and the two of us slip under my duvet. Our heads touch lightly as we lean against the headboard. Priti loops her arms through mine. There is something comforting about having her there; I almost forget about the rest of it. The two of us must drift off to sleep because the next thing I remember is blinking my eyes open.

Priti is softly snoring beside me, her face pressed against my arm. I push her off—gently. She groans a little but doesn’t wake up. I sit up, rubbing my eyes. The clock on my phone flashes 1:00 a.m. There’s a murmur of voices off somewhere in the distance. That must be what woke me.

I crawl out of bed and push my door open a smidge, letting in the air and the voices of my parents. They’re speaking in low, careful voices just loud enough for me to make out.

“Too much freedom and that’s what happens. What does it even mean?” Ammu says.

“She’s confused, she’s probably seen it in the movies, heard her friends talking about it. Let her work it out and she’ll come back and change her mind.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

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