The Henna Wars(3)

“She will.”

“You saw the way she was looking at us. She believes it. She thinks she’ll … she’ll marry a girl, like that’s normal.”

There’s a deep sigh and I’m not sure if it’s Ammu or Abbu, or what it means, or what I want it to mean.

“What do we even do while she works it out?” It’s Ammu’s voice again, dripping with something akin to disgust.

Tears fight their way up my body, trying to burst out. I choke them down somehow.

“We just act normal,” Abbu says. “Like nothing’s happened.”

Ammu says something else, but it’s lower. I can’t make out the words.

Abbu says, “We’ll talk about it later.” And the night descends into silence once more.

I push the door closed. My heart is going a million miles a minute. But before I can even think, even process, Priti flings her arms around me in an embrace. We both stumble backward, making more noise than anyone should at one o’clock in the morning after eavesdropping on their parents’ conversation.

“I thought you were asleep.”

“I woke up.”


“It’ll be okay,” she says.

“I’m okay,” I say.

But I don’t think either of us really believes that.


AMMU AND ABBU ARE TRUE TO THEIR WORD. THE NEXT morning it’s like nothing has changed. It’s like I haven’t told them this huge secret that’s been weighing on me for years.

“Sunny wants to know if you’ll go to the parlor with her tomorrow?” Ammu says to Priti and me at the breakfast table. These are our last few days of the summer holidays so Ammu wakes up and makes us Bengali breakfasts whenever she has time. This morning it’s norom khichuri with omelets. I spoon the soft, yellow rice into my mouth, but for once it doesn’t really have much of a taste. I spent the rest of the night running Abbu and Ammu’s words around in my head on repeat; looking at them in the morning light, I don’t know how they can just ignore the truth I’ve told them.

“Apujan?” Priti nudges me with her shoulder.

“Huh?” When I turn, she’s staring at me with a raised eyebrow. I realize she must have asked me a question. There’s a spoonful of khichuri uneaten in front of me. I shove it into my mouth and chew slowly.

“Do you want to go to the parlor? Sunny Apu is going to get her henna done, so that the color is all set for the wedding.”

The last thing I want to do is think about this wedding, but we’re smack dab in the middle of it. All it’s reminding me of now is that Abbu and Ammu think that somehow I’ll come back to this. Somehow, after everything, I will be exactly like Sunny Apu. Ready to marry a Desi guy like Abir Bhaiya.

“No.” I shake my head. “I don’t think so. You can go if you want.”

“If you’re not going, I’m not going.”

Ammu rolls her eyes like she’s tired of our antics.

“You’ll go to the wedding with no henna on your hands then?” she asks with a frown. “You’re bridesmaids, how will you look?”

That’s true. Sunny Apu will have henna spiraling all the way up her arms, and I’m sure the other bridesmaids—whoever they are—will be decked with henna as well. Plus, I don’t think either of us have ever attended an event like this without a full hand of henna.

When we were younger, our Nanu used to spend hours applying intricate, beautiful henna patterns to our palms. But that was years ago, when we lived in Bangladesh. Or when we visited during peak wedding season. Back then, one coat of henna could last us for at least three or four weddings of people we barely knew but were somehow related to.

“I can put henna on us?” I offer with a shrug. Ammu looks at me with narrowed eyes. I don’t know what she sees, but a moment later she nods her head.

“Fine, but make sure it’s nice, okay?” Ammu says. “There are henna tubes in the storeroom. I’m going to your Khala and Khalu’s house.”

Sunny Apu’s parents aren’t really our Khala and Khalu—which are titles usually reserved for your maternal aunt and her husband. But Ammu and Abbu became joined at the hip with them when they moved to Ireland a year ago. They’re the only relatives we have here, even though they’re very, very, very distantly related to us.

“We should just go to the parlor,” Priti says when we get up the stairs and slip into my room. I grab a bunch of henna tubes, a piece of disposable cloth and my open laptop before spreading it all out on the bed.


“I’m going first?”

“I can’t go first and then do your henna after. My hands will be all covered.”

She casts a wary glance at the things I’ve laid out on the bed and then up at me.

“You know you don’t have a lot of practice in this, right?”

I know. I definitely know.

I only started practicing henna last year, now that we only see Nanu on Skype every other weekend. It’s something that makes me feel a little more connected to her, even though she’s entire oceans away.

Though my work is nowhere close to Nanu’s, I’ve definitely gotten better. Compared to the lopsided flowers and inconsistent vines I was drawing on Priti’s ankles a few months ago, I’m practically a henna genius.

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