The Henna Wars(5)

“You two look so lovely!” Khala says from behind Sunny Apu. “Absolutely stunning, don’t they?”

Sunny Apu smiles nervously, nodding at the two of us, but she doesn’t say anything. She looks nervous—scared, even. Priti casts a glance over at me, as if to check if I’ve noticed Sunny Apu’s nervousness too.

“All the bridesmaids are gathering up in the other room.” Hani Khala nods at the door past the dressing table. “They’re almost ready to go, I think.”

Priti and I hurry toward it, giving a fleeting smile to Sunny Apu before slipping inside.

I recognize almost nobody in this room, though they’re all dressed like Priti and me. It takes me a moment to snap out of the dissonance of entering a room where everybody is dressed the same and to politely murmur a hello.

“They must be Sunny Apu’s friends, right?” Priti asks. “And her cousins?”

I nod, my eyes roaming over the lot of them as subtly as possible. There are two girls huddled in one corner of the room who are both white and, I’m pretty sure, Irish. The pink and gold salwar kameez that Hani Khala sent over to all of us looks oddly out of place on them.

“It washes them out,” Priti says, as if reading my thoughts. I shoot her a glare to shut up. The room is small enough that they can hear her, even if she whispers.

In the other corner, there’s a group of four girls. Two of them share features with Sunny Apu, but the other two don’t look Bangladeshi at all.

“I think I recognize her,” I whisper to Priti as low as I can. “The tall girl with the curly—don’t look so obviously!” I have to cut myself off because Priti has abandoned any notion of subtlety and is staring directly at the group of girls. It’s a good thing they’re too deeply involved in their conversation to pay attention to us.

“She’s pretty,” Priti says. “I don’t think I’ve seen her before though.”

I’m trying to place her. From school? No, she looks far older than me. She must be at least the same age as Sunny Apu. Maybe I saw her at a Desi party? But she’s not Desi, or at least she doesn’t look it.

“I know I’ve seen her somewhere,” I whisper to Priti, trying to stare at the girl as subtly as possible to find something that will give away how I recognize her. “But I can’t remember where.”

We have no more time to mull it over because a moment later, the door to the room is flung open again and the woman in black and white is giving us instructions about how to properly enter the wedding hall.

“Is that all we do as bridesmaids?” Priti whispers to me as she’s handed a small bunch of red and white flowers. “Walk?”

I shrug. “I guess so.”

Weddings in Bangladesh didn’t have any of this bridesmaids business—not that we would have been a part of it if they did, considering how young we were and how we barely knew the people getting married.

I link my hand through Priti’s.

She makes a face and says, “Did you put on deodorant before leaving the house?”

I hit her over the head with my bouquet, secretly hoping one of the thorns from the red roses gives her a little prick. Alas, no luck, because she ducks and giggles. The woman in black and white gives us a scathing look from the front of the line and I wonder if you can be thrown out of a wedding when you’re a bridesmaid.

Better not risk it, I think to myself, and I elbow Priti to behave.

“I’m not having bridesmaids at my wedding,” Priti says, once the wedding procession is over and we’ve done our bit as good bridesmaids and … well, walked into the wedding hall with our arms linked together. It was a bit of a letdown, though I suppose Priti and I shouldn’t have expected anything else.

“Nobody could even see the henna on our hands,” Priti says. “Because of these annoying flowers.”

“Shh. You’re going to get us into trouble again,” I whisper.

She huffs, slides back in her chair and crosses her arms together. We managed to find two seats together at a table where we recognize absolutely nobody. I look around, trying to locate Ammu and Abbu, but there are so many people milling about that it’s almost impossible.

“Maybe we should get up and find them?” Priti asks. It’s kind of the last thing I want to do. I’m weirdly happy to be separated from them for once, and to not have our conversation hanging over our heads like a dark, unspoken cloud.

“No, we’re here, we might as well stay put.” I settle into my chair, setting my beaded gold clutch on the table beside me.

“Good idea, we probably wouldn’t find seats together again anyway. They’re about to serve the food.”

“How can you tell?”

“I have a nose for these things.”

I catch a glimpse of Sunny Apu on stage, with her new husband sitting at her side. They’re both smiling.

“What was that in the backroom?” I ask Priti.


I duck my head close to her, aware that the Auntie who is sitting in front of us just turned to give us an interested look. I immediately peg her as the gossiping type.

“You know, how Sunny Apu looked … kind of … I don’t know, panicky.”

“She’s about to be married, of course she’s panicky. It’s a lifelong commitment.” Priti’s voice is louder than I’m comfortable with. The Auntie in front of us isn’t looking anymore, but she’s edged closer to us somehow. I have a feeling she’s straining to listen.

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