The Henna Wars(8)

“So is this what weddings in your country are usually like?”

I turn around and come face-to-face with the girl with the curly brown hair who has been dancing in the back of my mind all night. She must remember me to come up to me like this. There’s a hint of a smile on her face; I can’t tell if she’s impressed by the wedding or if she’s trying to insult it.

“Sorry?” is all I can say, though there are a million other things I could have said that would have made me seem a little more charming and a little less dumbfounded.

“You don’t remember me.” Her smile shifts into a smirk. It suits her, weirdly. There’s a dimple that forms on her right cheek.

“I do.” It comes out more defensive than I want it to, but I do. More clearly than I should.

“And my name?” she asks, raising an eyebrow.

I bite my lip. Then, acting braver than I feel, I say, “Do you remember my name?”

“Nisha.” More confident than she should feel.

It’s my turn to smirk. “Wrong.”

She looks bewildered. “No, I’m … that’s …” She knits her eyebrows together, like she’s really thinking about this. “That is your name. I remember, you’re from Bangladesh. Ms. O’Donnell made you do a presentation about it in your first week in class and you were so embarrassed or shy or something that your entire face was on fire, and you stuttered through the whole presentation.”

I do remember that presentation. It was my first week in school, my first month in the country. Everything was still new and everyone’s words blurred together in an accent I couldn’t yet understand.

“It’s Nishat,” I offer. “I can’t believe you remember that.”

“You were kind of distinctive.” She’s trying to bite down another smile. I can tell from the way her lips are turned up at the edges.

“Flávia,” I say, and she brightens at the sound of her name, like she really didn’t expect me to remember.

“You look nice in that.” The words slip out, and I immediately feel heat rushing up my cheek. But she does look nice. She’s wearing a salwar kameez that a Desi girl wouldn’t be caught dead in at a wedding, but Flávia wears it with such nonchalance that she pulls it off. It’s royal blue, with a silver floral pattern on its torso. She’s wrapped the urna around her neck like a scarf, with the long end of it hanging off to the side. It’s beautiful, but far too simple a design for an elaborate wedding like this.

“Thanks.” This time she does smile, dimple and all. “I like your henna. Did you do it yourself?”

I look at both sides of my right hand, filled with vines and flowers and leaves darkened to a deep red.

“Yes. I’ve been trying to teach myself.”

“Do you find it difficult?”

I shrug. “A little. It was … really just for the wedding.”

“Oh …” Her eyes leave me, and travel up to the stage where Sunny Apu and her husband are sitting with a group of people that I don’t recognize.

“Do you want to go up?” she asks. “I don’t really know anyone else here.”

She doesn’t really know me either. It’s been years since I last saw her. She’s changed so much that I hardly recognize her now. And we weren’t exactly friends back in primary school, either, but now I’m kind of wishing we had been.

“Sure, yes. That’d be nice,” I say.

“You haven’t yet?”

“No, um … there’s a queue.” It’s not so much a queue as people pushing in front of each other whenever they get the opportunity.

“I think you have bridesmaid priority. Come on.” She takes hold of my hand. Her grip is soft and warm and kind of sweaty because there are a lot of people around us, but I don’t really mind. I’m on cloud nine because this beautiful girl is holding my hand. I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything, but my heart is beating a mile a minute and I can’t help but think that this is better than the kebab. Maybe even the kebab and the biryani combined.

I’m barely aware of pushing through the crowd and onto the stage. I only realize we’re there when Flávia lets go of my hand and smiles. She takes a seat next to Dulabhai and I slip into the space beside Sunny Apu, suddenly uncomfortably aware of how small the settee is.

“Congrats,” I whisper to Sunny Apu, taking hold of her hand and giving it a small squeeze.

“Thanks, Nishat,” she says. “Where’s Priti?”

My eyes dash to my right, like I’m expecting Priti to simply appear there. It only occurs to me now that I did exactly the one thing she told me not to do.

“She’s in the bathroom,” I say, turning back to Sunny Apu.

“Oh,” she says with a polite smile.

“She has to fix her face,” I say. “Like … the makeup.” I should have probably shut up at bathroom.

“Excuse me?” The photographer is looking at me with some exasperation. She gives a wave of her hand, indicating that we should all look ahead. There are a few clicks and flashes, and then the photographer is ushering us off the stage.

“Bye,” I mumble to Sunny Apu. In a moment, my seat is occupied by a petite girl that I’ve never seen before. She whispers something into her ear, and I feel a weird pang of jealousy, realizing that this is probably an in-law. It feels as if Priti and I have already been replaced by Sunny Apu’s new relatives.

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