Chapter 1 : A Failed Chai Exchange
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Padma Patil’s memory of her hand was vague.
The intricate patterns and shapes adorned her fingers, her palm barely visible. It smelled like the loo stations in the bazaars, though their Ma thought differently. She claimed it smelled like earth and dirt, but Padma liked to say it smelled like shit. Her mum was not impressed.
“Parvati beta, the colour of your henna will look so good on you!” an aunty exclaimed, and Padma smirked as she saw her sister’s cheek get pinched with rather aggressive (and most definitely unwanted) endearment.
“Of course it will Nisha Aunty, my future brother-in-law loves her so much,” her voice pierced. She got up, careful not to smudge her henna, and fake gagged at Parvati teasingly, earning a roll of the eyes. It felt strange to be in such an environment like this.
“At least I have a husband, Paddu dear,” she retorted with a wink.
Padma scowled. The nickname was beyond horrendous. “If it wasn’t your wedding, I’d – ”
“Padma!” her Ma shouted. “You hold that tongue of yours young lady! Just because you grew up in Britain does not mean you forget your roots and be like those – those bikini girls, that is no way to talk to your sister – ”
“Fine, fine!” she groaned over her mother’s rant, and strutted away from the circle of her female guests. Ever since Parvati got engaged to Seamus, Padma had been the unfortunate target of her mother’s and relative’s new obsession: marriage. It was like a classic Bollywood film with all the aunties working together to get their girls hitched and all Padma was waiting for was for someone to play an item and for a man with thick facial hair to come out dancing in leather pants. Yes, that was what she feared.
Her saree’s dupata was trailing behind her and she could hear the music in the soft distance away. It was too hot here, but Parvati insisted a summer wedding. The Finnigan’s must have been dying from the heat – Padma knew she was. It was a stupid summer, with heat to contend with fire.
And maybe it was the heat or perhaps it was Padma’s Bollywood nightmare coming true, but she stumbled and all she really saw next was her hair flying crazily in front of her.
Oh, and her henna-covered hands went splat against someone’s chest.
“Shit, I’m so sorry,” she groaned as she shook her hair out of her face. Bilal Uncle looked outraged at her language and his moved his feet and chair carrying arms quickly away.
“Chalo!” he yelled to the group of men behind him, as they also furiously worked to set up chairs. Padma looked on in a dazed sort of way.
“Don’t worry about it,” someone said with a laugh. “It’s not every day when I get to have Padma Patil walk into me, now is it?”
Padma looked at him in confusion. He smiled at her brightly. “I ruined your kurta,” she said.
“I ruined your henna.”
“No, I ruined my own henna,” she replied, irritated.
“I was just trying to make you feel better.”
“Oh, okay,” she said, not understanding completely what was happening.
“You haven’t had a proclamation yet, so I assume you don’t remember me. My heart is broken Padma,” he pouted, but she could see the mischief in his eyes. His face was close to breaking into a smile, and Padma blushed. Almost everyone would ask her, ‘Remember me Paddu, I held you when you were born!’ but truth was, her family did after all only live here for seven years after the birth of her and Parvati, and why would anyone think babies could remember who held them?
“I don’t even remember if I had chai today, how am I supposed to know who you are?”
“You always were stupid,” he remarked. “But how about we jog your memory a bit? A cup of chai in exchange for a name, yeah?”
“Rude,” she huffed. “And no.” She had heard about boys like him, the kind her mother called ‘Majnus’.
“Your loss then,” he smirked, wiping his forehead. She almost stopped him with an offer to send his kurta to the wash, but she figured that wasn’t her job. Padma watched him go walk away, and nearly jumped when she left a fat hand on her shoulder.
“Ooh, is that your boyfriend?” asked Nisha Aunty with a shrill giggle. Till this day Padma wondered how someone so huge could have such a high pitched voice. Behind her were Padma’s cousins and all held platters with empty henna cones. Padma scowled – there were so many of them. Even in Mumbai there hadn’t been so many people on the streets, than all her relatives put together.
“Nahi Aunty, I don’t even know him.”
“PADMA! WHERE IS THE BOWL OF HALDI? YOU ARE TOO MUCH, IT’S YOUR SISTER’S WEDDING – ”
“Ma, stop it, you’re so loud, my ears,” Parvati said weakly. She was dressed in yellow, and Padma thought she looked like an egg. Like the mehndi setting the day before, Parvati was surrounded by a massive amount of females, and Padma too felt suffocated for her. The crowd of women were singing and gossiping about the latest affair, or gawked at her puddle shaped stains on her hands from the fall. Parvati had a right laugh when she saw them, and told Padma it reminded her of what she saw in the toilet in the morning.
“Here you go,” Padma snapped, placing the bowl in her mother’s hands.
“About time! Now, make sure no boys come in here, keep them out. No ladke wadke. Tikhe?” she asked sternly.
“Yes Ma,” Padma grumbled. Walking around the cushions and tablas that were laying around, she made her way through to where the cups were set up. She poured herself a drink, and drank.
“Pour me some too, please?”
She turned around fast, placing her cup on the table. Not caring who it was, she placed both hands on his chest, and pushed. “Leave,” she seethed. “I don’t want Ma to see you here, you’re going to get me in trouble.”
“Parvati looks nice, Seamus would love to see her I bet,” he commented. He slipped his arm past her waist and grabbed the cup she had been using to drink previously, and sipped nice and long from it.
Distracted, Parvati said, “No, she looks like a sack of potatoes.”
“Excuse me?” he asked with a chuckle.
“I look like a sack of potatoes, and she’s my twin so she does too.”
He looked at her and grinned brilliantly. “Nah, I don’t think so. Your nose looks like a carrot though.”
“Rude,” she repeated, and fought from smiling.
“I’m kidding, you’re beautiful.”
Padma blushed. She always seemed to be doing that around him. “Boys aren’t supposed to be here,” she said.
“I’m a man,” he replied.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“You really don’t remember? I was pretty sure you were in love with me when we were seven.”
He waited for her to put two and two together, and when she did she smiled. It had always been him and her together as kids. There were balloons, she remembered that much. Balloons and water. Marbles and sand. They were just kids, after all. He would do cool things, make rocks float for her. Later when her magic started to appear, she would give make leaves fly, but really they were just dropping, but he never told her that. Him tying the red ribbon on her finger before they left, and she had screamed his name.
“You’ve changed Gautam,” she remarked.
“I know, I’m so much hotter now, aren’t I?” he offered, and she laughed.
“No, you’re ugly,” she said with a smirk.
“I am beyond offended Padma Patil! Your every word goes straight to my heart,” he said, clutching his heart and bending back dramatically.
“But you still can’t be here, you know that. It’s only for women.”
His mouth opened to reply, before they both heard a shout. “PADMA, WHERE ARE YOU? IT’S YOUR TURN TO APPLY THE HALDI, COME NOW!”
“Damn, she’s still loud as ever,” he muttered, shaking his head as if to get her voice out of his ear.
“I live with her,” Padma said sadly.
They both laughed.
“So, what happened after we left?” she asked him. They both sat in the Patil’s garden, and the house still rang from music. Her Ma got on her nerves and she was done with being asked her relationship status. Not only that, but she couldn’t stand it anymore. The talk of Parvati finally leaving, her farewell.
“I became very sad and cried a lot,” he moped pretentiously, then chuckled. Around him was this constant aura of light. She watched his hands pluck some grass, and wondered what they would feel like. “Actually, we went to Australia short after. My father thought your family was right in leaving – the school here for magic isn’t that developed. Him and mom started a bakery, it was sweet – literally.”
“Do you like the person you’ve become?” Padma blurted out before realizing. “I mean, did you fight, in the war?”
“We weren’t effected by him that much,” he said slowly.
“I think though,” he began, “it’s more important to respect who you are. That way others will like you.
“Do you like who I am?”
“You’re… okay,” he muttered. Padma felt her heart sink. “Just six or seven more smiles a day, a few blushes here, yeah, just like that.” He motioned towards her cheek and she inhaled slowly. “Keep on doing that, and I’ll go crazy for you.”
Padma stood up abruptly, and felt like crying. “I should go,” she said quietly. “I need to help set things up for the sangeet tomorrow, and it’s getting late. Good night.” He nodded slightly, and continued to pluck grass from the ground.
Padma wiped one tear away, from her cheek.
“Padma? Can you put that pin in for me?”
Both of them were alone in the room, and were getting ready for the final ceremony before the wedding, the sangeet. “Sure,” she said. Padma walked over behind her and used the pin to push back a strand. Her sister looked beautiful. Her hair was simple, black and braided, but she looked elegant. Maybe it was her traditional clothes or the glow that radiated from her face. Padma was almost jealous that it was Parvati’s wedding, and not her own.
“Rubbish, Padma. Tell me.”
At that moment, she wanted to tell her sister, her best friend that she was scared of falling in love, of Parvati leaving her. Because once Parvati left, it was over – she would be the only one broken.
But she didn’t, because it was her sister’s sangeet and Padma didn’t have the right to spoil it for her. So she smiled sadly, and Parvati knew not to push it.
She walked fast towards the bench she had sat on yesterday with Gautam. Like she was told, he was there waiting for her. She was beyond frightened when the chair boy passed her the note. She didn’t know whether or not to go.
“Hey, you came,” he said softly.
“I did,” she replied curtly. He would go away, if she kept her distance. He was too real for her, too free. And she was confined in that time period of fright and loss. She knew no one who died, but she felt guilty for it every day. Parvati had Seamus rescue her, but she was forgotten along the way for some reason, and no one came for her.
“Look, Padma, we’ve been friends forever – ”
“We stopped being friends a long time ago,” she interrupted.
He scratched his head. “I know. But, there’s something wrong with you, you know that, right? You’re holding back.”
“From what?” Padma seethed. “You don’t even know me.”
“I’d like to know you,” he replied calmly. “If you’d let me.”
“It’s too late,” she whispered.
“Too late for what?” he asked and Padma knew he wasn’t afraid of the answer. It was something in his eyes that showed her that. Her face fell when his hand linked into hers. The feeling was too great, too powerful. And she didn’t deserve to feel that way. There was nothing more to her besides a daughter of a mother who liked to shout, and a twin to a stronger sister.
She didn’t reply and thankfully he let it go. “There’s this girl I’m in love with –”
“Don’t,” she choked, her voice rough. “Don’t. You can’t be, you shouldn’t be.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” he continued, now having both of her hands in his. He stepped closer towards her. There was this scent from him she couldn’t describe, except for the fact that it was intoxicating. “I can see it and you haven’t felt it yet, or maybe you have but you’re being too daft to admit it.” He smiled awkwardly at her and said softly, so soft it almost made Padma give in, “But I need you to understand that I would wait for you my whole life until you admitted it. I have been in love with you since I was nine and you were seven. Call me desperate, but I’ll love you forever.”
“But I can’t,” she said, shaking her head. “I can’t, and I won’t be able to. You deserve so much more.”
He let go of her hand, and moved backwards, as she turned away.
They didn’t talk after that.
Translations of italicized words:
sangeet -- a music ceremony, where people sing and dance in celebration of the wedding.
chai -- tea
ladke wadke boys – similar to “stairs shmares” or the like ( a way to say something offhandedly)
tikhe -- okay
nahi -- no
Mehndi -- henna, henna ceremony
beta -- dear
dupata -- veil
chalo -- let’s go
kurta -- a traditional suit, mostly worn by men but can be worn by women also
haldi -- turmeric
Majnus -- Romeos
A/N: Wow, no time equals really strange writing, doesn't it? But I loved doing this. But not because of me, but because of Ely, who is brilliant. I gave her a name,, "Gautam" and she made him come to life. Her chapter -- the next one -- is brilliant. She's been a brilliant partner, and now friend. So thank you, for everything. we'd love some feedback on our baby, so if you have time, please drop a line or two!
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