This story was sitting for a while, I liked it, then hated it, then liked it again, so I finally decided to share it.
Anjani sat with her four closest friends on a rooftop lounge, which had a panoramic view of the hills surrounding the city. They were out celebrating Rajendra passing his bar examinations and officially being able to practice law. The five of them agreed they would each get a special night out for passing, the catch being the newly appointed lawyer would have to buy three rounds for everyone. Anjani began to regret wearing such a tiny dress when the cold night air blew around her, but she had to wear this particular dress, because it accentuated her figure perfectly and she wanted Rajendra to notice tonight.
Out of all the members of their group she was the closest with him. They first met in middle school and, ironically, absolutely hated each other. A strange thing happens when Indian boys and girls meet, there is this instant animosity, a feeling of: I shouldn’t talk to or even look at this person. It probably originates with Indian parents forbidding dating during school, but also insisting you must marry a good Indian boy or girl. So anytime they talk to someone of the opposite sex the adults start “matching” them for fun, torturing their children in public and immediately transforming any friendship these young people would have had into repulsion and embarrassment instead. So Anjani and Rajendra argued like a divorced couple, it was quite vicious. Their spats would incite the names of the shows Melrose Place and 90201. By the 8th grade neither spoke to one another or made eye contact.
When high school started they ran into each other in a hallway, but Anjani didn’t recognize him. Rajendra was the first to say hi; Anjani couldn’t help but swoon when a handsome high schooler wanted to talk to her, until he asked, “You don’t recognize me do you?” Then it hit her, it was Rajendra, and she became flustered. How could this be the same scrawny kid she hated in middle school? He had grown a foot taller, his shoulders had widened, and there was a bit of scruff on his face. He started talking, but all she could do was stare into his pale green eyes. Were they always green? She couldn’t remember, she just didn’t pay that much attention. Now though, they were hypnotizing her, slowly erasing the years of pain he caused. She finally averted her awkward stare downward, blushing, barely hearing what he was saying. He placed his hand on her arm, which made her shiver, and he asked her to find him during lunch.
Anjani’s stomach was a butterfly ridden mess for the first two class periods, on top of the nervousness she had for just starting high school. She was really looking forward to finding Rajendra during lunch, which she hated herself for feeling. How could she suddenly have such feelings for the boy who ruined her early middle school years? God damn puberty. Finally, the bell rang and she anxiously headed towards the cafeteria, finding him sitting with some other students under a nearby tree. “Hey, you found us,” Rajendra exclaimed, “Guys, this in Anjani, we were… we went to the same middle school. This is Shamila, Kamini, and that dude there is my cousin Dev. His family just moved here from India in June.”
Anjani gave a shy, “Hey,” which they all reciprocated, and she sat down to eat. It was odd how Rajendra just matter-of-factly stated they went to middle school together, seemingly forgetting how much they hated each other: the teasing, arguments, hair pulling, and hiding of belongings. Did he forget or just not care anymore? Perhaps it was similar to what she found herself feeling?
Soon after, another girl arrived and sat down next to Rajendra, kissing his cheek and running her hand through his hair, which he had grown out on top, giving him a playful but mature look. Anjani’s heart sank realizing it was his girlfriend. He introduced her to everyone as Taylor, and Anjani had never felt so much hatred for anyone in her life, not even Rajendra. What was going on with her? She had so many conflicting feelings and suddenly this intense jealously, another feeling she had never experienced so deeply before. She felt nauseous and had to stop eating; it would be difficult for her to eat till the following week.
By the end of the year Anjani, Rajendra, Shamila, Kamini, and Dev had become the best of friends. The sixth spot in their group was occupied in turns by the following of Rajendra’s girlfriends:
Taylor, Britney, Meghan, Brittany, Jessica, and Megan.
Yes, two pairs of them basically had the same name, spelled differently. The relationships, if they could be called that, lasted three to four weeks at most. Anjani couldn’t figure out how and why all these girls could be with him, one after the other, or how Rajendra kept their names straight, but she saw an obvious answer. When his parents insisted he eventually marry an Indian girl only, Rajendra took that as code for he could date as many White girls as possible, because it didn’t mean anything; they were easy and it would not lead to marriage.
Anjani hated him for being such a player, but also loved how they could chat on AIM for hours on end about anything—even when he was dating someone. Talking to him before meant anger and pain, now it meant happiness and laughter. He knew just the right things to say to calm her down and help her through a crisis. She also loved how he would bring her little snacks his mother had made, how he visited her every day for a week to tell her all the day’s happenings, when she broke her ankle and had to stay home; and how he would make little drawings and slip them into her textbooks, which she would find unexpectedly in the middle of class and burst out laughing, much to her teachers’ chagrin. However, he could also be callous, ignoring her in school when he was with a girlfriend, not inviting her out with the rest of his new friends, right in front of her, and otherwise not considerate of her feelings. Nearly every night though, they would bring up their instant messenger and chat for a little while. He usually never talked about his relationships, but then again, she didn’t want to know and never brought it up.
She could never understand why he liked hanging out with the White kids so much. They had an awful nickname for anyone of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent, “Bollywood,” which they used to refer to them individually or collectively. Rajendra spent weeks trying to train them out of calling him Raj, which he thought was the most cliché Indian name ever. For his efforts, some of them took to calling him Raja, which means prince, but to them it was Princess Jasmine’s pet tiger in the Disney film, Aladdin. Anjani became Angie and Kamini became Kami. They all hated it.
Anjani and Kamini also became close. Kamini was a bit more outgoing than the rest of them and made everything fun and lively. Their houses were in walking distance, so they would visit each other often on weekends and Kamini taught Anjani about all the girly stuff and boys, much as an older sister would.
Shamila was a complete bookworm, the conscience of their group, and in most cases, the one keeping Kamini from doing something stupid, like a back-flip off their hangout tree near the cafeteria—also called Bollywood; students with South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean roots had instinctively staked their claim on the area during lunch. Shamila’s parents were fairly strict and old school, so she was not allowed to go out often and most definitely not allowed to date.
Dev was short for his age, goofy and adorably nerdy, the heart of their group. Being a recent immigrant, he was actually the only South Asian in school with an Indian accent. He was fond of saying Rajendra stole all his mojo and that’s why he couldn’t grow or get a girlfriend. He always wore a t-shirt with some sort of video game or comic book character. There was a clique in school who loved those things, but Dev was attached to his cousin by the hip. He looked up to him and Rajendra treated him like a little brother, despite being the same age.
None of them, however, knew how much in love Anjani was with Rajendra and how jealous she was of all his girlfriends. Keeping that secret made her adept at concealing her true emotions, many people found her aloof because of it, not knowing the emotional turmoil she was going through, because of a boy who thought he should collect White girls like Pokémon, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”
By 12th grade the group decided to do the thing all Indian parents want them to do, choose a career of medicine or law. They all chose law because no one, except Dev, could stand the sight of blood or deal with disease—Shamila actually threw up all over her desk when they showed them STD photos during sex education. They all sent early admission applications to the same university and, miraculously, they were all accepted.
In college, as before, Anjani pined for Rajendra, and he continued to date White girls for brief periods, although school caused the volume and frequency to go down dramatically. Anjani remained single, as did Shamila, over the course of their studies. Kamini was the crazy party chick everyone knew of, a frequent visitor of the fraternity houses. Dev became a prim and proper man, wearing shirts and ties all the time. He could even grow a full beard, which he wore with pride, until the September 11th Trade Center attacks and he shaved it for fear of being targeted as a terrorist.
There were tons of cram sessions and Anjani would make sure she looked good no matter what, covering up the dark bags under her eyes with makeup and wearing comfy but cute clothes, on the off chance Rajendra would finally show interest in her. It conflicted with the feminist ideals she had developed, but he just had this strange effect on her. She attempted to date a few guys in a feigned effort to get past Rajendra, but it was over before they started, none ever getting a second date. Her family couldn’t understand how such a beautiful girl did not have a boyfriend. They frequently tried to match her with people, but again, it never went anywhere.
The years of law school were traumatic in many ways: ripped apart by professors and professional lawyers, near failure of several exams, Dev’s father died, he was never the same after that, losing some of the humour they all loved about him, and his depression caused his first girlfriend to leave him; Shamila’s parents quickly divorced, perhaps realizing after all their kids were off in the world, there was nothing to keep them together anymore; Kamini had a pregnancy scare and swore off sex after she miscarried, her parents never found out, only Anjani knew. She suspected there was more to the story, but Kamini avoided it in great bursts of anger and tears when she attempted to get it out of her. Kamini gained weight after that and stuck to her studies, never venturing near the fraternities again. She drew closer to Shamila than ever before and they frequently studied together.
And tonight, they were celebrating the conclusion of Rajendra’s education. Those three rounds of shots had come and gone and since they had not drunk much alcohol in the past few weeks it hit them hard. Anjani was nearing peak alcohol euphoria, the time when your aches and pains disappear, everything tastes and sounds better, and all the stress of life is hidden away by a hazy fog. She realized they haven’t taken any time to destress in a depressingly long time. The DJ was earning his pay, blasting most of her favorite tunes in succession. She and Rajendra were having another great conversation, what they could hear anyway, but she wanted to dance with him. First however, the restroom was calling, she had an embarrassingly small bladder.
As she returns Rajendra isn’t at their table anymore, he’s already dancing with some woman. Anjani’s anger builds up inside her. He was single today, she felt courageous this morning, planning what she wanted to do and say, school was completely over, but now some damn woman was ruining it, as always. Anjani goes to the bar and orders three more shots. She downs them all like a champ, impressing the guys next to her. They buy her another and she accepts, but slips away with it to sit next to Kamini.
In another few minutes the shots go to her head and she blurts out to Kamini how in love she is with Rajendra, how she wants to marry him and have his babies. Kamini, also drunk by this point says, “Go over and stick your tongue down his throat, just do it!” Anjani, with a drunken courage, walks over to the dance floor, yanking Rajendra away from the woman, jumps up and wraps her arms around his head, kissing him hard.
Rajendra was in shock and setting up to push this woman off when he realizes who it is. He freezes for a moment, not knowing what do and why it was happening. Why was the girl he tormented, because he was immature and she was pretty, kissing him now? She ignored him for a year in middle school and then he tried to make up for his behavior the moment they met again in high school. He gave her the snacks his mother gave him as peace offerings, he talked to her and got to know her as person, a wonderfully witty and intelligent young woman. He grew to love their conversations and would try to do anything to make her feel happy. Sometimes though, he would catch her giving him a hateful stare and he would feel guilty, because she must of have been remembering how awful he was to her. He deserved it.
But now, she is kissing him and he realizes the hateful stare was because of all the girls he dated. Once he had his growth spurt he found the girls in school had taken a liking to him, which was an entirely new situation for him. He was a scrawny little Indian nerd in his own eyes forever more, despite the fact he grew to be six feet tall and had arms that were bigger than his father’s when he reached 10th grade. He did share his green eyes with his father though, his great-grandfather had them too. It was a trait that girls definitely seemed to like. He reveled in the attention he was getting as most teenagers would, but as he continued to chat online with Anjani something changed. The quality of conversation was completely different from what he had with his first girlfriend Taylor, who he met over the summer. He would find himself talking more at night with Anjani than her and eventually it caused Taylor to break it off with him, he didn’t mind. Another girl would confess how she liked him and he would date her, but again, it didn’t feel right. He never felt he could truly connect to any of them. Despite what he told the guys and the rumors he let carry on, he had never had sex in high school and only twice in college. In fact, his lovable cousin Dev had gotten laid a few times sophomore year in law school. Rajendra cheered him on, but part of him felt guilty for making him think he was doing the same.
Anjani was the only woman he could connect to, who he wanted to in an intimate fashion. She wore the most alluring clothing constantly and he didn’t think he had ever seen her a day without exquisite makeup in years. They would have the most amazing times together, but she would grow cold and withdrawn, then suddenly they would be great again. It was confusing to say the least, but he loved her and didn’t want to do anything stupid and ruin their friendship.
Tonight, she looked impossibly amazing, her dress must have been custom made because it hugged her body in the most devilish ways. He saw every guy in the place checking her out, in fact, he always saw people checking her out. He never really asked her about her relationships, she never brought it up, but being as amazing as she was it was hard for him to think she didn’t date.
In this moment though, this beautiful woman, one of his best friends, has pressed her body against his. She is kissing him like no one has ever kissed him. He doesn’t know what to do, his heart races and he feels nauseous, but he instinctively wraps his arms around her back, sinking her body deeper into his.
Neither of them notice the other woman, who twists her face, swears at them, and walks off. They don’t notice Dev choke on his drink and freak out, clapping, jumping, and dancing around like a fool; just like the old Dev in high school. They don’t see Kamini and Shamila screaming and shaking each other violently. They had all suspected something would happen between them one day, but knew pressing the issue would only make them move farther apart, not closer together. The only two people who were not sure about it were Anjani and Rajendra.