Love, Curry, and All Things in Between

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Chapter 11

The rest of the week was spent hanging out with Tommy. Since Shayan was still recuperating in the hospital and the popular boys were officially ignoring him, Hassan ate lunch in the corner of the cafeteria with Tommy and a couple of the gamer boys, trying to ignore the nervous glances that they kept shooting at him. He even read a few chapters of Tommy’s evolution book, and was pleasantly (although grudgingly) surprised to find that it was actually… kind of interesting. Hassan delivered Anaiya’s basket to Shayan when Ammi took him to go visit Shayan, and he managed to pretend the basket was from him—until Ammi went to the bathroom and Hassan began to excitedly tease Shayan about the gift from his girlfriend. Shayan had blushed beet red, but then he asked Hassan about Tasnim and it was Hassan’s turn to flush with happy embarrassment.

But on the next Friday, Hassan ran into a problem. Valentine’s Day was on February 14—in two days. For the whole week he’d been smiling surreptitiously at Tasnim, exchanging glances behind the teachers’ backs, and texting her late at night when Abu and Ammi had already gone to bed. Maybe, he thought, it was time to take things a step further. But what was he supposed to get her? Chocolate seemed so cliché, as did flowers. Besides, she didn’t seem like the type that would enjoy a bouquet of roses sitting in her locker—Tasnim would probably complain that they had thorns or something else entirely irrelevant. Hassan groaned to himself as he flopped down onto his bed. This had to be perfect. All he wanted was to impress her, but he just didn’t know how. He could text Anaiya for ideas, but he suspected that she wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret. Or Shayan… He scrolled through his contacts on his phone, wondering who would be able to help. Suddenly, his finger paused over his sister’s name. Yes, maybe Fatima would know how to find a present for Tasnim.

Taking a deep breath, he clicked on the FaceTime button, his stomach twisting into knots. Why had he ever thought it would be a good idea to tell his big sister about his crush? Oh, he was so stupid. But the damage was already done—Fatima picked up on the second ring.

Hassan’s first thought was that his sister’s dorm room was ridiculously messy. If anyone else was living in it, it probably would’ve been aesthetic, with fairy lights strung up and minimalistic décor. But Fatima and Novy? Sweatshirts were strewn all over the furniture, accompanied by shopping bags thrown on the floor and an array of binders and books stacked precariously on the desk.

“What do you want?” his sister asked as she gathered loose items into a messenger bag. “We’re about to go to a seminar, so make it quick.”

Hassan gulped. “I, uh, was wondering if, uh…”

What?”

“IfyouknowagoodValentine’sDaypresentforthisgirlIlike,” he stammered, not daring to see her reaction.

Fatima was good enough at deciphering his blubbering to distinguish the meaning. “Wait…” She tossed her bag onto one of the beds and stared at him. “You like someone? Who? Who? Who?”

Hassan moaned and forced himself to talk normally. “…Tasnim. Shayan’s girlfriend’s cousin.”

At that moment, Novy appeared in the video chat, eyes wide. “You like Tasnim?” She burst into laughter. “I ship it!”

“Yes!” Fatima exclaimed, giggling. “How long has this been going on?”

Groaning, Hassan rubbed his eyes and explained the whole situation from start to finish.

“The ship name should be Hasnim!” Fatima exclaimed delightedly as he finished. Both of them snickered at the look of horror and utter embarrassment on Hassan’s face.

Hassan cleared his throat. “Anyway. Um. Ideas?”

“Chocolate,” Novy said instantly. “Everyone likes chocolate.”

Fatima shook her head. “Too generic. Think bigger.” She pursed her lips, pausing.

“Flowers?” asked Hassan.

“Generic,” Fatima repeated.

Novy smirked at him. “What about a valentine? You know, like a handwritten note to express your love,” she remarked (Hassan wasn’t sure if the express your love part was sarcastic or not).

Pressing her hands over her heart, Fatima nodded emphatically. “Yes! That’s so sweet!”

“You expect me to write a love letter? Psh. Not happening.” Hassan shook his head adamantly.

Novy and Fatima shook their heads in unison. “Noooo,” Novy pleaded. “It’s romantic!”

“Like something out of a movie,” Fatima added, looking like a lovesick puppy. Both girls burst into giggles and Hassan shook his head with a sigh. His sister was so immature, yet… in a way it was a relief to see her—like somehow, his life was normal again.

He thought back to Novy’s suggestion. Maybe the note would work… After all, his whole tentative relationship with Tasnim was practically copied from a Bollywood movie, right? Meeting in the rain, her crying into his shoulder (and yes, staining his shirt with tears, which was a little gross. But still.) It was possible that the valentine would seem heartfelt and genuine, not textbook and cliché.

Yet there was one problem. There was absolutely no possible way Hassan could write a love letter without sounding fake, cheesy, or absolutely, humiliatingly, stupid. “I can’t do this,” he groaned to Fatima and Novy. “She’ll just laugh at me.”

Fatima rolled her eyes. “Come up with something. It can’t be that hard.”

“You’re the one majoring in Creative Writing,” he snapped.

Novy smirked. “We’ll help you,” she reassured him, giving Fatima a pointed glance. “Won’t we?”

His sister sighed. “Okay, fine. We’ll have a love letter ready for you by tonight,” she said exasperatedly.

He bit his lip, holding back a smile. Hassan wasn’t quite sure exactly how this would all turn out, but it was worth a try.

“Hasnim is so cute!!!” Novy gushed, before ending the FaceTime call. Hassan groaned to himself and leaned back in his spinning desk chair, wrapping his sister’s fuzzy blanket around himself.

Step 1 in Hassan’s plan to impress Tasnim on Valentine’s Day: write Fatima and Novy’s note onto pretty stationery in good handwriting.

Step 2: find a way to deliver it to Tasnim on Valentine’s Day, which is inconveniently on a Sunday.

Step 3: make sure she’s adequately impressed, i.e. use the Bollywood Actor Smile and compliment her in a non-creepy, non-stalker-esque way.

Just as Hassan began planning step four in his mental list, Ammi yelled for him to come downstairs and eat dinner, and he left his thoughts behind.

Fatima’s text came at 10:49 that night (not like Hassan had been sitting by his phone waiting for it to chime. Oh, wait. He had.)

Tasnim~

Sometimes in the dark I look to the sky and

See the stars shining—

I think of your eyes—

A million little lights

Spelling out your name

And mine too,

But my eyes will

Only ever shine

For you.

Hassan read and reread the text, unsure if he should be a bit frightened or impressed. No wonder his sister had quit med school, he thought to himself. But was this maybe a little melodramatic for a cute middle school note to Tasnim? This reminded him of something written on a wedding ring. Sighing, he replied to Fatima.

This is nice, but isn’t it a little too much

Fatima responded instantly.

Nooooo it’s cute

Hassan scowled, torn by indecision. Would Tasnim like this sweet, heartfelt letter (a letter that hadn’t actually been written by Hassan)? Or would she be scared away because it was too much, too soon?

He bit his lip as a chain of texts came in from Fatima.

Oh come on Hassan

She liked it when u gave her ur jacket, right? And when u hugged her?

That shows she likes sweet gestures

Hassan found himself nodding in spite of his doubts. Fatima’s logic made sense, he supposed.

Ok

Fine

He sent the texts and then tossed his iCell across the room onto his bed, a nervous smile spreading across his face.

The next day, he asked Ammi if he and some other desi classmates from Seven Hills could go and visit Shayan in the hospital. As fellow students and fellow desis, he insisted, they ought to go to check in on Shayan and express their utmost concern (Fatima’s idea). Ammi had quickly agreed to drop him off at the hospital, saying that she was glad he was finally being considerate to others. Hassan resisted a roll of his eyes.

In truth, he would be meeting Tasnim and Anaiya in front of Shayan’s hospital room, where he would give Tasnim her valentine, which he had painstakingly copied onto a piece of glittery pink paper. According to Novy (who had gone through Tasnim’s Instagram page to find out anything of note) Tasnim’s favorite color was pink and she enjoyed sparkles. Hassan wasn’t sure how Novy had obtained this information, but he decided not to question it. After all, he didn’t especially want to know the lengths of Instagram-stalking that Novy had gone to. It was a little creepy, even though he had to admit it was helpful.

He buried the little folded heart into his coat pocket Saturday morning, switching on Do Not Disturb on his iCell, which was constantly chiming with words of advice from Fatima and gushed excitement from Novy. He’d wanted to bring Tasnim a single rose, but there was no way to get one without raising Abu and Ammi’s suspicions, so he gave up the idea. Straightening his jacket and smoothing back his hair, he practiced smiling in the mirror, feeling his pulse speed up with nerves. At least, he thought, he didn’t blush like Shayan. Smirking a little at the thought, he ran downstairs where Ammi was waiting with her keys. Suddenly hungry, he grabbed a bag of almonds on the way out.


The car ride was spent listening to Ammi chatter about the health dangers of Styrofoam plates. Hassan quickly darted out as soon as they reached the hospital, shouting a “thank you” before bolting out the door and into the hospital. As the elevator rose floor by floor, he tried to take deep breaths, feeling his heartbeat race. What if she didn’t like it? What if she thought he was a creep? Why had he ever listened to Fatima and Novy?

Tasnim and Anaiya weren’t there yet when Hassan made his way down the hallway toward room 106, trying to look cool and collected. He glanced down at his watch, frowning when he saw that he was already five minutes late. Where were they? What if Tasnim had decided not to come? Stop being irrational, he shouted inwardly at himself, but that didn’t stop him from imagining the worst.

The minutes ticked by, but they still didn’t show up. Ten minutes passed by, then fifteen. Growing agitated, Hassan stared desolately at his Yeezys, wishing he’d never come. This had to be the most humiliating moment of his life. Tasnim and Anaiya were probably at a Starbucks somewhere, drinking Frappuccinos and laughing at Hassan’s stupidity. He buried his face in his hands, groaning. What a waste of time.

Suddenly, he heard footsteps. He immediately stood up straight and pulled out his phone, pretending he’d just been checking it. Only then did he see the four texts from Tasnim, apologizing for being late. Oh, he was such an idiot. Why hadn’t he just looked to see if she’d texted instead of assuming that she wasn’t going to show up? Hassan groaned to himself as Tasnim and Anaiya quickly walked towards him, a guilty look on Tasnim’s face.

“I’m sorry!” she blurted. “Anaiya’s mom wanted to go to Panera, and then we had to stop and pick up my little sisters…” Her voice trailed off.

Hassan gave her a careless grin. “It’s okay,” he assured her. “I just got here too.” He hadn’t, but he had to say so.

Anaiya rolled her eyes, and quickly slipped into Shayan’s room. Hassan smirked, noticing the carefully-wrapped box that she was hiding in her hands. Turning to Tasnim, he offered her a tentative smile as his heart began to hammer. “So, uh, I brought you something,” he said quietly, reaching into his pocket.

She looked a little anxious too, fidgeting from one foot to another as he handed her the folded heart. He studied her reaction as she opened the valentine and read the note, chewing on his lip as he waited for her to speak.

At last, she looked up and met his gaze, her eyes alight. “Thank you,” she whispered, barely audible. “Thank you. That’s really sweet.”

He took a deep breath and said the words that he’d bottled up inside himself for what seemed like years. “You wanna go out with me?”

Tasnim blinked. Opened her mouth, and then closed it again. Hassan held his breath.

She smiled and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.”

Hassan wanted to lift his face to the sky and scream in primal delight. But instead, he grinned, and held the door to Shayan’s room open for her.

That evening, Hassan lay sprawled out on his bed, eyes closed in satisfaction as he mentally scrolled through the day’s events. Watching Shayan and Anaiya hold hands surreptitiously, a blush creeping up his cousin’s face. Walking Tasnim to her mom’s car, all the while making stupid puns that kept her laughing until she was doubled over. Greeting Tasnim’s mom like the polite desi boy he was supposed to be, pretending that he wasn’t dating her daughter and then winking at Tasnim as she drove away. Playing Clash Royale and watching cricket with Shayan for hours in his hospital room while snacking on the fancy chocolate that Anaiya brought for him. Going home, eating ramen on the couch and FaceTiming Fatima to tell her everything that happened.

Yes, life was good. Life was very good indeed.

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