Love, Curry, and All Things in Between

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Chapter 5

School seemed so far away after the fiasco of the party, but Monday dawned bright and early. Abu and Ammi had barely spoken on the car ride home, simply shooting glares at Fatima. Hassan suspected they were still stuck in denial. Their perfect daughter dropping out of medical school at an Ivy League college had to be the equivalent of someone taking Hassan’s iCell and smashing it on the ground. Before Hassan went to sleep that night, he’d heard Ammi crying and Abu whispering harsh words that he couldn’t distinguish. Fatima had been crying too, muffled sobs emanating from her room across the hall. A worm of guilt writhed in Hassan’s stomach, but he forced it away as he prepared for the day. Remembering that he had to impress Arushi, Hassan made sure to wear his best Vineyard Vines shirt, plus his favorite pair of Yeezys. Girls seemed to like that sort of thing (except Anaiya, apparently, because she liked Shayan the neon-Nike-shoe-wearer). No words were exchanged at the breakfast table, stiff silence hanging over all of them, until finally Fatima and Hassan left for school.

He kept waiting for her to blame him, or be angry, or at least say something. But only when Fatima was pulling into the drop-off area did she glance over at Hassan and speak. “Do you think they’ll ever forgive me?” Her voice splintered and Hassan felt a stab of pity.

“Of course,” he assured her as he got out of the car, hoping he sounded genuine. “They’re just surprised, that’s all.”

She shook her head, rolling down her window to reply. “I think they’re one step away from disowning me, Hassan. You didn’t hear what they said last night.”

Before he could say anything, she’d driven away.

He pushed away any last remaining hints of guilt as he entered the school, turning his attention to Arushi instead. Flashing his best imitation of a Bollywood star’s smile at her, he strode confidently up to Jason and co.

“Hey, whassup?” he asked smoothly, leaning his elbow against a locker and raising an eyebrow. Hassan smiled inwardly as he watched the edges of Arushi’s eyes melt a little bit. These were moves that he’d practiced many, many times, not only at his old school but also in the mirror and in the shower, thank you very much. They were bound to work.

Arushi laughed. It was a borderline shrill, high-pitched sound that, unfortunately, reminded him of an auntie at a wedding, high on gossip and low on exercise. He fought back a wince before finally that atrocious sound ended and was replaced by a smile. Yes, much better. “You study for that math quiz today?” she asked.

Of course he had. Not. What with the party, and all the hassle of moving, he’d completely forgotten. Actually, that was a lie. Procrastination was just one of his bad habits. Hassan fought to come up with a suitable response. Did Arushi like guys who studied or guys who didn’t? He hesitated for a moment before replying, “Barely.”

She laughed again. It wasn’t as bad the second time around, he thought to himself, a little bit uncomfortably. He would get used to it. Just then, the bell rang, and she turned around to go to her locker. He walked away, suddenly somewhat conflicted—her laugh was just so obnoxious.

Shayan caught up with him in the hallway on the way to Spanish.

“Bro, what was that?” he questioned, incredulous.

“First off, don’t say bro. And it’s none of your business. I was just talking to Arushi,” Hassan shot back, staring straight forward and not meeting Shayan’s gaze.

Shayan elbowed him. “C’mon, Hassan, Anaiya already told you. Arushi’s not as nice as she seems.”

Hassan rolled his eyes, all of a sudden feeling a wave of annoyance and frustration wash over him. “Just mind your own business, okay?”

“What happened to you?” said Shayan quietly, sounding hurt, but Hassan didn’t care. He simply kept walking forward until at last he reached the Spanish classroom and didn’t make eye contact with Shayan until the end of the bell.

That day at lunch, Hassan didn’t bother waiting for Shayan, instead going off with Owen to go buy some greasy chicken and pizza. He’d just taken the math quiz, and (probably due to his lack of preparation) he was pretty sure he’d failed it. Great, now he could add being thrown out of the house by his parents to his list of problems. Hassan groaned inwardly. It seemed like that list was just getting longer and longer every day.

After school, Fatima was there waiting for him at the car pick-up area. She seemed to have gotten rid of her sour mood from that morning, and although he was curious, he didn’t dare to press her on the subject. Instead, Hassan raised his eyebrows skeptically at the sight of her wearing her favorite “athletic” Lululemon top and matching headband.

“Are you seriously going to the gym again?” He scowled at her, hoping that this wasn’t one of those cases when she wanted to go to the gym across town from their house, resulting in him getting home late because she simply couldn’t drop him off at home first.

Fatima smirked. “Yes, yes I am. But because I’m such a nice person, I’m going to take you home first.”

“Okay.” He glanced at her suspiciously, wondering why today of all days she was in such a good mood.

“What, no ‘thank you so much, Fatima, you’re the best sister ever’?” She twisted in the driver’s seat to shoot him a look.

Hassan rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

Fatima pursed her lips but she shrugged and began loudly streaming music on her phone. Hassan groaned at the sound of the opening notes of “Balam Pichkari”. Seriously, he’d been hearing that song at weddings for years and years and years; didn’t it ever get old? He stuck in his earbuds and turned up the volume to Drake as soon as Fatima started singing. He hadn’t ordered a torturing session for his ears, after all.

But as Fatima prepared to turn into their subdivision, Hassan suddenly remembered gym class last week, and how he’d been one of the weakest guys there. Taking a deep breath and steeling his courage, he asked, “Fatima?”

“What?” she replied offhandedly during a pause in the next song on her playlist, “Kala Chashma.”

“Um. Can I, uh, come with you?”

She turned in her seat to face him. “Wait… what?”

Hassan cleared his throat awkwardly. “Can I come to the gym with you?”

Fatima snorted. “So you made me drive all the way back this way for nothing?”

Hassan shrugged, glad that he didn’t blush like Shayan did whenever he was embarrassed. He looked back down at his iCell.

“Why though?” said Fatima suddenly.

Hassan stared out the window, anywhere where he wouldn’t have to meet his sister’s probing gaze. “Just because.”

“You trying to get abs now?” teased Fatima, laughing.

Hassan scowled, almost regretting his decision to ask.

And by the time Hassan got home, he was most definitely regretting it. The gym was smelly and full of fat sweaty people. Honestly, it had been downright torturous. He wasn’t sure why Fatima insisted on going all the time, especially because she just didn’t fit in there, among all the stinky people who didn’t know the definition of “shower.” He groaned, retreating to his room to sulk, his mind already adding the gym to its list of things wrong with society.

The next day wasn’t much better. Abu and Ammi still weren’t speaking to Fatima, and Shayan was now officially ignoring Hassan while he tried to hang out with Jason, Arushi, and their posse. Hassan had spotted Shayan talking to Jason during science class and he’d tried to join the conversation (it was embarrassing, but he had to admit things were weird without Shayan around) and Shayan had walked away without a backwards glance. Hassan snorted. It was Shayan’s loss, anyway.

To make himself feel better, he turned to mocking Tommy with Jason. “Ew, his jacket is such a rip-off,” Hassan laughed.

“I know right? And his shoes, man.” Jason replied. Hassan shot a smug look at Tommy.

After Social Studies, which was full of Owen and Hassan making snide comments about the gamer geeks’ awful taste in shoes, it was lunchtime. He didn’t bother with Shayan and Tommy, instead heading straight for his new friends—if Shayan was going to play the shunning game then so could he. Out of his peripheral vision he noticed Curly-haired Indian Girl and the other Asian girls come up behind him. Groaning, Hassan scooted away from them and pretended not to see them.

“What’s wrong with you?” Anaiya snapped, walking up in front of him.

Hassan glared at her. “Go away.”

Japanese/Korean Girl and Straight-haired Indian Girl stood to the side, scowling. Arab Girl and Curly-haired Indian Girl were on his other side. Hassan groaned. Yep, he was trapped.

“What do you want?” he sighed.

“Why aren’t you talking to Shayan?” demanded Anaiya.

Hassan rolled his eyes. “Does he need a girl to pick his fights now?”

Japanese/Korean Girl shot daggers at him with her eyes. “So you’re rude and sexist?”

Hassan sighed. He was way too tired for this. “Shut up, dog-eater.”

“Add racist to that list,” snorted Arab Girl.

“Look,” said Hassan slowly, taking a deep breath. “Can you guys just leave me alone? I don’t even know your names, so get out of my business.”

Anaiya glared at him. “Tasnim”—she pointed at Curly-haired Indian Girl—“Jenny”—Japanese/Korean Girl—“Navya”—Straight-haired Indian Girl—“Noor”—Arab Girl.

Hassan sighed. “That’s irrelevant.”

“You’re irrelevant,” Straight-haired Indian Girl (oh wait, Navya) retorted.

Hassan glanced awkwardly over at Arushi, sure that she was watching him talk to these uncool nerds. Ugh, this was bad for his reputation (and incredibly annoying). “I have to go, okay?”

Tasnim stepped in front of him. “Answer our question first.”

“What question?” Hassan was panicking a little. Would Owen think that he was also a nerd because he was talking to these Asian girls? But it hadn’t even been by choice!

Jenny (Japanese/Korean Girl) raised an eyebrow. “Why aren’t you talking to Shayan?”

Hassan tried to back away but Tasnim kicked him in the shin. “What? Oh, uh, is that my mom over there? Gotta run!” He darted away from them, face burning with shame and humiliation from having an interaction with Shayan’s girlfriend’s friends. Ew.

But as he slithered into a seat by Jason and tried to formulate an excuse as to why he was late, he asked himself the same question. Why wasn’t he talking to Shayan? He didn’t especially want to know the answer, so he pushed it to the back of his mind and tried to focus on what Owen was saying to him.

After lunch, he walked with Arushi to her locker. Still feeling a little off-kilter from his encounter with Anaiya’s friends, he steeled his courage and asked, “Hey, you wanna go see a movie or something with me this weekend?” He leaned against the lockers and ran a hand through his carefully-gelled hair, flashing his Bollywood-male-lead smile at her.

She grinned back at him. “Okay,” she replied, laughing a little. He resisted the urge to run for his earbuds. Honestly, could she just not laugh?

He pretended that she hadn’t just ruined the moment with a fake smile. “How about we meet at the theater at seven on Friday?” He gave her a sheepish smile. “I would pick you up but, you know, desi parents.”

She laughed again and nodded before turning back to her locker.

Jason was already at his locker waiting for him. “Dude, did you just ask Arushi out?”

Hassan smirked. “Yeah.” Just at that moment, Shayan walked by, and something told Hassan that Shayan had seen the whole thing. He didn’t know why, but he suddenly felt a little bit guilty.

After school that day, Fatima took Hassan to the gym again. He groaned in protest and begged her to drop him off at home but she’d refused, simply pushing her headband up to the top of her head and pulling her thick hair into a ponytail before setting off.

“Fatima,” he moaned. “Can we not?”

She glared at him from her spot in the driver’s seat. “No.”

He glared right back at her. “I hate the gym.”

“Well, sucks to be you,” she retorted, turning up the volume of the desi song playlist on her phone.

Hassan paused the playlist just as he heard the opening chords of “The Breakup Song” and scowled at Fatima. “What happened this time?”

Her face collapsed, and Hassan face-palmed. He knew what was going to happen next. Fatima swerved the car over to a parking lot in front of a McDonald’s and buried her head in her hands.

Hassan took a deep steadying breath and put on his therapist face (why were teenage girls so moody?). “Fatima, would you like to tell me what was the catalyst of your tears?” he asked in his best British accent, somewhat sarcastically.

She glared at him through her sobs until finally she couldn’t hold it back anymore. “I got a B,” she wailed.

Hassan sighed. His whole report card was made up of B’s. “Oh no, I am so sorry.”

“Shut up,” she sniffled. “I miss Novy. And Abu and Ammi hate me.”

Hassan glanced out the window, already smelling the savory aroma of chicken nuggets. Pretending to be interested in what Fatima was blubbering about this time, he closed his eyes and inhaled the amazing chicken nugget smell. “Yeah, that’s awful. He should not have done that.”

Fatima elbowed him in the ribs, hard. Hassan yelped. “I’m not talking about a he, you idiot.”

Hassan gave her a somewhat guilty smile. “Um, I think some chicken nuggets will make you feel better.”

“Hassan!” Fatima screeched. “Those aren’t even made out of chicken. I read somewhere that they’re fifty percent polyester and fifty percent fat!”

“Call the healthy food police,” Hassan muttered, rolling his eyes.

Fatima scowled at him and pulled the car out of the parking lot, at least not crying anymore. “Chup karo.”

After an hour at the gym, they finally went home. Fatima went upstairs to shower (luckily, since he was pretty sure her hair was already stale with old teil) while Hassan headed upstairs to do homework. He frowned at the pile of algebra papers thrown in the corner, the last thing he wanted to do right now. He suddenly thought back to Jason’s text about cheating off Shayan. That didn’t seem like such a bad idea now… if only Shayan wasn’t mad at him.

He sighed. At least Arushi was going out with him now. He smirked to himself, wishing he could rub it in Shayan’s face. Score.

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