Nina had informed him of the unplanned pregnancy that morning, as casually as she was now asking him to admire her appearance. She spun away from enjoying her reflection in the mirror to face him. She spread her arms and twitched her hips. “How do I look?”
Amol observed his light haired, light eyed girlfriend, dressed in an Indian sari and covered in ostentatious gold jewelry, with a mixture of pride and amusement. She looked wonderful and yet wrong at the same time. Like an excited young girl playing dress up. So precious but not real.
“You look amazing.” He sat down on the bed they shared most nights in his modestly sized Manhattan apartment. Nina described the color on the walls as a drab and dependable gray, without being asked. The blanket on the bed was black and Nina’s sari in front of him was an electric blend of pinks, yellows, and greens.
“Your sister taught me how to drape and pin the sari last week. I did okay?”
He smiled. “Better than some Indian women I know.”
“Give me a break.” She returned to the mirror, putting the final touches on her appearance and applying a ruby red to her pale lips.
He stood up to find sandals to complement his long beige kurta. They were headed to his cousin’s Hindu wedding in Connecticut. Nina tossed her lipstick onto the bed. Irritated, he picked it up and walked over to the vanity to return it to its place.
“We should get on the road now. Don’t want to be late.”
Amol knew he was kidding himself. With Nina coming along, of course they’d be late. Amol’s mother, with her quiet dignity and grace, believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that loud, cursing, irresponsible Nina was nothing but a fling. Something Amol had to get out of his system.
Amol’s mother knew her meticulous son needed someone who would drop her clothes in the laundry hamper in the evening. Not step out of her pants and skirts, leaving them discarded on the floor like some kind of helpful chalk outline to aid him in tracing her last steps. He needed someone who would understand and respect their Hindu customs and beliefs. Not try them on like a costume when it suited her. Someone he could actually take to temple and family gatherings, with no sense of dread that he was teetering on the edge, about to make one wrong move and plummet. The girl didn’t have to be brown, his mother insisted. She just couldn’t be Nina.
Amol, even as he rebelled for the first time and resisted his mother, wondered if she was right. The baby made it all so much more troubling somehow. What if this unpredictable life of his was simply a precursor to the one yet to happen?
Thanks to Nina, he’d found himself on a flight to Greece in only their third week of dating because she was just really into her new Mediterranean cookbook and wanted to see the birthplace of it all. It was at her insistence that they woke up in the dead of night once to go ride their bikes through a pitch black Central Park in the winter. Amol could still remember how the cold had seized every muscle of his body, until they screamed and ached, and then the exhilarating release when the wind whistling in his ears and the crunch of the white frost beneath his wheels made him laugh. Without Nina, he would have ordered takeout from the little Greek hole in the wall down the street or just exercised on the bike machine at his gym under the warm, comfortable glow of a heater.
He tried to picture the steady, reliable partner he hadn’t met yet, but she had no face. And yet a part of him still wanted her. Was waiting for her. Assumed they’d find each other someday. Then Nina’s chatter in the car paused.
“You’re too quiet. What’s wrong?”
Amol was surprised Nina noticed.
“It’s the baby.”
“I knew it.” She was trying to catch his eye, he could tell, but he avoided her penetrating gaze. The road stretching long and unknown in front of him was all he could see.
“I have to look where I’m going.” He felt her pressing up against his arm as he drove on without turning to face her, the gold chain of her elaborate, chunky necklace leaving an uncomfortable indent in his skin through his thin sleeve.
“We can do this,” she said.
“I—I don’t want to.”
The next few moments felt gaping and cold. The gray seatbelt cut into his flesh. Darkness had fallen. They were almost at the wedding venue.
“I wasn’t expecting this.” He released the steering wheel, hot from his tight grip and cold from his sweat, and reached out to rest his hand on her knee. The fabric of her sari felt scratchy and thick to his touch.
She shifted her knee so that his hand dropped to her seat.
He turned back to the road in time to see the deer, a light brown blur, dart out in front of the car. He jerked the wheel with both hands and his eyes widened as the world spun into a dizzying shock of colors in the heavy darkness.
Once his brain started whirring again and sensation surged through his body, Amol became aware that he was alive. Nina’s hand touched his face.
“We’re alright,” she said. “We’re okay. So is the deer.”
Amol rolled the window down. He felt the pressure in his head and lungs lessen as the cold air rushed in and he laughed. The sound circled him and Nina both, banding them together tighter and tighter, until they could hardly breathe. Her teeth scraped his cheekbone as her kisses attacked him, hungry and wanting. He closed his eyes and listened. All he could hear was the violent beating of their three hearts.