Sarika walked in, feeling self-conscious. She was tempted to turn around and leave. If only Trishan could have come with her but he had to work late. He encouraged her to go to the dinner party. “You know that Saanvi will be disappointed if you don’t go,” he told her. Saanvi was her cousin.
“Here alone?” a voice inquired behind her.
She turned around. It was Darain. His gaze traveled slowly and appreciatively over her. He was wearing an expensive looking navy blue suit with a tan waistcoat and a black polka tie. “Yes, I’m here alone.”
“Where’s the boyfriend?”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yes,” Sarika agreed. She wished that Trishan was there.
“We’re both alone but it doesn’t have to remain that way.”
“What do you mean?”
“We can spend the evening together.”
She wasn’t sure she was comfortable with that idea, especially because of the way he was looking at her. “Well, I’m not sure…”
“I won’t try anything if that’s what you’re afraid of. I make it a point of never moving in on another guy’s woman. It’s just common decency. Besides, I wouldn’t want another guy to move in on my woman when I’m not around.”
“I guess there’s no harm,” Sarika said.
He smiled. “Let’s go over and say hello to Saanvi.”
Saanvi was thrilled to see them. After she hugged them both, she asked, “Where’s Trishan?”
“He had to work late,” Sarika told her.
“That’s too bad.” Her eyes darted quickly to Sarika’s left hand. Still no engagement ring. “Well, I hope to see him some other time.”
They chatted for a while then, Sarika and Darain moved away when other guests joined them. “What would you like to drink?” he asked.
“Since I’m driving, nothing with alcohol in it.”
He brought her a Nimbu Soda while he had a virgin mojito. “Let’s sit over there,” he suggested.
“I read online about the 90-year-old woman who finally went back to the house in Pakistan’s Rawalpindi city that she had dreamed about for 75 years. was showered with rose petals as she walked towards the house on College Road. People played drums and danced with her as they celebrated her arrival. What a homecoming.”
“Yes, it was. She and her family left Rawalpindi in 1947, weeks before India and Pakistan became two independent nations.”
“It’s a pity that the country was split.”
“Many of the Indian people didn’t want to be ruled by the British and wanted to govern themselves. So, when they finally got their independence, they decided to split into two countries–India and Pakistan. India is predominantly Hindu and Pakistan, predominantly Muslim. There was a lot of tension between the two groups.”
“My family is Hindu. What about yours?”
“Both. My father is Hindu and my mother is Muslim.”
“And which are you?”
“I was raised as a Hindu.”
“I guess it’s because you and your parents were living in India and not in Pakistan.”
“Yes, according to Hindu Law a person will be Hindu by birth if one of his parents at the time of his birth was a Hindu and brought up as a Hindu.”
“Did your family have a problem with your parents’ marriage?”
“Initially, some members opposed it. My father’s side of the family accused my mother of honey-trapping him to make him accept Islam. My mother’s side of the family refused to let her marry my father when she asked permission because they were afraid of being accused of love jihad’. Eventually, both sides accepted the marriage.”
“I’m glad it all worked out.”
“If it hadn’t, you and I wouldn’t be here talking now. I wouldn’t exist.”
“I’m thankful that my both of my parents are Hindus.”
“It’s less complicated that way, I guess. What about your boyfriend? Are both of his parents Hindus?”
“Yes. His aunt is a Christian, though, and he has been going to church with her.”
“What will you do if he decides to become a Christian?”
“I hope he doesn’t but if he does, it wouldn’t matter. I’ll still marry him.”
“Has he asked you to marry him?”
“Not yet, but he will.”
“If you were my woman, there would be a wedding ring on your finger right now.”
“Well, I’m not your woman.”
“No, you’re not. I hope your boyfriend realizes how lucky he is.”
“I’m lucky too.”
Darain didn’t reply to that. Instead, he changed the subject. “Have you heard about Droupadi Murmu, India’s first tribal president?”
“Yes, I have. She’s 64 year old years and a former teacher Odisha. She was also a state governor.”
“She belongs to to the Santhal community, one of India’s largest tribal groups.”
“And she’s the daughter of a village council chief. She studied at the Ramadevi Women’s College in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.”
They spoke about the new president of India for a while longer and then, it was time for dinner. They didn’t sit next to each other at the table. Sarika was seated between a Korean thirty-something man and an English woman in her mid-forties. She was Saanvi’s co-worker. Beside her was her husband, a Nigerian. Sarika chatted with both of them. Darain sat on the opposite side of the table, slightly to her right. Several times, she caught him watching her even when he was conversing with the black man sitting beside him.
After dinner, he approached her and engaged her in another conversation. It was around ten fifteen when she said to him, “I’m going to leave now.”
“All right. I’ll stick around for a while longer. It was nice seeing you again, Sarika.”
“Goodnight,” she said.
“Goodnight.” He watched her as she walked away. He had wanted to offer to walk her to her car but somehow he knew that she wouldn’t want him to do that.
Sarika went over to Saanvi and they hugged. They promised to meet for lunch sometime before Sarika left after saying goodbye to the Korean man and the English woman.