Mehendi Tides

Mehendi Tides

by Siobhan Malany


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781683504009
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Pages: 284
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.64(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

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Chicago 1987

Sixteen-year-old kate hurried in the chill of the afternoon, past the blue Chevy Malibu in the driveway, gave a quick rap at the door to her best friend Nasreen's house, turned the knob impatiently, pressed her shoulder against the door until it opened, and scuffed across the shag rug. Warm scents of marsala and cinnamon immediately enveloped her senses.

She kicked off her shoes in the foyer and left them among the mound of sneakers and chappals.

Sana, Nasreen's intuitive younger sister, was the first to greet her.

"Hi Kate," she said, excited. "Will you play with me? Nasreen is crying again."

"She is?" Kate asked. "I'll see what's up and then I will play with you."


Sana was holding a ragdoll and brushed the yarn hair from its face.

"I promise."

Sameer, Nasreen's twin, was on the phone, pacing and speaking Urdu and English, switching back and forth rapidly between both tongues. As twins, Nasreen and Sameer had the same walnut-shaped eyes and brown-black wavy hair, and both were tall, but Sameer's lanky shape and gaunt face resembled nothing of Nasreen's full, curvy figure. Sameer noticed Kate as she reached the top of the stairs and gave a quick arrogant nod in her direction. She dismissed him and followed the spiced aroma into the kitchen.

Nasreen's mother, Laila, pushed plump meatballs coated with mustard seeds and red chilies around in sputtering grease with the tip of a spatula. She removed the lid from the large copper blackened pot on the back burner. The pot, dented from years of use, was probably passed down through generations of Indian wives. Steam and scents of South Indian cuisine billowed forth, covering the spice rack on the shelf above the stove. Laila leaned forward to peer into the pot.

"As-salaam-alaikum," Kate said, smiling.

"Oh!" Laila, startled, looked up to see her daughter's closest friend in the doorway. "Wa-alaikumsalaam," she returned. "I did not hear you come in."

She wiped her glistening brow with the back of her hand, her fingers smeared with bits of beef and spices. Several strands of black hair and sprigs of gray had escaped her bun and stuck out in a thick wave across her forehead.

"There is a moving van in front of Dr. Khan's house," Kate said, attempting small talk.

Dr. Khan, a slight-framed, attractive Indian doctor fresh out of residency, had just moved into the neighborhood with his young wife a few months ago, right before the holidays. He worked at the cancer clinic in the city. Two weeks earlier he had been attacked walking to his car after late-night rounds and suffered cuts, a broken nose, and bruised ribs.

"Oh, the poor man!" Laila exclaimed. "It is no wonder he and his young wife do not feel safe here. It is a shame. Such random violence in our city! They are moving to Michigan. We liked them very much."

Kate nodded, not sure what to say.

"Is Nasreen in her room?" she finally asked.

"Yes. She will not talk to me," Laila said, rocking her head side to side in a pendulum motion. "I do not know what is wrong. She is being very, very difficult." She motioned with her greased hand as a kind of surrender. "First she cuts off all of her beautiful long hair. If I did that when I was her age, my Ammi would have locked me in my room for two weeks!"

Kate knew Laila would never lock Nasreen in her room.

"Now she will not stop crying," Laila continued. "She says she is ill and cannot go to mosque. You go, please," she urged, replacing the lid on the dented pot and picking up the spatula again, signaling an end to their small talk.

Down the yellow striped wallpapered hall, Kate knocked on Nasreen's bedroom door.

"It's Kate," she whispered, placing her head against the door.

A classic tune played softly inside. She opened the door slowly and scanned the familiar white and pink bedroom with butterfly wallpaper.


"Here," Nasreen answered. "I thought you were my mother."

Kate peered over the bed. Nasreen was sitting on the floor, hugging her long legs, glancing through the soft chiffon curtains through raw, puffy eyes.

"Why are you crying over listening to the musical La Bohème?" Kate asked.

Nasreen looked up at her friend in the doorway and glared. Kate recognized the pained look of bygone love on her best friend's face.

She closed the door behind her and lunged across the bed. Her chin rested on her fists, elbows sinking into the soft white flowered comforter.

"Your hair is growing out. I think it looks sophisticated," Kate said cheerfully.

"Tell that to my mother," Nasreen quipped. "She acts like I have summoned the evil spirits by cutting my hair so short. I have been covering my hair with a headscarf to calm her nerves. On the plus side, my mother has bought me several new scarves." She smiled cheekily.

"I was talking to your mom about Dr. Khan. He's moving!" Kate exclaimed.

Nasreen shrugged. "Yes. It is for the best. Considering what happened ... that he was beaten. He should take his wife and move to a safer city."

"Do you think it was a hate crime? Because he is Indian? Why didn't they steal his wallet?" Kate asked, still baffled by the troubling event.

"How can you rationalize the madness? He should have known better than to walk in that area late at night."

Kate thought that Nasreen seemed strangely indifferent, even mean-spirited as if Dr. Khan deserved it.

"What is wrong, Nasreen? Sana says you have been crying, and I can see that look in your eyes. Tell me!" Kate demanded.

"We are going to India and Pakistan."

"India? Pakistan? When? How long?" Kate asked excitedly.

"June. Eight weeks. We are going for a visit. And a wedding," Nasreen mumbled.

Kate sucked in her breath. Her mind rattled with thoughts of Nasreen married off to someone strange, someone old. She is not yet seventeen. What about the rest of high school? No! It's too soon!

"Rahim is arranged to be married to a girl in Karachi," Nasreen announced.

"Oh thank God!" Kate sputtered, releasing her breath.

"What?" Nasreen shot her a look of annoyance.

"Nothing. I just thought ... never mind." She shook her head.

"You thought it was me," Nasreen said matter-of-factly. "I am not getting married. Not now, anyway."

"I don't get it," Kate said. "Why are you crying over your cousin Rahim getting married or that you are going to India? Both seem exciting."

"Aunty Zehba arranged Anees's engagement too. While shopping for one son's bride you might as well find the other son a bride," Nasreen remarked caustically. "Rahim's wedding is first because he is the eldest, and Aunty Zehba expects everyone to attend. Anees's wedding will be sometime next spring. She is planning a large engagement party when we are in Pakistan."

"I'm sorry," Kate said shyly. "I'm sorry Anees is engaged."

"What is there to be sorry about?" Nasreen snapped.

She gazed out the window again. There was, so it seemed for Nasreen, something deeper than teenage heartache.

"It was never in our fates to be together. He is twenty- three now and needs a bride," she said after a pause. "He always told me he would marry whoever his mother chooses. I respect that."

"Why doesn't she choose you? She is your aunt. Why not ask her? I mean, if it is what you both want?" Kate asked awkwardly.

She had never fully grasped the depth of Nasreen and Anees's infatuation, if that's what it was — the close bond between cousins whose difference in age spanned adolescence and young adulthood.

Kate was jealous of Nasreen's maturity when it came to romance and intrigued by her power to attract the attention of a man — not a boy, but a man. Kate learned about love from conversations with Nasreen, a girl forbidden to date and whose matrimonial fate would soon be arranged in accordance with Indian culture.

"Aunty Zehba would never choose me," Nasreen snapped. "And she will never know!" She flashed Kate a look of warning.

"Why? Because you and he are cousins?"

"Cousins get married all the time in our culture," Nasreen said firmly. "But no! Anees is her favorite son. Only a wife from Pakistan is suitable. Not someone who grew up in America," she added defensively. "I just wish he had the courage to tell me himself, you know? My mother told me!"

Kate did not reply. She listened instead to the soundtrack streaming from the tape deck on the floor. Vinyl records and cassette cases littered the pink speckled rug.

"I know it hurts, but there is time for you," Kate said. "Just promise me you will not run off and get married our senior year and leave me here alone in stuffy, cliquey Rockfield High. You're my best friend!"

Suddenly, Nasreen broke into violent tears. She rocked back and forth still hugging her knees, heaving.

"Nasreen! What is it?" Kate shouted in panic. "Should I get your mother?"

"No!" Nasreen said, a look of apprehension in her eyes.

"What is going on with you?"

"I'm late!"

Kate was shocked.

Nasreen wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

"What? You and Anees were having ... sex?" Kate's mouth fell wide open.

"It was a mistake," Nasreen blurted.

"A mistake? He is twenty-three! And now he is engaged!"

"It's not his fault," Nasreen said breathlessly. She started to say more but did not.

"Why are you defending him?" Kate was visibly angry now.

"I shouldn't have told you," Nasreen snapped.

Nasreen had too much religious conviction to be so careless. It didn't make sense, Kate thought. Her head was pounding. Then she realized someone was pounding on the bedroom door.

"Go away!" shouted Nasreen.

"Krishna is on the phone," Sameer's muffled voice said from the hallway.

"Ugh," Nasreen moaned. She got up and swung the door open to find Sameer leaning against the doorframe.

She grabbed the white phone and receiver, grayed by fingerprints. The phone cord snaked down the hallway from their parents' bedroom. Nasreen yanked the cord. Sana stood in the hallway singing a lullaby to her ragdoll.

"Will you and Kate play with me now?" Sana pleaded.


"You're mean," Sameer snapped. "What are you listening to?" he said, poking his head into his twin sister's bedroom.

"None of your business," Nasreen barked as she pushed the door closed, causing Sameer to jump out of its path.

"Hello," Nasreen said hoarsely into the receiver. "Yes, I'm fine. Just have a slight cold."

"You're going to India?" Krishna's voice shrieked loudly through the phone line.

Nasreen cringed and lifted her head away from the receiver.

"Wow. So are we!" Krishna's long, piercing pitch filled the room, shattering the melancholy tone diffusing from the tape deck.

Kate watched Nasreen pace across the bedroom.

Krishna tended to be overzealous at times. She lived a few streets over from Maple Street and often pedaled her powder-blue Schwinn bike to Nasreen's, her long black braid swinging as she rounded the block. Nasreen had known Krishna since they were toddlers and their emigrant Indian mothers met in the middle of the afternoon pushing the little brown-eyed girls in strollers.

"Really?" Nasreen asked, returning the receiver to her ear. "July? Yes, we are going in June to India and then Pakistan. I know! I know! It has been six years since I have visited my grandmother, my aunt and uncles, and my cousins."

Partly listening to the one-sided conversation between Nasreen and Krishna, Kate rolled onto her back and lay on the bed staring at the ceiling, praying that Nasreen wasn't pregnant and utterly dismayed that she might be. To distract her mind, Kate thought about the first time she had meet Nasreen and Krishna freshman year.

Nasreen's and Krishna's families did not share the same religion, language, or customs, yet the two girls were bonded on the neighborhood playground in a middle-class neighborhood by their "India-ness." Although both of their mothers were from South India, Laila was from Telangana and Saritha was from the coastal state of Kerala, making their daughters culturally divergent in a sense but both bound by their epochal duties to define their parents' legacy in America.

Krishna's parents, Saritha and Suneel Desai, each came from different Indian states divided by geography and dialects. They met in America, landing on the same college campus surrounded by Illinois cornstalks. After a peek through the library stacks, Saritha was drawn to Suneel's long jawline and thoughtful intensity as he sat studying; he was intrigued by her wide-eyed curiosity. Suneel was from the western state of Gujarat, making his marriage to Saritha a marriage never bechanced in India, only in an American college town. "A love marriage," Krishna called it with a hint of defiance in her voice. "About the only thing they had in common was that their home states shared the same Indian coastline!"

On the other hand, Nasreen's parents were born, reared, and married by arrangement in Hyderabad, their consummation blessed by ancestral order and progeniture prosperity. Her father brought his new wife to the Midwest in search of a promising engineering career.

Both sets of parents arrived in the same American neighborhood in the mid-1960s to start new lives. Their American-born daughters found friendship in hopscotch, running through the malls holding hands, and prancing around the dinner table dressed in colorful salwar kameezes.

In high school, Nasreen met Kate, a freckle-faced redhead, and the only other girl in her computer class. Kate and Nasreen listened to music, passed the time in mindless chatter in the pink and white bedroom, giggled about boys, and complained about home economics class. Laila often set a place for Kate at the evening meal, something fried, too spicy, peppers soaked in cumin and turmeric in a spiced bubbling ghee.

On weekends, Kate spent the night at Nasreen's and attended family gatherings — feasts at dusk during the holy month of Ramadan, and Eid parties signaling the end of Ramadan that lasted through the night. On these occasions, even in the middle of August, the house, strung with bulbs, danced in the wondrous light on an otherwise dark and quiet Midwestern street, the walkways decorated with luminary candles guiding the women in flowing saris bursting with color and outlined with gold diamante trim, all hours of the night.

At every wedding ceremony celebrated in traditional stages — the medendi, the nikah, and the walima — in the Rockfield Muslim community, Kate was the fair girl beside Nasreen. The women were always separate from the men on these occasions during meals and prayer. Kate found comfort sitting cross-legged on the floor among a sea of veiled women, hips touching hips, so close she smelled henna dye in the women's hair. It was an earthy smell of the dye mixed with camellia-scented hair oil.

Kate imagined her mother's face under each veil, a beautiful face fading in her memory over the five years since she had passed away. There among the mothers and girls waiting to be mothers, she could feel her own passions in the waves of soft murmurs and prayer hymns.

Nasreen placed the phone gently against its base after saying goodbye to Krishna.

"What are you going to do?" Kate asked. "When you go to India, you will be ..." She wiggled her fingers as she counted the months in her head. "... Showing!"

"Shhh," Nasreen warned. "I am just late a few days. Maybe it's nothing."

"Nothing? Nasreen, this isn't like you!" Kate exclaimed. "You're shaking!" "Come with us."

"To India?" Kate asked astonished, eyeing Nasreen suspiciously.

Nasreen lowered her head. "I'm tired," she said. "We are supposed to go to the mosque tonight. I can't go. I told my mother I'm ill. It's not really a lie."

Kate pictured Nasreen, her cropped hair wrapped underneath a dupatta, kneeling on her prayer rug, a baby growing inside her.

Yes, she thought, best to stay here surrounded by the butterfly wallpaper.



Ten Years Later • Chicago 1998

Café Trois Oeufs on Chicago's north side was beginning to quiet down as breakfast business meetings came to an end. Clients glanced critically at their watches, while morning procrastinators prepared for their mundane Midwestern jobs.

The wooden chairs moaned loudly as patrons pushed them forward, allowing others to pass with an "excuse me," "pardon me," and "have a nice day."

Beneath shuffling feet, the hallowed floorboards of the renovated Victorian house — now a French restaurant and bakery — creaked with patrons glancing at the bright showcases of gleaming pastries and handmade glazed bread swirled in knots or twisted in ropes.

A little bell on the door mantel rang as Kate entered. The January cold drifted in and skirted across the floorboards. Kate searched among the tables and spotted Nasreen and Krishna, sitting at a table in the corner of the bakery.

Nasreen had just returned from visiting family in Pakistan with her husband, Mustafa, and called Kate and Krishna to meet at her favorite café.

"Hi. Sorry I'm late," Kate apologized.

She gave both women a quick hug, dropped her backpack on the floor, and plopped into the French wicker chair.

"I am so glad we could finally get together. It's been months!" Krishna said.


Excerpted from "Mehendi Tides"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Siobhan Malany.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Butterfly Wallpaper,
Chapter 2 Wrapped in Faith,
Chapter 3 Rockfield to Bombay,
Chapter 4 Visitor at Eid,
Chapter 5 Sister Cities,
Chapter 6 A Sacrifice,
Chapter 7 Banjara Hills,
Chapter 8 Letters,
Chapter 9 White Mosque, Black Stone,
Chapter 10 Are You Listening, Lord Ganesha?,
Chapter 11 Garden at the Tombs,
Chapter 12 Summoned to Marriage,
Chapter 13 Rain on the Windshield,
Chapter 14 Road from Begumpet,
Chapter 15 Krishna's Darkroom,
Chapter 16 Bombing of Bohri Bazaar,
Chapter 17 Second Chances,
Chapter 18 Parade of Trays,
Chapter 19 Raji's Charm,
Chapter 20 Dance in the Pines,
Chapter 21 Silk Lining,
Chapter 22 Returning Home,
Chapter 23 Legacy,
Chapter 24 Souls,
Chapter 25 Debut,
About the Author,

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