By Hemi Gordy

It all began with a soda can. I stared at it, perplexed by the unfamiliar contraption. Turning to the stranger sitting next to me at the lunch table, I asked, “Can you open this for me, please?”


I still remember the charmingly vacant expression in his blue eyes when he tore his gaze from the book he was reading and eloquently responded, “Huh?”


“The can?” I offered it to him.


He looked down at the bright red Coke can, then back up at me. I went on, slightly sheepish, “I don’t know how to open it.”


“Oh!” His face broke into a friendly smile, and he took the can from me. Deftly pushing one end of the metal tab up with his thumb, he broke open the can with a satisfying kkk shhhhh, and pressed the tab back down again. It took less than a second, then he handed me the open can.


I took a sip. Sweet. “Thanks.” I smiled. “I’m Kavita.”


“No problem. I’m Andy.” He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. “If you don’t mind me asking, how come you don’t know how to open a soda can?”


“I’m from India,” I explained. “My family and I came here a few months ago.”


“Gotcha,” he nodded. Before he could say any more, the bell rang and students began filing out of the lunchroom in a torrent of neon and acid wash jeans. “It was nice meeting you, Kavita.”


“You, too.” I stuffed my lunchbox into my backpack, swung the bag over my shoulder, and joined the flood of students exiting the lunchroom.


When I finally reached the right classroom, I sat down at a desk, set my bag down next to me, and leaned over to pull out my binder and a pen. I wrote my name, Kavita Bhandari,  and the date, August 31, 1985, at the top of a piece of paper.


“Hey, Kavita!” I looked up to see Andy slide into the desk to my left, grinning. “Looks like we’re in the same math class.”


“Hey! What a coincidence,” I said, smiling back.



I rang the doorbell, shivering despite my jacket. As I waited for Andy to answer the door, I amused myself by looking at the Halloween decorations he had yet to take down. Americans are so weird, I thought to myself. Another gust of wind bit through my jacket and I shivered again.


Finally, Andy opened the door. “Hey! Come on in.”


“Took you long enough,” I joked, poking at him as I walked inside.


“Wow, ok,” Andy began, about to tease me back. He stopped when he saw me pulling something out of my bag. “What’s that?”


“I brought some Indian food for you to try,” I explained, opening the container to show Andy its contents. “This is called rajma chawal. Rajma is what you call kidney beans, and chawal is rice.” I looked into his face, trying to gauge his reaction.


“Cool!” Much to my relief, Andy seemed genuinely excited. “So we’ll eat after we finish studying?”


“Sure,” I handed Andy the container. “That sounds good.”


Andy disappeared into the kitchen with the rajma. I went into his living room, took out my math packeit, and lay down on the floor to study.


An hour later, I sat up and glanced at my watch. 1:37. “Lunchtime!” I announced. “I’m starving.”


“Ooh, finally!” Andy rolled over onto his back and sat up. “I’ll grab us some spoons.”


I reached out my arm to stop him. “No, no. We eat with our hands.” I wondered how he would react. My mom had warned me beforehand that he might laugh or be rude, but Andy sat back down as if this was nothing.


“Ok! Let’s do it.”


I smiled in relief. “Alright!”


Having heated the rajma, set the table, and washed our hands, Andy and I reunited in the dining room and sat down at the table side by side. I stood up to ladle out a serving for each of us, carefully handing Andy his bowl before taking some for myself.


“Um,” Andy began hesitantly, looking up at me. He raised his eyebrows, his expression almost apologetic. “Could you maybe show me how?”


“Sure! Of course.” I settled back into my chair and rolled up my sleeves. “So, hands can be like spoons, but better. You just make your hand kind of like a ladle, like this.” I showed him with my hand, then gently positioned his hand to match. “Then you can just scoop up some of the rajma chawal, nice and easy.” I demonstrated for him, giving myself a small mouthful. “Sounds ok?”


Still slightly unsure of himself, Andy nodded. “Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.” Hesitantly, he used his thumb to push some rajma into his hand. Struggling to keep his fingers together, he slowly raised his hand from the bowl. He bent his neck out to meet his hand, tilted his head sideways, and let the meager amount he had managed to hold onto fall into his mouth.


Holding his hand awkwardly over the bowl, he raised his eyebrows at me as if to say How’d I do? I smiled encouragingly in response.


Andy struggled on for another few minutes, by which time I had finished half of my own rajma and could watch no longer. “Here, let me help you out.” Wiping my hands on a napkin, I leaned over and deftly scooped up some of Andy’s rajma. Using my other hand, I positioned his hand under mine, facing upwards. “Make a little scoop with your fingers,” I told him. I put the food I had picked up firmly in his hand. “Ok, now go for it.” I kept my left hand under his right one as he guided it to his mouth and took his first real bite of the afternoon. I beamed at him, “There you go! How does it taste?”


After he finished, Andy grinned. “Like victory.”


“Hmmm,” I smiled. “I’m glad you like it.” For a moment, we just looked at each other. I couldn’t help it. The silence was deafening as we leaned in, ever so slowly—


The front door opened. “ANDY? WE’RE HOOOOOME!” In an instant, we sprung like springboards back into our chairs, stiff and staring straight ahead like a pair of soldiers standing for inspection. “ANDY?” The voice continued.


Andy bent over his bowl and tried to continue eating. I stayed still, willing my lungs to slow down and my heart to stop pounding.


“AN- Oh, there you are!” Andy’s mother walked into the dining room. “Hello, Kavita.” She greeted me quickly, before turning back to Andy. “Your brother’s baseball game was absolutely spectacular! He—”


Suddenly she noticed what Andy was doing. “Andy! Have you no manners? Go get yourself a spoon!”


Finally snapping out of it, I responded, “Actually, it’s okay, Mrs. Miller. I was just teaching Andy how to eat with his hands. That’s the way we eat in India.”


“Oh! I’m so sorry, dear, I must have been mistaken.” Mrs. Miller looked back at me with a mixture of innocence and confusion, her head tilted and her brow furrowed ever so slightly. “I thought that only poor people in India eat with their hands because they can’t afford silverware.”


Silence. I cleared my throat, taken aback. Andy seemed as shocked as I was, but said nothing. Swallowing my pride, I plastered a smile on my face. “Well, um, we all eat with our hands, because that’s our culture.”


Mrs. Miller nodded, still looking slightly nonplussed. A moment later, Mr. Miller entered the dining room. “Hello, Kavita! Your sister is here to drive you home.”


“Oh yes, thank you.” I picked up my container of rajma and rose from the table. “Thank you all so much for having me.”


As I washed my hands and grabbed my backpack from the living room, I overheard Mr. Miller tell Andy in the other room, “Say, her English is good for a foreigner!”


I left without saying goodbye.



Damn. I grumbled to myself, realizing I had messed up my graph. Today could not possibly get worse. I had missed the bus that morning, and on the drive to school my mom had taken the opportunity to give me yet another talk about staying away from American boys. Ughhhhh.


“Does anyone have a rubber I could borrow?”


Silence. I looked up. All the other students were staring at me, some confused and others amused by something I had said.


“Ummm, I just made a mistake on my graph and I need a rubber if anyone has one to lend me…”


People’s faces transformed as if something had dawned on them. Some of the nicer ones looked embarrassed for me, but some of the others laughed.


A boy in the back chuckled, “Why don’t you ask your boyfriend?”


Blushing, Andy turned around in his seat. “Stow it, Chad.” Turning back around, he handed me a rubber. I could see Andy was trying to hide his embarrassment.


“Thanks,” I whispered, confused by not only the class’ reaction but by his, as well. I used the rubber to erase my mistake.


When the bell rang, I met up with Andy in the hallway. “Hey, what was that about? All I wanted was a rubber.”


Leaning against a locker and closing his eyes, Andy seemed to deflate. “Kavita, in the US a ‘rubber’ means a condom.”


“What?” My cheeks felt hot. As the full meaning behind the jab from the boy in the back hit me, I put my hand over my mouth. “Oh. They thought I was asking for— oh god.” Blinking back tears, I managed to choke out, “I have to go.”


“Kavita, wait!” Andy tried to grab my arm, but I brushed past him.


I walked as quickly as I could down the hallway. Why did I say that? I wove between passing groups of laughing students. Why didn’t I know what it meant? I should have known! Swerving to avoid a teacher, I turned the corner. I just embarrassed not only myself but Andy, too. I launched myself up the steps two at a time. Maybe my parents have been right all along. At this realization, I sank down on the landing. Maybe they’re right. I took a deep, shuddering breath. Maybe we’re just too different.



“Kavita, hey!” Andy caught up to me. I didn’t turn to face him. “You’ve been avoiding me for days now.” I continued to walk down the hallway, ignoring him. To my surprise, Andy took me by the shoulders and turned me around so I was facing him. “Hey.” His eyes searched mine. “What did I do? Whatever it is, I’m so sorry I hurt you. Just please, stop ignoring me.”


I breathed in, steadying myself. “I’ve been thinking, and I realized my parents are right.” He continued to look at me, confused. “They’ve have been constantly pressuring me to not get involved with an angrezi— er, American— boy. I didn’t believe them at first, but—”


“But you believe them now.” Andy’s voice was low and nearly inaudible.


I’m only doing this so you won’t be hurt worse later. Please understand. “Please understand.” I blinked hard. “Your parents will never understand me, let alone my parents understand you. We’re just too different.”


“No,” Andy shook his head. “We aren’t.” He tried to take ahold of my hand but I didn’t let him.


“Yes, we are! We can’t keep pretending that everything is fine, not when I embarrass you.”


“You don’t embarrass me, and I’ve never been pretending!”


“You know that’s not true.” My voice choked. “Since we met, all it’s been is a series of embarrassing mess-ups that have all been because I’m not from here and— and not like you!”


Andy just looked at me, his eyes filled with hurt and confusion.


I whipped around and walked away.



The late bell rang. Shit. Angrily, I twisted the dial on my locker and started again. 45…56…38


My locker swung open with a click. Shouldering my bulky down jacket and reaching inside, I pulled out my textbook and bent down to put it in my bag. Standing back up, I banged my head against the locker door. Shit! I rubbed the back of my head and glared at the goddamn door. My glare melted when I noticed a note, folded up and stuck inside. My name was written on the front in messy Hindi script.


My fingers trembled as I took it out and slowly unfolded it. My mouth started to smile, but my eyes started to cry.



I heard a knock on the door. “Kavita?” My sister’s voice was low and soft.


My voice muffled by my pillow, I told her, “Go away.”


I heard Sonali open the door and felt her sit down on the edge of my bed. “Is this about Andy?”


“No!” Even my pillow couldn’t conceal the vehemence in my denial. “No, I’m over him! Mom and papa were right. It’s too hard.” I burst out crying once more.


Gently rubbing my back, she asked softly, “What makes this boy so special that you’re crying about him?”


“I’m not crying about him!”


“Yeah, right. Is he really that special?”


“He’s- he’s,” I took a deep hiccuping breath and exhaled shakily. “He’s just- Yeah.” At this realization I began crying again. “He is.”


“Then don’t listen to mom and papa. They of all people should know better.” Taken aback, I stopped crying and turned over to look at her in confusion. “Do you really think our grandparents approved of their marriage, all with mom being from the south and papa being from the north?”


I sniffled. “No, but that’s different.”

“No it isn’t, not really.” Sonali looked at me thoughtfully for a moment. “Kavita, if Andy means so much to you, then it doesn’t matter how different you are. He could have three heads for all it matters. To me, anyway. Mom would have a fit if you married a man with three heads.”


I couldn’t help but smile. Sitting up, I let Sonali hug me. “Okay.”


“Alright. Go get him, girl.”



I found Andy the next day sitting alone at a lunch table outside, despite the cold. I sat down next to him without a word. Leaning my head on his shoulder, I whispered, “I’m so sorry.”


Andy gently lifted my head off his shoulder so he could see my face. “It’s okay.”


“Yeah?” I felt a tear slide down my cheek.


“Yeah.” Andy reached up and wiped away the tear with his thumb. Putting his arm around me, he drew me in until my head rested once more on his shoulder. “It’s okay. I promise.”


For a moment we just sat together, breathing clouds into the harsh winter air. They were wrong. I wrapped my arm around his back and nestled in closer. Our differences really don’t matter. Andy leaned his head on mine.


We’re just two people, keeping each other warm on a cold winter day.

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