Red and blue and green strobe lights swooped across the stadium. Old Rihanna played from the speakers amongst the squeals, interrupted conversations, and laughter. From Juhi’s seat, the stage looked compact, the size of four podiums squished together. Swaths of people, all dressed in bright pants, iridescent glasses, and feather boas, swarmed its base, clamoring for the concert to begin.
Juhi gazed at two girls at the edge of the crowd. They were dressed simply, brown pants and matching white shirts. The girl to the left, hair bright pink, started bobbing her head up and down to the music. The other girl, hair braided, watched for a moment before swinging her arms back and forth in rhythm. The pink-haired girl started jumping, clapping her hands in sync. The other girl kicked her heels out, her braids swinging out and back in. They both started spinning in circles, first alone, then together holding hands and then holding each other. All too soon, they stopped, dizzy and laughing. Juhi laughed too. The crowd screamed as the lights dimmed, but the girls only looked at each other. Juhi stared at them even when it was too dark to see. She imagined Hansa’s hair, long and curly, spinning in circles, though she had never seen her dance.
They only met last April in a pottery class after randomly sitting next to each other. Every following Wednesday of that month, Juhi’s stomach would be twisted in knots, more of excitement than anything else, before class, and filled with bubbles, of joy or nerves she didn’t bother to differentiate, after class. A month later, when Hansa moved to San Francisco, they were barely friends. Juhi couldn’t believe that they had kept texting and calling. She could still picture Hansa’s hair from that first class, long and curly and bouncy as she leaned over the wheel.
San Francisco, CA
At 5pm on a random Thursday, the bus was quiet and dark save the blue lights in the overhead bin space. Outside the window, Hansa saw vague outlines of downtown San Francisco. The building lights reflected on the darkening water, shimmering as it rippled. She settled deeper into her chair, closing her eyes. A man began murmuring into his phone near her. Hansa couldn’t hear specific words, but his gentle tone said the listener was someone close to him. She smiled, reminded of a conversation from sometime in May.
“People are so clueless when someone has a crush on them. I don’t get it,” she whispered into her phone, late one night. Juhi remained quiet.
“Are you clueless?” Hansa prodded again.
“Are you sure?” A pause. She listened close, but all she could hear were Juhi’s soft breaths. If only she could see her face, a twitch in her brows, or a smirk, something more to go off of.
“Well, I believe nothing and question everything.”
Hansa’s heart started beating louder. Blood rushed to her cheeks as she pushed her phone into her ear.
Another pause. This one lasted a beat longer than before. Hansa glared at her phone screen. She imagined Juhi’s face, mouth slightly downturned, eyes questioning.
Juhi’s voice was resolute, so Hansa didn’t back down.
Juhi took a breath, sharp through the speaker.
The bus rolled to a stop as Hansa rolled out of her daydream. She smiled, almost squirming, at their careful optimism, the gentle treading around conversations about couples, the emphasis placed on words like “friend” or “heart” or “break”, the attention to a change in texting patterns or response time. It all felt so unnecessary now, considering how glaringly obvious they both had been.
Peaches? Oranges? Apricots? What were those earrings she wore? Juhi leaned closer to her phone to get a better look. Usually, Facetimes with Hansa entailed a series of questions, from topic to topic, in circles and without a moment’s break. But Hansa was quiet today. Her hair was freshly washed. Juhi knew because the curls weighed against her shoulders, instead twining tightly towards the nape of her neck. The dark brown of her hair quite nicely complimented the maroon walls of her dining room. She sat at the dining table, eyes half-closed, instead of lying in bed or on the couch. She looked tired, staring at something in front of her, something that Juhi couldn’t see.
Hansa brushed some hair behind her ear, giving Juhi a better view of the indistinguishable fruits. She now saw little green leaves dangling from the stems. They must be either peaches or oranges. Juhi sat back in her seat. Hansa’s bottom lip was moving in and out slightly as it did when she was focused. She considered making conversation, but Hansa had the kind of face where she didn’t want to talk. Light from the dining table highlighted the glitter covering her cheeks. Her makeup was heavier than usual. She wore three necklaces instead of her regular two. Maybe she had gone to work or out with friends. Six months ago, they had just been acquaintances. Now, Juhi recognized how Hansa’s eyebrows crinkled when she was lying. She knew the kinds of responses, usually extremely vague, that could prod Hansa to extreme frustration. She could ask her questions that made her rethink even the strongest of her convictions. And Hansa knew Juhi, her temperaments, favorite conversation topics, clothes, food, and everything in between, all through a phone screen.
Hansa turned her head to the right, giving Juhi a better view of her earrings. They were too orange to be peaches. Oranges it is, she decided. Juhi stared a bit longer. She wore hoops, made of gold and with tiny little diamonds dotted across them, in a different piercing, higher up on her ear. The hoops glittered quite satisfyingly in the lamp light. Then, right next to her ear, at the base of her cheek, something new caught her eye: a mole. It was small like an ink blot from a thin pen. Dark, but not dark enough to be immediately noticeable. Juhi imagined tracing the mole with her fingertips.
San Francisco, CA
Hansa sat in the arrivals section of an airport. To her left was a small child, wearing blue jeans and a long-sleeve white top. His hands grasped popsicle sticks that held up a bright yellow and orange construction paper sign. Behind him stood his father, typing on his phone. His younger brother zoomed around on a bright orange suitcase, using his feet to propel him forward. His eyes focused on weaving a path around the surrounding people and suitcases. The older brother remained still, holding up the sign and staring only at the arrivals section. Suddenly, he started jumping.
“She’s here! She’s here! She’s here!” he yelled, over and over and over again.
The other two boys snapped up, eyes alert. The dad moved to stand to the right of the younger brother. The younger brother skated over on his suitcase to the left of the older brother. Their attention merged as a woman, with long hair and full lips, joined them. Hansa smiled as they jumped into a group hug. The construction paper sign, etched with “Welcome Home” in crayon, was left on the ground in front of them, the orange suitcase tossed to the side, and the phone tucked away.
Hansa whirled around to see Juhi standing right next to her, shuffling her feet. Her hair was shorter, blown out and swept back from her face. She wore a new necklace, large and beaded. Her eyes widened, nervously dancing back and forth, meeting her own gaze before quickly looking away. Hansa’s stomach bubbled as if it was brimming with fizzy soda. She pictured this moment many times over the last week, of them jumping into a hug or them awkwardly laughing or them tentatively reaching for each other’s hands. Now that it was here, she was stuck, lost in thought and frozen in action.
Hansa considered a hug, but from the side or from the front? Would her hands go around her neck or her waist? What about no hug? By the time she considered everything, Juhi’s arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her close.
San Francisco, CA
The Sunday morning sun soaked into Juhi’s scalp like warm water. Hansa sat next to her, doodling on a spare napkin. From their spot near the top of the hill, she could see everyone mulling about the park. A red-haired mother rocked a baby wrapped up in a bright blue blanket. A skinny kid danced, knees wobbling back and forth, for his parents. A couple napped in the sun, legs entangled, hand in hand, hair mingling hair.
Hansa’s doodling, swirls and stars, almost filled the napkin by now. She wore a green sweater, hair pulled back into little French braids. A variety of rings, a green stone, a flower, a thick spiral, circled up her fingers. She had spent most weekends at home this past month, instead of going out for drinks or picnics or meeting friends. Juhi asked if anything was wrong yesterday, but Hansa was adamant that nothing was. So adamant that she decided they would spend the day at Mission Dolores. Juhi was skeptical, but she didn’t want to push Hansa. At least they had gotten out of the apartment.
Suddenly, Hansa elbowed Juhi, motioning her head towards the right. Nearby, a pair of twins rolled down a hill together, squealing. Hansa’s eyes, delicately lined with black, gleamed before looking towards Juhi’s lips. She leaned forward, and Juhi could smell the morning’s coffee on her breath. Juhi leaned in. As her eyes drifted shut, Hansa’s body tensed. She leapt up, smirking, before shoving Juhi off-balance and tumbling down the slope. Juhi scrambled to follow.
Together, the two of them raced down the hill, rolling after one another. Juhi after Hansa, curling tighter into a ball to speed past her, then Hansa following Juhi, laughing uncontrollably. All Juhi could register was the soft grass, the world spinning, and Hansa’s laughter, moving farther and farther away from her.
San Francisco, CA
Light, from late dusk or early dawn, Hansa didn't know, streamed through the gaps in the window blinds. Juhi slept soundly, face soft, chest slowly rising and falling. Hansa stared at the ceiling for hours.
She turned to the right, adjusting the pillow underneath her head. Her neck was propped at a weird angle. She turned to the left, gently moving around Juhi’s body. She laid on her back, eyes wide open before tiptoeing to her bookshelf. Resting her chin on her knees, she stared at Ganesha, then Sai Baba, then Rama, all lined up neatly against the bottom shelf.
At least the deities had remained the same.
Everything else, her friends, work, even the bedroom, felt slightly off with Juhi here. They had been living together for two months now. The move had gone well. Juhi had fallen into step with Hansa’s friends, going out for coffee and brunch with them even on her own. She hung out with her co-workers and went to volunteer events, even joining a dance class. But something about their joint life felt forced to Hansa, like she was trying to fit two pieces, one square and one round, together.
Suddenly, she felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Are you okay?”
Juhi’s voice was hoarse from sleep.
“I’m good.” Juhi’s eyes widended, and Hansa knew she had been too abrupt. Juhi stepped back only to crouch down, now eye-level with Hansa.
“Are..you sure?” Her voice was filled with hesitance. Hansa bit her lip.
Juhi sat next to Hansa, leaving a few inches of space. Hansa’s eyes began to droop, a heaviness overcoming her. She laid her head on Juhi’s shoulder, slipping into sleep.
San Francisco, CA
Juhi pulled Hansa’s hands into her own. The bus drove over a few bumps, bouncing their entangled hands. She stared at Hansa’s fingers, outlining her slender nails, covered in dark green polish, and the lines across her palm. Hansa watched her, but nerves kept Juhi from meeting her gaze. She guided her own hands across Hansa’s rings. Her fingertips traced over the rose-colored stone, the green one next to it, before landing on the band of lilies. Juhi pulled this ring off. She pushed one of her own rings, a silver circle, onto Hansa’s finger. Hansa wiggled her fingers, but the arragement looked awkward.
Juhi looked up at Hansa. Her eyes, green but warm, were underlined with dark circles. She seemed tired, her usual playful punching and chatter had died down. Juhi didn’t know to ask if something was wrong or if she was okay or if she needed space. Instead, she shuffled a few more rings around, stacking the green stone on top of the silver band and moving the rose-gold stone to her ring finger. Juhi couldn't figure out what wasn't working. She set out to shuffle them again, but Hansa pulled her hand away, turning to look out the window.
San Francisco, CA
Hansa stared at the pantry. The container of flour was in the wrong place, cap covered in fingerprints. The box of Lucky Charms was left half-open and half-crumpled, shoved into a corner. Cans of beans, black and pinto and garbanzo, were haphazardly stacked. Juhi stared out the window, sprawled on the couch. Hansa closed the pantry door louder than necessary.
“What are you thinking?” Juhi smiled innocently, dimples showing.
“Nothing.” Hansa turned towards the stove. Crumbs of burnt garlic, dried coriander, and now-hardened pasta lined the burners.
“Are you sure?” Worry tinged Juhi’s voice.
“Are you lying?”
Juhi now stood a few feet away, only the countertop separating them. Plates and pans, covered in dried sauce from dinner, were piled in the sink.
“Yes.” She opened the dishwasher only to find it full of clean dishes. Her jaw tightened.
“Please tell me.” Juhi’s voice was higher now, filled with worry or anxiety or uncertainty, Hansa couldn’t tell.
“Did you unload the dishwasher?”
“I reminded you.” Hansa told her multiple times, both about the dishwasher and the pantry. Juhi, as per usual, was too busy with her own thoughts to notice much else.
“I know, I’m sorry. Why won’t you tell me?” Juhi came over to her side of the countertop. She grabbed Hansa’s hands into her own, squeezing them tightly.
“I won’t. Please tell me.”
Juhi’s eyes were open and welcoming, almost too eager. Hansa considered telling Juhi how she couldn’t remember the last time she had a full night’s sleep. How she didn’t want to remind Juhi everyday. Couldn’t she notice more? Need to be told less? How would they last like this? But she just shook her head, eyes turned down. Juhi lifted Hansa’s head up, searched her eyes for something Hansa wouldn’t show. Squeezing Hansa’s hands once again, Juhi walked into the bedroom. Hansa, fists tight and jaw still taut, began unloading the dishwasher.
San Francisco, CA
Juhi found herself back in the kitchen. A steel bowl, full of gunky brownie mixture, sat in front of her. Maybe she added too much flour. The whisk kept getting stuck mid-stir. In another bowl, she cracked open an egg. The yolk was dark, dark enough that the yellow could be mistaken for orange. The whites curled around the edges of the bowl. She pierced the yolk with her whisk, flicking her wrist. Her stomach rolled in unison with each circle. All she could think about was Hansa’s eyes from last night, somehow defeated and angry at the same time. The yolk turned, back and forth and over and around. The white turned into an opaque froth, slowly combining with the yellow. Juhi couldn’t ever be sure of Hansa’s thoughts. She was tired of guessing. The pit in her stomach grew as shame and yearning filled her. She wished Hansa would just talk to her, even if it was vague. What bothered her? What was she thinking? Whenever she asked, Hansa changed the subject or got up to make coffee or left for work. Juhi kept whisking, as frustration pooled in her gut. The faster she whisked, the more it grew, winding her up in tighter and tighter spirals.
San Francisco, CA
Hansa sat across from Juhi. Her face turned towards a scrunched up straw wrapper that she was playing with.
“Do you think this is going to last?”
Hansa stayed silent. Juhi’s hands moved to the necklace, a silver chain with an opal crescent, sitting at the base of her neck. Hansa gazed at her eyes, brown and misguidedly innocent. In fact, Juhi was extremely skeptical, the opposite of gullible. It took multiple conversations, often filled with carefully crafted questions and long pauses that required large amounts of patience from Hansa, to convince Juhi of anything. But her eyes were brown. They were wide and sincere. The ends of her eyelashes, at the outer corner of her eyes, lifted up like natural eyeliner. When she cried, her eyes glossed over and her mouth turned down, puffing out. She would quietly turn away, hiding the tears streaming down her face. She wiped them away, usually laughing because they were replaced soon after. When she laughed, Juhi’s eyes became small, squished up by her full cheeks. Two dimples, at the corners of her mouth, would appear. Her smile, outlined by curves from her nose to the edges of her lips, revealed a neat row of white teeth, disrupted only by the slightly turned front two.
But today, Juhi’s eyes melted with uncertainty. They contradicted her usual calm, giving way to the pulsing vulnerability that she worked hard to hide. Hansa still hadn’t answered the question. She looked, not at anything in particular, just at Juhi. She knew that Juhi wanted her to say something that she wouldn’t be able to say. So, she sighed before saying the only thing she really could say.
“I don’t know.”