He’d gotten into the habit just months ago, having seen some special on TV . Rishi first tried it with one of Ma’s Bollywood magazines and found it weirdly compelling, not even minding that his fingers were constantly covered in paper cuts. Now he made roses and mums and lilies, the repetitive, familiar motion soothing.
He was on his third rose when he heard someone clear their throat. Startled, Rishi looked up at a small girl with wild hair. She sat on a high-backed armchair he hadn’t noticed in the corner of the room. A copy of A Wrinkle in Time was facedown in her lap, and her feet, sticking out from underneath her bright blue lehenga , didn’t touch the floor. She was staring at him through glasses that were too big for her narrow face. “Why are you ripping up those magazines? They’re not yours.” Her voice was high-pitched. It reminded him of Tinker Bell, a cartoon Ashish loved to watch, though he didn’t like to be teased about it. Rishi had learned that the hard way. He still had the bruise on his shin.
Rishi sat back, letting the rose fall from his fingers, and studied the tiny girl. She must be around his age, he decided, in spite of her unimpressive size. “You’re not a tattletale , are you?” he asked, in a way that implied (a) there was little he could think of that was worse than being one, and (b) she definitely looked like one.
“No,” the girl said immediately, almost before he was done speaking, pushing those oversize glasses up on her nose. “I was just asking.”
Rishi looked at her for another long moment, appraising. Then he said, “I’m bored.” And went back to rolling the paper for his next flower. “Why are you in here reading?”
The girl studied him for a minute before replying. “I’m bored too.”
Rishi nodded, but kept his eyes on his lily.
After a pause, the girl hopped off her chair and came up to the table, sidling into the chair across from him. Rishi watched her through his peripheral vision. She set her book carefully down, dog-earing a corner of her page with love. When that was done, she picked up a chrysanthemum and studied it closely, turning it this way and that. “I like it,” she pronounced finally, setting it back down and looking up at him. “How do you know how to do that?”
Rishi shrugged nonchalantly. “Picked it up.”
She nodded, curls bobbing. “Cool. Maybe you could teach me.”
“Nah, it’d take too long,” Rishi said. “Besides, your hands are too small.” Rishi wasn’t entirely sure this was true, but it wasn’t like the girl would know any better.
“Hey, that’s not—”
The girl froze, looking toward the door. “That’s Mamma. I have to go.” She grabbed her book and began to slide off her chair, but right before she was completely out of reach, Rishi grabbed her wrist. She looked at him, confused.
He pressed the chrysanthemum into her small, sweaty hand. “Keep it,” he said, his gaze boring into hers like he’d seen Shah Rukh Khan do to a dozen different actresses in a dozen different Bollywood movies. “Remember me.” He paused. “And don’t tattle.”
The girl glanced down at the flower, and then up at him again. She nodded solemnly, like she understood the gravity of this moment. She wouldn’t tattle. Then, closing her fingers around the flower, she slipped out of the conference room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
On the cold stone bench, Rishi exhaled. “That was you?” he asked, staring at Dimple. His brain delighted at the impossibility of this, at the sheer coincidence that that tiny, serious girl in the blue lehenga now sat opposite him, looking at his sketch pad.
Dimple laughed, shaking her head. “I know. Crazy.” Shrugging, she added, “I mean, not crazy crazy. We do both live pretty close to each other, and our parents are part of the Indian community in NorCal, which isn’t that huge. . . .”
“No.” Rishi rubbed the back of his neck. “Still crazy.” Softly, he said, “Kismet.”
She looked at him, big eyes luminous and almost black in the light from the phone. “Kismet.” And then Dimple Shah put her hands behind his head and pulled him in for a kiss.
• • •