Spring 2024

The Wedding Guest

By Neelam Bhojani

“I’m happy for you,” I say to Hassan as we lie in bed. The mid-afternoon light laces through the curtains, lighting up the dust particles floating in the air. The faint rumble of the city traffic floats in through the open window.

He shifts his weight and clears his throat. Runs a finger down the slope of my bare shoulder, plants a kiss on it.

“Saanvi is nice,” I say. He puts his lips to mine, stopping me from saying more. Her lavender hand cream sits on the nightstand.

I pull away. I can’t keep dancing around this. Hassan will be married in a month. We’ll all be there, our entire families. His parents, brothers, cousins. His new wife. My parents, my siblings, and my husband.

I’ll stand beside Aamir with his arm around my waist as I tug at the hem of a saree blouse, the sequins scratchy against my skin. Aamir will parade me around, ever proud of me—like a puppy with a stick. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it. But he does love me that much, unworthy as I am.

I’ll step forward during the ceremonies, be called to spread creamy ubtan on Hassan’s arms, to give him good wishes and blessings for a long life with Saanvi. 

I’ll take his palm in mine and draw a careful, looping script in mehndi, initials in a heart, under watchful eyes. No one will know there are sparks between our hands.

He’ll put a garland around her neck, and the flower petals I toss will drift in the air, pirouetting before settling on the floor. I’ll clap as he slips a ring on her finger.

And all that while, I’ll try not to think about the way his skin tastes, salt on my tongue. The way the round scar on his upper arm feels against my fingers, the skin puckered and soft.

If I were foolish enough to believe in soulmates, I’d believe he was mine.

They were silly, all the reasons Hassan and I didn’t end up together. We’d known each other almost our whole lives. We’d been at dawats, annoyed when our families took an hour at the door to say goodbye, and then later, grateful, because it gave us longer together.

By the time I realized he set me on fire, Hassan had found someone else. And then, I’d found someone else. We were rarely single together, in those moments when electricity crackled between us. A stolen kiss, a steamy session of juvenile groping, breathy words whispered to each other on a park bench as a woman packed up her things and left, throwing us dirty glances as her daughter tugged at her hand and pointed at us. 

“Can’t do this to your girlfriend,” I’d said as he pulled me in for a kiss. 

“Can’t do this to my boyfriend,” I’d said as he slipped his hand up my shirt.

And there were those fever-dream moments when the world was just coming awake. I told my parents I was going to the masjid for the early prayer, woke before dawn and drove through twilight, knowing that I’d struggle to keep my eyes open by mid-afternoon, all for those fifteen minutes afterwards—a parked car and his breath on my skin. My sins wrapped up in piety.

Then he was off to college, thousands of miles away on the opposite coast. Back for summers. Back for those furtive, furious moments in the backseat of his mom’s old Acura. Back for the whispered promises, the incantations—this has to be the last time. This can’t go on. I can’t stop myself. I need you, I want you.

One summer, a buddy from college visited Hassan. Aamir was cute, funny, and marvelously, unambiguously single. We decided to go to a club, and all of us had gotten stupidly drunk before even getting there, taking swigs from a flask filled with cheap vodka, too many of us piled into a sedan. 

Hassan danced with his hands on another girl’s waist. I couldn’t look away as the strobe lights lit them up in purples and pinks and blues. In my heady buzz, I found Aamir at the far end of the dance floor and pulled him to me, hooked a finger in the belt loop of his jeans and pressed closer to him.

I could have sworn Hassan had looked at me with defiance. Look how I’m exacting my revenge. Watch me touch her. Watch me run my finger down the curve of her neck, watch me kiss her.

“I’m happy for you,” I tell Hassan again. I’m sweaty. The sheets are sticking to me; my thighs are slick.

Hassan traces circles on the back of my thigh, which I’d been so careful to shave before coming here. I often missed that part, and Aamir would run his hands over the rough, bristled skin while singing “fuzzy wuzzy was a bear,” and kiss me through his smile.

Saanvi will need to deal with all the humanness, all the shortcomings. The socks that never make it into the hamper; the wet towel heaped on the bathroom floor; dishes left next to, rather than in, the sink; the burps and farts and scratching; the loud eating; the forty-five-minute shits.

I haven’t seen that part of Hassan, though it must exist. He’s only seen my best parts. My made-up face, the fuck-me eyes. Shaved and waxed and plucked, hair blown out.

Hassan wasn’t the one who held me as I disintegrated into a mess of snot and tears when my father got the diagnosis and we didn’t know if he’d make it. Wasn’t the one who brought me aspirin when my head throbbed. Wasn’t the one who listened to me when I didn’t know what to do with my career, when I doubted every cent and moment I paid toward my liberal arts degree.

Hassan flips onto his back, pulls me to him so that I’m straddling him. I lean down, kiss him, and dive back into the buttery duvet.

I’d told him I was happy for him. But what I’d meant was this: I’m relieved, because now this has to stop.

Neelam Bhojani lives in Northern California with her husband, two daughters, and their sweet senior cat. When she’s not reading, writing, or caring for her family, she can be found singing while cooking elaborate meals. Her work appears in Glass Mountain Review, Mom Egg Review, and Watershed Review.

Spring 2024