New Writing


Emily Marcus

He wanted to be one person again, with only one name. But his name, Avinash, felt completely inadequate to encapsulate the person he had become. Avinash, his mom would tell him, you are my indestructible one. You can weather anything. She would fix the stray hairs on his head, and present him with a plate of pillowy idli with a side of sweet coconut chutney. And though his heart would ache each morning when she left to take the rickshaw to work, he would walk to school with his older sister without a tear, reminding himself that he that he could weather it all: the strangling heat, the bullies at school, his father’s death. Even now, at 27, the act of separating from his mom felt barely bearable. Though he had spent most of the past four years away from her, it was in those moments of parting from her that he would remember being eight years old again, face smushed up to their apartment building’s gate, waving goodbye to her and wishing he could always feel as safe as he did in her company. When he told her that he needed to leave for his education, she encouraged him. Avinash, you are indestructible, she had said the first time he took off for America, and he had felt the rawness of being a 23 year-old, on a plane to another world, alone.

When he landed in the United States, he had no phone, no friends, and very little money. He used a chunk of it to take a taxi to campus where he had found an apartment with other Indian students. Anothah Brahmin in Bahston gonna getta dahgree in Computah Science? He laughed uncomfortably at the cabbie’s ability to assess him in five minutes, and he got out on University Avenue with his one duffel bag and backpack. Where are the people? He thought, while he scanned his new neighborhood, astonished at the empty streets and the silence. That first night, his roommates laughed as he tried to mash up pizza with his hands, and they started to impart the “American way” wisdom they had collectively gathered. He fell asleep on the floor, his mouth watering for his grandmother’s golden boorelu and his heart ruptured at the thought of his mom brushing the hair off his forehead. Avinash, the indestructible.


When he first met her, she, like almost all Americans, extended the Ah in Avinash too long. He replied as usual, “Avi is fine.” By that point, nearly 2 years after his arrival and just a month before his graduation, he had learned that Americans almost instantly relax when you offer them a nickname.

“Avi it is. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”

“No, mam, it is nothing. It is my pleasure.” She blushed at his formality and the way he kept his caramel eyes on hers.

“I hope I am not a mam yet!” the 22 year-old laughed, trying to lighten the vibe.

“I’m sorry, I am just used to--”

“Oh don’t apologize. You can call me Molly.”

They shifted in their seats at the awkward exchange. She had hoped she would be more comfortable with interviews by the time she graduated, but the nearly four years of her journalism major had failed to teach her how not to be dorky. She didn’t mind the discomfort anymore, yet she still preferred the actual writing. She would lock herself in her room alone. This is where I make magic, she would think before a coffee powered all-nighter.

They both smiled.

“So as I mentioned earlier in the email,” she began. “We are putting together a series on graduate students who came to the U.S. from all around the world. We talked to the Comp. Sci. department, and they recommended you since you started the mentoring--”

“Miss -- Molly, sorry.” They both smiled again. “I am sorry to interrupt. I just was wondering if you have ever tried dosa?”

“What?” She eyed him suspiciously, taken aback by his abruptness.

“Dosa. It’s like an Indian pancake. Well, we are right next door to this Indian food truck that makes them really well. I thought maybe you could try it, and you could put something in your article. Something about where homesick Indian kids can go for home cooked--”

“Oh, dosa, yeah I’ve never tried them. Are you hungry now?” She got excited about the new angle he had offered her on her piece.

“No. Not really.”

“Oh.” She started wondering if she was ever going to recover this off-putting interview. “I’m sorry Avi, I don’t quite understand. Are you recommending I go to the dosa place after the interview?”

“No I would like to go with you now. We could interview there?” he said. He reddened. “I don’t get many chances to eat dosa with a beautiful lady.”

She had to look down for a moment. She giggled. “Okay.”

What might have sounded like a “line” came out of his mouth so genuinely and so clumsily that she knew he did not say it often, if ever before. He was not like any guy she had met in college, there were no games, he wasn’t “trying anything” with her. He thought she was beautiful, and he wanted to watch her eat something delicious from his home.

She spent the next few hours grilling him about his journey, his transition, his life at home, his life at school. She liked the way he talked about his family, with a reverence for his elders that was rare among her peers. She also liked the way he kept calling her Miss Molly and apologizing for it. He liked her full cheeks, and her big eyes that were always searching for something. They searched his soul, and he adored her curiosity. He sunk as she put her notebook in her bag.

“I am so glad you recommended this place, Avi. I have to run to class, but I will make sure to stop by here again for sure.”

“No I think you should have a better dosa than this, Miss Molly.”

“There’s somewhere better than this? Are you messing with me? I thought this was the only Indian spot on campus.”

“If you don’t count my apartment it is. I will cook it for you. That is, only if you want--”

“I would like that, Avi. You know where to reach me.”

They parted like complete klutzes with a dreadful handshake. She couldn’t pay attention at all during class. He didn’t make her wait for a text; he typed it as he walked away. Molly it was wonderful to talk with you. I think you should come over tomorrow night. I will cook for you, and it will be my turn to interview.

The next night he made potato curry, lentils, and rice. She teased him, “So I guess you can’t make dosa better than the food truck.”

“Next time,” he grinned.

She glowed into her exquisite plate of food. “Next time,” she nodded.

He didn’t kiss her that evening, nor the next time they met. It wasn’t until their fourth date, if you include the interview, when he shakily took her face in his hands. He let her blush and glance down with a quick giggle while he stared at her mouth for a second. When her eyes shifted back to his, he leaned in, and left the softest, sweetest, slowest first kiss on her lips.

Two years later, they had shared a million kisses. They never had the “label” talk. He had made her his home-cooked food and kissed her slowly, and she was his. She stayed on campus to work for the university, and he had gotten a job thirty minutes away and had “won” the H1B lottery. He stayed in the same apartment, and she moved home to save money. Sometimes he would cook for her at his apartment. They’d watch a movie in bed. She would rub his belly when he ate too much or run her finger over his chin while their eyes scoured each other’s faces. He’d say, you’re too far away, and roll her closer to fill in any inch of negative space between them. I love you, Avi, she would say. And he’d melt at his name in her mouth.

On the weekends, he would come over and have dinner with her and her parents. They loved him and the way he thought bad jokes were hilarious; they loved his respect for them and his adoration of their daughter. Sometimes their acceptance made his mother’s disapproval harder. He wished that Molly could casually have dinner with his family, and they could admire her for the person she was and not blame her for her nationality. He had waited nearly a year to tell his mom about Molly. When she would call him for their morning chat, he would leave Molly in bed feeling like a shameful secret. Eventually neither of them could take it. Molly would storm out the second his mom would call, or he would put his phone on silent and churn internally about ignoring the phone. When he did muster the courage to tell his mom, she didn’t talk to him for days. My Avinash. You don’t love me anymore. She would cry about her only son’s betrayal. Why do you want to leave your mother alone in this world? He’d wake up breathless in the middle of the night with the taste of boorelu on his tongue and his arms around the most beautiful thing that had happened in his life.

Eventually they made a three-way agreement. He didn’t talk about his mom with Molly, and he didn’t talk about Molly with his mom. In the two years of their relationship, he had visited home only once. He and his mom maintained their silence on the matter until the night before his departure. “Stay here,” his mom urged as she combed through his thick black hair with her hands. “I will find you an Indian woman. She will know how to keep a house and how to cook for you. Avinash, my indestructible, why do you want to hurt me?” He told her he loved Molly. He begged her to come to America, to meet her, and she shook her head. She cried the entire night, and the next day they both sobbed at their goodbye.

It took a couple of months for them to get back to their morning phone calls. They’d talk about his home town, the coconut trees, the oil rigs that were popping up left and right, and his sister’s new baby. He would hang up and think about the days he used to sit on the stairs to his apartment building. He loved the thick, humid Indian air and the constant hum of traffic on the street. He used to sit and wait for his mom to round the corner, to run up the steps and scoop him up in her arms. When he got older, he still waited for her. They would sit together for a few minutes out there, and talk about the best and worst parts of their days, what they ate for lunch. Now he did this with Molly. He dreamed of a day when the three of them could do this daily ritual together, though he couldn’t tell you where or how this fantasy would come to be. He could just dream, while he pushed thoughts of idlis out of his head, along with the vision of his mom walking up the apartment steps alone.