Mama had dressed me up in my best pinafore and we were sitting together at the Dolphin Internet Café. Mama was stirring an untouched coffee nervously, and she had bought me a hot chocolate as a really special treat. The woman behind the counter eyed us beadily, we were a little mucky, and a little gaunt, so she knew where we had come from. I tried to smile at her, but even that wasn’t working properly today. I was nervous, too.
The bell on the door jangled and I snapped my head around, but it was just an old woman, come in to use the computer. My heart was racing and Mama reached over and held my hand.
After an infinite amount of time, the bell jangled again. My breath hitched and I turned around.
A man and his daughter.
She looked just like me. Well, different but really the same, too. She was staring at me open mouthed, and eleven year old girl with a gold handbag hung from the crook of her elbow. Her hair only reached her cheeks, she wore a thin white vest and some sort of skinny trousers that looked like jeans but none that I’d ever seen. They were too tight, and some fat had pushed itself over the edge.
I realised that I was breathing really very quickly, and tried to calm down. I hadn’t the time to consider Mama, and she was stranded alone on her seat when I stood and slowly walked towards Aafreem.
Mama had explained it all to me last night. I was a twin, and I had been chosen to be stolen away in the night because a teardrop had landed on my face, and because Mama was young and stupid. She had been sending letters to Krish for a long time now, and had received the only one that I had ever read months ago.
Aafreem’s arm dropped and her bag fell to the ground, its contents spilling out. She jumped towards me.
“Oh- my- God,” she said. She had a harsh English accent, and as she said this she slapped my cheeks then tugged at them with her fingers, “this is, like, so weird! You wait till I tell Marni, dad, she will freak out! Give me your phone.”
Wordlessly, Aafreem was handed a large, slim phone, she then proceeded to stand beside me and raise the phone high in the air. The phone made a loud clicking sound as she took a picture. She scowled as she inspected it.
“God, smile why don’t you,” she said, “come on, again.”
I tried to smile, I really did, but everything was wrong. There was no hugging, no tears between long lost sisters, no eager comparison of lives and cultures. Not even a hello.
My smile contorted into a grimace as the phone clicked again.
“Jeez, Salila! Have you ever even taken a picture?”
I stared at her, bewildered and upset as she shook her head and began tapping the keys of her dad’s phone.
“I’m gonna tell Marni that you can’t smile because you’re from like, the slums or something.”
Everything that she said sounded like a question, even though she wasn’t asking me anything.
I was breathing rapidly again, and I felt a burning in my nose and throat as I took a slow step back from this girl who really wasn’t anything like me at all. I looked to Mama desperately, she was silent, and looked appalled. I looked at Krish, too, properly for the first time. I had been too absorbed in meeting my twin to fully notice this handsome man in a crisp black suit, obviously very hot and an expression of confused realisation on his face.
I tugged at Mama’s best sari, she placed her hand on mine.
“Mama?” I’d never felt so hurt and confused in my life.
“Mama?” Aafreem shrieked, “Oh my god wasn’t that my first word or something? Wait, no, would’ve been ‘dada’ or something,” she shot Mama an unfazed looked, but Mama looked as though Aafreem was pushing bamboo splinters down her nails. “Do you not know like, any proper words?” Aafreem asked, turning back to me.
I wanted to say yes, and that I was probably a better English speaker than she was, but my throat was clogged and I knew I’d only choke, only prove her point.
Mama looked stunned, and I could no longer catch her eye, so I looked to Krish, the man who was meant to be my Papa, and pleaded silently. He caught my gaze eventually, and a look of such sadness crossed his features as he looked from one daughter to the other I forgot about the other one. There was nothing there, just an odd human condition wrapped up in a spoilt girl. No sister, and certainly no twin.
Krish strode across the room and lifted me into his arms, hugging me tightly. I hugged him back as hard as I could and cried into the crook of his shoulder. Words that I had only been thinking slipped out of my mouth.
“What have you done?” I wept, “What- what-” I hiccupped and grasped my Papa closer. Him I wanted, someone to hug and cry to, who could lift me up and not set me down until I was ready.
“I’m so sorry my beautiful, beautiful girl,” Krish said, breathing in the smell of my hair. He dropped me back onto the floor and rested his hands on my shoulders, smiling weakly. “You were certainly better off here, my flower,” he whispered, before grasping my head and pulling me in so that he could plant a kiss on my forehead. “You belong here.”
I drew in a deep, shuddering breath and smiled. “That’s it,” Krish said, and wiped the tears from my cheeks with his thumb. He crouched in front of me, just staring for a while. I took him in. It was nice, but before long he had kissed me again and walked over to Mama. They spoke in hushed whispers that I wanted to be a part of, because Aafreem tapped my shoulder.
“Aren’t you supposed to be happy or something?”
“I am happy,” I croaked. I could feel that Krish loved me, and it filled a hole that I hadn’t realised was there. Aafreem was just a smudge on a clean canvas now.
“She speaks!” Aafreem cheered, “Why are you crying, anyhow?”
I turned to Mama and Krish, both of whom had tears rolling down their cheeks.
“Why are you not?”
“Because I’m not, like, gay.”
“Oh, do you not have that word?”
“Yes, we do actually.”
“I guess we’re just more mature over in England or something,” Aafreem said. She pulled a pack of bubble gum from her back pocket and popped a pink pill into her mouth. I refused when she offered one to me.
“It’s not medicine, if that’s what you think. I’m not, like, a druggie.”
“I know it’s not medicine.”
“I guess you only eat rice and noodles over here or something.”
I couldn’t stand it any longer, I walked away from Aafreem without a word and hopped onto Mama’s lap. Krish smiled at me and ruffled my hair. That was nice.
“Do you mind?” I asked Mama, curling an arm round her slim waist and hugging her, “It’s just-”
“Of course I don’t mind.”
I wanted to lean into her and close my eyes, but I didn’t want to miss a moment of this, pretending that it was just the three of us, and that it had always been like this, and that we were just taking a day out, a treat, and that tomorrow morning I would wake up and Krish would still be here.
So I kept my eyes open and allowed Krish’s fingers to playfully entwine into the hair of his stolen daughter.
“Poor and content is rich, and rich enough.” -William Shakespeare