Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dave's Love Story


The first time I laid eyes on her - it was a Monday morning, my first day of my senior year at school . I was as enthusiastic as ever. Enthusiastic as I waited for the bell to ring, signaling the end of school for the day.

Mrs. Melbourne introduced her at the front of class. Her name was Devi. Devi Iyengar. Another Indian immigrant coming to my country and taking away the jobs of many of the nationals here. As if I gave a darn.

But what stunned me most was her dressing. She had this Punjabi suit that only actresses on those Bollywood musical films wore. And her hair was pulled back in a long thick braid. She wore the largest, roundest glasses I have ever seen a person my age wear.

Absolute no beauty, zero sex appeal.

Must be a virgin. Do people like this even exist? But the biggest question of all, will she survive one year at an American high school, especially here in New York City?

Joey made eye contact with me, then with Mike, Miranda and Cheng. I knew what that meant.

We have just found ourselves a new victim...

***
Well, it was only a matter of time until we got ourselves into detention for what we had done to that poor Devi girl. She was always proud and constantly ignored everything we did to her. Like the time Joey tied the end of her long braid to her chair. When the bell rang, she got up and simply fell on the floor with a big bump. The whole class laughed at us. Mrs. Melbourne did not notice this and simply asked Devi to be more careful next time. I have no idea where that sound came from. She was after all so skinny. Maybe it was the sound of the bones of her bud crashing on the floor!

Epic cruelty.

Devi ignored us.

Then during lunch break, Miranda threw her bowl of soup right onto Devi's face. That definitely took her by surprise, and also attracted a few laughs by those around her. But I have seen Miranda try that trick over and over again on almost every weird new foreign kid at school. Nothing epic about that. Dull in fact.

Devi ignored us once again.

The next day at school, we saw Devi walking down the hallway, most probably to the library. So expected. A nerd! Before she could make the turn, Mike yelled out to her.

"Hey, brown chick! Where did you get your tan? Or did you burn yourself in front of the stove while cooking your curry?"

Almost everyone there laughed. Now that was hilarious, not to mention racist! So Mike was not only good at making fun at black people and Mexicans. He was good at brown jokes too, as he called it. I would pay him a hundred bucks to see him make an Asian joke, more like an oriental one. I'm sure Cheng would kick his bottom down if that ever happened.

Yet again, Devi ignored us.

During class, as I was trying to get some ideas to compose a new song for a competition next week, Cheng handed me something. I assumed it was another one of his dirty drawings of the new hot substitute teacher at the front of the class. But I was completely shocked when I opened up the piece of crumpled paper. It was a picture of Devi completely naked. Except that the head was hers and the body was from that porn magazine I borrowed him a few days ago, which he is yet to return to me. But well, he sure made good use of it though!

By lunch time, the whole school had seen copies of that picture. Of course, everyone had the common sense to know it was not really that Devi girl. But then again, everyone also had the common sense not to miss a chance to make fun of the weird new foreign exchange kid just to make themselves look as cool as me and my buddies! What a bunch of losers!

"Hey, sexy. Won't you show me what you have under that baggy shirt of yours?" I said to her as she walked pass me outside the library. She didn't even look at me. I've hazzed other chicks before. But no matter how mean I was to them, they would at least drool over my 200 dollar haircut, or my massive guns. But this one won't even look at me.

Not even a single glance!

Right after school that day, the guys asked me what I had planned for Devi since I was the only one who had not done anything to 'welcome' her into our high school community. Then, it suddenly hit me. This girl must have a huge ego to not even want to curse us for what we had done to her during her first week here. That only meant I had to plan something big. Something that would really get her attention. Something that would finally make her realize I was there to make her life a living hell.

Something that would finally make her cry...

I was there the next day at the school grounds. She came, her bag full of books. She pressed some onto her flat chest as she looked down at the ground as she walked hastily. There were many students around watching her walking awkwardly to class. The cheerleaders were trying to flirt with me as usual. They very well knew I was still dating Miranda, who was their friend, not to mention their boss since she is the new head cheerleader! But I don't think that mattered to them.

I rushed to catch Devi. I held her by her left shoulder and forced her to turn around. She was taken by surprise. I forced my lips onto hers and held her head as tightly as I could, not letting her go. She was only half my size but somehow managed to break free. She spitted on my face and gave me a nice hot slap. The heat seemed to take a long time to sink in to my skin, as I stood there almost frozen by what she had done.

Everyone was watching.

"You whore!" she yelled, tears filled her eyes. Her usual emotionless face was now filled with sadness and shame. She ran inside.

"Well... at least now we know she curses..." Joey said.

***
So that was how we ended up in detention. Apparently Devi had complained about everything, including the soup-throwing, the name-calling and the nude pictures. But she never told the principal about the kiss.

Now why would she do that?

Maybe she is one of those moralists, if that is what they call them - who never has the heart to destroy another person's life even though that person has been terribly mean to them on the basis that God is all-forgiving so man should be too, or something like that.

Crap.

Well, what is the worst that could happen if a normal case of bullying like that turned out to be some sexual offence, and mum and dad had to be called to school, and I would have ended getting kicked out of high school? First of all, it would be a good thing in disguise since I would have finally captured mum and dad's attention. Secondly, I don't really need high school apart of being around Miranda, right? I mean, at the end of the day, dad will still have to bring me to his office everyday to teach me how to run grandpa's multi-billion company anyway.

Yup. That's arrogant, spoilt me. David Anderson, the rich kid who does not even have to finish high school because his dad has enough money to secure his future.

***
That night changed my life forever. It was the night of senior prom. Miranda and I were just crowned Prom King and Queen. Boring... The whole school had expected that. I did not even have time to notice that the Devi kid was not even there. Well, what would you expect from a virgin brown girl? Her parents probably have already arranged for her to get married to some doctor once she graduates. Who needs prom and dating with all that?

Also, I had plans with Miranda after the dance. After a night out at that A-list club at uptown Manhattan, we would be at the Hilton where she would finally go all the way pass third base. It will be the night I finally become a man. With Miranda at least. I have already become a man with other girls before her. I suppose she has already become a woman too with other guys before me. So, no harm done.

After prom, we drove all the way to the club. Joey had bottles of beer in my dad's limousine. Cheng was driving. Miranda and I spent the whole journey drinking as we stuck our bodies up the opening of the ceiling of the limo, enjoying the night's air and yelling at anyone we passed on the streets. It was definitely a night to remember.

At the club, Jimmy was waiting for us. He had our usual supply of designer drugs. There was some fancy name to it. What was it? Drizzle, Dangle? Whatever. It was the best thing in the world. After some wild dancing, we got ourselves a private seating area to take our stuff. It was most enjoyable, until Joey and Miranda got so high they started making out with each other. What the hell? I punched him right on the face. And in return he attacked me.

Suddenly, people started running everywhere. I had no time to see why. This idiot, my own best friend, just made out with my own girlfriend in front of me! What was he even thinking? Suddenly, we were each grabbed by the shoulder by police officers. We were then taken to the station.

A few hours later, mum and dad came to bail me out. Joey, Miranda, Cheng and Mike were still under police custody. I did not give a darn about them. Mum and dad came to bail me out? Was it really them? In flesh and blood? Didn't they send one of their people to do that for them. Dad was in his suite and mum was in her evening gown. They were probably at one of their fancy parties. But still, they came for me...

"Don't show your face in my house ever again. Because of you, your mum and I had to leave in the middle of an important business negotiation with some Japanese business people!"

There was only hatred in dad's eyes as he said this to me. Mum was busy talking to someone as she walked towards their car. She was apologizing constantly, probably to those Japanese people dad was talking about. Without even looking back, dad got into the car and ordered the driver to drive off.

***
Now that is a big shocker, isn't it? When I saw mum and dad entering the police station, I assumed they had finally come for me. Finally, I had their attention. But then they only bailed me out so they could kick me out.

Life is fair...

I headed for the Hilton where I had made my reservation. But my credit card was declined. Dad must be completely mad to have canceled my credit card. I took a cab back home, that is if I could call it home. The security guard would not let me in. Dad's orders. I tried calling him and mum, trying to beg them to give me a second chance, when it finally hit me that they were actually serious about disowning me. But they refused to answer. Both of them. Even grandpa could not be bothered. He, after all, had always knew I was not fit to take over the company.

I walked the streets that night. I finally came to Miranda's house. Her mum was at the door. She told me never to see her daughter again as I was a bad influence. She then shut the door. Where else could I go? Joey? No! Not him! Not after what he did to me!

I woke up at the front of a church the following morning. I got myself some coffee and did not spend on anything else since I knew the little money I had would be gone anytime soon. I came to Mike's place. When he found out dad had kicked me out, he was shocked. He told me his parents would never let me stay over after what happened last night. He however suggested that he drive me to Cheng's place to try my luck there. I knew that would not work too for I saw Cheng peeping out of Mike's window. I left... heartbroken.

My family had left me. And so had my friends. My friends for whom I had spent hundreds of dollars on for booze, designer drugs, expensive vacations and all kinds of stuff. I was an exclusive friend to them. Now they did not even bother if I had a place to stay for the night or at least money for the next meal.

How funny life is. Last night I crowned a king, now I am just a pauper wondering the streets of New York.

***
"Dave! Dave, wake up! Wake up..." it was a familiar voice. I was fast asleep in the subway, which I had made my home for almost a week now. I opened my eyes to look upon the face that I least wanted to see right now.

"Devi... What... What are you doing here?"

"I was on my way home from the library and I was walking down here... and here you are... Where were you all this time? Yo haven't come to school for days now..."

I could not be bothered to answer any of her questions. She took me home to her family. It did not occur to me to fear how they would treat me after what I had done to their daughter. The last few days had been traumatizing. I had been lowered to having to sleep in the subway. I had not had a proper meal for days. Nobody would give me a job. I had no where to go. My live was over.

"Hey, son. So you're Devi's friend from school? Your name is Dave, isn't it. How long have you been living on the streets? Have you eaten anything?" the questions from Mr. Iyengar just kept coming.

"You poor thing. Come. We were just about to have lunch. Come on!" Mrs. Iyengar brought me to the dinner table. There was Mr. and Mrs. Iyengar - Devi's parents, and Raman and Lakshman - Devi's elder twin brothers. I must have eaten like a monster that afternoon because the Iyengars simply could not take their eyes off me. I had not eaten a proper meal for days.

I was shown to my room. I was given some of the twins' clothes to use at the moment. Devi told me she had explained everything to her parents. They wanted me to take a shower and rest. Tomorrow, I was to start school again as usual.

"Devi told us all about you, Dave. We feel so sorry for you," Mrs. Iyengar said that night in my room.

"Don't worry, son. You can stay here with us for as long as you want. We have absolutely no problem with that. Just ask us for anything you might need. Don't be shy." Mr. Iyengar was sincere when he said these words. He even gave me a comfy tap on my back, something my dad never did.

The next day, as I walked back to school with Devi by my side, the entire school was simply staring at me. I suppose Joey and the other guys had made sure everyone was well aware I was no longer the rich kid anymore. It was only a matter of time until I they found out I was now living with the girl whose life I once made a living hell.

After school, I took the subway home alone since Devi had a meeting with her Science club for an upcoming quiz next month. It felt weird calling Devi's home my home now. It also turned out that she was not from India, but from Malaysia. She was of Indian parentage, but was Malaysian by nationality. Her father was working for the Malaysian embassy while her mother was giving Indian classical dance classes.

I did not have a good look at Raman and Lakshman the first time we met as I was still traumatized at being kicked out of home and having to live on the streets. Raman and Lakshman were medical students at New York University, and they looked as if they spend an abnormal amount of time at the gym. They could easily put The Rock to shame. They were so huge that their massive body sizes and the cold looks on their faces made me shiver each time we were together.

Back at home, it was only the three of us alone since Mr. and Mrs. Iyengar were at a friend's house. Raman and Lakshman approached me. I turned out they had heard from friends that I was the big bully at school and my friends and I had given their sister a hard time during her first week. I did not know what to do. At school, I was the hunky quarterback that everyone feared to get on the wrong foot with. But not in this house. Definitely not in this house.

I could not answer them. I could not even look them in the eyes. I was too afraid. I just looked down at the floor. This annoyed Raman and he grabbed me by the hair to force me to look at them.

At that moment, Devi came in. She was furious when she saw what her brothers were doing to me. She told them that it was my friends who bullied her and that Dave had nothing to do it, especially now after his parents had turned him out. Now things were better at school and she warned them to not interfere in her life ever for she could protect herself.

Ashamed, the twins left my room. Devi turned towards me to see how I was doing. I could not look at her. Why was she doing this? I did not need her. I left for the nearby bar for a drink. It had been weeks since I last had a drink. All I ever have is vegetarian food most of the time at the Iyengars. Both Devi's parents are strict vegetarians. Devi and her brothers observe vegetarianism on certain days and the family fasts on auspicious times of the year, like during holidays such as Deepavali, Thaipusam and Ponggal to name a few. They also never use anything made out of fur, leather or animal skin. They prayed every time after a bath especially early in the morning and before going to bed at the prayer altar, where they pictures and idols of deities, which are different manifestations of the one supreme God that they Hindus worship.

I never went to Sunday school. So, I never really though about God much. I have been to church on weddings and funerals but I cannot even remember the last time I actually thought about God or even prayed.

I came home late that night. Devi was waiting for me. The whole family was asleep but she was awake all night out of fear something might happen to me.

"I've given you a place to stay. All I ask in return is the respect that you never gave me. I could have told my family the truth and had you kicked out of my house anytime but I didn't because I pity you. I'm not expecting anything back, just that you obey certain rules. You no longer have any friends, so you only go out with me or with the family. No more late night outings, drinking and most definitely no drugs. We don't tolerate such things in this family. I hope you understand that and I definitely hope you're not too drunk to forget all this when you wake up tomorrow morning. Good night, Dave."

I woke up the next morning. Yup. I was not too drunk to forget last night's conversation.

***
I started to think about what a big jerk I had been all my life. As cool as I seemed to the entire high school, in reality I was an attention seeker. I never got any from my parents. I was so desperate to get their attention for love and care that I pushed them too hard and ended up getting disowned.

I have no idea what it was that I had done to deserve this second chance. If there really are people as nice as Mr. and Mrs. Iyengar in this world, who could accept a complete stranger into their lives and their home, then there must be a God.

If there is a God, then Devi must be an angel. After everything I had done to her, she welcomed me into her home. Yet, I was ungrateful. What a scumbag I am.

One evening, I saw her reading the Vedas by the fireplace. Not that I was interested in reading it. But I had never seen her so at peace and calm of all this months of knowing her. I was not sure if it was the right time to finally make amends with her, but I wanted to get through with it right here and right now.

"So, what are you reading?" I asked as I sat next to her, our knees touching one another.

"Oh... nothing," she was stunned. I suppose she never expected me to approach her like this ever. "It's part of the Vedas, the Hindu holy scriptures. Nothing that you would be interested in"

"Well, how would you know? We have been living together for months now and I don't think you even know me?"

"Excuse me? Do you even allow me to talk to you? Do you even give me the chance to..."

"Alright, Devi. Stop,"I said the moment I sensed a fight arising.

"Wait! What did you just call me?"She seemed offended.

"What? I just called you Devi..."

For this first time since I have known her, Devi actually smiled. A real, true, genuine smile. It was beautiful.

"That's the first time you actually called me by my name..."

I was shocked. "Really? Have I never...?"

"No. This is the first time," Devi said as I noticed the twinkle of the tears from her eyes fall down her cheeks, enlightened by the fire from the fireplace.

There was a short, but awkward pause.

"So tell me what this book is about? Is it like the Hindu Bible or something?"

That winter's night, as snow fell upon the bitter cold city of New York, I foresaw the future of a bright, long lasting friendship before the warm fireplace in the comfort of my new home of love...

***

It was only like yesterday Devi brought me into her family. So many years have passed by. The Iyengars had returned to Kuala Lumpur after Devi's father retired. The twins stayed on for another year to finish their degree before they returned home too. During that whole one year, they never really talked to me. To only unpleasant memory I have of the Iyengars' home in Brooklyn was each time I was alone in a room with nobody except one of the twins, or even worst, with both of them. Everything else had been such a joy. Mr. and Mrs. Iyengar became the parents I never had. God bless those two.

After graduation, Devi managed to secure herself a scholarship. I was not surprised when she got herself a place at NYU's prestigious law school. She was now in her final year and was still living in her sorority house. The fact that she had her entire life planed out baffled me. After getting her degree, she would join her uncle's law firm in Kuala Lumpur, which happened to be one of the best in Malaysia. So she bragged.

To my own surprise, I graduated from high school, although my grades were nothing close to what Devi had got. I knew from start college life was never for me. But at least I graduated, thanks to all that tutoring that Devi gave me. I know for a fact that she spent more time tutoring me than studying herself! But I still found time for myself to improve on my music. I still wrote my own songs. The manager of the elite Grounded Club was impressed and hired me on the spot. The pay was just enough to pay the rent and treat myself to some things. It was a simple life, but I still was content.

For the first time in my life, I was living my life for myself and by myself. No rich parents, and no over caring Mr. and Mr. Iyengars. It was just me, earning money by myself, for myself.

"So, how come you never come see me perform? I thought you like my music," I asked Devi one evening as we watched the sunset at Central Park during one of our weekly meetings there.

"Dave! You know I never go to places like that. It's just not me."

"Too promiscuous for you I bet."

"No. It's not that. Look, why do people go to clubs? They go there to have a good time, right? Now picture this. What if my idea of a good time is sitting by the fireplace reading a novel while drinking a cup of hot chocolate? A club just won't work for me, right? There you go. That's why I won't come. It's nothing to do with religion of my upbringing or anything."

"Wow! You just made your thoughts sound as secular as possible..."

"I'm gonna ignore you even said that, Mr. Anderson."

"Look. Nobody is asking you to come over and dance on a poll and drink alcohol, Mrs. Virtuous Lady. Just come over and watch your best friend sing. Is that too hard for you, Devi?"

She was silent for a minute or so. Then she finally gave me a response. "Who knows? I might surprise you one of these days..."

***
It was just one of those nights where the other members of the band did not come without prior notice. Mr. Helsinki, the manager was not happy. Thankfully we had the deejay come over and play some music for the customers. And thankfully Devi did not choose tonight to come watch me perform.

But somebody else came instead.

"Mum. Dad. What are you guys doing here?"

I had not seen them for years now, apart from in the papers and on TV. They spent the next few hours lecturing me on how much I have lowered myself to this stage. They had big plans for me to run the company. But now, grandpa was highly considering one of my cousins his apprentice and heir to the company. So that was what this was all about! Saving face!

I didn't know how to pretend I was not disappointed. I had no intention of living under them again. I was happy with my life now. For the first time, I was not dependent on anybody. I wanted to prove to the world that I can make it on my own. And I was not about to let mum and dad stand in my way.

Since I was already off duty, I got up and left. Suddenly, dad yelled out to me. I could still hear him amidst the loud sound of the music playing.

"You ungrateful thing! You still want to live your life like this when you can have so much better? You think we never looked out for you all these years. We were thankful to the Iyengars for taking you in. That's why I pulled some strings and got their daughter into law school in the first place!"

Apparently, I was not the only one who heard him. Devi had just walked into the club and hear everything. Her face changed. She rushed out, not even wanting to look at me.

I ran out and managed to catch up with her before she got onto the subway. She was totally disappointed with herself.

"I though I got in because I was good..." That was all she could she as she tried to hold back her tears. She would not listen to anything else I wanted to say.

***
The next few days was hell. Devi refused to talk to me. She refused to talk to anyone. She had been alone for days, so I heard from her friends at her sorority house. I knew how sensitive and emotional she is. Maybe she needed time on her on for now.

"Would you stop talking about her?" Anita finally blurted out.

"What? You mean about Devi?" I asked, puzzled.

"No. I mean your mum. Oh, come on! Of course I meant Devi. Ever since we started going out, you never talk about anything else but her. Tell me, Dave, because I'm curious. Who is your girlfriend? Is it me or Devi?"

There was a rather long awkward pause.

"Of course it's you..."

"Well, I'm glad to hear that. Because anyway, I saw that Devi girl out in Chinatown the other day with a guy. They weren't even holding hands. I mean, come on! She's a Brahmin girl for crying out loud. But even then, she was out with a young man outside her family. Wow! Must mean something..."

"I'm sorry. What? She was out with someone? Were they... were they close?"

"Seems like that... But what would you care?"

I quickly got up. Of course I cared. "I need to find her."

"What? Devi? Here we go again!" she sighed and rolled her eyes like she always did. "Look, Dave! If you see that virgin ever again, then you and I are through."

"Fine. We're through." I took out the ring she gave me and rushed out of my apartment. I took a cab to Devi's sorority house. From afar, I saw Devi talking to young man about our age. He was dashing. A guy any girl could dream of. Before getting into his car, he gave Devi a hug. And she hugged him back! Never in my life had I seen Devi hugging a guy. What was she doing?

When I returned to my apartment later that night. The whole place was a mess. Anita broke everything she could get her hands on in revenge for breaking up with her. The only thing she had in common with Devi is they were both of Indian parentage.

Anita Kapoor was from Mumbai. She called herself a Christian and wore a crucifix despite not going to church on Sundays. She wore the skimpiest clothes a girl could wear casually and had her hair dyed blonde. She was one of those non-Resident Indians or NRIs that Devi and I used to watch in those Bollywood films who were desperate to integrate into American society they became wilder and more social than the average American youngster. She drank like a drunkard and was proud to brag about the number of guys she had slept with.

I don't even remember why we started dating in the first place.

***
I followed her from the subway. She had no idea I was following her. I was never good at stalking people. Once I had a major crush on my substitute teacher back in junior high. I followed her halfway home before I got busted. She caught me and even sent me home. But maybe I was better now. Devi had no idea I was following her. Or so I thought.

"So... what are you doing?" She almost gave me a heart attack when she surprised me from the back.

Busted... again...

I came straight to the point and asked her who the guy was, whom she claimed was a friend from a therapy session she was attending. As if I was going to fall for that.

"Besides, why would it be your business?" she asked as we walked.

"Because I'm in love with you!"

The words just came out. My heart stopped beating for a minute or so as Devi starred into my eyes in disbelief. After a long awkward silence, Devi walked away. I wanted to call out her name, but I simply could not get it out of my mouth...

***
I could not even have my dinner that night. Nothing fancy. Just the usual eggs and beans to stay in shape. But even that could not go down the throat. I had no idea why I just allowed those words to come out of me. But what did that mean? Was I really in love with her? With Devi? All these years of knowing my best friend... was it actually love in disguise? Or was it just some fancy label I was giving it to hide my own stupidity?

I could take the pressure no longer. I left for her sorority house. I simply barged into her room, only to find her weeping uncontrollably at her family picture. What she told me later just left me speechless for about an hour or so.

Apparently, her father had passed away a few months ago and she only recently found out through a family friend. The reason her family never told her was because they had disowned her before coming back to Malaysia. I had no idea that she was betrothed to the son of a distant relative since childhood. The relative had helped the family through some difficult times in the past and in return, wanted his son to marry Devi and unite their families.

But since Devi had chosen to stay in New York to pursue her degree, the relative assumed her unsuitable as a daughter-in-law since she seemed so obsessed with education and her career than marriage, something that he felt was the most important thing for a girl her age. Therefore, he found his son another bride and cut of any connections he had with Devi's family, resulting in them disowning her.

A part of me was furious. Furious at Devi for keeping Mr. Iyengar's death a secret for me. He was like a father to me, and I loved him as much as she did. I was also furious at Mrs. Iyengar. She was an educated woman. Why would she follow her family's instructions blindly and disown her only daughter.

But when I looked at Devi weeping, it calmed me. She must be going through some hard times. First, her father had died and nobody had told her. Then, her family had disowned her. Her final exams were also just around the corner, and I just know how much she pressures herself during this time of the year. I held Devi in my arms as I tried to comfort her.

Suddenly, the world seemed so unfair once again in my eyes. Devi had told me that her family is very educated, but also very traditional. I don't understand what right did they have to decide who she should marry, and even worse, take away her right to educate herself and become successful in life. How stupid can those people be.

She slept in my arms that night. That beautiful angel. I sat down on the chair near her bed and just enjoyed watching her sleep. She seemed so tranquil as she slept.

A few days later, I took her out on our first official date as a couple. It took me days to gather the courage to ask her out. To my surprise, she said yes. We went to the movies together after dinner. It was supposed to be a good time. But Devi was silent all the time. We have been out together many times, but this time it was different. We were not merely friends. What a fool I was. She was still mourning her dad's death. And I had to ask her out. There was no sparkle in her eyes, the sparkle I so missed. There was just sadness. You could stare into those sad eyes for hours and feel the emptiness of her soul. I of all people should have understood. Mr. Iyengar was not just a father. My father was a father too. But Mr. Iyengar was also a dad... something my father never was. It was hard to simply forget him.

I took her home that day, after what seemed the most solemn date I ever had in my life. Most of the time, my date would invite me in. And I so very much wanted to go in with her... to make love to her... to consummate our love... But even if Devi was not in such a mood, she would not have called me in anyway. Fornication! Major sin!

"Will you marry me, Devi?"

She turned around and stared at me with those sad eyes, that seemed to shine in the darkness. She did not even say a word as she slowly closed the door, leaving me at her doorstep.

I could do nothing but hit my head to the door. I could not have a bigger fool out of myself after that night. First, I asked her out while she was still mourning. Then, I asked her to marry me on the same night! I cursed myself silently, so that Devi would not hear. She hated foul language.

That night, I just wanted to get home and get drunk. As I searched my refrigerator, I was out of beer. It seemed as if only some reality TV shows could make me feel better, and allow me to come to terms with the fact I might be the world's biggest jerk. Just then, there was a knock on the door.

It was Devi...

"Yes..." she said as she held back her tears and forced a smile. She was dripping wet from head to toe because of the rain outside.

"What?" I was puzzled.

"What do you mean 'what'? Yes. Yes! My answer is yes! I will marry you, Dave Anderson!" she cried out in happiness as she hugged me.

It was like floating in the air. God could take away my life now if He wanted to. My life seemed to be complete. I knew she would spank me for doing this, but did not give a darn then. I lifted her face and placed my lips on hers. We kissed for the longest time ever... a kiss of love so passionate that I have never felt before...

We then rushed to nearby church where the pastor was just about to leave for the day. We stopped him and begged him to marry us off. A few of our friends from my club and Devi's college were already there with cameras and rings! We were then united in holy matrimony.

Devi then moved into my apartment. The next few weeks were the happiest time of my life. Our life. I had never seen Devi freak out and be herself as mad as this, not even before her own family. The pranks I used to play on her were purely mean. One night when she returned from college, I had a doll that I had wear a zombie mask and placed on a remoter car move towards her from the darkness. She screamed out in fear! It was epic! But that was the least fun prank. I got more creative as time passed by.

Devi was no stranger to surprises as well. She had a surprise birthday party for me when even I had forgotten what date it was due to all that overtime working at the club. All my friends were there. I even caught a glimpse of Joe, Cheng and Miranda at a distance. Devi somehow got in touch with them and had them come over too. It was rather awkward having them see me happily married with the weird girl we use to pick on back in high school. And now they seemed like complete strangers to me. It turned out that Joe and Cheng only came to still some booze, and Miranda showed up just to 'borrow' some money.

***
Almost a year had passed. And many things can change in a year...

"Is this beacon?" Devi asked as she placed the meat in front of me.

"Oh, yeah.... Sorry, baby. Jim from the club gave it to me. I had no idea it was..."

"And is this bear...?" She was holding the bottle in her hand. There was a time where she would not even touch such 'filth' as she called it. But she must have lost it if she was willing to hold it.

"Oh, that... I was working late the other night... I was so stressed out... I just had to have a drink..."

"Then have it in your club, or some bar for goodness sake! Don't bring it home! I though we discussed this and you agreed that you won't bring home beacon or beef. And beer and wine was in the list of stuff not to bring here! In return, I would tolerate the all the noise you make as you practice your music, despite me having to study for my finals!"

I had to remain silent. I knew I was in the fault. We had agreed that no beacon, beef or alcohol was allowed at our place anymore since she moved here. I promised to respect her beliefs if I had married her.

I had no idea what was going on with us. We used to be so happy together. Now, we were fighting almost everyday. Tonight, I was sleeping on the couch again. They say that when you start having second thoughts on whether getting married to you one true love was the right thing to do, that is the first step to separation...

... but I knew that will never happen for we loved each other more than we ourselves can ever imagine...

... and I was most confident about that... more than I had ever been in my entire life...

***
Devi was unusually late that night. It was her convocation earlier that day, and my wife had graduated first in her class. I could not afford to plan a surprise party like what she did for me. But the least I could do was get a nice cake for her. It was almost midnight and she was nowhere. Perhaps she was celebrating elsewhere with her college mates... though I think that would be unlikely. She is not like that. No matter how much we fight, I am always her first priority...

But she was so late. I quickly called up Cassie, her best friend from the sorority house. It turned out that Cassie was at the airport... along with Devi! But what the hell was she doing there? Was she leaving town without even telling me? Who did she think she is?

I quickly got into our car and drove off to JFK airport. She was there. I quickly pulled her away from Cassie and her other friends and demanded to know what she was doing there without even telling me. It turned out some of her friends we returning to their hometowns that night since graduation was over, and she was there to bid them farewell.

I was embarrassed... and so was she...

"I'm so sorry, Dave. I should have told you..."

Wow! She was admitting her mistake! It was not always I won a fight! What can I do? She was always right! And now for the first time, she admitted to being wrong, when even I myself felt that I was wrong to simple accuse her of leaving without telling me! Bravo, Dave!

The whole ride home was solemn. I was not about to let Devi know that I was in the wrong too. I was enjoying the feeling of being right this time. Devi was indeed ashamed for having me wait for her all night. She was apologizing all the time. But I pretended not to hear.

"Come on, Dave. Say something. I'm really sorry..."

"For what? Not letting me know that you would be home late? For having me wait all night? Was it wrong for me, your husband, to plan a surprise for you to, congratulate you for graduating first in your class. I had it all planned. And I was waiting for you... and you were away without even telling me... What the hell...?"

"Dave! I'm so... so... so sorry! Not just for tonight. But for everything. I just kept nagging at you... expecting you to respect my culture when I should have realized that marrying someone from a different background requires some sacrifice... It is partly my fault that we're always fighting... and I'm sorry for that..."

"Will you just shut it and let me talk..."

Then, I had no idea what happened. There was a bright flash of light in front of me. It was a truck. I tried to avoid and out car fell down the valley. As we crushed into a tree, I saw Devi crash out through the front window as she was tossed into the ground bellow,her head landing first. My head hit the steering wheel... I knew I had to go out and check if she was alright... but I couldn't... as I passed out... slowly... the sight of my wife all drenched in her blood still fixed in my head...

***
I woke up in the hospital. I looked around frantically. I was alright. There was Dr. McKenzie, a good friend of Mr. and Mrs. Iyengar. She told me I was alright, apart from some minor injuries. Devi was more serious as she suffered a head injury. She was in the ICU earlier, but now her condition was stabilized and she was in the normal ward.

... and then I knew there was a God... for only He would have the heart to know that she was all I had in this world... and without her I was nothing... and so I thanked Him in silent prayer...

I was allowed to see her. She was still in a deep sleep. I was more thankful then I had ever been in my entire life.

If only I had focused more on the road that night... If only I was not so keen in fighting that night... If only had I put my ego aside that night...

"But there is something else that you should know, Dave..." Dr. McKenzie brought me the shocking news later that week. My heart froze for a moment or two.

"While we ran some tests on both you and Devi, we found that there was some problem with Devi's health..."

"What problems, Doc?"

"We ran some tests on Devi. It turns out she has multiple sclerosis..."

"What... What is that?"

"It is a... a... terminal disease like cancer. And I'm so... so... sorry to say that nothing could have been done to treat it even if we had detected it earlier. To date, there is no known cure to this disease..."

It was like a slap on the face. "So... what do we do, Doc?"

"Ermm... I'll tell you what I tell all my other patients. Has there been anything that she would have loved to have done and yet never actually had the time to do it? Well, I would think this is the best time to let her do it. Take her on a vacation. Enjoy yourselves while you're at it. In the meantime, I will do all the best I can to find a way to make her... well, survive longer..."

I could not speak. Why was God testing me like this? Why...?

"By the way, you can see her now Dave if you want. She is awake and she is doing fine... I haven't told her about this yet. Since I've know you both for a long time, I think I'll let you decide when to tell her..."

I walked into her ward. She was awake and was weeping. I ran and held her in her arms. She apologized repeatedly like she did before the accident, when like before, this was entirely my fault and had nothing to do with her. I just wanted to hold on to her for as long as I could... for one day I would not be able to do so any longer...

We were discharged a few days later. We returned home. Devi's body was still very weak after the surgery. As she rested, I studied more about her disease on the net. It is a chromosomal disease, and one of the major symptoms was colour-blindness. It mostly affected people living in countries further away from the equator. Between both of us, then it should have been me who stood a higher chance of getting the disease. Devi has only been in New York for less than five years, and I had been living here all my life! How fair was that?

I was asked to sign some papers. I did see a copy of Devi's medical reports. Not that I did not trust Doc, but I had to make sure. And it was true...

***
"Devi... I think it's time we go to Kuala Lumpur and meet your family..."

She almost choked her food out of shock. I had been cracking my head, trying to think of a way to tell her the truth about her condition, and that she only had less than a year to live, but I ended up telling her this during dinner.

"Why... Why now, Dave?"

"What do you mean 'why now'? They're your family. Unlike mine, your's is a true family. I'm sure deep down inside, your mum misses you like hell. It's been years now since you last met them. Now should be the best time! Besides, it has always been your dream to work for your uncle's firm, right? We really should go..."

"I don't think we should go... not now..."

"Please, Devi. Do it for me at least..."

"You mean... you'd be happy if we went...?"

"Of course! Anything that makes you happy would make me happy!" I cried out. I sat next to her. "Come on, Devi. Please... I so miss that beautiful smile on your face. It's been so long since I last saw you laugh. Remember when we were at high school. We had so much fun together at you place. Do you at least remember the first few weeks after we got married? You were always laughing. Always! Even in your sleep, you smiled. I know. I've seen you. Please, sweetie. Say yes..."

Devi looked away, as if she could not face me. Then, very slowly, she nodded.

***
We left for Kuala Lumpur as soon as we can. Devi slept all the way, fearing she would suffer from jet lag. It was good she did. Or else she would be worrying too much on how her family would react once she was home.

Her Uncle Raj picked us up at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. He then took us to a place called Cameron Highlands. It turned out that Mr. and Mrs. Iyengar used to work in Kuala Lumpur, but their hometown was there in the hills.

The entire family was awaiting us at the entrance as Uncle Raj's car approached their family mansion.

"Hey, I thought I only told you we were coming. I had no idea everyone would be expecting us. Uncle Raj! Did you tell them?" Devi was not happy.

"Oh, they have no idea you guys are coming. But I did tell them I would be home for the holidays. It's been months since I came home. They all must really miss me to be waiting for me like that. Just imagine how happy they'd be when they see you!" Uncle Raj was so enthusiastic.

"Yeah... can't wait to see the look on their faces..." Devi sarcastically whispered into my ears.

And... yes. The looks on their faces was epic. They were not just shocked. There was a mixture of anger, happiness, sadness and a flashback of fond old memories splashed on their faces. Only a musician who writes sappy ballads like me could notice that.

For a minute we just stared at them, and they stared at me in return.

Suddenly, one of the women turned and ran into the house. She came back a minute later with a gold plate with a giant leaf and a small fire burning on it. She had Devi and I stand together as she circled the fire around us three times before asking us to enter.

Just then, a weeping Mrs. Iyengar who was hiding behind the crowd all this while burst out and hugged her daughter. She then pulled my head over and rested it on her chest. This was the Mrs. Iyengar I knew and loved. All of a sudden, all the anger I had towards her just vanished. How much I missed her.

The many aunts, uncles and cousins also came and welcomed us. I noticed Raman and Lakshman standing at a distance with their large muscular arms folded. They still gave me the creeps. I smiled and nodded at them as a friendly gesture, but they ignored me, still giving me that cold stare that they always gave me. They still looked the same, apart from their bushy mustaches, that made them look years older than they actually were.

The big mansion with its striking Tudor architecture was bought by Mr. Iyengar's grandfather years ago from a British officer during the colonial period in the country. It has been the family's ever since. Mr. Iyengar had five brothers and a sister. All were married and had three to five kids for themselves. Most of them were only children. Raman too was married. His wife introduced herself to us and even let her carry her newborn son. Devi was an aunt! I knew how much she loved kids and knew she instantly bonded with her young nephew.

We were shown our room, which looked nothing like a room, but more like a suite. The entire mansion, in fact, looked like the set from a one of those BBC costume dramas. From the decoration right to the furniture, everything was so British, apart from the idols and pictures of Hindu deities around the house, which were the only things that gave away the religion of its residents.

Everyone was so welcoming, apart from the twins. Devi could not part from her nephew, not even during dinner. She kept him in her arms all the time. It turned out that he was just a few days old and had not been named yet!

"We need a proper ceremony to name the baby. It's been more than ten years since we had one in this house since we aunties had our tubes tied for good!" Aunt Shanty said. Wow! What an amazing sense of humour from someone of this community!

"I remember when Devi was born. She sat on my lap during the ceremony. And I was the first person to write her name down!" Uncle Raj said. "Come to think of it..."

Everyone turned their heads towards me.

"...we should have the baby sit on Dave's lap since he is the uncle!" Uncle Raj said happily.

The whole table buzzed with excitement. Everyone was excited, except the baby's father of course. He left the table without even finishing his meal, but nobody even noticed.

"But, Mr. Raj, Lakshman is an uncle too. Besides, won't it be better if he was part of the ceremony instead since he is the uncle by blood. Not that I mind, but I'm sure Lakshman would love it more, right?" I argued.

"It's not a matter of being an uncle by birth or by marriage. Take me for instance. I'm Devi's uncle by marriage. There are certain requirements that the uncle must have in order to participate. He must not be the brother of the baby's father, or the husband of the mother's sister; because that makes him equivalent to a father to the baby. It must be the mother's brother, or at least the husband of the father's sister. Get it... or did I confuse you a little?" Uncle Raj asked.

Not a little, but a lot...

"And I don't have any brothers, Dave. Please say you would. Please..." Latika, Raman's wife pleaded to me. Everyone looked at me, their large Indian eyes just glowing with hope that I would do it. Devi too seemed to be in support of it.

"Well... I'm sure it would be fun.."

And at that moment, everyone at the table just cheered out of joy. I was astonished. My approval must really mean something to them.

***
The following day, I received a call from my manager from the club. It turned out that a record label loved my songs and and they wanted to buy them for a good price. I would have been the happiest person in the world had not I known that my one true love would not be here with me to enjoy the fruits of my success. I was finally going to prove to the world that I was a somebody, even without my parent's money.

As I walked out of the room to tell Devi the good news, I passed by Latika who was trying to comfort her crying baby.

"I have no idea what's his problem. He just had his milk. He's not taken a piss. He slept well last night. Why is he like this?"she complaint.

I could not stand seeing that cute thing crying like that. I took him from his mother's arms and cradled him in mine, hoping it would comfort him. As if! The baby hardly knows me.

But he stopped. And he looked at me and smiled!

"Would you look at that?! What are you, an exorcist?!" Latika said, clearly envious of my parenting skills! Haha!

All the kids in the house surrounded me to see the baby asleep. Devi, who was helping the other women in the kitchen peeped out and smiled at me. She would have thought that would make me a good father. Maybe it did... but she would not live to be a mother...

I spent the rest of the evening with Devi's younger cousins. I played soccer with the boys, and they would always correct me by saying it was football, not soccer whenever they had the chance to. The girls loved giving me some make-up and playing with my hair. Then, I would sing a song to them with my guitar. They warmed up to me pretty quickly. Devi was so lucky to have such a big family. I had a big family too. But I hardly knew any of my cousins. They were scattered all across The States. I remember meeting one cousin during a trip to Miami. And that was it.

The next morning was the morning of the name-giving ceremony for my little nephew. I had to wear a dhoti, which is a white, almost translucent, piece of loincloth. Anand, one of Devi's teenage cousins helped me into it. I simply had to wear some short underneath, or risk exposing my hairy, totally unsexy legs!

There was a priest who read mantras during the ceremony. I was seated on the floor with the baby on my lap. It seemed to go on for hours, but the sight of that little cute thing on my lap was just so entertaining to watch. The priest then told the Raman and Latika that they had to choose a name that started with a certain Tamil alphabet, for that was most auspicious according to his horoscope. After discussing it with Mrs. Iyengar and the other elders, they decided to name the baby Jayam, which according to Devi meant victory. I was then supposed to whisper the name into little Jayam's ear with a betel leaf. Next, I was to write the name on a banana leaf filled with dried rice. Anand tease me by saying that it had to be in Tamil, but everyone else did not mind me writing it in Roman letters.

Before the priest left, Mrs. Iyengar asked him to tell them their futures based on their horoscopes. I was not very interested, but Devi joined in and had her palm read. According to the priest, she would live to be a grandmother, and would even be a great politician someday after being a successful lawyer. Everyone was shocked. There was no way the priest could have known that Devi was a lawyer! Anand then whispered into my ears that there were a million ways the priest could have known since he worked for almost every Indian family in town, and news of Devi's return had spread fast. That explained it all, for only I knew how long Devi actually would live...

Spending time with Anand was the best thing about living in the Iyengar mansion. He was like the little brother I never had. He was only sixteen but was very smart. He was really playful and loved talking to me about girls, music and sports. Spending time with him made me feel like a inspirational big brother, apart from the awkward questions he would ask me every now and then, like how many girls I had slept with and so on. I could help him get laid if that was what he wanted, but of course, his family would kill me if I did.

That evening, Anand and I were playing soccer along with the other boys from the neighborhood. Something happened. I had no idea what it was at first. But I was pretty sure the ball Anand kicked hit me right on the face. Then everything turned black and white... I tried to stay in balance... but my head was spinning... and I simply fell to the ground unconscious...

When I woke up, I was on my bed in the mansion. Devi, Latika, Uncle Raj and the kids were around me.

"Honey, are you alright?" Devi asked me.

"I'm fine. Nothing is wrong. I just fainted, that's all..."

"You really need to rest, Dave. Come on kids. Let Brother Dave take some rest. Can't you guys play a little more carefully next time?" Latika ushered Anand and the other kids out of the room as she nagged at them.

"Are you sure you're alright? You really scared me back there. If anything happened to you, I don't... I..." Devi simply burst into tears.

"Hey. Hey... I'm fine. I just knocked out for awhile. Don't get all melodramatic just because of that..." I wiped off the tears on her cheeks and brought her closer to me... oh, I so wanted to kiss her right now...

"Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" the sound of disgust just echoed through the room. It was some of Devi's cousins watching through the open window. We stared back at them for an awkward minute or so, then burst into laughter ourselves.

I had never laughed so much in my life before. Boy, I never wanted this life to end...

***
It was the very next day. The whole family and I went to a nearby town called Fraser Hill. Just walking into Fraser Hill was like walking into a Scottish hamlet. If the buildings in Cameron Highlands were Tudor inspired, the buildings here were Scottish inspired. The sun was blazing at us, yet there was that slightly chilly wind.

As Devi and I were busy taking photographs with the kids while the adults were shopping, this guy suddenly came and snatched Devi's handbag. That would simply not do, now wouldn't it? I chased after this guy. I ran as fast as I could across the streets to catch him. We finally came to a lonely deserted lane. He was obviously tired of running and was ready to fight.

It has been a long time since I last picked up a fight. But I was pretty sure I had not forgotten any moves. We fought. He was swift and strong. But all that alpha-maleness I had been preserving inside of me all these years of leading a good boy's life just burst out that afternoon. I managed to get back the bag and hit the guy real hard. He finally gave up and ran away. I must have been exhausted. My head started spinning. Everything just went colourless... as I fell unconscious...

I awoke in my hotel room. A few police officers were there. They took down my statement and showed me a few pictures of former convicts. I managed to identify the guy who snatched Devi's bag. It turned out that he was an Indonesian illegal. Devi and everyone else then left me to rest as they left the room. Devi had been crying as I noticed her red eyes.

I could not rest. I was dizzy, but I secretly felt good by giving that illegal a piece of my mind... or arm if you'd like it. Devi's laptop was there, still on. I thought it would be best if I checked my e-mail since it had been days since I last did. Devi had not logged out of her e-mail account yet. Then I noticed an e-mail from Dr. McKenzie stated HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL.

I quickly opened it.

Dear Devi,

How have you been copping? I know it has been hard for you to accept something like this. You're a very strong girl and I envy your strength and patience. God will always be by your side as you struggle through the next few day. I am always praying for you.

You don't have to worry about anything. This is only between you and I. Dave does not know. Those on duty that night are my best friends and they will never whisper a word. You will not have to worry about anything.

I do have some good news this time. But as I have always said, I don't want to keep your hopes high because there is no definite cure for this illness. But some extensive research is being carried out in a famous clinical facility in Frankfurt by some top medical experts from around the world. They have been some running some tests on certain patients and though they are not fully cured, the responses they have received has been extremely positive.

This might seem a little far fetched for an illness of this extreme, but I've seen the test reports myself. In fact, I discovered this facility because the research team is willing to hire me as a junior researcher. I dare not see anything, but I see some hope for you during dark times.

My biggest concern now is poor Dave. How long are you going to keep this away from him? How long are you going to hide the fact that he is ill from him? The symptoms might start showing now, and sooner or later he will be going to a doctor himself, and he might find out the truth himself. Like it or not, the lab report that night when both of you were admitted showed one of you had the illness, so it had to be one of you for us to report on. On your request, we switched the medical reports.

Dave is a happy young man. I'm sure if he knew the truth, it might devastate him. But by keeping you happy on what he assumes are your last days, he himself will be happy during his last days. God bless, I hope you can cope with this.

I will be leaving for Frankfurt in a few days time. I will tell them about your situation and I hope to meet you there soon. Please do take care of Dave. I have no idea how you're dealing with this right now.

Lots of love,
Aunt McKenzie.

It was like a hole was punched through my heart. I was going to die...

***
"Dave! You have no idea what just happened!" Devi's face was beaming with happiness.

"What is it, dear?" I forced a smile.

"Uncle Raj just hired me! I'm starting work in a few weeks time! Can you imagine that? I'm going to work at his firm!" Devi had never seemed happier. She hugged me and tears of joy feel from her eyes, in contrast to the tears of sadness that she shed most of the time. I was quite sure she was yet to read Dr. McKenzie's e-mail.

That night, I walked out to the balcony as everyone else were fast asleep. I looked out at the beautiful sight of the hills from my room. The full moon simply added to the beauty of the night. Life is so beautiful, yet short. Devi had thought me so much in life. She was the one who made me the man I am today. She brought me into her family, a family that has showered me with so much happiness, happiness that I only had dreamed off. It felt so good to belong somewhere. I appreciate this life He has given me. But why was he taking it away when I had just learned to do so?

The next morning, I went to bath after Devi had come out. Something in the trash bin caught my attention. Devi had taken a pregnancy test.

It showed positive.

I could not think any further. I just sat on there in the bathtub for about an hour or so, until Devi knocked the door and asked me to come out fast. I quickly grabbed my towel and tied it around my waist and stepped out.

The laptop was switched on. Devi was still in her robes, and she had just read the e-mail.

"Honey..." she was almost whispering. Her voice was as shaky as her eyes. "There is..." she sniffed and paused for a moment. "There is... it's something you should know. Something I should have told you all this while. You... I... Just now, I... and now..." she was stuttering.

Only I knew how much she was burning inside. Only I knew how much agony she had been hiding within herself all this while. I could not hold myself any longer.

"Sssshhhh...." I placed my finger on her lips, silencing her. A pearl-like tear fell down her left cheek. I caught it with my lips before it fell down her face... like I would do to every one of her tears... for none of them deserved the ground, ever. As we shared a passionate kiss, I knew everything was going to be alright. I had her and she had me. We would go through this. As long as I had my Devi by my side, nothing really mattered. She was all I wanted... and she was all I needed.

She is my gift from the Almighty...


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