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Hello and welcome to Orange Heights. This blog has migrated a few times, so the entry dates might be a little confusing. Apologies...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chapter 20: Would you like to introduce your cousin to the whole school?

At Livingston Academy, Rohit slouched against the wall. He moved slowly along the hallway between classes, as if the swirling crowd of students around him weren't there, or as if he had a timetable unconnected to their tightly-scheduled days. He watched the tiny loops of yarn that made up his sweater catch on the rough cement between the wall's smoother panels and wondered if he could create enough friction with his sleeve to create a fire. He consider the possibility, wondering what the punishment would be for starting a fire in a crowded hallway with a sweater. What if no one got hurt? What if the only victim was the sweater? Rohit sighed deeply and walked even slower to his Humanities class.

With Jairaj visiting, it seemed unlikely that the conversation at home would turn to school and Rohit and his future happiness at Columbia High School. Even as a child, Rohit realized that such changes meant conversation with his parents, his father making decisions quickly, his mother crafting a list of pros and cons, weighing the options carefully. She planned even the smallest outings, researching all the possibilities, and contingency plan was one of her favorite expressions. Rohit sighed again. Perhaps he shared these characteristics; how else could he explain his irritation at his cousin's surprise visit?

Rohit stopped beside a trophy case full of bronze golfing figures and rubbed his sweater against the wall again, back and forth, back and forth, as he thought about his cousin. Rohit's earliest memories were of BA flights to India, and climbing onto the suitcases his parents packed carefully weeks ahead of their trips. His mother hoarded Clinique and jeans chosen to match relatives' measurements, while his practical father gathered Advil and granola bars, both for himself, both staples of his daily life. Nearly every summer the family traveled to Lahore, and they had squeezed shorter trips -- for weddings and birth ceremonies -- into shorter school holidays. Rohit sometimes returned dazed by jet lag and puzzled when his classmates talked about Thanksgiving turkeys, while his memories were of crowds and dancing.

Friends and classmates asked, "How was India?" or said, "Tell me about the Taj Mahal." It was only last summer, after years of nagging, that Rohit finally visited the Taj Mahal. His weeks spent in India sometimes felt like a parade of relatives, though he was the parade forced to march through a dozen sitting rooms, drinking hundreds of cups of tea.

He read the Harry Potter series of books in India, after resisting the trend for years, and completed all seven in a week. Another summer brought him Dickens, leather-bound volumes from a great-uncle's collection. Last year, he barrelled through the Hitch-Hiker's Guide series. When he thought of India, he felt the thin, humidity-soaked pages under his fingers, and saw the angular print on the page. The British spellings intrigued him; how could people speaking the same language agree to disagree on spelling, but limit the possible spellings to two? Why could favorite and favourite be correct, but no other version of the same word? And why the favorite child in every single sitting room, dance hall, and kitchen not him, but Jairaj? Why did Jairaj, who seemed to have the attention of all of India, come to New Jersey for more?

"Loud," Rohit said. "Big. Attention-sucking."

"Same to you," said Julian, nudging him from behind with his backpack."What are you doing out here? Scottland's gonna yell at you."

"I don't care," said Rohit, knowing even as he said it that he sounded like a child. "I don't like that teacher anymore."

Julian stared at his friend and waited.

"My mother told her that my cousin is visiting from India, and wants to come to school. So she --" Rohit gestured towards the classroom door with his shoulder, "invited him to talk to the class. About India."

Rohit saw that Julian didn't understand. "My cousin is a huge pain in the -- " he added.

"So?" asked Julian. "You get extra credit if you bring someone in. Remember how I made my grandmother come when she visited from Bruges? Extra quiz grade, buddy, can't miss."

"But Jairaj is loud," protested Rohit. "And he's boring. India is boring. We spent the whole fall doing India. Boring."

Julian shrugged. "Kylie brought in her cousin from Canada, which is like next to upstate New York. That's boring," he said. "Anyway, we gotta get in there."

Rohit followed his friend to the classroom door, aware that they were entering late. Julian held the door open for Rohit. As Rohit passed, his friend asked, loud enough for the class to hear, "What happened to your sweater? It looks like you were chewing on it."

Rohit didn't reply. The teacher turned to them. Instead of a reprimand, she greeted them gleefully. "A cousin from Lahore, Rohit. How lucky you are. How lucky we are." She turned to the class to include them in the luck. "And Rohit's cousin made a powerpoint of his whole life -- and you, yes, pictures of you, Rohit."

Rohit looked at the floor and then at his classmates as the teacher talked on about the anticipated pleasures of powerpoint and baby photos. This must be bad, he thought, looking around the room. They weren't even laughing at him; the rest of the class looked as mortified as he felt.

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