Seventeen Things about My Friend Farzana

Neha Chaudhary-Kamdar

 

1. Farzana is even more beautiful than I remember. The girlish softness of her face has sharpened into angular maturity, as though someone reached under her skin and adjusted her cheekbones to sit higher. She dyes her hair with henna now, a tradition among the women of her husband’s home. The knot at her nape loosens when she waves across the street at me, her brown locks uncoiling with a copper gleam. I’m out on the porch, picking up the newspaper and milk. I’m surprised to see her; I didn’t know she was visiting. When she walks over for a hug, I respond with an awkward, one-armed embrace, holding the wiggly pouch of milk away from our bodies as though it were a bag of dog feces. I can only imagine the figure I must have cut standing by the gate in my father’s Rotary Club t-shirt, the packet of Krishna Trade-mark Pasteurized Buffalo Milk sweating on my palm.

Farzana gives me an appraising look and laughs. Something seems different about her mouth. Is it the frosty pink lipstick? Or that mole on her upper lip that used to embarrass her when we were children, but that she now highlights with a dot of liquid eyeliner? I know I shouldn’t stare, but if I weren’t looking at her mouth, my gaze would find itself on some other, equally be-witching part of her face. So I let myself stare at her mouth.

“New teeth,” she says, curling her upper lip back and tapping the enamel with a lacquered fingernail. “What can I say? Doctor likes me to be tip-top, you know? It’s the first thing we did after I moved to London. New teeth.”

“What was wrong with your old teeth?” I try to remember what they were like, but I can no longer see past this brand new row with its peroxide gleam and unnaturally straight bottoms.

“Nothing was wrong, yaar!” Farzana says. “But my old teeth weren’t perfect, like these are. Doctor’s just very particular, that’s all.”

2. Doctor is Farzana’s husband. Dr. Aziz Murtaza, O.D., but Farzana calls him Doctor. On the few occasions she has rung me since moving away, I’ve heard the enduring refrain of Doctor’s affections: Doctor is so caring, Bela. I wish you could see how beautifully he set up our London apartment for me. Doctor doesn’t want me to take up a job because he wants to earn for us both. Doctor gets so jealous when I go out with my friends! He wants me all to himself. Doctor doesn’t want me to come back to Hyderabad, even for a visit. India is too far, he says. He would miss me too much. Perhaps that last one explains why it has been six years since I’ve seen Farzana. It might have been even longer if her brother hadn’t gone missing, forcing her to come back and look for him.

Oh, yes. Farzana’s brother, Aslam, is missing. I suppose I should have led with that.
Neha Chaudhary-Kamdar earned her MFA at Boston University, where she was awarded the William A. Holodnak Prize for Fiction. She often writes about the lives of women in India, where she grew up. Neha lives in Berkeley, California, and is working on her first novel.