I barge in my room, startling the Russian exchange student whom Mom has planted to “enrich” my life.
“Hi,” she says, clutching her throat. She is blonde and skinny, and has on lacy pajamas and furry purple slippers. Her white T-shirt is the only thing that bears a semblance of subtlety.
The room is almost unrecognizable with her giant suitcase, rose-printed quilt and other paraphernalia infesting the place. There is even a pink puppy tucked in her bed. How unfortunate for a fourteen-year-old to be seen with stuffed toys!
She has her fingers all over my computer, checking out my school’s website. I plunk on the bed and peel off my socks. She must see the disapproval in my eyes for she looks at me apologetically. “I couldn’t connect my computer because I didn’t have the access code.”
“You should have asked my mom.” Static crackles like bubble wrap as I take off my grey fleece pullover. I open the closet to hang the pullover and find pinks and purples among my neutral wardrobe. Great, now I have to share the tiny closet space too.
“I noticed that you like Tolstoy too.” She swiveled the chair pointing to Anna Karenina kept on the nightstand.
Too? How can someone so frivolous be into books? I walk to the bathroom and almost gag at the strong citrusy scent of her bath products.
When I return to the room, she is in bed. I slip under my ivory quilt and switch off the light. My stomach growls for food. In order to avoid the Russian, I spent the entire evening across the street at a friend’s place. Unfortunately for me she happened to be on some juice diet. I get indignant when perfectly thin people around me go on diets.
“I’m a little nervous about Monday. How do you like the school?”
I grunt, pulling the quilt over my head. She exhales. My stomach rumbles again.
“Do you want some cabbage Pierogis?”
“Wait.” She jumps out of the bed and heads for the door. She must have an owl’s vision. I switch on the light and sit up. Her lacy pajamas flap as she walks. Her white T-shirt has something written in Russian at the back.
“Thank you for hosting me,” she says, perching next to me with a box of what look like dumplings.
I breathe in the appetizing aroma. “It was my mom’s idea.”
She passes me the box, smiling. Her teeth are slightly yellow against her pale skin.
I wolf down four Pierogis. “They taste like Mom’s Momos, Tibetan dumplings you know.”
“So you like them?”
I nod debating whether or not to eat another one. The sight of the tire above the waistband of my sweatpants settles it.
“I wish we were in the same class.”
O God no. “What does your T-shirt say?”
I stare at her mouth as she prattles in Russian. “If you want to be happy, be,” she translates.
“Yes,” her face lights up, “you know!”
I bow dramatically.
“My name is Anna,” she says, like there were two A’s in the beginning.
“Anjali,” I say, “And don’t worry about school. My friend from across the street will be in your class. She is kind of like you.”
About the AuthorRajni Gupta, 35, lives with her husband and daughter in Charlotte, North Carolina. She received the Elizabeth Simpson Smith award in 2011. Her stories have appeared in Muse India, Postcard Shorts, Shotgun Honey and Urban Shots anthology. She’s currently working on a young adult novel.