Years after Anish’s death, Vivek spent his twin brother’s birthday leafing through photographs, musing on the trick of fate that caused Anish to succumb to alcoholism while he found solace with wild animals. Shiny images of a trip they had taken together in their twenties. Lions, zebras, elephants, hyenas — animals sighted from a jeep on safari at dawn or seconds before twilight when the sun ebbed crimson at the horizon. Several prints of Anish smoking at their cousin’s lavish midsummer wedding in Johannesburg. One of them a close up of Anish’s face as he stared at the green-gold of the savannah with a cloudy look in his eyes.
Vivek sipped sherry and gazed out the window at the Pacific beyond Pike Place Market. The photographs showed the last moments of any consequence between them. Perhaps that week took on a particular resonance because it was the last time the brothers had truly recognized themselves in the other, if only briefly. Of course, they hadn’t made the most of their time together and it had nearly ended in disaster.
They had flown from JFK to O.R. Tambo in Johannesburg on tickets Their cousin Amala’s parents didn’t want her to marry a black man, and this fact was mortifying to both Vivek and Anish, one of the few things they could agree upon.purchased by their mother, an anxious and doting woman who served as CFO of a soft drink company. She had not yet given up the idea that her sons would one day revert back into the best friends they had been as school children. Vivek and Anish both wanted to attend the wedding, though they would have preferred not to share the same flight or a hotel room. Their cousin Amala’s parents didn’t want her to marry a black man, and this fact was mortifying to both Vivek and Anish, one of the few things they could agree upon. Growing up, they had never considered that Indians could be racist, though years later they would understand it was common; it was the basis of a certain amount of coolness between the other relatives and themselves and their cousin Subashini, vis-à-vis caste.
The racism of their relatives was so upsetting, they had agreed, that it was reason enough to travel to Joburg for the wedding even though they hadn’t been getting along for years. Just outside the room where the rental car counter was, they squabbled about who would drive to the hotel. “But you were drinking on the plane,” Vivek said, putting his suitcase down hard for emphasis.
“It’s been six hours since my last drink, Mom,” Anish said. “And I slept it off.” They scowled at each other.
“Mom is the one paying for this trip,” Vivek said. “So that’s not a good argument. She would want me to drive.”
“I can hitchhike,” Anish said. Vivek sighed, thinking of what he would tell his mother if something happened to Anish. He agreed to let him drive.
They drove an hour from the airport to their hotel, which was near the Sterkfontein Caves. After checking into the hotel and changing their clothes, the twins drove to the lodge where the wedding was to be held. They crossed the lodge’s parking lot and strode towards the buildings, their shoes popping and crunching against the gravel. Vivek straightened his skinny tie. He wore the navy jacket he used for job interviews and a pale button-down shirt fastened all the way to the collar. “You drive like an effing maniac,” he said. He crossed his arms.
“Jesus, will you quit? At least I’m not spending our whole vacation white-knuckling the wheel,” Anish said.
Vivek snorted. “A little healthy fear might do you good.”
“Paranoia more like,” Anish continued, shaking his head. “You “You know, checking the rear-view constantly is totally like a metaphor for how you live your life.”check the rear-view every five seconds.” He scrolled through the archive of emails on his phone searching for their cousin Amala’s email about the festivities. “Can’t find it. You know, checking the rear-view constantly is totally like a metaphor for how you live your life.”
This was true. Vivek couldn’t think of a retort, at least not one that would chasten his brother. He said only, “Actually it is a metaphor. It’s not “totally like” a metaphor.”
A mammoth ivory silk tent came into view. As they approached, Tamil movie music They slipped between open flaps into the rose-scented world of the tent where guests swirled around in suits and hot pink or chartreuse or orange saris.boomed from the speaker system. They slipped between open flaps into the rose-scented world of the tent where guests swirled around in suits and hot pink or chartreuse or orange saris. They imbibed champagne, nibbled on petit fours. To the right side of the tent, a group of their cousins were gathered around Amala, perched on the edge of a folding chair. Two sari-clad women were applying mehndi to her caramel-colored skin with the pointy end of a gold tube, squirting black undulating strings of henna. The first woman was working on Amala’s arm, obscuring the painted name of Amala’s fiance, David, with vines and foliage. At Amala’s feet, another woman covered the top of her foot with lotus petal designs. Already Amala’s fingertips and toes were turning ruddy under the dark paste.
“Vivek. Anish!” Amala waved with a free hand. She hugged them both, the heady scent of white tuberose in her perfume momentarily stunning Vivek as she came near. It was a scent he recognized, though he could not have named it. He had purchased a similar perfume for his former girlfriend.
Ten other cousins surrounded them, mostly young women in their teens and early twenties wearing silk, georgette and chiffon. Wearing saris and salwar kameezes and churidars with sequins and mirrors studding the cuffs pressed tight against their ankles, the smells of musk, cardamom and star jasmine wafted from their bodies. Gold powder and talcum veiled their bright skin. Vivek was disoriented by the blur of thick lipstick in varying shades of scarlet and rose.
If tradition had mattered, Vivek and Anish would have had seniority. They were the oldest male cousins. But Vivek quickly felt out of place in the cloud of estrogen, just as he had as a young boy. He looked around for an escape route and noticed several distant relatives dancing in the middle of the tent, but he couldn’t remember their relationship to him.
With his wavy hair and chiseled jaw, Anish had a history of charming every female in the room from their aunts to their baby cousins. For the first few minutes that afternoon, he appeared as popular as ever, hugging everyone warmly, asking friendly questions about what they were doing now. But during the years in which they had not seen their cousins, Anish had changed. He could no longer skate by on the charm of youth. On edge as his last bloody Mary wore off, he cracked non sequitur jokes nobody thought were funny. “White guys can’t dance, am I right? ” he shouted over the music to two of Amala’s friends standing in the corner by the group of relatives dancing. The fair-skinned gay couple laughed politely, but Vivek could tell they were uncomfortable.
Vivek crossed his arms. As usual, a part of him stood apart Vivek didn’t understand how they were related, much less how they could be twins.from the caustic words he wanted to say. He understood that Anish’s popularity was necessary and good. Receiving no attention, Anish would quickly grow bored. And if he started to feel even a little bit bored, he would start drinking again. It was as if they were on the verge of a zombie apocalypse and tomorrow morning had no option of arriving. Vivek didn’t understand how they were related, much less how they could be twins.
Amala’s fiance David was a lanky Nigerian with sharp features and a tendency to tilt his head as he listened — the countenance of a sparrow and shoulders of a linebacker. David beckoned them to a veined black marble bar stationed at the rear of the tent. After the formalities, the firm handshakes and warm slaps on the back, he gestured at an engraved silver tray of glass flutes brimming over with champagne. A nearly empty bottle of champagne was set to the side next to a gaudy bouquet of purple and red dahlias.
Vivek accepted a flute, thankful he didn’t have to shell out any money for drinks, but Anish said to the bartender, “Martini, please.”
“Little early for that,” David said, his tone jovial.
“Yeah, he’s been drinking a lot more lately,” mumbled Vivek. He wondered how much David knew about Anish’s hospitalization for a suicide attempt a few months before. Vivek’s mother and her four sisters were always gossiping and some spillover to their children was inevitable, but his mother probably wouldn’t have told even one of her sisters about the hospitalization. The gossip was usually about so-and-so’s achievements, with only a glossed over comment about any unhappy situation. His mother’s silence was motivated by a mixture of loyalty to Anish and fear her sisters would blame her for being a bad parent. Vivek recalled an occasion on which he had overheard her talking about one of the sisters, who had told her she should quit her job as a CFO to be a stay-at-home mother parenting Vivek and Anish.