Part 1 of Anita Fellicelli’s The Great Sari and Mango Novel introduced twin brothers Vivek and Anish during a trip they took in their twenties to Johannesberg to attend their cousin Amala’s wedding. Catch up with Part 1 and rejoin the belligerent brothers in Part 2 below as they partake in the wedding festivities and interact with guests.
* * *
“Why do you think I drink so much? It’s your neuroses that drive me to drink,” snapped Anish. “Nag, nag, nag, all the way from the airport to the hotel. Am I driving on the right side of the road? Slow down! Slow down! Screaming like a girl. Speaking of which, Mom would tell you to get off my back.” He glanced at the bartender. “Shaken, not stirred.” The bartender maintained an implacable expression, her blue eyes hooded, her long eyelashes caked with glittery black mascara. She measured a shot of gin. “Double please,” Anish said.
David laughed as if Anish’s words were meant in fun and patted his back. “Brothers,” he said. “Never let up. Do you guys want to meet mine?”
“Mom wouldn’t want you to drink the way you did on the plane,” Vivek said as he followed David. He looked back over his shoulder, but Anish wasn’t listening. He had already returned to their cousins and was talking to Amala’s sister Shivani, freakishly tall compared to the rest of them, about her new modeling job.
David’s four brothers were congregated near the wedding couple’s friends from Yale. Vivek exchanged pleasantries with them, explaining he lived in New York, but within a few minutes, the brothers A sprinkling of freckles spilled across her nose like flecks of brown sugar.turned to banter amongst themselves again. David introduced Vivek to one of the college friends, Aimee Henderson, who was standing by herself a few feet away. She was a leggy woman with hair the color of bourbon spilling down the back of a red lace dress. A dimple in her left cheek flashed when she smiled. A sprinkling of freckles spilled across her nose like flecks of brown sugar. She said she was from California. “And what do you do?” she asked. Vivek sensed she was asking only out of a knee-jerk politeness, but he liked the incongruity of her husky voice, not quite a smoker’s voice, with her carefully defined pink lips and a heart-shaped face.
“I’m a zoologist,” Vivek answered.
“Oh, so like animals and stuff,” she said.
“That is the definition of zoology.” He couldn’t help his condescending tone. He was so comfortable making little cutting remarks to himself in social situations in order to feel less awkward that he sometimes forgot not to say them out loud.
Aimee laughed. Even if he hadn’t been sold on her appearance, he would have loved the full belly laugh that emanated from her stomach, the generosity of such a golden sound in the face of his rude remark.
“I’m really sorry. I don’t know what to say at weddings, but I shouldn’t have said that. I’m getting a doctorate, concentrating in mammalogy,” he said.
“Me, too. I get so uncomfortable at weddings trying to figure out what to say to a bunch of strangers.“I get so uncomfortable at weddings trying to figure out what to say to a bunch of strangers.” It’s like this nightmare of mine where I’m with people I know but for some reason none of them remember me. So I go around from one to the next trying to remind them of the good times we’ve had. And all they can say is sorry doesn’t ring a bell and look at me with unspeakable pity. Did David say you’re Amala’s cousin?”
“Man, she has a lot of cousins.”
“Yes, we could form a small army. Our mothers are not reproductively challenged, I’ll say that much.”
She laughed again. He wanted to get used to that laugh.
“All the rest are girls?”
“There are ten girls including Amala. And then there’s me and my brother over there,” he said, pointing.
“Neither of you brought a date to the wedding?”
“To South Africa? No way. I don’t have a girlfriend but even if I did the ticket fare would have been too much. Our mother bought our tickets so we could represent our family at the wedding.” He sipped his champagne.
“She didn’t come?”
“No, she uses her time off to go to India part of the year to take care of our grandfather.”
” Where are you guys from?” Aimee asked. She held her full champagne flute with one finger lifted, as if it were a prop. Vivek fantasized she was an actress and he imagined himself going to her off-Broadway plays.
“New York,” he said. He grabbed a petit four iced in green with silver nonpareils from a waiter walking by with a tray.
“Queens. Forest Hills.”
“You’re a city boy.”
“That’s why I’m passionate about animals.”
She raised an eyebrow. It was a quirky eyebrow, very thin, possibly over-plucked.
“The Bronx zoo was the highlight of a very dull childhood. I always wanted a dog and my parents refused.”
“Didn’t think you’d be responsible?”
“No, they thought animals should never be in captivity.” Her eyebrows rose further, so he continued, “I mean never, not for research and definitely not for the pleasure of humans. Wouldn’t even let me get some tropical fish. Actually I think they said that because both of them had been bitten by stray dogs as children in India.”
“Ah, so their ethics were a cover story.”
Vivek nodded. “At first I was in love with animals, with He often experienced a connection with animals that was spiritual, almost transcendent, like he was one of them.reading about why they are the way they are. Later it was about principles. Biodiversity. The environment.” Vivek could feel the champagne fizzling inside his skull, a warning sign he was getting too buzzed to concentrate on the conversation. He grabbed more petit fours from the tray that a waiter floated near him. He wanted to say that it was something even more peculiar — that he often experienced a connection with animals that was spiritual, almost transcendent, like he was one of them. But he could hear the guffaws that would surely follow such an earnest statement.
“You going on safari while you’re here?”
“Yes, absolutely. We leave tomorrow for a couple days in Kruger.”
“Exciting,” she said. Through the warmth and enthusiasm, he couldn’t be sure whether she was simply chatting him up out of boredom. “It’s not a work trip though?”
“No, I focus on North American mammals. Deer. Grey wolves. You?”
“Well, I flew over with my boyfriend who was supposed to be my plus one to this and we were going to go on safari,” she said. “But he wanted to go wine tasting in Cape Town, so we split up for a few days. No big deal.”
Of course she had a boyfriend. Why wouldn’t she? But Vivek was certain Who went to another continent with a significant other and left him for solitary ‘fun’?she was also covering up a more complicated story, perhaps a monumental fight or even a break-up. Who went to another continent with a significant other and left him for solitary ‘fun’? He had only a handful of girlfriends, the last, a small-boned blonde media studies major in college, forever writing papers on Friends and How I Met Your Mother, and he knew that she would never have suggested such a thing. She would have been insulted he didn’t want to spend every hour abroad exploring the novelty of a different continent together. He would have been equally chagrined had she gone off by herself. What good was a significant other if you still ended up alone?
“You don’t believe me,” she said.
“No, sure, why not get some time to yourself?”
“Listen, wanna get out of here for a few minutes? I saw a giraffe roaming around out there.” She gestured towards the tent flaps.
* * *
Outside, they walked a few feet apart along a path, which unfurled past the vineyards towards the park. “There,” she said, pointing at a faraway giraffe nibbling on the leaves of an acacia on the other side of the fence. In the distance, springbok feasted in the grass.
Vivek pulled out his camera phone and began taking photographs. He walked closer and the giraffe continued to calmly chew, but the springbok bounded away, all four legs almost ricocheting off the ground at the same time. “It’s called pronking,” Vivek told Aimee, who was standing a little apart. He made a face.
She laughed. Vivek stepped closer to the giraffe. He had always possessed a strange gift with animals. He was directly in its shadow looking up at creamy white-yellow fur and large nostrils when he heard the thud of footsteps approaching.
“Dude, they’re about to start the puja,” said Anish coming up behind him. Vivek turned. “Dude, they’re about to start the puja.” By the looks of it, Anish had already finished the first martini and had started on another or perhaps even a third. His hair was falling over his bloodshot eyes, and he smelled like he had been sneaking cigarettes. Vivek crossed his arms tightly, trying not to say anything. Vivek had only agreed to travel with Anish if he wore the patch because something about his body chemistry turned the smell of smoke on his skin particularly rancid. Of course, Anish hadn’t kept his word.
Aimee introduced herself and Vivek noticed immediately the lingering look Anish gave her from beneath his long lashes as they shook hands.
* * *
All three returned to a fire pit in front of the tent, where David and Amala and her parents were sitting cross-legged across from a bare-chested swami, his hair in a topknot. Amala’s mother glanced over and smiled at them as they wedged themselves between other guests, who were watching without paying attention.
The swami circled the flames with a hand as he chanted. Amala and David were pensive behind a screen of fragrant smoke and Vivek wondered how much David understood of what the swami was doing. He tried to imagine, but there was so much distance between him and Amala, his mind went completely blank at who David was besides a catalog of traits: accomplished, smart, friendly.
He had never thought it before, but standing there he kept coming back to the same idea. He and Amala were connected only because their mothers were sisters, because of shared blood. The cousins had grown up in vastly different spaces and even if they hadn’t — if he and Anish were any indication, blood didn’t count for so much. When Vivek and Anish were little, they had gone to temple fairly regularly, but around the age of ten Vivek had announced his atheism and a few weeks later, Anish echoed he didn’t believe in God either. Vivek resolved not to have a traditional Hindu ceremony when he married. He had so little connection to the beliefs that had made his parents who they were that he felt vaguely embarrassed standing there, pretending that he belonged.
Everyone standing in the crowd that circled the couple and the swami was exquisite. Moving among them was like being caught in a riptide of crystals.Moving among them was like being caught in a riptide of crystals. The guests talked about their plans for road trips through South Africa after the wedding and the excruciating nature of their flights from all over the world. They talked about everything but the wedding, and their conversation was littered with names — brand names, celebrity names, names that seemed to bestow what they said with worth even when they said nothing.
Amala and her sister Shivani immediately made other people — New Yorkers like Vivek included — feel provincial. It was not as if they were rich, but after graduating from a private Catholic secondary school in Chennai, they had both attended Yale University with the help of scholarships. Now their friends were financial analysts at top securities firms, Ivy League grads, fashion models with million dollar contracts with make up companies. They seemed breathtakingly clueless about what life was like for most people. Perhaps they suffered as everyone else did, but unlike everyone else, the suffering was ineluctably mundane, the sorts of things you would worry about if absolutely everything appeared to be in its right place in the world — whether your child had gotten into the best preschool or the third best, whether last week’s CSA box had too much lettuce in it. For judging them as too complacent, Vivek’s parents would have called him a snob, but Vivek didn’t care. He had always been uncomfortable with flashy wealth, and it made no difference to him whether the wealth was earned or inherited.