A Storyby Sarah Balakrishnan
The first rule of the house is that everything must be even stevens. At the library drive-through, they withdraw the same number of books on Saturdays. During puja, which takes place in what their mother has begun to call the “prayer room”—a shaded corner of the upstairs closet where their father’s suit jackets once hung and where now a single statue of Krishna sits, shifty eyed, one-legged on a gold lotus leaf—they count out the same number of salutations. Faces forward, the black blades of their hair shimmer over their eyes. Glancing at each other, they compete to bow lower and lower to the ground.
This is how it has always been between him and his older brother, Akhil. When his parents came to America—back when he was a tiny knot in his mother’s stomach and his brother was bald, freshly shaved for the plane ride over—his father and his Ambi Uncle made a bet as to whether he would be a boy or a girl. Ambi Uncle had said confidently, “It will be a boy.” From the wooden high chair, Akhil had squealed, “No!” and it is said that everyone laughed and clapped and cooed. This was the first word that his brother had said in English.