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The Little Pond, Appledore (1890), Childe Hassam

Love Jihad

What did she want if not to be caught in flagrante delicto, fucking in the bathroom in the temple basement 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night? Meenakshi Nagamani Reddy of the most Andhra Telegu family in Southeast Michigan, whose parents, mind you, thought Muslims were the scum of the earth, and whose grandfather, mind you even more, lived with them and believed all Muslims should be lined up and summarily shot: who would have thought temple security would catch her, of all people, banging the living daylights out of Ijaz Ali Ibrahim while the temple janitor swept shriveled petals and uncooked rice from the feet of the gods who held court upstairs?

“Ijaz? Really? Him? What were you thinking?” we would ask her all at once, to which Meenakshi would offer nothing more than a shrug.

“It’s a mystery,” she said.

We could not square the Meenakshi we’d known—high school Meenakshi with the frizzy black hair bunched up in a single bulbous plait; Meenakshi with the transition glasses and the shadow of a mustache begging to be shaved; Meenakshi, twiggy little bird-girl who enrolled in every Indian-approbated extracurricular under the sun, whose name seemed always to be on our parents’ approving lips—with the ostensible raging sex maniac she’d become.

Though it was here we wondered what had we known of Meenakshi? To us, back then, she wasn’t so much a person as she was a goddess of academics, passing calmly between classrooms without a hint of anxiety or discomposure while the rest of us bitched and scurried to this and that AP-IB-Honors course we thought had the potential to cannonball us straight through the pearly gates of prestige and into the lap of overly comfortable stability. We defined our worth against hers, at that time believing fervently and unquestioningly that worth was good grades, access to even better colleges, and the probability of six, seven, even eight-figure-income success, and in this way ceded parts of ourselves to her without even realizing it. We wanted to partner with her on group projects but hated when the quality of the work she produced was tiers above our own. We wanted her brains, her fire, her drive, but nothing of her body, her face, her life outside of school, which we all agreed was pitiable and sad. We considered her extra-human and yet wanted to mark her as mortal as the rest of us. When she was accepted to Harvard (and subsequently earned a Rhodes Scholarship and now, after her return stateside, admission to Stanford Medical School, which she would start at the end of the summer), we felt the pride that comes with the sense of lazy association with people more capable than ourselves, and yet we wanted someone to somehow expose her as a fraud. Meenakshi, who never once made any to-do about her prowess; Meenakshi, who executed her excellence with a stiff upper lip; Meenakshi who would share all her answers without a second thought: we wanted to be told it had all been a ruse, that Meenakshi Reddy was actually a terrible person who murdered puppies and cheated her way through life, in hopes that this would confirm our own inherent goodness and personhood, help us make peace with our own perceived averageness.

In short, she was ripe for a fall—no, more than ripe. She was rotten for a plummeting, and we wanted to be there to see it happen whenever it came. And so it had come, and so she had plummeted, and so we’d witnessed it. Yet here we were, morally adrift and without a hint of schadenfreude, utterly perplexed. 

“Are you in love with him?” Reena Pathik asked Meenakshi at a frozen yogurt bar three days after the incident. Summer had just begun, and the place was crawling with lanky, acned adolescents.

Meenakshi shook her head, wooden spoon lingering in her mouth. 

“It’s just sex?”

Meenakshi nodded.

So. England had made a libertine out of her. But why, we all wanted to know, why him? We all thought Meenakshi would end up with Nikhil Appadurai, upstanding Tamil Brahmin and hot shot corporate attorney. They’d been dating two years—both sets of parents approved of the rishta—and a proposal, someone said (we didn’t know who exactly), was rumored to be on the horizon. If it did, in fact, come to pass, they would have it all. They could buy houses on waterfronts, have as many children as they wanted and send them off to the finest colleges. They could even purchase one of those wall-garden installations for their master bedroom that cost two thousand a month just to maintain so they could sleep soundly and financially secure under a vertical canopy of tropical ferns.

“You’re just throwing it all away then?” Reena asked, pained on Meenakshi’s behalf. “All for Ijaz?”

“I’m not throwing anything away. If Nikhil wants to have a discussion about the time I tried surprising him in New York and walked in on some Slovenian call girl pissing in his mouth like he was a goddamn toilet bowl or something, we can work through this like adults.”

(The spell of Nikhil Appadurai went up in smoke, then and there.)

“Jesus, Meena.”

“What?” Meenakshi smirked. “We’re not all so well behaved.”

But the question of details remained. Of all people, why Ijaz? How Ijaz? How long had it been going on? We would never get an answer out of Meenakshi, no matter how much or how cleverly Reena—or any of us—pried.

Ijaz Ali Ibrahim had, throughout high school, darted around in the background of our lives, lonely, floating, and rare. We knew little of him, except that he was a strict adherent to the moral tenets of Islam. Unlike our other Muslim friends, who took the limits of what was theoretically possible and adjusted them so they might accommodate their lives in America—the kinds of Muslims we lauded as “enlightened,” “progressive,” “reformed”— Ijaz knew exactly what was haram and what was not, down to the letter (or so we were told—the truth of the matter was we didn’t really have all that many Muslim friends). We remembered a story that had circulated for a while, one involving Imran Naeem, who’d borrowed ten dollars from Ijaz at lunch and promised to pay him back with interest. Ijaz, however, had simply shaken his head and held up a hand.

"No, no interest. It’s haram.”

His Facebook posts were the only real avenue we had to cracking his interiority. He almost exclusively posted verses from the Quran in Urdu and English. Most of them encouraged us to see the will of Allah in any and all things and to submit to His ultimate knowledge. These were at times beautiful, and, when we were returned our grade for an exam, we knew we’d bombed, the Āyahs offered us a strange comfort. Occasionally, though, he’d post something about “the infidels” that made us squirm a little bit, but mostly made us laugh. The ISIS jokes practically told themselves. There goes Ijaz, walking down the hall with all the confidence of a suicide bomber on his way to meet his seventy-two virgins in Paradise. There he is again, daydreaming about decapitating a Westerner in the name of the glorious caliphate. He never learned of these jibes. Or if he did, he never made anything of it. The posts rolled in; the jokes rolled out.

We weren’t entirely sure what became of him in the years after high school.

Some said he went to college in Dearborn and studied computer science. Some said he studied dentistry. Some said he never went to college at all and bummed around at home instead. In any case, whichever path he did or did not take led him to his position as a team member at Spice of Life Catering—which we only discovered when he started popping up at our younger siblings’ graduation parties in a van painted the colors of the Indian flag, hauling foil trays hot with freshly-made chili paneer, malai kofta, dhokla, and mounds of garlic butter naan.

He never lingered, didn’t speak to anyone, exchanged no pleasantries beyond what was necessary, simply did his job and left. We only ever watched him from afar.

“Still looks good, though,” we muttered into our red Solo cups while some aunty or another played “Balam Pichikari” from her phone, trying in vain to get everyone to dance.

And if there was anything unimpeachable about Ijaz Ali Ibrahim, it was his looks. Anyone would be hard-pressed to argue against his heartbreaking beauty. His skin was flawless, smooth, and shining; his eyes were a piercing shade of green; his lips formed a gorgeous bow that protruded in the gentlest pout. His hair was an envy, thick and wavy, framing his face in all the right ways. It was a beauty we knew, even then, of a sturdy kind. The beauty of a statue: objective and observable, yet intrinsically distant. No possibility of intimacy apart from the erotics of seeing. Perhaps we were jealous, too, that Meenakshi, who was most definitely not a beauty back in the day (and only slightly improved in the now), was able to approach something of the human sublime, something that most of us would never be able to do. She’d surpassed us yet again.

“But is that all there is to it, Meena? Just—just pure carnality?” Reena asked.

Meenakshi shrugged. “Does it have to be anything more?”

If we were perplexed, the parents were devastated, oddly so. She may as well have taken her degrees from those heavenly institutions—Harvard! Oxford! Soon enough, Stanford!—and flushed them down a public toilet.

“What a waste,” they said, shaking their somber heads. “What a waste.”

No longer was she Meenakshi Reddy—wunderkind girl and pride of Indian America, Midwestern Division. She was The Reddys’ Daughter, marked woman, infected with the lust of a Mussalman.

Jayanth, Leela, and Thatha Reddy, for their part, stood stolid in the headwinds of community gossip. They became masters of small-talking about the weather, coming to poojas and dinner parties that summer armed with the week’s meteorological prognosis; knowledge of the most recent storm system to plow out of the Gulf; or updates on the latest drought to bleed India’s rivers dry. They spoke carefully around any topic that might bear even a fleeting connection to the sordidness in which Meenakshi was embroiled. 

“The scientists are saying there may come a day when the heat in India will poach people alive,” Meenakshi’s parents proclaimed gravely at the Meyappan’s Fourth of July barbecue, to which the rest us nodded and hummed our vague agreement with mouths full of black bean burgers and veggie hot dogs. Yes, our people would roast.

We found, however, if you slipped Meenakshi’s grandfather a cold Bud Light, the truth of the conversations being had at the Reddy household would out in about twenty minutes.

“This is how those Muslims do it! This is how they steal good girls and corrupt our Indian society. They lure them in with promises of love and then, patang! Just like that, they convert them and soon all our grandchildren will be forced to eat lamb shawarma and observe sharia law.”

Narayan Uncle, one of the most conservative members of our circle (who also happened to be a respected oncologist), voiced his support, hurriedly mentioning an article his cousin in Hyderabad had sent him on WhatsApp proving that twenty-five percent of India’s Muslims were actually Pakistani spies and upwards of ninety-five percent of them rooted for Pakistan in the ICC World Cup.

“I’m forwarding it to you all right now,” he said, though, when we received it, we found it wasn’t an article but simple text and image. 

STAY VIGILINT!! the short paragraph began, the eyes of Durga haunting every word.

“And how is Meenakshi doing?” asked the nosier opportunists among us.

“That girl. . .” Thatha Reddy muttered, suddenly faltering. He glanced at Jayanth Uncle and Leela Aunty. Their eyes sank. The weather couldn’t save them now. “That girl. . .is a gone case. Ungrateful. No remorse. Too much of an American.”

Narayan Uncle and several of his allies nodded along. Murmurs of “kids these days” and “too much freedom” circulated around the Meyappans’ brick patio. 

“We would all be better off if we inculcated our youth with stronger Hindu values,” added Girija Aunty, who operated the Metro-Detroit chapter of Balagokulam out of a Tae Kwon Do studio. A few of us had spent the summer between third and fourth grade there, playing games that had us wielding long wooden sticks spear-like and charging towards the serried ranks of some invisible enemy, or holding races for which we crawled across Pine-Soled floor mats on elbows and knees as though scurrying between trenches (“That shit was run by the RSS,” Mohan Gaddam revealed for us much later, compelling us all to nervous laughter).

“Our kids should know what it is to come from the oldest and wisest culture in the world. It will give them comfort in difficult times.”

“Meena is just a little lost,” some of our mothers assured Leela Aunty. “She will find her way again.”

“Oh, enough.” Padmaja Aunty stood up, slinging her purse over her shoulder, over the burn mark that fascinated and frightened us when we were younger—and still did to this day, if we were being honest. Legend had it she’d been set on fire at the height of the Bombay Riots, when a gang of arsonists hurled a flaming, petrol-soaked rag her way as she stepped out of one Mr. Ali’s Stationary Emporium. Whether the gang had been Hindu or Muslim, whether the flames had been meant for her or the shop, we never learned. All that was left was the scar, which Padmaja Aunty always left exposed in the many jewel-toned sleeveless shirts she wore, even in the wintertime, the mottled and uneven skin looking alive under every light of every house we ever gathered in. We would see it and shudder, feeling accused.

“I think we all should just leave Meenakshi alone,” she said before striding out of the Meyappans’ backyard.

An army of clouds gathered on the horizon. The temperature cooled, and once-faint breezes picked up strength and speed. Storms hadn’t been in the forecast—at least, the Reddys hadn’t said so. But the thunder rolled anyway, and the rain bulleted down, and we scrambled to protect what remained of our food.

“I wonder,” Jayanth Uncle sighed loudly. “I wonder when the rain will fall in India.”


We saw them together everywhere. Or so we thought. It was hard to separate rumor from fact.

Anjali Bharadwaj claimed to have spotted them at the Indian grocery, making doe eyes at each other across bins of okra and brinjal (or maybe it was someone who just looked like them: her skin was too fair, and he wasn’t as handsome).

Dilip Kotha swore he saw them having midnight car-sex in the parking lot of the shuttered JC Penney (though we wondered what he was doing there at that hour).

Tara Aunty thought she caught them on one of her afternoon walks in Independence Park, kissing under the pavilion by the playground (we took this with a grain of salt, for Tara Aunty was prone to moral panics about displays of affection of any kind involving anyone).

And Prafullnath Uncle was absolutely certain it was Meenakshi leaving the mosque with a man on Tuesday night, after evening prayers. He lived across the street and could recognize that head of frizzy hair anywhere (but Prafullnath Uncle, we noted, was also in desperate need of glasses).

“It’s not true though, is it?” we asked whenever we ran into Meenakshi—which was becoming a rarer and rarer occurrence as summer wore on. Even those of us she was closest to were hearing less and less from her. We chalked it up to mounting preparations for her move out west, but still, there was an air of impending finality about her absences.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Who’s to say?” she replied, not really looking at us, floating away without a proper goodbye.

Our parents said the Reddy household was falling apart. Thatha Reddy’s blood pressure was dangerously high. Leela Aunty couldn’t stop crying. Jayanth Uncle had punched and plastered over three separate holes in their living room, requiring three separate trips to urgent care.

As for Nikhil Appadurai, not a single one of us could refer to him without dissolving into fits of laughter, and, slowly but surely, he and his family vanished from our lives and Meena’s. Her prospects, her future, her reputation lay tattered about her like a heap of soiled cloth, and yet, through it all, Missy Miss Meena appeared to have not a care in the world, carrying on as if nothing was remotely the matter.

“I even told her,” Leela Aunty sniffled to Priya Suresh’s mother over the phone, “I even told her, if she really wanted to, she could marry this Ijaz, and I’d handle her father and grandfather. But she looked at me and said ‘Mom, I don’t want to marry him.’ And so I said, ‘Ok, you’ll stop seeing him?’ Do you know what she told me? She looked me right in the eye and said, ‘I’ll do what I want.’ How could I have raised such a selfish girl?”

Leela Aunty paused to blow her nose. “I wish she’d just turned out to be a lesbian.”


The closest anyone came to getting to the heart of the matter was Angadha Murthy. Angadha, who had always kept his distance, who we always found in the darkroom of our high school’s photo development studio, hunched over his film, the edges of him releasing into the crimson lowlight. Angadha, who dropped out of his top-tier MBA program and moved out to Los Angeles to pursue photography—where it turned out he was actually doing quite well for himself, working on celebrity photoshoots for several major film magazines (this, however, did little to dispel the stench of our parents’ disappointment in him—Angadha, who could have had so much).

He’d come home for a portion of the summer to celebrate his father’s sixty-fifth birthday, for which his mother had placed a massive order of dahi vada, idli, sambar, veg korma, and tandoori naan from Spice of Life (we’d never stop ordering from them. No other Indian caterer in Michigan could balance their spices quite like they did). Hoping to cut down on delivery costs, she sent Angadha to pick it all up instead. Though the kitchen was just down the road, he spent twenty minutes driving in circles trying to find it. Very few of us had ever visited the establishment. The food always came to us. 

Spice of Life Catering had no storefront, just a single rear door entrance tucked in the back of a rarely frequented strip mall plaza, itself stowed away in the bend of an unused by-road at the edge of town. Except for the occasional teenager speeding down the empty road in his muffler-less car, all was quiet there. All was peaceful.

The interior of Spice of Life was cavernous, embalmed in a womblike tranquility.

The hum of industrial refrigerators. The friendly burble of oil in a giant kadai. The deliberate movements of the kitchen workers, Indians and Latin Americans who spoke softly in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, and Spanish. Angadha stood in the middle of it all, transfixed by the serenity.

“My head was clear for the first time in years,” he told us later.

It wasn’t until Ijaz appeared from the depths of the kitchen wiping gravy on his white apron that Angadha was stirred.

“What’s up?” asked Ijaz.

“Picking up an order for Murthy?”

“Right, come with me.”

Angadha followed Ijaz into a hall of stainless steel fridges. Ijaz scanned the receipts taped to each door, one by one, till he reached the last fridge.

“You’re gonna need some help carrying all this,” he said after examining receipt.

He ducked back into the kitchen and returned with two carts, loading them up with the aluminum trays. After Angadha paid at the register—which wasn’t so much a register as a loose calculator and a notebook on top of a white folding table stuffed in an unlit corner—Ijaz helped him roll the carts out to his car. The sun beat down with a vengeance, and Angadha couldn’t help but notice how the sweat on Ijaz’s skin caught the sun, furnishing him with a healthy glow.

What was an otherwise short trip to the car spun out into a lengthy catch-up session, during which Angadha learned what exactly Ijaz did after high school. Yes, he had been on track to study dentistry—not in Dearborn, but in Minnesota (“They got me a pretty generous scholarship,” said Ijaz). One year of school, however, made him realize he hated it, not just dentistry, but the whole business of academia. He wanted to be out in the world, doing the work of Allah with his own two hands—although what that would be was unclear to him. He took a leap of faith and dropped out.

“It was depressing, being so lost. I felt abandoned. And my parents were so angry, and then so, so sad. I’d destroyed everything they’d worked for.”

He joined Spice of Life on a whim, coming across one of their advertisements for a delivery boy pinned to the library’s job board. He’d stayed with them ever since and, discovering a passion for the culinary arts, worked his way up to a role as cook.

“I make almost all the meats and most of the paneers now. But I’ve been branching out to South Indian food too. I made that sambar myself,” he said, pointing to the bags of Styrofoam bowls he’d set down in the trunk of Angadha’s car. So, all this time we’d been eating food made from Muslim hands and didn’t even know it.

He found he was happy at Spice of Life. It was a place for his own visions, his own dreams. The will of Allah was mysterious. It made itself known in the strangest of times.

“Sometimes,” said Ijaz, “I feel like life is a series of tests. When I was younger, I thought I’d pass, no problem, if I kept close to His word. I still do, as best I can. But I feel like I’m failing. And failing and failing.”

A loose cloud passed over the sun. Its shadow raced over the parking lot and for a moment all was cool and temperate.

“Maybe I’ve gotten used to failure. Or maybe I need it. It makes me feel closer to Him, seeing the distance between what I am and where I should be. I’m a fuck-up, but I’m His fuck-up.”

“You’re not a fuck-up, Ijaz.”

Ijaz shrugged and looked up at the cloud, which was steadily losing its shape.

Summer, sunlight. Silence.

“How’s Meenakshi doing?” he asked suddenly.

“Uh, I’m not sure,” Angadha replied. “I haven’t seen her around lately. But my mom says she’ll be moving soon.”

Ijaz nodded, lowered his gaze, fixed his sight on a pebble between his feet. “If you do see her, tell her I said good luck.” 

“Will do,” Angadha said. 

Ijaz nodded once more and started back towards the kitchen.

“Wait. Can I ask you something?”

Ijaz turned around at the door. “Yeah?”

“What’s the truth?” Angadha asked. “I mean, what really happened between you and Meenakshi?”

Ijaz chuckled. Angadha realized then he’d never actually seen him smile before—none of us had.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ And that was it. He went inside and I left,” Angadha told us.

We wondered why he didn’t press him further. We could have understood so much more.

Angadha shrugged. “It was as good an answer as any.”


Meenakshi moved to Palo Alto at the end of summer, mid-August. Not long after, accusations of child molestation—whispers, really, for we didn’t want anyone else, or our own selves, to hear—sprouted all around one Virendra Chandran—Vir Uncle to us—like an invasive, noxious strain of purple loosestrife.

Swathi Parameswaran first told her mother, who told her not to say anything at all. Then, Swathi told the world herself. Online. She couldn’t hold it in any longer. She’d been seven when it happened. Navratri festival at the temple, eighteen-odd years ago. In the prayer hall, before gods and goddesses, there was garba, dance of the ninth night; women in ghagra cholis, spinning in dervishes of color and sequins; men in their kurtas, leaping in the air. There was Durga, the great protectress, watching. But she wasn’t watching what was taking place in the temple basement. She was not watching what Vir Uncle did. What his hands did. What his fingers did. What his mouth did. What he made Swathi’s hands and mouth and fingers and insides and outsides do. No one found Swathi there except herself, and she’d held together the broken bits for years. Now it was her turn to fall apart. She’d earned it. She needed room for something else to grow in that place Vir Uncle had spoiled within her.

And then came the others. Boys and girls, now young men and women, told their stories. Stories of Vir Uncle. Stories of the temple basement.

Viendra Chandran. A man of God. President of the temple’s board of trustees. Upper-level manager at General Motors. Wife a teacher of Bharatanatyam. Daughter a resident in cardiovascular surgery. An upstanding patriarch of an upstanding family. An exemplar. The best of us.

We couldn’t believe it. Some of us didn’t.

Swathi was dramatic. (Was she?)

Neelank Yalamanchili suffered from flights of fancy. (Did he?)

Ishita Sharma was a bitch, and she probably deserved it. (Well, she was nice to me.)

“You’re fucking disgusting,” the some of us who believed said to the some of us who didn’t. “Don’t even think about speaking to me ever again.”

The Reddys led the charge in condemning Virendra Uncle. They had their talking points ready and walked around town with shaking fists and pointed fingers. 

“Terrible, horrible, monstrous man! Living among us for so long without shame? He must be brought to justice,” Jayanth Uncle and Leela Aunty proclaimed.

“This is the corruption of Western culture,” said Thatha Reddy. “Such a thing would never happen in India.”

None of us asked them about Meenakshi. They must have experienced a perverse and abiding relief.

Eventually, Vir Uncle was arrested. We learned everything. We learned too much. We didn’t know what to do with it. It sat in our mouths like a fistful of rocks.

Meenakshi came home for Christmas something else. Rougher around the edges. Less sure. Wavering, perhaps, in her resolve. At least Shaila Ganesh thought so when she ran into Meenakshi at the supermarket. She found her in the produce aisle, considering a bruised and unappetizing pear. Meenakshi examined each of its rounded faces, then put it in her basket.

“Stanford’s tough,” she’d answered Shaila when asked how fall semester went. “It’s no joke. I’m pretty sure I fucked up my first exam.”

“It’s weird, though,” Shaila reported back to us. “She seemed like she was happy about it. Or proud.”

We all got to see her at the Meyappans’, who invited everyone over for Christmas dinner. Everyone—those who believed Vir Uncle’s victims and those who didn’t. The air in the Meyappan house was as wintry as the night outside. We’d fractured. Some of us hadn’t seen each other in months. The most resolute among us meant it when they vowed never to see the rest of us again. Padmaja Aunty, for her part, sent around an email saying as much, excoriating the Meyappans for even entertaining the notion of consorting with Virendra Uncle’s apologists.

“Expect this: I will never be in attendance at any other function. Ever again.”

But many of us were in attendance, and so were the Reddys, and so was Meenakshi.

Our parents flocked to her as soon as she arrived and unleashed upon her a barrage of questions, praise, and asking of favors.

How is Stanford?

Look at that California tan!

Could you talk to my younger son, my nephew, my neighbor’s daughter? Can you tell them what it’s like to be in med school? Could you look over an application essay? Which extracurriculars really make you stand out to admissions boards? Could you. . .Would you. . .What. . .How. . .?

Meenakshi was brief with them, but not ungraceful. She spent most of the night grazing from the snack platters on the kitchen counter, repeating herself to different sets of families over and over.

The Meyappans had ordered catering from Spice of Life but, around eight-thirty, realized they were missing a tray of pakoras. They called up the kitchen on the off chance someone would answer. Someone did. They’d be over with the pakoras in thirty minutes.

While we waited, conversation circled its way to the state of Indian politics. There was a politician from a North Indian state—a chief minister, maybe? Or a member of the Lok Sabha? Or perhaps just a candidate—who dressed in saffron robes like a monk and put curses on journalists and believed nuclear weapons were Brahmāstras to be used against Pakistan and terrorist Muslims. He or she was thinking about running for Prime Minister. We grew animated. Voices raised, points met counterpoints, insults (always playful) were thrown.

“It would literally be the end of the world!” someone said, half-seriously.

We joked; we laughed; we ate our fill of paneer and biriyani.

Meenakshi remained at the kitchen counter, saying nothing, watching us all.

The doorbell rang at nine on the dot. We hardly registered it.

“I’ll get it,” Meenakshi said.

A few of us thought we caught a glimpse of Ijaz at the door, holding the aluminum tray of pakoras. A few of us thought we saw Meenakshi take the tray and set it on the dining room table, then grab her own coat and boots and slip outside.

But when the night wound down and we were ready to leave, and the Reddys roamed the kitchen and the living room and the dining room and den, asking each and every one of us, “Where is Meenakshi? Have you seen Meenakshi?” we realized we had no real idea.

No idea at all.


SHASHANK RAO is a native of the Detroit suburbs and received his MFA in fiction from the Program for Poets & Writers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He is the recipient of the 2019 Hopwood Award for Undergraduate Short Fiction, the 2019 Robert F. Haugh Prize, the 2023 Cara Parravani Memorial Award, and the 2024 James W. Foley Prize. This is his first publication.


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