By: Antara Gupta
Mahi flicks her cigarette. I watch the ashes float down to the ground from the sixth floor of the apartment building and cross my arms, resting them against the tall black railing surrounding the balcony. The night is warm, but the cold from the floor tiles seeps in through my bare feet. The light from the bathroom vent behind us casts Mahi’s face into shadows. The noise from the construction a few streets over assaults our ears and Mahi talks louder than usual.
“Well, for an early verse translation you should probably go with Hobbes. You can try Lattimore too but I deeply prefer his Odyssey to his Iliad,” she pulls her long dark waves to fall over one shoulder and takes out her vape from the back pocket of her night shorts. With most of her hair out of the way, her neck tattoo of an Urdu poem peeks through the few errant tresses. I can’t see it too well in the dim light, but my memory fills the dark gaps the light can’t reach.
“Take a drag, I don’t want to be smoking alone,” she hands the vape to me.
I take the cylinder from her, put the cool metal to my lips and inhale deeply. It tastes like oranges this time. The first time I tried to vape was two years ago. Mahi and I were in London, travelling with my parents. We hung back as they walked along the river to make sure they didn’t see us. It tastes like ash back then and I choked on it. I don’t choke anymore.
“So Lattimore for the Odyssey?” I ask, smoke pushing past my lips and covering my words with its haze.
“No, fuck him. Emily Wilson all the way.”
“You know I’m not going to remember all this, right?”
Mahi rolls her eyes and turns towards me. “Fine, I’ll text you but you better star the messages because I won’t send them again.”
I laugh and take another drag before giving the vape back to her. “Yeah, whatever. I won’t read them anytime soon anyway.”
“Yes, because you suck.”
“Hey! I traveled all the way to Gujarat to meet you. Some gratitude would be nice.”
Mahi snorts and puts the cigarette out against the railing. “Okay, that’s fair enough. Gujarat is fucking disgusting. I can’t believe we moved here.”
I smirk and nod in agreement.
“Anyway,” Mahi says, turning to lean her back against the railing, “I enrolled for my classes yesterday and I got into one called Masala Shakespeare, and what else do I have to say to convince you to move back to India and come attend Ashoka with me?”
I groan and slide down to sit on the floor. My back rests against the door leading back inside the house and my legs extend in front of me, Slivers of light from under the door illuminate the cracks in the tiles as they make their way around my body. I watch as Mahi ambles towards the wall, reaches up on her tiptoes and stretchers her arm towards the vent. She pats around until she finds the stash of cigarettes.
I frown. “What the fuck?”
She taps a cigarette out of the pack and puts in back in the vent before settling down against the wall underneath it. Her legs lie on top of mine. The yellow light from the vent drips down from the top of her head and bathes her in gold.
“My mother keeps stealing my cigarettes and lying to me about it, so I’m trying to figure out where I can put them where she won’t find them,” Mahi says as she lights her cigarette.
I don’t even know why I’m surprised anymore. I lean my head against the door and close my eyes. I hear Mahi exhale loudly and smell the smoke in the air.
“Can we go inside? I’m tired.”
“Shut up and stay with me.”
Antara (she/her) is a 21-year-old queer Indian writer. She primarily writes creative non-fiction along with occasional forays into speculative fiction. When she is not writing, you can find her behind a book, knitting, coding, or throwing impromptu dance parties.
You can find Antara @ag_ressive on Twitter.