Vanessa Hua


“Everyone buckled in?” Samir said. His brothers and sisters nodded. The men tucked the seatbelts over their Polo shirts, paunches, and slacks. The women adjusted the strap over their saris.

He told his sister Padma, who sat in the middle row, to slide shut the door of the minivan. Then he slumped over the steering wheel and began to sob.

Growing up in Mumbai, the family of ten children always followed each other in the streets, on foot or bicycle, the oldest carrying the youngest. Living together in the Bay Area, they caravanned in cars on their way to temple, or restaurants or Bollywood movie theaters. Chandra, the techie younger brother, had installed two-way radios in their fleet of cars, so no one would ever be left out of the conversation.

With the loss of two brothers and one sister, they could now all fit in Samir’s shiny silver Honda Odyssey.

The family was on its way to temple—a year after the oldest brother died, three years after the second oldest passed away, both from heart attacks. Earlier this year, their youngest sister had died of breast cancer.

Sharma, who was 55 next month, could not help but think it was his turn to go. He had no right to grow older than Neel or Bipin, who died in their early 50s. Sometimes, the guilt clutched at his chest like the heart attack he both feared and coveted.

Brother Bipin has been the first to come to the Bay Area, earning his doctorate in computer science and sponsoring the rest of his family. In turn, each of the nine siblings would stay in Bipin's house before moving onto their own apartments. He was their landing pad to a new country.

Neel had been the jokester who could make everyone in the family laugh, even the quiet, shy ones, like Samir.

The whole family had protected Savita, the baby and the beauty who married young and left behind a darling daughter and stunned husband.

When his brothers died, the responsibility of being the oldest fell to Samir. He managed as best he could, trying to think about what Bipin might do to mediate a quarrel or to plan a celebration. There were so many tasks that Bipin had been trained to do all his life. Samir felt he was a poor substitute.

He lifted up his head and stared out at the tree-lined street in Fremont. He knew how to get around here better now than in Mumbai, where the rapid development meant old streets disappeared and new landmarks and buildings replaced the past.

He flexed his ten fingers resting on the steering wheel. He flipped around his hands, and looked at the pink palms, outlined in the brown at the edges. Cut off one finger and the hand would try to compensate. Another finger, and the person would learn how to use the other hand.

“Samir, are you ok? Do you want me to drive?” Padma asked. She was the oldest daughter and second mother to them all.

Rajkumar, two years younger than him, also volunteered to drive. One by one, his brothers and sisters all offered to take his place behind the steering wheel.

“I taught many of you how to drive. Knowing your teacher, you think I would let you?” he said.

He started the ignition and pulled away from the curb, checking the side and rear view mirrors. They were in this together.


Return to Volume 1.4






All files © 2005-2012 Blood Orange Review