The Wedding That Was by Ankitha Venkataram

Michelle pointedly kept her school bag next to her seat on the school bus and looked away from Siddharth who was trying his best to look as innocent as her puppy, Tommy. She saw something yellow flash in front of her. He was holding out two Ferrero Rocher chocolates. 

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Could you let me sit before the bus starts moving?”

“Why don’t you go sit with your friends instead?” she said, acidic. 

“I’m sorry! But they make fun of me already for hanging out with a girl all the time. If I acknowledged you waving at me, they’d do it even more.”

“What’s wrong with being friends with a girl?”

“Nothing! There’s nothing wrong but—I just want them to like me,’”he said in a small voice. 

Michelle felt a twinge in her chest. She accepted the peace offering and took her bag off the seat. 

“Just don’t do it again. Nod or smile if you can’t wave.”

He smiled and sat down.


Michelle tugs at her Anarkali uncomfortably as she watches Siddharth and his bride Ahalya in front of the holy fire from the farthest corner of the pavilion, the priest in front of them chanting prayers that they pretend to understand. The plastic of her chair is hard and uncomfortable under the layers of fabric. The air is heavy with the smell of incense, jasmine, sweat, and fire, all things that are fine in isolation but truly unpleasant when put together. She sees Sahana, Siddharth’s sister, get up from her spot behind the groom to go around the room, checking up on the guests like a good host, but also to probably take a break.

Michelle can only wonder at the choice of hosting the ceremonies in a semi-outdoor pavilion at the height of summer. The puja seems as if it’s been going on forever, and it isn’t even the main wedding ceremony. But as she looks around her, she has to admit that the location is beautiful. It’s a lovely resort away from the city, built specifically to host weddings. The mandapa, where the main ritual is taking place, is inside the pavilion and has white curtains and jasmine flowers adorning the four pillars. There’s a lotus pond outside the entrance and 360-degree seating around the mandapa for gawkers to watch and comment on the wedding. The scorching sun is in the center of a perfect blue sky and Bangalore’s characteristic Tabebuia trees bloom pink valentine flowers, perfect for Instagram wedding pictures.

Unfortunately, it is also the height of summer, and if she’s feeling the heat sitting far away from the mandapa, she can only imagine Ahalya’s carefully applied foundation slowly melting to reveal the pores underneath as the sun climbs higher in the sky. The voluminous gold jewelry around her neck gleams bright even from where Michelle can see, and she winces at the impending rash it will cause. Michelle wipes sweat off her brow. 

“Take this before you die of dehydration,” Sahana tells her, magically appearing with a cold glass of orange juice. 

“Oh my god, you’re a lifesaver.” 

Out of the corner of her eye, Siddharth gives her a look, which she can tell is envious even from here. She looks back disbelievingly. Is she supposed to interrupt his wedding to bring him juice?

“He’s such a baby,” she grumbles. “You’d think he’d try to pretend he’s not overheating for the camera.” 

Sahana laughs. “He was so upset. He really wanted to get married in December when it would be chilly. Amma and Appa insisted on it now because it’s an auspicious time. I can’t blame him for being upset. Between the heat and the mosquitos, this is hardly the best weather for a wedding.”

Michelle bites the inside of her cheek. 


The floors were dusty, and the layout was completely unfurnished. In the sticky, summer heat, the mosquitos made themselves at home and she’d already spotted a lizard slithering across the nooks of the ceiling. She also needed a roommate. She was trying to convince Sahana to move in with her but no dice so far. 

She was working on it.

Still, there was something nice about having a place of your own. She could host friends whenever she wanted to. When she’d asked Siddharth to come over, she hadn’t expected him to be so morose. 

She poured them both glasses of red wine (upon his insistence) as they watched Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt share a charged moment in an elevator in 500 Days of Summer. It was their sixth glass. Siddharth progressively lost more life-years as he downed each glass, it seemed. 

“Let’s do a toast!’”she said, hoping to stall his descent into being a truly troublesome drunk person because her apartment was new and she was not prepared to clean up after him. 

“To what? Getting dumped?’” he said, squinting his eyes. It was cute. 

 “No! In case you forgot, you just got a new job this week. We must toast to new beginnings! And to finding love!”

He grunted something unintelligible. 

“I know it seems hard now. But you have so many good things going for you, Siddharth. You have a new job! You’re making more money than most of us. You have an amazing family. You’ll find someone so much better for you. Now let’s toast to the future. And stop there with the drinking!”

“I don’t have her though,” he said ruefully. 

Michelle rolled her eyes. “Yeah, you don’t have her, but you have an absolutely incredible friend who’s choosing to get drunk with you. And she’s quite fun too.” she added cheekily.

Siddharth laughed, warm and fond. “Alright, alright. 1, 2, 3…” 

“To new beginnings! And to finding love!” she said loudly. 

“To new beginnings and finding love!” 

They chugged it down in one go, and Michelle felt the burn in her throat. Her head felt like a water basin being shaken. She was definitely getting too old for this. She closed her eyes to recenter herself in a world that seemed to be moving.

When she opened them, she saw that Siddharth was looking at her, direct and intent, as if there were nothing else he would rather be doing. 

Michelle’s breath hitched. She wanted to look away all of a sudden. 

“I think part of it was my fault,” he murmured. She noticed that he no longer was looking into her eyes, but downward, with a thrill. “I wanted her to be someone else.” 

“Who?” she asked breathlessly. 

He didn’t answer. Instead, he asked. “What you said before, is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“I have a great job and my family. But do I have you?”

She looked away, flustered. “God, when did you become so smooth?”

He didn’t budge. He placed a palm above her hand and squeezed, sending goosebumps up her arm. The sound from the movie was all but forgotten now. 

“Will you please look at me?”

She looked up and could see that he’d gotten closer. She could see the pupils of his eye blow wider and darker against a dark brown iris. 


 She leaned forward and kissed him, tasting red wine.


“He should have fought for a December wedding if he wanted one,” she says, clearing her throat.  

Sahana sighs. “I think he was just tired. He’d fought with our parents over so many other things.”

“Then what’s the point of even entering an arranged marriage?” she thinks but doesn’t say it out loud. 

Michelle knows so many of her friends who married to make their parents happy. Their parents’ happiness meant maintaining a caste and class status quo that controlled who entered their family. She knows people who are happy in the arrangement but cannot help feeling disgusted by how contractual the whole thing is. If Siddharth cannot choose his wife, the least he can be allowed to choose is the month his wedding is held in. 

“How are you holding up by the way?” Sahana asks, eyes wide with sympathy. “This must be difficult for you.”

“It’s alright so far. If it gets too bad, I’ve got something to help me out.”

Michelle takes a cursory look around and then opens her bag surreptitiously. Sahana looks inside and her eyebrows almost climb out of her forehead at the canister of vodka inside. 

“Really?” she asks sarcastically. 

“If I can’t get drunk at my ex’s wedding, when else can I do it?” Michelle laughs, careful to sound as light as possible.

Sahana doesn’t look convinced. That’s the thing about knowing someone since you were eight years old. There’s very little you can get away with. 

She says, “I know you’re best friends and everything but no one would have blamed you if you hadn’t come. Why did you come?” 

That’s the question of the century. Truth be told, Michelle doesn’t know either. Maybe it’s to see whether Siddharth is actually happy. Maybe it’s to get some closure. Most likely, it’s for the pathetic reason that she doesn’t know how to say no to him.


“I’d really like it if you could come,” he said, eyes pinched together. “I can’t imagine my wedding without you in it.” 

“That could have been a wedding proposal just a year ago,” she said with irony. He looked like he wanted to punch himself as soon as he realized what he’d said. 

She should say no. It’s the only respectable answer in this situation. But….

“Why are you asking me? You know this is a weird thing to ask your ex right?’”

Siddharth grimaced. “You know you’re not just my ex, Michelle. You’ve been my closest friend for most of my life. It would be nice if you could be there.”

She sighed as if she were ten years old again and Siddharth was asking her to let him copy off her homework.

“It’s fine. I’ll come.”


Michelle huffs out a laugh. “For the free food?”

Sahana smiles. “Well, don’t let my mum see that,” she says, looking at the bag. “I don’t think she’s forgotten or forgiven the first time Siddharth came home drunk after a night out with you.”

Michelle feels the knot in her throat grow bigger, and coughs again as if it would force it out. “Well, you know me. I’ve been corrupting good little boys for ages.” 

It’s not even a joke. For all that Sahana and Siddharth’s mother is polite to her, warm even, she doubts whether she ever actually liked her. She probably did when they were all still children and Michelle was still a cute little girl happy to let him pull at her pigtails. Unlike most of the other aunties, their mother never commented when Michelle showed up at their house with another piercing or tattoo or hair coloring or shorts that rode up so high that she couldn’t bend in public. She’d always smiled and made her tea, never once giving off any sign that Michelle was less than acceptable company for her son. 

It was only when there was a sign that Michelle could become more than the childhood friend she was obligated to feel kind to that she pulled out all the brakes. Siddharth, of course being the model Indian son, had immediately complied. Even then, Aunty has never been unkind in front of Michelle. She greeted her with a hug when she arrived at the wedding. 

Michelle wraps her finger around the cloth of the dupatta, turning it over and over and over as it bandages her finger.  

Sahana squeezes her shoulder. “Well, you can leave any time you want. If my mum asks, I’ll make an excuse. Honestly, you don’t have to stay for the Mehendi, Sangeet or the main wedding ceremony tomorrow.” 

“When did you get so wise?” Michelle asks, laughing. “You used to follow us like a duckling when we were small.” 

“I grew up and saw how uncool you were,” Sahana quips back, smile razor-sharp. Michelle is reminded once again of why she loves being around this family. 

“Thank you,” she says. “But I’ll be fine. I want to be here.”

Sahana squeezes her shoulder once more before leaving to carry out her sisterly wedding duties. Michelle finds a secluded corner behind one of the Tabebuia trees and takes a swig of the Smirnoff. 


The thing was, Michelle had never meant it to become more than it was. After the first wine-induced instance, they kept falling into bed without talking about it, and this suited Michelle just fine. She hadn’t realized that Siddharth needed more until one night when they were panting up at the ceiling in his bedroom. 


“Hmm?’”She felt sleepy and unmoored, the hazy aftermath of sex dawning upon her. 

“Do you—Do you want this to be something more?’”

“More like what?”

“You know what I mean.” 

Michelle did but wanted to avoid the subject.

“Why? Do you want it to be something more?” she asked cautiously. 

Siddharth jerked his head in a nod. 

“What if it doesn’t work out? It’s going to be awkward afterwards.”

“Can’t be more awkward than if this doesn’t work out.” 

He had a point there. She raised herself on her elbows and looked at him.

“I’m not there yet,” she said honestly. “I like this obviously,”—she waved her hand around them—”but I’m not sure if I feel anything more.”

Siddharth swallowed and looked away, and Michelle felt like a callous idiot. She had never noticed, never considered that he might be unhappy with the arrangement. But it made sense. Siddharth wasn’t like her in that way; sex and love couldn’t coexist separately for him.

“But I’d like to try,” she added hurriedly. “I mean—we could try not being casual anymore?”

Siddharth smiled, a small, nebulous thing that lit up his face nonetheless. Michelle had been so apprehensive then, so frightened of losing their friendship. She had never expected to feel anything more, never expected that one day she would feel like she was falling to pieces when he took her into his arms, would probably slap herself for considering whether or not Siddharth would like it if she pierced her belly button before getting one. 

Out of the two of them, she had definitely thought he’d be the one having a harder time letting go.


And now she finds herself at the mehendi ceremony, tipsy and dazed, the first flush of alcohol fully making itself known as she gets henna applied to her palms. This time, it’s in one of the courtyards on the resort, cushions and chairs lined up to seat the couple’s closest female friends and relatives. From here, she can see the stage being set up for the Sangeet later in the night. She’s sitting with Sahana, whose own friends will only be arriving for the main wedding ceremony and the reception the next day.  But the gathering is still too intimate for her liking; she’s not sitting far off from Ahalya.  It’s a struggle even sober to not twitch as the henna artists squeeze patterns on skin, so Michelle is not having a good time. On the positive side, it keeps her from looking at Ahalya in a resplendent floral lehenga, surrounded by her friends, laughing as the artist draws patterns from wrist to palm. 

“Madam? Do you want to continue?” The artist asks her, looking dubiously at the tattoo sleeve of her right hand, splashes of bright color meant to create a psychedelic effect.

Michelle raises her chin. “Yes, I would.” 

The artist looks a bit squeamish now at the thought of sullying her designs against tattooed skin. Unfortunately for her, Michelle has lived to make people uncomfortable. 

“You can barely see it amidst the tattoo.” 

“That’s alright,” she says, smiling through her teeth. “As long as I can see it, it’s fine.” 

“I had meant to say. I love your tattoo. They’re so well done,” Ahalya tells her. 

Michelle freezes for a second. She stills her expression to look purposefully blank before looking at her.

“Yes! It looks so cool,” pipes up one of her friends. 

Michelle would ask which one but they’re obviously referring to the sleeve, a psychedelic constellation of flowers and plants, with a creeping vine going through. 

“Oh. Thank you. It matches your lehenga,” she says, pointing at the flowers on both her arm and Ahalya’s clothes. 

Ahalya’s friends titter around her. She laughs. “It does. How lovely.”

Michelle has not had many conversations with Ahalya. She thinks she should be jealous, to match every flaw and strength to hers, see where she fell short and where she was better. But it’s like comparing herself to a photograph. All she can see is an image, an idea of Siddharth’s wife, prim and perfect for his family. The fact that Ahalya didn’t know who she was when Siddharth had told her he was getting married was proof. Michelle had known all his girlfriends before they got together.  

She wonders if Ahalya can make him laugh the way she does, if Siddharth can make her laugh the way he does Michelle. Did they even get to know each other enough to know what the other person found funny? 


“I can’t believe you just did that,” Siddharth moaned into his hands but the smile on his face betrayed the way he really felt. 

Michelle grinned next to him. “You didn’t like it? ‘Pehla Nasha’ is such a classic love song!”

“You know that’s not the issue here,” he says, laughing.

“Hmm…shall I sing you something else then? Ooh, how about ‘Baby, One More Time’?”

Siddharth grabbed her hand. “Don’t you dare! It was bad enough the first time.”

Michelle shrugged and stretched her arms. “The rest of the bar didn’t seem to agree. They liked serenading you with me.”

Siddharth laughed and looked at her with softest look she’d ever seen. Her breath hitched. “You’re so impossible.”


Michelle bites her lip hard enough to draw blood. 

“Does it have any significance?” Ahalya asks her, eyes bright with curiosity. “Your tattoo?” 

Before she can think about it, she says, “Yeah. They’re all flowers from my grandmother’s garden. Just a way to think of her, I guess.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“Oh no. She’s still alive,” Michelle says hurriedly. “We’re just very close.” 

“That’s so sweet. You’re such a good granddaughter.” 

Michelle smiles weakly.

“Really?” Sahana whispers exasperatedly next to her. She can feel Sahana’s gaze burn into her neck. Michelle looks at her to see a clear “What the fuck?” expression on her face. It’s because what she just said was all nonsense. Sahana was there when she got the sleeve. She had gone with Sahana to provide moral support for her tattoo (on her thigh, where her parents would never find out), and decided to get the sleeve in the moment. The artists had shown her a bunch of designs before she decided on the floral ones because they looked pretty. 

It just seems embarrassing to admit that now. The alcohol probably also has something to do with it. 

“We should hang out sometime,” Ahalya tells her. “You’re one of Siddharth’s closest friends. And he thinks so highly of you. It’d be great to get to know you better.”

Michelle searches her face. Either Ahalya is a very good actress or she has no idea that Michelle and Siddharth were in a relationship. Or maybe she does know and is alright with it. Either way, Michelle thinks she would rather join a travelling circus than be friends with her. 

“Sounds good. Let’s plan something soon,” Michelle lies. 

At that moment, Siddharth’s mother enters the yard, and Michelle straightens unconsciously. Ahalya’s face becomes strained. 

“How is everyone doing?” Aunty asks them, beaming. “Just came to check up on you all.”

Michelle plasters on a smile. “Very good, Aunty.” 

“Really good, Mum,” Ahalya says.

Michelle blinks. Mum. Wow. 

It seems like Aunty doesn’t appreciate it that much either because the edges of her smile falter and her face goes stony.

Michelle looks back and forth across them. How strange.

“Michelle,” she says. “You’re staying for the Sangeet, right? It’s the first time our family has done something like this so you must come.”

Truthfully, Michelle has been wondering why they were holding a Sangeet given that they were South Indian. It was frankly inconvenient since they would have to wake up so early for the main wedding ceremony the next day. But Sangeets have become popular amongst South Indians, an effect of Bollywood, she supposes. Siddharth and Ahalya must have wanted one. 

“Of course, Aunty. I wouldn’t miss it.”

After she leaves, Ahalya takes a visible sigh of relief. She bows her head. 

“I think she still doesn’t like me,” she says in a small voice.

Her friends rush to reassure her.

“Don’t worry about it, Hals!” 

“Yes! It will be fine. It’s just the stress of the wedding.”

“Are you scared of her?” Michelle asks curiously.

Ahalya assesses her and must be satisfied with what she finds because she admits, “Yes. Like I’m in school and she’s a scary teacher.”

Michelle snorts. “Oh c’mon, Aunty isn’t that scary.” 

Ahalya shakes her head. “I feel like I’ve been trying to get her approval for ages now. She’s not happy with me at all.”

Michelle’s eyebrows knit together. “It’ll get better soon. Don’t worry about it. She just needs time to get to know you.”

Even so, Michelle thinks it’s strange. This is a girl Aunty had introduced to her son, had thought she was an acceptable wife and daughter-in-law. There’s no reason to be cold. 

Then again, Michelle thinks cynically, maybe it’s Ahalya’s family that Aunty finds acceptable. Not Ahalya herself. 


It had been building for a while. He’d gotten quieter and quieter. He hadn’t smiled at Michelle’s attempts to make him laugh like he used to. He seemed to look at her as if he was missing her even though she was right next to him.

“You’ve been acting strange lately. What’s wrong?’”

“I—I need to tell you something.”

“Go ahead.”

“It’s not a good thing.”

“Really building up to it here. Just rip off the Band-Aid already.”

“We need to end this. I—my mother wants me to get married and I—well, I’ve been thinking it’s something I want too.”

“Okay. I don’t understand why we have to break up though.’”

“You’re not interested in marriage, Michelle. You’ve always said you never wanted to marry since we were kids.”

That was true. 

“I’m very confused here, Siddharth. You’re the one who wanted us to become serious. I may not want marriage but I have feelings, you know. Why did you want us to be together if you were planning on leaving?”

Siddharth closed his eyes. 

“I was hoping… I was hoping I could change your mind.”

“And now you’re breaking up with me instead of asking if I have changed it?”

Siddharth shook his head frustratedly. “It wouldn’t work out anyway. I thought it wouldn’t be this hard. But convincing everybody, all the difficulties we’ll have to face… I think we’ll end up hating each other.”

“What do you mean ‘you didn’t think it would be this hard’? What were you expecting?”

“It’s just not going to work, Michelle. I’ll have to fight every step of the way. And for something I know you’re not convinced about.”

She wasn’t convinced by marriage. She didn’t think a piece of paper or a bank account was necessary to show the world you loved someone. But she was convinced by Siddharth. So, she told him so. 

He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Michelle.”

“You’re not even willing to try then? You don’t even want to fight for this?”

He was infuriatingly silent.

“What are you even apologizing for? Did you even tell your mother? Does she even know about this?”

“Of course, she does. She’s seen us both come out of my room.”

“Then what’s the problem? Is it the fact that I’m Christian? My tattoos? My hair? Or is it you? Did she tell you that?”

“Michelle. I—I’m sorry. But…it’s better this way, isn’t it? You’ve never liked this kind of serious commitment anyway,” he says, sounding like he’s trying to convince himself. 

“That’s news to me, given that I’ve been with you for two years,” she said coldly. 

“That’s different…”

She shook her head, disgusted. “You were the one who wanted this to be something more. And now you’re just… you know what, I can’t deal with this. Do what you want. I’m leaving.” 


By now, the henna artist is done applying the mehendi on her wrists, and she waits for her hands and arms to dry. She tunes out the happy chatter and loud giggles around her. More than anything, Michelle wants to reach into her bag for her canister. But she just stares at the way the brown of the henna looks on her wrists, swirling into the vibrant watercolors and clashing against them starkly. 

She wonders how much more of this she can take. 


The venue for the Sangeet is in a tent, to stave off unexpected summer rains. There’s a center stage with spotlights lighting it up, fairy lights strung across the tent for ambience. She knows there are performances planned. She was asked to be a part of it, but that is too much even for her. Chairs are lined up on the lawn in front of round tables. And of course, there’s the bar serving alcohol. 

It’s a shame the Sangeet isn’t happening outside, where you could see the moon magnificent in the sky. 

She grabs a drink at the bar despite the vodka already in her bloodstream. She watches as a relative presents the event, making the same old “Look how horrible my wife is” jokes that make her wonder why he even married her in the first place.  

She watches the groom’s side dance, finishes a cocktail, and then the bride’s side, another cocktail. Then she watches the couple’s dance, dreamy slow dancing to Pehla Nasha

Siddharth’s face is gentle, soft, and blissful. She’s never seen him look like this before, as if he’s—as if he’s in love. 

Michelle hears a roaring in her ears that has nothing to do with the music. She needs another drink.

She’s still lucid, probably a good thing in the long run, but what she wants at the moment is to get so hammered that she thinks her hand is talking to her.

As she’s going, Sahana and Siddharth’s mother sidle up to her, Aunty looking worried in her festive saree. 

“Are you alright?” Aunty asks her. 

“I’m good, Aunty. Don’t mind me.” 

“Michelle,” she says gently. “I think you should watch yourself.”

Oh god, this is so embarrassing. 

“I’m not planning to make a scene.”

“I know. I’m telling you this for your sake.”

Michelle sighs. 

“I still don’t know why you decided to come. This can’t be easy for you,” Aunty tells her gently. 

And whose fault is that? She thinks viciously. 

“It’s not,” she admits. “It’s a lot more difficult than I thought.”

“Let’s go somewhere quiet,” Aunty says, holding her elbow and walking her outside the tent and away from the noise. The warm air feels nice. 

“Why is there a Sangeet anyway? I had no idea Siddharth wanted one.” she asks, trying to forget the look on his face inside. 

“Ahalya is from Delhi. Her side of the family insisted on it. I’m just glad the main wedding ceremony is with our traditions,” Aunty says dryly. 

Michelle looks at her. “Then why’d you introduce him to a girl from Delhi? Seems like a strange choice for an arranged marriage.”

Aunty looks at her oddly. “What do you mean? This isn’t an arranged marriage.”

Michelle is at the edge of a very long drop, the slightest gust of wind about to push her over into a freefall that never lands.

“Yes, it is. He told me…” She trails off. But he didn’t tell her, did he? She had assumed it because he broke up with her to get married to someone his mother wanted. 

“They dated for six months. Truth be told I wasn’t happy about it. She’s been divorced before,” Aunty grumbles. “But what to do? She makes him happy.”

Michelle feels bile rise in her throat and she blinks to keep her eyes from burning. “I thought it wouldn’t be this hard” rings in her head over and over like the chorus of a terrible pop song. 

“He-He told me he was breaking up with me because you wanted him to marry. And I wasn’t good enough for it,” she says in a frayed voice. 

Aunty sucks in her breath. 

“He said what?” she hisses. 

“He never even brought up marriage with me. Never even asked if I wanted it. He never wanted it with me but didn’t know how to say it.”

Aunty looks at her with pity, and Michelle hates it, hates what he has reduced her to. 

Even now, she doesn’t know if she would have said yes if he had asked. But she loved him enough to have said yes if he had tried to convince her, she thinks. She would have been willing to do it, even if it meant going against everything she believed in. But he had never wanted to try. 

And it isn’t because he wasn’t strong enough to. He was willing to fight and stand up to his family. She just wasn’t enough for him.  She had been good enough to be in love with, to make him happy, but not enough to fight for, to be the person whom he’d spend the rest of his life with.

The soft look on his face as he gazed at Ahalya is burned into her eyelids now, and Michelle understands, for the first time in her life, what it feels like to be heartbroken.

Aunty puts an arm around her. “Michelle, listen to me. I would have said yes to whoever my son wanted to marry. I just want him to be happy. And I would have been happy if it had been you because I know you and the kind of person you are.”

All the alcohol in the world isn’t enough to numb this. 

Michelle barks out a bitter laugh. “So it was him then. He had a problem with me.” 

“I’m sorry,” Aunty says, ashamed. “He shouldn’t have done that.” 

She shakes her head. “It’s not your fault, Aunty.” 

Aunty takes Michelle’s hands in her hers and squeezes them. “I understand if you never want to see Siddharth again. But don’t be a stranger, dear.” She smiles. “I do love you too, you know.”

It’s of little comfort now. All Michelle remembers is a dimly lit bar, her own voice loud and resonant as she sang to Siddharth, the rest of the bar singing a cacophony of the chorus for “Pehla Nasha.” 

Did he forget? Did he think she just wouldn’t care? Or maybe, she thinks with dawning horror, he never was able to look past the fog of tattoos and casual hook-ups and alcohol. He saw those things and thought she wasn’t capable of anything else, that he could dance to the same love song with his future wife and she would just find the whole thing hilarious because silly Michelle was always just a joke. Just an idea to flirt with, to take into his arms and laugh with into the night, to think of as some impossible fairytale dream, and then promptly wake up to real life when it looked more appealing.  

She wonders what it would be like to go inside and grab the mic from the presenter, to drunkenly list out all of his failings, maybe serenade some kind of heartbreak song at him, maybe flirt with one of the good-looking relatives there. It’s not like she wouldn’t do it. She doesn’t mind public embarrassment, especially if it comes at the expense of someone else. 

It’s tempting but…she thinks of Aunty, thinks of Sahana, how kind they’ve both been to her over the years. They don’t deserve to be caught in the crossfire. And as much as she hates it, and him, she still doesn’t want to ruin his day, despite everything. 

Instead, she heads back inside and heads to the bar. She orders a glass of wine. Red. She watches Siddharth sitting up front with his wife. Well, maybe there’s still something she can do. She walks up to them with her drink and smiles widely with all her teeth showing. He looks nervous. 

“Everyone,” she calls out. “Let’s raise a toast.” 

His eyes widen when he notices the color of her wine. So many emotions flit across his face that it’s as if he goes through the five stages of grief in a second. 

“Michelle,” he starts, but she is in no mood to listen to anything he has to say. 

 “Let’s raise a toast to the loving couple,” she raises her voice. “To Siddharth and Ahalya! To the North and South!” 

She keeps her eyes locked on Siddharth and it’s only karma that he also has a glass of red wine with him. 

“To the couple that found love against all odds and chose to love each other despite how difficult it would be!” 

His face goes white. That’s right, she thinks. I know.  

She raises her glass. “Here’s to new beginnings and finding love!” 

Siddharth flinches away, but Michelle knows he must feel her gaze even if he can’t see it. 

The crowd roars. “To new beginnings and finding love!”

Ankitha Venkataram (she/her) is an Indian writer who writes about young people in contemporary India who straddle the line between tradition and modernity. She has worked as a content developer for three years in the ed-tech industry. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Manchester. She is currently working on her debut novel. You can contact her through email or Instagram.