Dreamspinnner presented me with quite a challenge this year with their Advent Calendar set. How to take a place that would be completely foreign to most of my readers and make it feel like coming home for Christmas. I guess it’s a good thing I spent a Christmas a few years ago in Alappuzha, India, isn’t it? Even more importantly, my mother-in-law is an amazing woman who didn’t blink when I sat down and asked her how to make a Hindi family from her hometown accept that their son is gay and in love with an American. Because that is the crux of the story. Can Nikhilesh’s family accept his and Trent’s relationship, and if they can’t, what does that mean for Trent and Nik’s future?
If I say more, I’ll give the story away, but I will say that I hope you enjoy your visit to Alappuzha as much as I did.
TRENT SHIFTED in his seat as the plane taxied toward the Kochi airport. Nik insisted he could use the British names rather than learning the Indian ones, but Trent already stood out like a sore thumb with his blond hair, blue eyes, and winter-white skin. He couldn’t even claim the honey-gold color he managed in the summer at this point in the year. Every flight attendant since they left Chicago had assumed he would want the non- Indian food option and plain tea or a soft drink instead of the Indian dinner and masala tea. He’d taken great pleasure in overturning those assumptions, but it would only get worse. He’d met Nik’s parents, Shankar and Leelavati, when they came to Chicago six months ago, but this time, it wouldn’t just be them. It would be all of Nik’s very large, very Indian family.
“Relax,” Nik murmured. “It’ll be fine. They’ll all love you as much as I do.”
“I hope so.”
Nik squeezed his hand in reassurance, but Trent wasn’t convinced. Nik said it a little too forcefully, like he was trying to convince himself as much as Trent.
The plane rolled to a stop and they made their way out through the jet bridge. Nik walked beside him, but he didn’t reach for Trent’s hand the way he would have at home, reminding Trent how much less accepted their relationship would be here. They weren’t in Chicago anymore.
Even in the air-conditioned jet bridge, the heat stole Trent’s breath for a second as they left the plane.
“Quite a change from three feet of snow,” he said to Nik.
“For sure,” Nik said. “No white Christmas here, I’m afraid.”
They gathered their bags and went outside to look for Nik’s family. Sweat beaded under Trent’s arms and down his back. Within seconds his shirt clung uncomfortably to his skin, leaving him feeling even dirtier than nearly thirty hours of travel had done. He pulled at his collar, trying to let some air in, but he couldn’t even feel a breeze. The scent of jasmine and spices filled the air, almost cloying in its sweetness. Beggars lined the street outside the airport, but Nik waved them away imperiously. Nik had warned him not to so much as look their way or they’d be swamped and would never make it to the car.
“Remember,” Nik said softly at his side, placing his palms together prayer style. Trent nodded at the reminder of the appropriate way to greet any senior family member. Nik’s father hadn’t said who would be there to pick them up from the airport.
Nik waved at a young man who couldn’t have been more than twenty. “Amma sent my cousin Abilash. That’s a good sign.”
“How’s that?” Trent tried to visualize the family tree Nik had given him to place Abilash on it, but Nik’s parents had too many siblings to keep track of, even without their children.
“It means Abilash’s father is still talking to us,” Nik said. “He’s my father’s oldest brother. After my grandfather, he has the most sway on family opinion.”
Right. Trent remembered that part of the family tree, just not the cousins’ names.
Abilash joined them with a spate of Malayalam. Trent pasted on a smile despite not understanding a word.
“English, Abilash,” Nik scolded. “Trent doesn’t speak Malayalam.”
“Sorry,” Abilash said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
Abilash had a strong accent, stronger even than Nik’s father, but Trent had no trouble understanding him. “No worries,” he said. The last thing he wanted was to make things tense with Nik’s family because of language issues. Nik had promised everyone except his grandmothers would speak English, but apparently being able to speak English didn’t mean his cousins would default to English.
“So where are you taking us?” Nik asked Abilash. “I’m not sure we’re up for another hour and a half drive after traveling for almost thirty hours to get here.”
“Everyone is going to Alappuzha tomorrow,” Abilash said. “Susheela aunty lives in Ernakulam. She has rooms ready for you tonight, and she and Ramakrishnan uncle will bring you to Alappuzha tomorrow.”
“You’re not staying?”
“No,” Abilash said, leading them toward the car. “I had to come in to Kochi to pick up some things for school, so I offered to pick you up. Susheela aunty agreed so she would have time to finish getting everything ready. Ramakrishnan uncle has to work late tonight so he won’t be home until after dinner. Susheela aunty drives these days, but only if she has to. She’d much rather let someone else drive.”
Trent listened absently to the conversation as the names went in one ear and out the other. They all figured on the list of Nik had given him, but there were so many of them—eleven plus spouses on one side of the family and eight plus spouses on the other—that Trent had given up. He’d meet them and figure it out as he went.
Ariel Tachna lives outside of Houston with her husband, her daughter and son, and their two dogs. Before moving there, she traveled all over the world, having fallen in love with France, where she met her husband, and India, where she hopes to retire some day. She’s bilingual with snippets of four other languages to her credit and is as in love with languages as she is with writing.
Web site: http://www.arieltachna.com
Ariel will be gifting one lucky commenter an e-copy of Home for Chirappu. Comment to enter to win!