Margin Walker is a coming-of-age story about an Indian American man’s journey to transcend the racial barriers and family pressures that threatened to define him and decide his fate. He chose a different path that led to love, loss, and ultimately freedom. This is a story about the life he left behind so that he could become the man he was meant to be.
Please enjoy the following excerpt.
“Why can’t I just go to Kevin’s house?” I whined. “It’s so much more fun.” Plus I knew his parents would leave us alone.
My mother grimaced as she bustled past me. “I’ve already arranged it with Shree Auntie. Sandeep and Sudhir are waiting for you. Do you want to disappoint them?”
“But they’re so–” I started.
My mother was busy multitasking but turned to pounce on my protest. “They’re so what? Abi you could learn something from them. They listen to their parents. Did you know that Sandeep always does science competitions?” she asked, her eyebrows raised dramatically.
“Whatever,” I muttered. “Can’t I just stay here at home?” I hated hanging out with family friends.
My mother shook her head vexedly. “Abi I’m late now so you have to go there, and you’re too young to stay at home alone. When you go there you will see how happy they make their parents.”
I trudged out of our house and into the hot summer sun. Sandeep and Sudhir lived at the end of our block. I walked down the street with my head hung low, absentmindedly counting down the row of insipid suburban houses until I reached theirs.
Shree greeted me at the door. She was a heavyset woman with a hulking presence and short, black hair worn in a bowl cut and brown skin scarred from acne. She wore layers of clothing despite the heat, and a musty odor wafted forth from behind her. She reminded me of an Indian version of the mother from Throw Momma From the Train. “Come inside,” she said briefly. I entered and she glanced at my feet.
“Oh yeah.” I removed my shoes.
“We’re watching tennis,” she announced.
What a surprise, I thought.
I followed her into the family room and saw Sandeep sitting cross-legged on the cream-colored carpet, his back against the dark brown pleather couch as he faced the big-screen TV. He nodded at me as I sat next to him.
“It’s a replay of Edberg and Becker,” he said, still looking at the screen.
“I can see that,” I said quietly.
Shree positioned herself on the couch behind us with a basket of laundry. We were silent. The sun glared through the windows’ dark wooden blinds. It was midday but the room was still somehow murky.
“Boy, you guys are really farting away,” she said, her voice snickering behind us.
I shifted uncomfortably. I was pretty sure no one had farted. Sandeep didn’t respond, his eyes still glued to the TV.
“I’m going to make lunch. Sudhir!!” she bellowed. I jumped and looked back with alarm. Shree stood up and lumbered out of the room.
I craned my neck to make sure she was gone and then turned toward Sandeep. “So what’s new with you? Any good music?”
Sandeep looked at me seriously. “You know a lot of the people in these popular rock bands are druggies. I don’t listen to them much.”
I pressed on. “You going to get the new Nirvana? In Utero?”
“You mean In Utero,” he said pedantically. “It’s Latin.”
I stared back and suppressed the urge to mock him mercilessly. Indian Urkel over here, I thought.
“I told you I don’t listen to that stuff,” he went on to say. “You know we’re not allowed to watch MTV.”
“Yeah,” I said. I knew what he meant. My only exposure to modern music was through my friends at school and what I could find on the radio. But unlike him, I desperately sought that stuff out. “Anyway,” I muttered.
“Are you doing PJAS this year?” he asked. PJAS was the state science competition.
Shree’s square head emerged from the kitchen and beckoned at us, her broad frame casting a long shadow. “Come eat lunch now, boys.”
I was thankful for the interruption until I saw the food. It was straight up South Indian fare like idli, sambar, and dal, the kind of stuff I just didn’t like. I started to panic as I saw Sudhir bounding down the stairs, beaming at his mother’s announcement. He and his brother were known as good eaters. I was not. I followed them dejectedly as they clambered onto the high-top chairs at the kitchen island.
Shree dispensed the food indiscriminately. “I figure you’ll all want seconds, so I’m giving you a lot,” she smiled knowingly. “And Abi, you know in this house we clean our plates,” she said, eyeing me.
I watched anxiously as Sudhir started eating with gusto. He was three years younger than me and built like a bowling ball.
I stared at my food with a mix of disgust and dismay while its pungent odor assailed my nostrils. It seemed impossible. I scanned the table, noticing a pile of napkins nearby. My mind worked quickly through the options. Sandeep and Sudhir were bent at their plates. I decided to go for it.
As Shree turned her massive back I snatched a napkin and captured a clump of my food and pocketed it in one fluid motion. I looked around wildly. No one seemed the wiser. I repeated the trick two or three times until my plate was almost empty.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I announced unexpectedly. They ignored me. I walked awkwardly out of the kitchen, my face crimson and sweatpants bulging. Once out of eyeshot my pace quickened. I hurried past the pooja room, glancing at the idols and elders in pictures glaring back at me, and then lunged into the bathroom and emptied my pockets furtively into the toilet, my heart beating fast as if I were a fugitive. I watched the balled-up napkins sink and slowly release clumps of food that floated upward to the surface like liberated turds.
I bent over, watching my handiwork intently, then stood up proudly. This is amazing, I thought.
I flushed, ran the faucet for a moment for good measure, then sauntered back into the kitchen smiling. Sudhir was heartily discussing his math homework with his mother. I froze and for a moment considered camping out in the bathroom. I shook my head in a pang of guilt and turned to Sandeep. “You looking forward to high school?” He was a grade ahead of me.
Shree quickly intervened. “He’ll be going to Emmaus. It’s a really good school. Although some of those kids there haven’t been nice to him. They don’t like people like us,” she pronounced haughtily.
Sandeep nodded darkly, his greased black hair glinting in the kitchen light. “And some of them go out at night and date and stuff. I’m not into any of that,” he said, looking at his mother. She smiled approvingly.
I sighed and eyed the clock. The dullness seemed interminable.
I couldn’t wait to break out.