SHY SMILE • by Sharon J Wishnow

“Gita, come look. He’s the one!”

Gita stared at the computer and the image her aunt was tapping at on the screen. Ajeet Dhawan was twenty-nine. A strong nose her aunt remarked. Gita nodded taking in his soft brown eyes and shy smile.

“He’s from Cleveland.” She tasted the word as it stuck on her palate.

Her aunt clapped her hands. “He owns a business and has a degree from the University of Ohio. His family is from Uttar Pradesh.”

Gita nodded noncommittally. At twenty-six, she was well aware her aunt and uncle wanted her to be married and settled, starting her own family. Six months earlier, Gita’s aunt had set up the profile on “I’ll take care of everything,” she said.

Days later, the messages of interest filled the inbox. Her aunt sifted through them with an impatient click of her tongue, rejecting one after the other like blemished fruit, until she found Ajeet.

Gita sent Ajeet a message and a formal picture of herself in a turquoise blue sari, her long black hair swept up in a simple bun with a few placed tendrils framing her face.

“You look like a beautiful bird flying in the sky. Maybe flying to me,” Ajeet wrote back.

He sounds like a poet; a flutter of happiness flushed through her.

They started to communicate online. He was born in America but wanted to marry a Hindu woman.

“Tell me about your business?” she said.

“I run an auto repair shop.”

Gita’s hands paused over the keyboard. Her parents had been killed in a car crash. How could she love a man who loved cars? A person who worked with them every day?

They talked about their families and how each wanted them to get married.

“My mother had our horoscopes checked. The heavens say we’re a good match,” he teased.

She liked that they had bothered to check. A month later, they agreed to marry.

Gita and her aunt and uncle flew to Cleveland, her mother’s red wedding sari in her suitcase. She dreamed of a traditional wedding where she would wear the sixteen adornments, the Solah Shringar. Her hands and feet would be decorated in elaborate henna tattoos in a mehndi ceremony, and she and Ajeet would exchange the seven vows. Gita longed for her parents to perform the Kanyadaam ritual of giving her away. But when they arrived, her aunt and uncle met with Ajeet’s parents, and they settled on a simple ceremony.

“It’s the custom here,” her aunt said. “They take the best of our traditions and Americanize them. You will be a beautiful bride even without all the extras.”

Gita and her aunt draped the yards of the red silk wedding sari, folding the fabric into pleats to enhance the embroidered gold hem. She took a calming breath, applied a red bindi and a nose ring. She always expected to feel love and excitement on her wedding day. Instead, she clasped and unclasped her hands, each finger colder than the next.

“A fine young man,” her uncle said, seeing Ajeet in his dark gray suit.

Gita and Ajeet exchanged the seven vows.


Gita began working in the auto shop. At first, she hated the pungent smell of gasoline and oil that flooded the store each time someone opened the door to the garage, but soon she didn’t notice it. However, she couldn’t ignore the whirring clang of the pneumatic tools and the staccato zip, zip, zip that shook the walls.

As the cooler days of fall floated in and out of the shop, she shivered in her thin sweaters.

“Ohio isn’t India. Go buy some warmer clothes,” Ajeet said to soothe her. He spoke Hindi in the evenings but insisted she practice her English during the workday. The weather and the strain of always speaking English made her feel out of place and lonely. Ajeet was kind to her, but she learned that his shy smile was a part of his personality. Where was the poet who wrote freely online?

The door to the store opened early one Sunday; a man rushed inside. “Is there a mechanic here?”

“Yes.” Gita saw a white limousine parked in front of the repair bay. Inside sat woman with a crown on her head and a veil like a cloud skirting her bare shoulders.

“I need help. We’ve got to get to church.”

Gita sprinted to Ajeet in the garage. “Quickly.” She pulled at his arm.

They examined the car. Just married was painted on the back window. Gita gave the woman a reassuring smile.

“It’s a flat tire and the axle is bent,” Ajeet said.

“We should call a cab,” Gita said.

“No!” the bride said through her window. “I picked this limo. I won’t show up at my own wedding in a cab. A bride only gets one day. I want everything to be perfect.”

Gita took a step away from the car. Wasn’t getting married all that mattered? She had given up on her perfect wedding.

Ajeet nodded. “Gita, help me, we can do this quickly.”

After the limousine had driven away, Ajeet took Gita’s dirty hands. “You’re a grease monkey now.” They laughed at the funny expression.

He led her to the garage sink and grabbed a small bottle of cooking oil he kept on a shelf. He unscrewed the lid and held her right hand in his and poured oil over both of them. The oil dripped between their fingers. From another bottle he poured sugar and scrubbed off the grease.

Gita smiled at his gentleness, as if it were a Kanyadaam wedding ceremony. The grease was stubborn, staining her hands.

“It looks like a henna mehndi.”

Ajeet smiled. “The darker the ink is, the stronger the groom’s love is for his bride.” He touched her cheek leaving a dark grease mark across her face. He kissed her softly and then with warmth and desire.

Maybe his smile isn’t so shy, Gita thought, kissing him back.

Sharon J. Wishnow is a writer from Northern Virginia. Her work has appeared in The Grief Diaries and The Human Touch Journal. She has an MFA from George Mason University and has completed her first novel. You can find her online at and on Twitter @sjwishnow.

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