Short Story: BRAG or Bust!
The wind caught the corner of the flyer as I pulled it back into place. SEE GEORGIA ON BRAG it advertised in bold print. This year's Bicycle Ride across Georgia promised to be the best ride ever. My head was in the clouds as my brother Nitin sped by on his bicycle hollering, "Last one home does the dishes!"
Letting go of the flyer, I turned my ten-speed back onto the street. Nitin's blue windbreaker was billowing out behind him like a parachute as he disappeared around the curve. I would never catch him.
As I nimbly coasted into the driveway Nitin's bike was already parked and he was nowhere in sight.
"Nilakshi, is that you?" I heard the sliders open and close as I entered the mudroom.
"Yes, Dadi-ji, it's me," I replied, pulling off my shoes. The wonderful aroma of sabzi seekhs hung heavy in the air, and my stomach grumbled noisily in response. I could hear Momma in the kitchen rustling pots and pans and then the sliders opening and closing again.
"There you are. Did you have any luck at the grocery?" Momma asked as she spooned raita into katori dishes.
Sitting down, I answered. "Mr. Shah said I could bag for tips. I already have $134.00 saved. There is a flyer outside his grocery. Registration starts tomorrow. Do you think Daddy will let me ride this year on the BRAG?"
Continuing to set the table, Momma replied, "I don't know Nilakshi. We go through this every year. You will have to ask your father."
"Oh, why bother," I said, rolling my eyes and exhaling loudly. "Daddy will just say I am too little and Nitin will remind me that I am a girl." Dadi-ji reached out and gave my shoulder a squeeze.
"Well," Momma said with a smile, "I'm glad you're a girl. Now up with you and go find your brother. You both need to wash up for supper."
With the dishes done, I headed back outside. Momma and Dadi-ji were watching TV, and Daddy was down by the pier. Dusk was falling and fireflies lit my way down the path toward the pier. "Daddy," I asked as I approached and he made room for me on the swing.
"Hmm," he responded smoking his pipe. The red-hot embers illuminated his face with their fiery glow as I settled beside him. He was staring out across the lake but turned and faced me. "What's up, Nina?" he asked, using my pet name.
"Daddy, do you think I can go on the BRAG this year?" I figured it was ask or be miserable the rest of my life. All through supper I had restrained myself as he and Nitin talked of nothing else but the annual 400-mile bike trip and all their plans for the week after next. This annual June event was to have more than 1,800 bicyclists, and I was determined to be one of them.
He removed the pipe from his mouth and, looking down at it, asked, "Why do you want to go?"
A million reasons raced through my mind. The challenge was to capture and release just the right one that would persuade him to let me go. I sat quietly for a moment before answering. I knew that once I got going I would not be able to stop.
"Well, I'm twelve now," was my beginning as I took a deep breath and finished the rest in one big rush. "And Nitin had just turned twelve when he first got to go, and so far I have saved $134.00."
There, the words were out. Freed at last, they settled in the quietness that surrounded us. Frogs croaked to one another in the darkened glade as I held my breath and waited for his. Somewhere out in the middle of the lake a fish splashed. Would his response ever come?
Daddy just continued to sit and softly rock us back and forth in the swing. Turning to face me he reached across and pushed a stray strand of hair behind my ear. He looked at me as we just continued to swing back and forth.
I looked up at him and realized he was not really looking at me but looking beyond me into the darkness. Daddy seemed to be struggling with the contrast of his Eastern upbringing and American daily life. Removing the pipe from between his teeth he said, "Let me discuss this with your mother, and that is as much answer as you will get from me on this tonight."
"But, Daddy," was all I was able to plead in my I-really-do-want-this-badly tone as he silenced me with a soft touch to my knee. I knew that the subject of riding in the BRAG was officially closed for now. Rising off the swing, I kissed him on the cheek.
"Goodnight, Nina." He reached out and gave my arm a slight tug. I left him to make my way slowly to the house.
What I didn't know was that Momma and Dadi-ji had already talked with him about me riding this year. And Nitin, who for the most part wanted me to disappear, was actually on my side. As I readied for bed, Dadi-ji came into my room and sat down on my bed.
"Nilakshi, how old are you now?"
"Dadi-ji, I am twelve. You know this." I said this giving her a puzzled look.
"Yes, Nilakshi, twelve. Many things have changed from my time to yours." Patting the coverlet beside her she continued, "What if I told you that you will go on the BRAG this year."
"Really?" I questioned, looking past her to my mother who had just walked in.
"Yes," Momma replied. Your father is going to let you go. Dadi-ji and I cornered him this evening before you came upstairs. We reminded him about how Nitin pestered him on and on about going when he was your age. He agreed that for you not to go wouldn't be fair."
I leaped off the bed and hugged Momma's neck. "Here," Momma said as she handed me a small wrapped box.
"Go ahead. Open it," urged Dadi-ji.
"What is it?" I asked, looking from one to the other.
"Just open it," Momma said.
Pushing the paper aside and lifting the lid, a shiny gold bicycle charm suspended from a gold chain was revealed.
"Here," she said, reaching for the necklace. Placing it around my neck, she kissed me. "You are growing up, Nilakshi. This is but a small gift to acknowledge that you are no longer a little girl. Don't worry about the BRAG."
I climbed into bed and turned off my light. I reached up and fingered the necklace. Too excited to sleep, I lay in the darkness thinking of the Bicycle Ride across Georgia and how my Momma and Dadi-ji had helped to make this dream come true.
Written and Illustrated by LISA MADLER
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