Alia’s senior year to-do’s: get straight A’s, help Mamma at their henna shop, avoid crushing on Holden, and figure out how to afford her dream college. When Alia overhears rich kids complain about grades, she capitalizes on her intellect – for a price, Alia will sell essays and tests to other students. Although this lucrative side hustle brings her closer to her dreams, the cheating and lies might destroy her life.
The shop smelled like my mother, like the cardamom in her chai, the coconut oil in her hair, the lavender of her freshly pressed kurtas. Floral and spice filled the space with each box I cut open. If there was anything tangible that embodied Mamma, it was this shop, vibrant, full, and giving.
“Alia, box-cutter kaha hai?” My mother peeked around a metal shelf, hand outstretched, which meant she already knew where the box-cutter was.
I handed it over, and she sliced through cardboard to take out a plastic envelope, sending Styrofoam peanuts flying.
“Screws,” Mamma declared triumphantly. As she waved the packet at me, jingling metal inside, her brown eyes caught the sunlight streaming through the windows. Mamma gripped the shelf’s loose corner and started tightening the hinge.
I smiled and continued tacking price stickers on packages of dried fruit. Golden raisins and sweet apricots glistened like jewels. When I looked back, Mamma was staring out the shop windows.
Mamma was no longer taller than me, but something about the way she carried herself made her seem elevated anyway, regal. Today, she wore a yellow-green Junior class shirt I’d bought her last year over jeans. Her curly hair was pinned neatly with a butterfly clip, and her face was fresh, eyes rimmed with liner, brown lipstick without a smudge. A surge of love and pride filled me.