Coral and I have known each other since birth, practically.
Same school. Same street. Same hair colour—we even had the same texture in hair. Around the ages of seven to nine, mine would always be plaited in two, falling down, with the tips sitting just past my ribcage. Hers, coarse enough to be wrapped into two buns without a hair band. And, if she had my eyes, she’d almost look a little Chinese. Too cute. “True brownies,” as described by my mum. But, her real name was Yama, which actually means "restrainer" in Hindi. She was given the name Coral, but I never really knew why. This is the only query I had about her—but I never brought up. It wasn't necessary—not in this lifetime, anyway. I used to wonder if it had anything to do with the colour of her kitchen walls, which matched the cushions on her dining table chairs—even her living room lampshade was Coral coloured...
SO, apart from this one thing, I thought I knew my best friend. But, there was more. The one circumstance. I haven't told anyone else about it. Not that I’d need to, so I feel silly writing it down... but it's a part of our pact.
And, she knows ALL of my bad habits. Secrets. Sexual partners. Favourite sexual positions! The best conversations we have are based around love, men, and life!
We were bound by the "wreath of sisterhood," if that's trendy to say. That saying suited us well when we were eight years old, and when something didn't fit, it was a part of our make-up to be creative, and we’d effortlessly curate. Our language was like fireworks, flickering the most colourful, colloquial words and sentences. Our one-night stands, so-called boyfriends—all described outstandingly.
Whenever we’d rush to each others company, which usually meant something very interesting had happened during the course of our day or week, it was about to go off! For example, I remember having phone sex with Boyfriend Number Seven in my late teens. Yes, we counted the guys this way all the way after 16, and even labelled our conversations as Sexual Cellular Specials. OUR chat shows. That’s what she’d cleverly called it. And we’d plan exactly how we'd pitch it to a television producer, if we got the chance. Down to every last detail, we shared EVERYTHING, merrily. Every moment with each other was a celebration. We almost lost weight from all the laughing we did—which is more weight than I’d lost from any of the sex I’d had between the ages of 19 and 21.
Ross, our Rastafarian/Yardie neighbour at Number Six once said to me, "you might as well sleep with each race. That way, you've tried it and if you get lucky enough to birth each child, you'll have a set of beautiful bambinos. Do it now, man." I think he really just wanted to DO IT with me. He also smoked a lot of hash.
As two brown girls, we really let our culture sink within us enough for it to shine out au natural, despite testing times. I can’t quite find the place we got our confidence from, but it developed fairly fast. We had each other, anyway. She was South Indian—I, North. Both contrasting shades of brown.
And soul sisters we were, as classified by our neighbour, Beverley, who lived in the corner house at the top of the road. She was the token Caribbean lady. Anytime she caught us trying to pluck roses, reaching through the hole in between her brittle fence of front garden (JUST so we could put them in our hair like Hawaiian girls) she would be smiling from ear to ear, watching over us through her bedroom window. You could hear a soft whisper of her music playing, too. She loved her slow songs. We'd still be considered her daughters anytime she'd tell us not to pluck the roses. "You cyant just pluck dem girls; yuh haffi let them grow! I would neva wan pluck you. Nobody should pluck nothing of a nobody. Let them grow girls!"
We'd both just simper, graciously.
She was a very pretty older black woman, with amazing skin and, despite her sheer loneliness, she would always be this brightly lit being with the most amazing hazel eyes. The streets UK Californian soul, Beverley was. When she eventually left the area and moved in with one of her two sons, it was almost as if she’d taken her flourishing vibes with her. Life became a little dim. Even the roses stopped growing.
But our street was a real family, and anytime anyone left or arrived, they were easily inaugurated. Coral’s family was like my own, obviously. Ours were the only two Asian-owned houses on the street, which actually brought us both a sense of stardom. Especially when Davide was around. He was a handsome mixed-race guy—half Polish, half Italian. His skin would glow, partly because of the rest of his features—but alone, it was supple and creamy. You wouldn’t sense his Mediterranean essence, which brought forward more of his subtle nature. Davide’s light olive eyes matched his vacant expressions. He hardly smiled, and when he did, he looked like he was passing wind in secret. He didn’t have a care in the world. Mind you, during the time we'd be out on our street, he was 17, I was 14, and Coral was 13. So, for those few summers before he’d left his mums house and moved away, we’d literally be within the wonderful hive mind we’d made.
Rocky—his really misty but charmingly behaved Rottweile—idolised us both. The only time he’d let "Rocks" off the leash was when we were around. He was a very protective dog. Moreso than Davide, anytime a car drove by. Neither Coral nor I were allowed pets. But, I did once win four goldfish at our park fair. Well, my dad did, but they soon died due to overfeeding. Coral's dad had a lot of allergies anyway, so it never appealed so much to both of us.
Those hours before dinner, on those sticky days during the summer, we relished. Our reality in the middle of our street, living in our area, was epic. And Coral always had this boldness. She was bold against Davide, for example, where her voice would elide his husky tone, which used to annoy him much more than he let on—unless he was passing wind. I couldn't tell all the time. But he must of been annoyed, because he'd start to whisk himself into a frenzy, becoming a mini-whirlwind, looking for Rock's leash.
Coral's bravery and voice posed no threats, even as young as 14. A fearless warrior in a world of worriers. I would quote Xena: Warrior Princess lines sometimes after her energetic contests. And, I always knew Coral would end up being with someone much different than her own spirited personality. We'd constantly draw up our ideal partners. Husbands in waiting! The Capital B's to us Babes.
Being raised as two Indian girls in our area wasn’t exactly all roses. There were times when some of the girls in our school and college would hiss at us, calling us all sorts of absurdities that make no real sense now, especially with brown girls being on top. Now is our time to shine. And, we were experts at pushing through. Professionals, with villainous Bollywood air. We were two badass Rekhas running thoroughfare, hauling invisible holsters that draped over our waists and sat over the sari of dreams. We wore bullets of wisdom, and wise jokes we’d designed. Ready to shoot if necessary. No drama, undeniably.
I knew she'd encountered the ONE when Dipak arrived. She started texting me less, which obviously vexed me. But I started to notice that she was combining her "brash" with some "smooth"—some of Dipak’s smooth! And when he’d finally popped the question—YES, my best friend was due to be married—we were all so contented. Her mum was so pleased. Her dad was little shocked, and was quieter about it. But it all just worked. No issues whatsoever.
I remember when we were invited over to act as part of the "immediate" family, so we could show a bit in numbers from Coral’s side, even though Dipak was only coming with his mum and dad. Hilarious. In actual fact, when we had to introduce ourselves, Dipak's mum looked like she felt she was entering the "Italian Job's Master Con" meeting, looking constantly disappointed and entirely in the wrong place. But, there was nothing she could do. They were devoted, and deliriously in love. Rightfully so. Dipak is a cool guy. He gets Coral, and they suit visually. He's slightly taller and skinnier than her, peaking over her in height, but very much under her oomph. His maturity had met hers at just at the right time. I remember seeing my dad glance at her dad for a concise moment during the initial meet up. The interaction to console one another was an adjuvant one.
Asian families have a funny habit of supporting each other quietly. Well, ours did, anyway. We weren't like the Taaks, the ferociously loud Punjabi family that lived a few streets away. They were loud AF about everything—even their cars were annoying whenever they'd ride past the top of the road. Ferraris, Lamborghinis. Their daughters were much older, and always looked unappealingly pretentious. A bit too stuck-up of a family, if you ask me. Coral really didn't care about the youngest daughter who still lived there, either. She was around our age when we were nine-ish, and always looked like she wanted to hang out with us. I couldn't be bothered with the farce either. We had our own problems anyway.
Coral's mum was always worried about whether she was ever going to find someone. It wasn’t the same for my mum, because I was quite set on studying again, and had a course in mind I wanted to pursue—so I was focused. Coral's mum, anytime questioned or approached about her daughter being with a guy, would look like a combination between watching paint dry, and trying to blow it to dry at the same time! She was a stressed mother in need of a stiff drink and a neck massage, anytime she thought of her daughter. “Maybe my mum should come out with us tonight, man. I really can't stand to see her face in the morning AGAIN,” Coral once said.
But, my bestie was bright. And, not that she needed dimming, because the love in her light was needed by all. Especially me. Her eyes glazed. "She's got designer eyes, man," my younger brother stuttered. That was then followed by a swift, firm head-slap from me.
We brought the capital letter "B" to "BABES." From playing on the street to nights out in our town—drinking, dancing, flirting, and smoking! We were very fluent and flexible in going from zero to 100 really quickly, and were ever so "rhythm and blues" with it at the same time. Some of the guys she picked were abysmal, though. I think one of them was actually called Abysmal. Or Abdul. Or Abti. Or something that sounded very similar, and let me tell you, there were times I sided with her mum's urgency to get her hitched faster than you could say "arranged."
May 10, 2001:
But, on the evening I turned 17, I was due to experience a set of circumstances of my own, more fibrous than Coral's hair.
We planned to go to the R&B night that ran every Thursday in our town. I’d spent some time in the morning with my mum, and went to our local high street to buy some spices, vegetables and meat so she could start Saturday dinner for my dad and brother. Whilst she was pottering around the local shop, I went to buy some cigarettes and a bottle of wine. I ended up buying her this book too, called The Little Book of Dreamers. It was a dream interpreter, and dictionary. We'd talked a lot about our dreams, and she was having supernal during this time, so it worked.
As soon as I'd had a shower, shaved my legs and straightened my hair, I made my way over to hers with my clothes packed, drink in hand. I was excited, because it was my birthday, and even though I was turning 17 (still not old enough to drink as well), the week had felt quite long and my assignments had all been submitted, so I just needed some R&B in my life.
As I entered her house and paced up to her room, she sat, oddly slumped on the bed. She was half-clothed. Initially, she looked like she liked she’d come out of the shower and attempted to get ready without any routine, like she usually would have in mind. I went for the book. I jumped right next to her, to alert her as if the sound of the door wasn't eerie enough. She was eerily gazing at me, though. Her smile was empty. Vividly empty. I passed her the book. Obviously, she'd like it. I knew her more than she knew herself at times—but her expression was ancillary. I did think to buy her something more amusing, but even if I did, it wouldn't have processed. No entertainment, no delight could have cast away the pain she was preparing to face and feel. And, although she was still, I felt like I couldn't reach her heart. Her core became a black hole.
This agony I’d sensed was so close to home. It was within her own temple. I could see that her body was reviving silently. She was preparing to interact with me, and soon realised that the night must continue as the show always goes on. But she was dead and alive at the same time.
This was the night she told me she'd be having an abortion. Coral was pregnant.
She'd found out a few days earlier, after feeling very sick. I noticed she hadn't texted me so much, but I'd thought it was because of the guy she told me she was seeing, Ash. She never mentioned anything about him in detail, though. Ever. I left her to it, anyway. During this time, we started to enter the more grown-up phase. But still, she never mentioned anything poignant about him. And at the time, I’d thought of Ash whilst in the room, but, nothing. I was desperately trying to think of a way to ask her more. I wanted her to release something.
Before she started to speak, I suddenly started to flash around the room. I was pacing my thoughts. I didn’t want to disturb the silence, but I was desperately trying to do something. She moved from her bed to the desk chair. I crouched near her. Held her. I became her mum in my head, as all great friends should. I was urgently trying to figure out a way to ask, "WHO", "what", "where", "why" and "WHEN"? There was no real answer, and eventually, I struggled to ask anymore. This all lasted an hour, but it felt like 15 minutes. Eventually, she found a moment to show me the test stick she saved. I saw the lines, and literally held her hand as she walked over to the bin to throw it away.
A night I'll never forget.
We probably should have forgotten the 10th of May, especially from all the Vodka we drank. It was slow-paced, dazed, and drug-filled. It was the most time I'd seen Ross in one day, too. I had to buy us some hash before we left out.
Carrying her home was heavy in my heart. As we passed Ross’s on the way home, at around 4:19 in the morning, I'd planned a pitstop outside his. I laid Coral on his white deck chair, and put my jacket over her, and then asked Steve for cigarette. There was no real conversing, but Steve knew something was wrong. He smoked with us, and left us to vacate our minds in the early hours.
Coral's termination was in the next few days. But it was this night out that she literally just got over it. We both did, together. Even Steve.
November 17, 2014:
Years later, Dipak had finally got under Coral. Meaning, she was about to break the real news...
“I’m pregnant, Mira,” she pronounced ever so softly, like it was the first time she wanted me to hear this type of news. And it felt fresh. Dipak’s immediate expression was always an unimpressed one, whenever she announced anything—but, between hearing the sound of her velvety voice and her finishing the sentence, it was fresh news. She told me that she saw Dipak’s little finger on his left hand rise. He was about to become a dad. And Coral, a mum! Since the good news, life has become more hustling, more than all of our frenzied expeditions put together.
Her tummy pushed out, but her curves at the sides of her body still pulled in her waist. I’d lightly place my hands there and apply a loving pressure, especially when she was feeling in pain. Our sisterly bond held no bounds. Once, when she needed her arms massaged, she asked me if I’d be there to hold her hand through the delivery. Without hesitation, I said, "Yes, obviously." I’d asked if Dipak would be in the room, but she’d kindly told him a few days earlier that she didn’t want any males in the room for the birth of her baby girl. I clearly had the mental strength at this point, especially with Dipak, who started entering a puzzled state. I bought him a few "How-To" baby books, along with all the necessary Johnson's Baby Lotion, and stocks of nappies. Anything they needed.
When she told me about moving away, I was really starting to feel the instantaneous change. The energies were higher than before, despite spending less time in each other's company. It was almost as if I had no clue about her moving away. I supposed I lived in that denial. She was entering a new phase of life, at the age of 28—and was well on her way into another set of "hoods." And even though I was due to be engaged to my now-husband, Ricky, who'd constantly try to distract me from this upset by doing his stupid inflatable arm dance like an absolute dick, I just remember the times I'd cry thinking, "I'm going to miss you so much." There would never be another in this lifetime, and I'd had the blessing of knowing her from day one.
When you find someone like my sister from another mister, you fathom love.
She always gave me the space and time to see clearly, too. I was working a lot to save my money, and she’d always check in with me and Ricky. We'd spend a lot of time arguing in the lead-up to our wedding day, and money was never on our side—but she would always be a phone call away. So would my mum, but Coral said the right thing, in the right way, with the perfect tone. Unquestionable and satisfying.
I was desperately trying to put an end to that way of thinking. I would be going to visit whenever we’d have the time, but it crippled my thinking sometimes, and jaded my view on life. I used to let Coral think I was PMSing, but she knew. We both knew. And, I'll never forget the day she left. Her dad was the worst—he couldn’t even make it to the front door.
We went for a coffee on the morning of her move, and this was a few months before their baby girl was due. The conversation was empty. Almost like the day of the circumstance. We’d ended up speaking like we had the intention of speaking later on phone, but the last thing I really remember she said, was, "You know me just by looking, Amira. Life is always going to be different. But never stop looking."
She brushed over the left side of her tummy, and considerately paid the bill.
It’s very hard to come by someone that catches your eye almost every time, too. Coral has this beauty in her eyes that brings nostalgia. "Juicy" eyes, my mum would call them. They were the shape of the moon; deep brown, but almost ready to bulge out at you, particularly in times of need, and especially when we’d cheer each other on. Juicy they were. Frog-like. And a very fit set—eyes that beamed at the top of her sleek slender body. Pregnancy obviously enlarged all parts of her body.
My body was also the same. Without a bump, of course. I had more of a larger bottom half naturally, and my eyes—more feline. Parallel twinning. Adjacent reflections of beauty that we chose to emphasise whenever we spoke about it. Our eyes unmatched. The same goes for the colour. Breadths of Mahogany, if there ever was—true Indian features. Melodramatically essential.
September 4, 2018:
Others looked up to us. We inspired! A few tried to slut-shame us, but we never cared. We were blessed with the ability to really not care about the irrelevant. Together. Many people—and you see it everywhere on social media—seem to understand that life should be lived at its best, bold and bright. But, we never really got why it was so difficult for others to grasp that concept. I suppose we found that enthusiasm by being authentic to ourselves, and what we were. Amazing. And I never wondered when that spark could end. When you feel a love so deep, you never really question its termination unless you need to.
Honestly, in a non-sexual manner, the depth in our binding spirals me out to this day. Meaning, I'm never disinterested. I get to say this with passion, because I've never known a friendship like ours. On TV, or in real life.
We still spend all our time laughing about absolutely whatever, whenever! I visit when I can, and since the birth of baby Zumi Parker Sharma, life has never been better. Obviously, Dipak hates the name Zumi, and calls his daughter "Zee," and justified this by looking at the Asian channel Zee TV whenever it was on, and he said it. Men. She's my little bubbles though, and I love that kid. Of course, I'm her god-mother.
And Coral? She'll always be THE babe.
She still finds everything I say hilarious. I find her evolution, her insight, her gifts… magic.