“I’ve been talking to Nimit Patel about our arrangement,” Avi’s father said. They were walking in the courtyard among the colonnade of the royal palace. The evening was turning to night, and the moon was already peeking over the tops of the beautiful city silhouette. The rest of the family and friends had retired to their chamber. Avi and his father walked alone.
“Oh, really?” Avi asked.
“Yes. Mr. Patel tells me that his daughter, Amoli, is very interested in the proposal.”
“So, she’s here, somewhere?” Avi asked.
“She and her father went to the market earlier; I'm sure they will return soon.” his dad said.
There was an old excitement that rose in the depth of Avi’s stomach, but it was mixed with something new. So many things had changed since he had left Sundar. He was different, but an old beckoning was tugging at his center.
“I’m so proud that you made pilgrimage,” his dad said. “You held up your end. Would you like to finalize the marriage arrangement?”
“I—uh—” Avi said. Being in his father’s presence drove him back to that old default. His protector was present so he could play the child once more, although, he didn’t want to return to who he was in Sundar. The road had made him something new.
“I should talk to her myself,” Avi said. His dad stopped and smiled at him. He placed his hands on both of Avi’s shoulders. They stood almost eye to eye now.
“You’ve changed, son.”
"Thanks, Dad,” Avi said. The distant sound of a knock rang out through the courtyard. Avi and his father turned toward the giant wooden doors at the entrance of the palace grounds. Adelaide pulled the doors open. Rimmed in moonlight, two figures entered. Avi's pulse rose when he realized who it was.
“There she is,” his dad said. “You sure you’re ready?”
“Yep,” Avi said, taking a deep breath.
“Ok, good luck.”
“Nimit Patel, just the man I wanted to see!” Avi’s dad said. His voice carried across the courtyard. “Will you have a drink with me? Let’s leave these kids to get acquainted.” Nimit and Amoli Patel walked toward Avi and his father.
“Sure,” Nimit said, clasping hands. “Honey, do you mind?” he said to his daughter Amoli. She grinned and shook her head. Avi’s dad and Mr. Patel disappeared into the evening, leaving Amoli and Avi alone in the moonlit courtyard.
“Would you like to take a walk with me?” Avi said.
“Sure,” Amoli said. They walked around the perimeter of the courtyard. They followed the natural layout of the palace as they wound through the colonnaded passages.
“How was your trip?” Avi said. He was not nervous, which was surprising. A new excitement rose softly in him, one that bordered on hope.
“It was ok, I guess. The hover cruiser was crowded.” Amoli said. “It took like four hours to get here, and I was like, get this over with already, but then when we got here, we found out we were staying in the biggest house in the city, so that's neat.”
“Yeah—” Avi was about to share some about his trip, but Amoli continued.
“I guess it's ok cause we're right near the market and there is a pastry shop a few blocks away, where I had two Baklavas, a Bagel, and some halva, and I found out that it's made from ground sesame butter, which is pretty good, but I miss the food from home already.”
“Wow, that’s really—” Avi tried again.
“I wish I could get some malai kofta like back home, or anything with curry, but I guess they don’t do curry much here, I wonder if we could get some palak or some paneer, I bet they have paneer.” This time Avi didn’t try to cut in.
“They have a kind of salad that is not like anything I’ve had, and it has tomato, cucumber onion, olive oil…” Amoli continued. Avi suspected that the conversation would take place with or without his participation. He experimented with silence. He was right. “I thought I tasted bell pepper, and maybe lemon juice.”
“Uh, huh,” Avi mumbled, but in truth, her detailed recipe had lost him somewhere around the olive oil. There was nothing distasteful about the conversation, but nothing quite captivating about it either. As he stared at the moon and walked through King David's palace, he realized that he was walking alone. Though there was a person chatting cheerfully next to him, a perfectly charming person, no doubt, the pleasantness of the night air, of being in the capital, of being in the King's holy city was all he needed.
He could see now why his father had wanted him to talk to Amoli on his own. It frightened him to think of how his life would have gone if his father had arranged the wedding that Avi thought he wanted. He felt a wave of bravery, of security wash over him.
“Amoli,” he said abruptly. His volume, although still polite, had to be loud enough to break in.
“Yes, Avery?” she said with a little too much gush. He didn’t correct her.
“What do you plan to do with your life?”
“Oh, well.” This gave her pause as she thought for a few quick seconds. Her silence lasted hardly enough time to form a serious life plan if this was the first she was considering the concept. “I'd like to live in a nice place, host parties, I'm pretty much a stay at home kind of girl, but there are lots to do at home, and I would like to marry someone.” She smiled a little too wide. “Someone special.”
“Someone special?” Avi asked.
“Well, you know.” She almost looked like she was going to be at a loss for words, but oh no, there she went again. “You’re kind of famous, Avery. I really like that.”
“So, you’re interested in marrying me because I’m special?”
"Yeah, cause—" This time, it was Avi who cut her off.
“I have a very different life plan,” Avi said.
“What’s your life plan?” Amoli asked. It did not escape Avi’s attention that this was the first question she had asked him in the entire conversation.
“I plan to serve the King in whatever way he needs me. I plan to—” Avi was saying, but she interrupted him.
“Oh, yeah, that’s nice. But you can do that in Sundar from home, I mean, I’m sure that Jenil would step aside as sing poet if you offered to take his place.” Amoli said but then added, “I mean, you’re famous, you know.”
It was difficult to resist following the red herring that her words provided. He was determined to stay on topic. She only gave him a few seconds before she continued. “Avery, I think we are a suitable match.” This time Avi cut in.
“We would have been an excellent match about a month ago. But things have changed. This trip has changed me—" She cut him off with overconfidence.
“But you’ll change back. I mean once you come home, and when we were to get married. Things would be back how they were.”
“You’re absolutely right,” Avi said. He could see in the silhouette of her moonlit posture that she had not grasped the subtle meaning.
“Really?” She giggled with delight. “So, it’s a match then? You’re asking me to marry you?”
“No,” Avi said.
“No, I don’t want things to change back. We’re not a match.”
“Avery, Honey,” she said as she put her hand up to his face. He watched her face for a short second. “We can make it work.”
“I know we can,” Avi said.
“Really?” Her excitement returned.
“No,” he said.
“I don’t understand.”
“I mean, I know we could make it work, but we’re not going to,” he said. He was using the most polite tone of voice he could manage.
“But why?” Amoli said, apparently blind to their vast differences.
“Do you love the Emperor?” Avi asked.
“I—uh—I don't see what that has to do with it,” Amoli said. “My father always contributes to the Jerusalem delegation. He's been more than once. I volunteered for the delegation this year.” She had more, but Avi stopped her by repeating.
“But I’m asking you if you love His Majesty, King Yeshua?”
“Well, I would love you, Avery. I’d love you more than anything in the world.” Amoli said. Avi resisted the urge to laugh at how widely she’d missed the mark.
“You asked me why we’re not a good match,” Avi said. “That’s why.”
“Because I love you more than anything?”
“Because I can't be with someone who loves me more than they love Lord Yeshua, and I can't be with someone that expects me to love her more than I love His Majesty,” Avi said. He had finally left her speechless. In the silent remainder, he spoke gently. “Amoli, I am sure you will make some young man very happy. You're a beautiful girl with a bright future. Though I'm sure, we are not a match.”
“Ok,” she said. “That’s fine with me.” She seemed truly and fundamentally satisfied with the turn of unexpected events.
“Really?” Avi said. He could have swallowed his fist. He thought it would devastate her. Instead, it took her all of one-half second to get over her heartbreak. She was an enigma that he would enjoy not trying to unravel.