From his folding chair in the apartment complex’s swimming pool area, Amir noticed the girl with blonde hair that was nearly white. It reminded him of the snow he played in every December at Lake Tahoe. He didn’t know a girl’s hair could be that white.
It was the beginning of April, and the temperature had climbed to 85 degrees. Amir’s apartment community had a few young families, but mostly college students lived there, and many only used the pool area to tan. So it was always exciting for Amir to come across another boy or girl his age.
Amir watched the girl as she pulled her little sister’s float around the shallow end of the pool. When she emerged from the water to towel off, he studied the rest of her, making silent note of her pale skin, and the blonde hairs on her arms that stood on end. His parents smiled to each other when they saw him looking.
“What are you looking at Amir?” his mother, with a half-grin on her face, asked him.
“Nothing,” he said back.
Later, his eyes followed the girl as she and her little sister walked behind a burly, red-haired man out of the swimming pool gate, and into a weathered, maroon volvo in the parking lot.
For 6 weeks afterwards, Amir thought about the girl with almost-white hair.
Before he went to sleep, he fantasized about ways he could impress her. In one scenario, Amir sang love songs to her from a stadium stage. In another, he imagined himself a movie star visiting the school she attended, ultimately conjuring a meet-cute scenario for the two of them.
Every few days he asked his parents when they were going back to the pool. Unfortunately, the Sacramento area had been experiencing an unusually chilly spring.
When June arrived, the temperatures began to climb into the upper seventies, and Amir’s mother finally agreed to take him for a swim after school. Upon arriving, there were two black boys splashing each other, and a pair of young blonde women lying on their stomachs at the opposite end of the pool.
Amir’s mother told him to apply sunblock. He did as he was told, put on his headphones, and then collapsed into a folding chair, next to his mother. He planned on warming up before jumping in the water. A few minutes later, he heard a man’s voice rise above his music.
“Sasha! Wait for us! Slow down, girl!”
The next thing he heard was a jingle of keys, and then the swimming pool gate whine open. The boy removed his sunglasses and lifted his head to see the girl holding a purple noodle with one hand and the door with the other for her younger sister and father, both of whom were about 20 yards away at the edge of the parking lot. Right away, he noticed the girl’s skin had taken on a darker shade since the last time he had seen her.
“Hi there, are you folks new to the complex?” Amir’s mother, rising from her chair, said to the man as he was setting down a bag about six chairs over from them.
“Yes, we’ve only been here a few months now,” responded the girl’s dad, wearing a red SF 49ers t-shirt. Like Amir’s mother, the man had an accent.
“Oh, how wonderful!” announced Amir’s mother, walking over to the man.
“Hello, I’m Mikael, and this is Elena.” The man put his hand on the young girl’s head.
“Daddy, can I have an ice cream from the machine?” asked the young girl.
“Ah, well I see you have two lovely daughters,” Neha continued.
The father sighed.
“Much of the time, yes,” the man said, turning to his older daughter.
“Daddy, can I have an ice cream, please?”
“My oldest is in 5th grade. You look about Amir’s age, honey,” said Amir’s mother, turning to the older girl now. “What’s your name? Amir, come over here.”
“Sasha,” the girl answered, standing alongside her father.
Amir said nothing as he slid into place next to his mother, looking past Sasha and into the parking lot.
“Sasha, I’m Neha, and this is Amir. He goes to school at Emerson, down the street. How about you, Sasha? Where do you go?”
“I go to school in Sacramento, at a Catholic school.”
“Oh, how nice. Do you like your teacher?”
The mother looked at her boy who continued to say nothing.
“Well, it was nice to meet you all. Amir, I’ll be right over there. Maybe you and Sasha can get better acquainted.”
“Yes, likewise,” said the girl’s father.
“Sasha, have a good time. I’m going to get your sister an ice cream.”
Mikael pointed to the vending machine on the other end of the pool.
Once the adults left, Sasha folded her arms. Amir stared.
“Do you talk?” she asked the boy.
He didn’t answer.
“What are you looking at?”
“Why do you look different,” he said, finally.
“What do you mean?”
“Last time I saw you, you looked different.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Did I get browner?”
She examined her arms.
“Yours are darker,” she announced.
“I’m Indian, mine are always dark.”
She continued. “I actually have an Indian kid in my class. People make fun of his accent, but I don’t. You don’t have an accent though.”
“I was born here.”
“I think I read somewhere that India is really poor. Is that true?”
“I don’t know,” he said, somewhat annoyed by this remark.
Amir hadn’t been to India since he was a baby, yet his classmates considered him an authority on the country. Indeed, whenever the country came up in class, nearly every head craned in his direction. Once, he even caught a teacher’s aide doing it.
“I was born in Moscow, Russia. We moved here to the US before my sister was born.”
The boy knew very little about Russia, but he did recall that most of the country was in Asia, just like India.
“We lived with my aunt and uncle in Reno, and then we moved into our own apartment closer to here after Elena was born.”
“Oh. Cool. Do you like it in Davis?”
“I like it. My mother thinks it’s too hot all the time, though.”
“Is it very cold in Russia? There must be so much snow, so different from here,” he asked the girl. He also silently wondered if Russia and India shared a border (he hoped it did).
“It’s much colder than here. And it snows all the time. It’s actually annoying. Well, I guess it’s fun for a while.”
Amir found it hard to imagine snow becoming annoying.
“Okay well I’m gonna go swim,” Sasha said.
“I bet I can beat you in a race from one end to the other,” Sasha said, her blue eyes wide as she darted toward the pool’s edge, and cannonballed in.
“We’ll see,” the boy called out, before following the girl into the water.