Vega had been prone to bouts of car sickness as a child, but she hadn’t felt anything like this since then, when her well-being had been somebody else’s responsibility and she could bend over and everything would be set into motion – her mother rubbing her back, her father plying her with sips of fizzy water. She rarely missed her parents these days. Her mother called too often to allow Vega the chance. But now, she wanted them next to her. She wanted her mother’s cool hand on her forehead, the delicious shh of her father’s Schweppes bottle. The train slowed and screeched. She burped into her lap and was relieved that nothing came up.

Suresh was waiting at the Morris Plains Station. He had changed from his work clothes and was dressed in one of his standard evening outfits: a maroon Oxford University sweatshirt and black track pants. His copy of The 125 Best Brain Teasers of All Time was lying on the passenger seat. Vega had bought the book for him at a newsstand next to CUNY and she was both touched and a little depressed by how much he seemed to appreciate it, how little it took to make her husband happy. Sometimes, she wished she could be so simple.

“You had a good day?” he asked.

“Yes. You?”

“Yes. Quite fine.”

It was nearly freezing outside, but she cracked open the window. “Did you solve any interesting brain teasers?”

He came to a complete stop at the parking lot exit and waited for what felt like a full minute until the next car passed. “Actually, one particularly good one. The name of what nine-letter animal can be spelled from the letters of inauguration?”

She tapped the word with her fingers. “Inauguration has more than nine letters.”

“But the name of the animal does not need to use all of the letters. It needs only to be composed of letters found in inauguration. If you think about it for even a minute, it will come to you.”

She wished he would stop talking. Her nausea was resurfacing and the mere thought of letters – shuffling them, reading them, puzzling through them – made her want to throw up. But she was aware, too, that her reticence was the primary reason Suresh always tried so hard. “I give up,” she said. “Tell me.”


“I see. I thought of a few three-letter words, but I would never have come up with orangutan.”

“You would if you used pen and paper,” Suresh said. “That’s the best strategy.”

Inside the apartment, Vega was comforted by the smell of onions. Suresh had cooked dinner, as he always did on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and they ate quietly. Afterwards, she joined him on the couch and watched NBC Nightly News. They had bought the couch a few months back, to replace two temporary lawn chairs unloaded by an acquaintance – another Indian software engineer who had moved to Houston. Vega still didn’t know how to arrange herself comfortably on it. Leaning against its arm, her feet eventually drifted over to Suresh’s side, sometimes brushing his thigh, and then she would begin the awkward shuffle of pulling them back.

They sat rigidly and stared at the clip that had played the previous two nights: OJ Simpson, sliding on the glove found at the murder site, holding up his palm to show his hands were too large to fit. “What madness this is,” Suresh said.

Vega, too, found it all quite mad. She was disturbed by the grisliness of the crime, but also by the national obsession. In India, even floods and trail derailments that killed hundreds held national attention for only a day or two, before being demoted to small boxes on the third or fourth pages of The Hindu. Here, she saw OJ Simpson’s face emblazoned at every Manhattan newsstand she passed. Even her mother had called her weeks back to discuss the trial. “What kind of country is this?” Rukmini had asked. “Where men kill their wives?”

“It’s sensationalist coverage, Amma,” Vega had said. At the time, the call had irritated her. It was a Saturday. Suresh had been playing tennis, and Vega was studying in the quiet of the empty apartment. Her mother always shouted over the phone but held the receiver too far from her mouth, making her voice both deafening and barely audible. “There’s plenty of crime in India,” Vega told her. “Much of it unreported.” She reminded her that Hindu fundamentalists had rioted two years prior, killing nearly a thousand.

Rukmini, to whom a singular crime was more terrifying than a sweeping disaster, was unconvinced. “That is different,” she said. “Lock your doors and windows always. Don’t go any place on your own. Ever.”

Excerpted with permission from Habitations: A Novel, Sheila Sundar, Simon and Schuster.