He is dressed like Crocodile Dundee sans massive knife. He sees us maneuvering into the just vacated table in front of the Starbucks at the crowded food court.
"Punjabi?" he asks.
"Pardon?" I ask trying to be polite while nudging Virj into a chair and, at the same time, whipping out some wipes to clean the spilled Panda Express noodles from the previous occupants.
"What do you speak? Punjabi or Filipino?"
I can imagine us being mistaken for the former. If you tie Virj's hair with a handkerchief, he can easily pass for a Sikh boy. The latter however leaves me flabbergasted. How on earth do we remotely look Pinoy?
"No," I say. "We speak Bengali."
"Hold on, I think I might have that in my belt."
He fishes around in his pockets and pulls out a couple of shiny disks.
"Here, have these."
Before I can say anything more, he puts them on the table and is heading towards a Latin couple. Virj scoops up three of the coins, leaving one for me:
"How will you spend your eternal life?"
Because he's gone, I can't tell him the irony in all of this. In the middle of a suburban California strip mall, a stranger has given me a couple of Bengali inscribed coins on Poila Baishaki.
That's the Bengali New Year.
Shubho nobo borsho (an auspicious New Year) to you too!
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