They have lived on the Acoma Indian Reservation their entire lives. Everything is provided on the reservation and Diya and Rohan Bedi will never move. They tell their son, Songaa, to embrace his life and to appreciate the value their culture provides. He tries to be grateful, and take advantage of all it has to offer, but he’s bored and tired of the monotony and predictability of his life. His life is prescribed. Even his wedding colors have already been chosen by his mother, and have been since he was 12-years old. All that remains is to find him a bride, which his parents are diligently focused on doing. His parents have never considered anything other than a prearranged marriage and eventually, him taking over the family construction business.
He bikes down the same path everyday. The dirt road feels familiar under the wheels of his bike. Being able to get to school blindfolded at this point is an understatement. He knows the pothole he will hit immediately after turning right and the series of bumps after taking a left next to the lake. That’s what happens after living in the same place, going to the same school, and down the same road practically every day of his eighteen years of life. He’s grown up on the reservation and has grown board as well. But he’s made his decision; he’s ready for something new.
Within a week, an opportunity presents itself, and Songaa takes it. He has an interview at a local casino lined up and the vision of pioneering his own dreams. Monday as usual, he dresses in his uniform and is on his way down the all too familiar path to school. The collar of his red polo shirt irritates his neck as he bikes. As he cycles past the familiar lake, he scratched at his neck with both hands and lets go of the handlebars. He feels reckless and tastes the sweetness and risk. He stares at his reflection in the water and sees independence. In the moment of distraction, he forgets about the series of bumps in the road next to the lake and his newfound feeling of liberation quickly dissipates, as he comes crashing down on the graveled path.
He limps into English class thirty minutes late and quickly takes the first seat available, hoping not to draw any additional attention his way. After stumbling into his seat and attempting to settle in, he notices who he’s seated next to. Her silky dark brown hair reaching her mid-back draws his attention. As she turns to face him a whiff of warm vanilla fills his lungs and instantly comforts his uneasiness from the chaos of the day’s start. As soon as she smiles, he completely forgets the challenges of his morning.
“My name is Luyu.” She says with a smile of innocence and kindness.
“Cool name” Songaa retorts, already knowing he will never forget it.
“I’m Songaa Bedi. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you. You just moved here?” He asked for the sake of conversation.
“Yes actually, just earlier this week. I travel a lot with my mom but we just moved here to stay with my dad to make things easier on her during treatment. Hopefully we won’t be here long. I know she’ll get better; it’s just a matter of time. Sorry, I ramble when I’m nervous”
“Oh. I-I’m sorry to hear it, but personally, I hope you don’t leave too soon.” He sees her uneasiness at the heartless comment and tries to make things better by saying, “I-I mean I hope she gets better soon, but you still stay in town. You know, I mean I would hate to see you leave so soon.”
“Okay. Uhh thanks. Same, I guess.” She mumbles while still managing to look sweet.
“Do you want to work on the project together? It’s apparently quite difficult.” He said in an attempt to change the conversation.
“Sure. We should get started on it then.”
Songaa missed most of his classes that day. He came late and left early for his interview, and the classes he physically attended, he was not mentally present for; thoughts of Luyu consume him. He doesn’t miss much new material though since the class just reviews the end of the chapter test, which he aced anyway. He has always been an honors student, enrolled in the most challenging classes and listens attentively, with the exception of today, as he could not shake Luyu from his mind.
He arrives at the interview, bathed in a light sweat from his bike ride there. Everything had felt a little off today. He doesn’t feel quite like himself. Maybe the thought of the next chapter of his life scares him. Or maybe it’s the fact that he is hiding it from his parent, which he has never done before. He cannot identify the feeling, but he knows he want’s his independence and is willing to push aside a little discomfort to get what he desires. He puts on his most mature face in an attempt to disguise the facts; he is a petrified 18-year old trying to grow up and work at a casino. But more than that, he is finally taking steps to establish his independence and autonomy from his parents. Songaa’s thoughts are interrupted by the voice of a young twenty something lady.
“Mr. Batra will be with you in just a few minutes, sir.”
“Thank you. Um ma’am. Could I actually bother you for some water?”
“The bar can assist you with that.” She said trying not be break a laugh harder than the chuckle she already had.
Songaa decides against walking over to the bar just in case they ask for an ID and remind him of how young he looks. He decides to just take a seat next to the front desk at the casino. Feeling uneasy, he repeatedly stands up to get the water, and then immediately sits back down, constantly second-guessing himself and the appropriateness of him even being there. Finally, he decides that if he wants to be treated like an adult he needs to act like one and begins to approach the bar. He is interrupted by a deep and raspy voice, which initially startles his already anxious nerves. He quickly turns to face the voice, which belongs to an imposing and very large framed, middle-aged man.
“Leaving so soon?”
“No! I was just going to the bathroom.” He accidentally proclaims much louder than intended.
“Go ahead it’s just down the hall and to the left. The front desk didn’t assist you with that?”
“No don’t worry about it. I don’t have to go anymore. We can just get started now, uh, if you’d like. If that’s ok, Sir.” Songaa stammers as he clenches his jaw from embarrassment and makes an effort to move away from the desk and start walking towards Mr. Batra’s office.
“Sounds good. The elevator is just around the corner.” He says following Songaa‘s bold lead.
As Mr. Batra leads them to his office, he sits down across the six-foot dark wood table. Songaa sits on the side across from the floor to ceiling windows, which overlook the entire city.
“Amazing view you have here, sir.”
“It is, isn’t it? I picked this office just for that reason. I like to see the city that I have the potential to influence while I’m working.”
“That’s amazing. I respect that.”
“I know, it sounds soft, especially coming from a guy like me. People assume I don’t have a heart being in this kind of business but that’s just not the case, and you will come to see that. We care about more than the money, which is pretty decent if I do say so myself.” Mr. Batra pauses, as he adjusts his pinstriped suit to assure the thin off-white stripes are perfectly straight.
“Happy to hear it.” Songaa states, not knowing what else to say. He is not certain why he feels so compelled to run out of the room screaming, but he resists the urge and instead compulsively clenches his fingers into fists under the table. He has been to several internship interviews in his life but something felt different.
“Well let’s get down to it. You seem like a nice kid. While I typically wouldn’t hire someone your age, I know your parents quite well and I’m willing to, uh, overlook some of the requirement, and uh, make some internal adjustments to the paperwork.”
“Thank you so much, sir!” he exclaims as he notices his hands unclench.
“Just for you kid. But, you need to ditch the bike if you want to look like a man. I’ll have my assistant, Noka whom you’ll be working closely with, arrange for a company car for you. I hope you don’t have any issue with driving a BMW.”
“Mr. Batra! I… I really don’t know what to say! That really wasn’t… Thank you, Mr. Batra. I won’t disappoint you.”
“Please, it’s Ahanu. I hope a 328i interests you, if not we would be happy to get you a different one.”
“Don’t be silly, uh sir.” The kid too enthusiastically exclaims.
“This is just the beginning, but you should know that this is the kind of job where you do as I say and don’t ask questions. Understood?”
“Absolutely” The words escape his mouth before he can comprehend what he has just agreed to. He is unsure why he accepts, as he is perfectly aware of the discomfort and uneasy feeling this causes him.
Although he is overwhelmed with excitement and the anticipation of independence, he cannot shake the queasy feeling in his stomach. As he accepts the job with a handshake, mixed feelings lingered in his fingertips, but he knows it is a deal he cannot pass up.
The following day only compounds the confusion as his parents wake him up to the news of his first arranged marriage prospect. They inform him that his date will occur the following night. He tries to not let the anxiety ruin his morning so he grabs the lunch his mother packed him and drives to school in his new 328i. When he arrived to class, he sits in the same seat at the same table as he did the day before, hoping she would be there. He is uncertain how many more times he can casually stretch and turn his head to the classroom door before looking too suspicious. Four more stretches come and go with no sign of Luyu. His mind overflows with worries about her moving back so soon or that she actually had not moved but was at her mother’s deathbed right now. Songaa processes the possibilities and the impact Luyu has already had on him. He is distracted with thoughts of her and decides he would be better served leaving school early and going to the casino. Besides, he wants to show his commitment on his first day on the job. He takes a new route down the freeway rather than the lake, to save time, and succeeds in doing so.
Songaa walks into the casino to see Ahanu and five other unfamiliar faces hunched over a table. As he approaches, they quickly scatter, taking the documents with them.
“Songaa! You’re here early.”
“I hope that’s ok,” he says as he wipes his hands down the side of his uniform pants before shaking Ahanu’s hand.
“Yes, yes of course. Lets get you started then.” He says with a long pause between the two sentences as if not knowing what to say. As they walk over to Mr. Batra’s office, the boy tries to quickly wipe off the sweaty mark on his khakis made from his hands.
“Go ahead and get started with this stack. Sign my name, or who ever else’s name is required on each document.”
“Sounds good. Where should I work?” he asks trying to act confident.
“Did I not mention this is your office now? My mistake. I have to run but let Noka know if you need anything.”
Songaa is smart enough to comprehend that he should not be signing these papers but is so overwhelmed with the grandiosity of what the job has to offer and the speed at which everything is occurring, that he goes along with what is being asked. Three stacks and two red bulls later, he sees a distant glare of the time, 11:48! He was so consumed with his conflicted feelings, that he lost all track of time. He immediately rushes home. His parents sat in the living room waiting up for him. They are first relieved and then furious and make that quite clear to him.
He arrives at school the next day, anxiously hoping to see Luyu, and finally does.
“Luyu! Where have you been? Is everything okay at home, you know with your mom at all? I didn’t see you and then I got worried that...”
“Whoa, slow down everything is fine.” She interrupts.
“Sorry. I guess I do the same thing when I get nervous.” He smirks.
“I just switched my schedule so I’m not in that class anymore.”
“Do you, um, need any help with getting adjusted in your classes? We can meet after school.” He nervously suggests.
“That would be great, actually. My house works. Seven o’clock. See you then?” Luyu suggests.
“Yes! I’ll definitely be there!” He says, knowing perfectly well that the blind date his parents arranged is at the same time.
His eyes fixate on the clock for the remainder of his last class. He rushes home and jumps into a fresh pair of black jeans and white shirt.
He eagerly jumps in his car and begins his drive. He obsessively adjusts his hair trying to give it a perfect but natural feel. Songaa succeeds the first time but continues fidgeting with it for the thirty-minute drive. He checks the address repeatedly, as he drives in circles. He eventually pulls up to the house, but is still quite confident that he is in the wrong place. His mind is racing as he walks up to the steps and knocks on the door. There are not many homes like this on the reservation. Most are ancient adobe communal buildings from Native American ancestors, but some, like Songaa’s, are a more modern but traditional looking Native American home. This building looks like neither. As the door opens, a familiar face greets him.
“Mr. Batra! This is your home?”
“Yes Songaa. Can I help you?”
“I came to help Luyu with her work actually.”
“Let me get her then.”
As Songaa stands nervously waiting he cannot help but feel disoriented, that is until he smells the comforting warm vanilla scent emanating from her.
“Songaa! Great, you’re here! let’s go to the study. Have you met my father?
“We just met at the door here” Ahanu interrupts.
“We’ll be in the study if you need anything, dad.” Luyu explains.
Moments after settling down to begin working; the maid comes in with pueblo bread and wojape pudding as a snack. Songaa is too distracted to eat. He cannot focus on the homework in front of him or on how complicated the relationships between he and Mr. Batral has just become. He is consumed by in Luyu’s exquisiteness.
The evening concludes and Songaa arrives home late that night. Despite knowing what he is about to walk in to, his elation is still evident by his uncontainable smile. He is met with stern faces in the entrance of his house. Unsurprisingly, his parent’s do not share his same glee.
“Where have you been all evening?” Mr. Bedi demands.
“I was helping a friend with homework since they are new to the school.” Songaa confidently explains as he brushes right past his parents and up towards his room.
“She waited for two hours!” Diya Bedi cries.
“I-I didn’t think it would take so long. I got caught up.” He fibs.
“How do you think we felt when her parents called and we had nothing to explain your selfish behavior? If you are not responsible enough to communicate with this poor girl that you would not be there...”
“I just was…” Songaa tries to interrupt.
“And not responsible enough to keep your word to us, then you are in no position to hold a job and all that entails.”
“I don’t want a predetermined life!” Songaa shouts back.
“Excuse me? Watch your mouth son. First thing in the morning, you return that car and quit this nonsense job that has turned you into…”
“What? No! You’re being ridiculous!” He shouts while rhythmically stomping on the hardwood floor beneath his feet.
“You are feeding the bad wolf!” Songaa‘s mom desperately cries out. The Bedi family, like the majority of the community in the reservation, places great value and importance on the tale of the wolves.
The next day, he drives up to the casino and sees a scene identical to the one the prior day, only this time, Ahanu does not see him walk in and continues his conversation with the five other men, conferring at a small round table. As Songaa approaches, he recognizes his fear response as the adrenaline courses through his body, and causes his stomach to turn. The pinstriped suit Ahanu wore on the day of his initial interview lies across the table. Six grown men hunched over it ripping out the inner lining, exposing the packets that were sewn in. Shreds of the suit lie on the floor and white powder in small packets are in piles on the table. His discomfort grows greater as Songaa realizes he has just seen something that he probably should not have. Songaa quickly turns to flee in hopes of not ever being seen by the group and decides to wait outside. Once he believes enough time passes, he renters into the room in the casino, only this time it’s an entirely quiet and dark room- it too was pretending that nothing prior to that moment had been seen nor heard.
“Who’s there?” A low voice begs.
“I-I’m so sorry. Am I early again? Darn it! I’ll work on that sir.” Songaa stresses.
“Slow down champ. You’re fine. You don’t have to be such a kiss up all the time, Songaa. I’ve actually come to take quite a liking to you and see your potential. I’d like to speak with you about a serious matter. I’m considering bringing you into the company in a… lets just say, in a larger capacity. I’m talking about the big time here, Songaa. Stuff that will make you more money than you will ever know what to do with, but it’s a lifetime commitment. Once you commit there is no going back. How about we talk more tomorrow morning? You can miss a little school, right?” Ahanu puts his arm around Songaa as he walks over to the bar.
“I would love that, sir. Thanks!” He responds with both fear and eager excitement in equal measure. Songaa specifically does not ask for details, because he knows that once Ahanu knows he is aware of the illicit drug dealing, there is no longer even an option to back out.
“Wiskey or Vodka?”
“I’m driving, but thanks. Speaking of which, I should get going but I’ll see you in the morning.”
On his way home, Songaa fanaticizes of a life of grandiosity and fortune. He knows Ahanu’s business dealings are far from honest, but he is able to rationalize the good he will do with all of his future earnings. He drives past the old lake he would ride his bike by each morning and decides to stop. As he looks for his reflection in the water, he can’t find it, or perhaps he can simply no longer recognize himself.
Emotionally exhausted, Songaa leaps into his bed. Feelings of uneasiness build in his stomach once again. He tries to push them aside. He reflects on the time not so long ago, when life was so simple and he blindly accepted the culture his family raised him in without challenge. When he slept that night, he dreamt of a familiar proverb. It was the ancient Cherokee proverb that his parents often read to him as a young child at bedtime. The proverb is as follows:
“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he
said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.””
In the morning he wakes up and understands with perfect clarity, which decision to make. Instead of going in to meet with his boss, he calls him instead and thanks him for all he has done. He informs him of his resignation, effective immediately. He tells him that he hopes this will not affect his view of him or his relationship with his daughter, as he cares about her deeply and hopes to continue seeing her.
What he thought would be a difficult decision, he makes with perfect clarity. He draws on the wisdom of his ancestors and finally feels grateful for the guidance his culture provides rather than resentful of it. He realizes that he does not need to reject the entirety of his culture in order to find and carve his own path. He understands at this point that he was on the wrong road, one which was guiding him to become someone unrecognizable to himself and someone he does not want to be, so at that moment, he decides to feed the other wolf, the good wolf.