Zishi Li

Before that moment, Mrs. Anjali Kapadia had never ever considered buying a fake.

Why would she? Only wannabes carried fakes, and Mrs. Kapadia was too rich to be a wannabe (which is to say, her father and husband were too rich, but well, same thing). Her mother always said that carrying designer bags just to show off was something only new money did. If you were old money, you wouldn’t need to drop four lakhs on a Lady Dior to show everyone you were rich — they’d already know it. Instead, you’d buy the bag because where else could you get that quality, that leather, that finish?

But the fake Louis Vuitton wallet in front of her, it was certainly tempting. She’d come to HydeOut, braving the urine stench and stray dogs of Lok Nayak Market, because she had to go to the Chadha wedding that night, and not one pair of shoes at the mall matched her new sari. HydeOut was a suffocating size, permeated by the smell of musty carpets and fake leather, but it was rumored to have more shoes than all the stores in the mall put together, with ceiling-high stacks of shoeboxes crowding the store.

She’d found the perfect pair of stilettos, but the annoying shop owner had insisted she also look at his new shipment of “top-quality maal, straight from China!” The maal turned out to be a dazzling array of gold Tory Burches and black Chanel crossbodies, each more obviously fake than the last. She had been on her way out when, after frantically rummaging through his bag of maal, the owner pulled out the long zipped monogram wallet. Mrs. Kapadia had wanted that exact wallet for months, and so she stopped, to contemplate for the first time the possibility of owning a fake.

She set her yellow Prada down on the store’s scratched glass countertop, and picked up the fake wallet. She was 40 years old, and can you believe it, didn’t own a single LV monogram? She’d always feared coming off as too loud, too much like one of those women who bought a bag that practically screamed its brand name, because they couldn’t appreciate the understated elegance of a Tod’s or a Bottega. She saw these women everywhere. Once in the Bottega store at the Emporio mall, she heard one such woman exclaim: 1 lakh for this bag?! But it doesn’t say what brand it is on the outside! Mrs. Kapadia, on the other hand, had been featured in Time Out as the proud owner of Delhi’s most extensive collection of Bottegas, with everything from ciel blue totes to tangerine orange hobos in the company’s signature, logo-less weave.

But wallets were different. An LV wallet would do no obnoxious brand-screaming from inside her tasteful bags, emerging only briefly when she had to settle bills. And the monogram — everyone had to have at least one. “Madam, only five thousand madam, cheapest price in whole of Delhi.” Mrs. Kapadia nodded in response, running her finger over the wallet’s surface. The leather was smooth enough to feel real, the monogram was properly spaced and she wouldn’t have to shell out 50 grand for something people would see on her only thrice a day.

She stopped herself, horrified at the thought she’d just had. Quality mattered, not the new-money need to be seen! And what difference did it make to her if quality cost 50 grand instead of five? No, she would leave HydeOut now, tell Anil she was the only woman in Delhi who didn’t own an LV monogram, and get cash to go to Emporio and buy the same wallet from the real store. She’d make a day of it — check out the Ferragamo sale, get her Brazilian at the mall next door, go for coffee at the Hyatt afterwards. But oh ho, asking him for money nowadays had turned into such a pain.

“Is your AC working? It’s as hot in here as outside,” she snapped at the shopkeeper. He withdrew mumbling that he’d get it fixed right away ma’am. The rupee was at an all time-low, 69 rupees for one dollar. Of course they were completely fine — they were the Kapadias — but Anil had lost some money in the stock market, and his value-of-a-rupee lectures were now longer. He’d get his credit card bill and start his usual, “More than half your bags just lie in the closet, and you go buy another one! Don’t you already have three Ferragamos!” Mrs. Kapadia would try to explain, “But they’re different styles, jaanu, and I do use all my bags — ” and Mr. Kapadia would interrupt, “One has a zip, one has a button and they become different styles!” Nowadays, he had a new line to add, “And how many times do I explain! The rupee is falling … ” Mrs. Kapadia would tune out, try to look suitably repentant, then put her hand on his and say, “Sorry jaanu, last time I promise. Do you want chai?”

The mere thought of going through this routine again gave her a headache. She sighed, turning the wallet over in her hands. The AC suddenly started again, blowing gusts of cool air. What if she bought the fake for now, waited till the rupee went up, and then asked Anil to buy her the real one?

“AC better now, Madam? And wallet, you like?”

“Haan, better. But yeh metal zip, looks like plastic no?” Mrs. Kapadia frowned, trying to find reasons to not like it. What if someone noticed, and realized she was carrying a fake?

“No ma’am, it’s real metal! Don’t worry, you use for few days and you see, it look totally fine. Everyone think it LV only.” He was right. No one would notice the tiny metal zip. And even if they did, no one would suspect it was a fake if they saw it on her. But what would … enough! Mrs. Kapadia was running late for a coffee date. She’d never thought this much before buying a real bag, and this wallet was barely the cost of two dinners at any hotel. “Haan, I’ll take it,” she announced, handing him five crisp thousand-rupee notes from her Prada tote. “Yes, ma’am!” The shopkeeper’s day had been made. “Good, good, madam, wallet look very good. You very happy with it.” He took out a brown dust cover and black LV shopping bag from under the counter. “I get this especially from real Lewis Vittawn store madam,” he said, clearly proud that he could give his customers authentic LV dust covers for their fake wallets. Mrs. Kapadia picked up her Prada, LV packet and the HydeOut shopping bag with her stilettos, and walked out.

***

Fifteen minutes later, she was sitting in the new cafe Chez Nini, sipping a much-needed fresh lime soda and waiting for her friend Pooja. She’d crossed two streets from Lok Nayak to enter its far more upscale neighbor, Khan Market. Khan had its fair share of stray dogs too, but was India’s most expensive shopping street.

A few more minutes passed. Pooja was obviously running on Indian Standard Time. The drink was helping ease Mrs. Kapadia’s headache, but she couldn’t get that damned fake out of her mind still. She sat tersely, trying to figure out if she wanted to use the wallet or keep it locked away, when Pooja arrived, carrying multiple shopping bags as usual — this time, a silver packet from Gucci, an orange one from Hermes and a tiny black one from LV, the same as Anjali’s.

Anjali flinched. “Hiiiii, been such a long time yaar, how have you been?”

She rose up to air-kiss Pooja on both cheeks. “Haan Anj, I know, what to do, been so busy with this wedding you know.” Pooja sat down, making an exasperated noise. “Arjun’s niece is getting married, and all I did today is buy gifts for the groom’s mother and his sister and his grandmother.” She gestured at her shopping bags, sighing, “It’s like a full-time job, I tell you. Oh, look! Same to same!” She pointed at Anjali’s LV packet and her own. “You went to LV today too?”

“Oh, yeah, I … “

“What did you get!”

“Nothing special, just a wallet. Anyways, should we order —”

“Haan? Me too! Which one?”

Why was Pooja so obsessed with shopping? She could be so irritating at times. “Bas, the monogram one.”

“Really? I got the same one! Show me yours? Did you get the zip one or the button? All their monogram stuff looks so good no?”

Anjali froze. She was not ready to show Pooja the wallet. What if Pooja picked it up and saw the plasticky zip and realized it was a fake? What if Anjali hadn’t noticed an even more obvious give-away? What if the monogram flowers hadn’t been printed or spaced properly, or what if one of the LV’s was cut at the edges?

Pooja meanwhile reached into her packet and took her wallet out in its dust cover, saying, “I toh got the zippy one.” She looked up. “You okay na? You seem drained.”

“Haan, it’s just this heat,” Anjali managed to mumble. Uff, she was freaking out over tiny things for no reason. It’d be fine; she just wouldn’t take hers out and the conversation would move on. But Pooja had asked her directly, and ordinarily even she would be excited to show Pooja what she’d bought. What if not taking it out made Pooja suspicious?

Pooja opened the dust cover to reveal her wallet.

Anjali’s heart sank.

How could she have thought her fake wallet almost looked real? There was no substitute for real cowhide or LV bags. The leather on Pooja’s wallet looked so much richer, the monogram color so much more golden, the zip so much more like silver …

“Nice, no? What’s yours like?”

There was no way out. She had to show Pooja the wallet. She reached down into her packet, trying to calm herself. Maybe it’d be fine; maybe she was just exaggerating the differences in her head. Pooja didn’t know half as much about bags as she did, maybe she just wouldn’t notice.

Anjali’s hand trembled slightly as she put the wallet on the table and started to open the dust cover, revealing her miserable counterfeit.

Pooja reached out to touch the metal zip. Anjali stopped breathing. “Yours is a zip one too! Yours also looks so good Anj.”

Was there a bit of a smirk in Pooja’s smile? Why had she emphasized that Anjali’s wallet also looked good, if she had bought the exact same wallet? Was she touching the zip to signal she knew it was a fake? But how dare she assume it was a fake based on a zip? Didn’t she know Anjali’s family background?

Anjali tried to silence her thoughts. You don’t actually have a reason to think Pooja knows, she told herself.

Pooja picked up the wallet, and opened the zip. “Your zip works so well, yaar! Mine was a little stiff at the store, but the guy said it’d become smooth after I used it a few times.”

That was it. Pooja definitely knew. Why else would she examine the zip? And then specifically point out that her wallet was stiff? Were new wallets supposed to have stiff zips? Did real leather wallets have to be broken into, like shoes? No, that was absurd, that had never happened with any of Anjali’s bags.

Pooja closed the zip. Even if she wanted to check the zip, why had she opened it all the way? Was she checking the inside — oh god! Anjali had completely forgotten to examine the inside label! What if it was all messed up? That had to be it. Pooja already knew what the inside of the wallet looked like; why else would she look in?

Pooja put the wallet back down. Anjali immediately grabbed it and reopened the zip, mumbling something about how yeah, the zip did open really well, expecting to see something horribly wrong with the label. The inside was a plain dark brown, with even darker-brown, tiny letters spelling out “LOUIS VUITTON. PARIS. Made in France” in a small three-line rectangle — exactly the way it should be. Anjali began to calm down slightly. Get a grip on yourself, she thought. It shouldn’t have been obvious to Pooja that it was a fake, and Anjali didn’t have any reason for suspecting she knew.

“You really look low-energy, Anj. Want to order something more to drink? It’s so important to stay hydrated in the summer.”

Anjali nodded, and they called the waiter. Pooja wasn’t trying to mock her, was she, show Anjali that she’d noticed how the fake wallet was making Anjali uncomfortable? Uff, why can’t you stop thinking such ridiculous thoughts?

The waiter arrived and Pooja ordered a Make it Light™ banana berry smoothie. Anjali decided she was stressed enough to break her nutritionist’s recommended diet, and ordered a double-chocolate layer cake.

“Haan and before I forget, I’ll quickly show you the other stuff I bought too. I really need a second opinion yaar, this groom’s side of the family is so fussy, god only knows what they’ll like.”

Pooja pulled out an alligator-skin Hermes, and a shiny red Gucci with tassels.

“Oh, how lovely! Especially the Gucci, it’s so stunning, yaar! I’m sure they’ll love both.” They were both hideous. The Gucci was so in-your-face, and it had actual tassels hanging off its side! And the alligator leather was probably the single ugliest wallet Hermes had ever manufactured.

“Hai na?” Pooja said, “That’s why I stuck to the classic stuff, you can toh never go wrong with these. Accha did I tell you the gossip with the bride? Super dramatic. She basically said no to the grandmother when she asked her to … ”

Classic stuff? How could anyone think alligator skin was Hermes’ signature, or that you could ever go right with tassels, or that either of these two wallets deserved the same “classic” label as the monogram? And to think this woman had gone and bought the LV, with no appreciation for the feel of the leather, or the simple elegance of the label inside, or the carefully proportioned flowers with the LV logo! Anjali had no reason to worry. Pooja probably wouldn’t be able to tell a fake if it hit her in the face.

“ — and so then the grandmother put her foot down, and said no way, the bride had to wear red, how could … ”

Anjali nodded along, making hmm noises from time to time to show she was interested. Pooja couldn’t tell it was a fake but that didn’t mean much because Pooja clearly didn’t know anything. But what about her other friends? Would they be able to? Anjali couldn’t bear the thought of going through the same sequence of doubts and fears every time she pulled it out to pay.

The waiter arrived with their cake and coffee.

And if even one of her friends realized it was a fake, everyone in the city would know by the end of the day. And then what rumors people would come up with, whispers spreading from one drawing room to another. She could imagine her friends smiling secretly at each other whenever she entered the room, giving all her bags an extra-long stare. Then they’d tell their husbands, and their husbands would gossip about whether that meant Anil’s business was doing badly. If Anil somehow found out, or God forbid, her mother …

Anjali tried to concentrate on relishing her dessert. She’d have to go off chocolate for days, now that she’d exceeded her sugar quota.

Her mother lived in Calcutta but she had enough friends in Delhi to eventually hear something. Knowing it was unfathomable for her own daughter to do something like this, her mother would pooh-pooh all such gossip, and shout at Anjali over the phone to tell the LV people their wallet looked like a fake and they had to replace it. Don’t you know how much people talk, Anju, and by God’s grace, we got you such a good match in the Kapadia family, you have to take more care of appearances.

“ — but yeah, all this drama toh keeps happening day in day out,” Pooja concluded her story.

Anjali shook her head in sympathy. Even if she managed to use her fake for several days with no one realizing, she herself would always know, always focus on the stupid zip and cringe at the rougher leather. Maybe she should just keep it locked away in a drawer, or give it to some maid.

“Anj, that cake looks delicious!”

“Yeah, this is definitely better than what we had that day at Tres.” But uff, Anjali really really liked the LV monogram. She’d anyway wanted it for so long, and especially now that she’d seen the LV Pooja bought, she just wished she could start carrying it right away.

“Better than Tres? Should I get one too? My dietician is going to be so mad if she finds out, but one day doesn’t make a difference na? Actually, do you think they’ll have a chocolate eclair? I’ll just go see their selection.”

Pooja got up and walked over to the far side of the restaurant, to the glass case displaying the baked goods for the day.

Mrs. Kapadia watched her go. Pooja’s back was turned firmly to their table and she was pointing at different items in the case. Mrs. Kapadia looked around briefly, took off one of her earrings and discreetly dropped it to the floor. She bent down to pick it up, switched the two LV packets under the table, put her earring back on, and went back to finishing her cake.

Pooja came back a few minutes later with a mille feuille. “Arre, all the energy’s come back to your face, Anj. The dessert here really does wonders haan?”

“It really does,” Mrs. Kapadia replied, “it really does.”