Tiny bells jingled around Jas' waist as she gave a graceful twirl, arms arched over her head, hands cupped to make a lotus shape in the air.
"So what do you think? Will I knock Ajay Amir's socks off?"
Silence greeted her question. She held the pose a moment longer before breaking it and flapping a hand beneath Krishnan's nose.
"Krish? Earth to Krish."
He looked up from the receipts he had been studying too closely to be genuine, eyebrows hiked, lips firmly set.
"I don't get why you're entering this contest," he said. "When they find out you aren't Indian, they'll disqualify you."
"They won't find out. Look at me. I look like Kareena Kapoor."
It was true. Jasmine Wyatt, despite her very white heritage and minuscule drop of Mediterranean blood, resembled her Bollywood icon more closely than most of the Asian girls in the neighbourhood. Her head of glossy, blue-black hair was tied back in an elaborate plait for the purposes of the audition, highlighting her creamy, coffee skin, sparkling almond-shaped eyes half-drowned in mascara, and sensual lips.
"You look like Kareena Kapoor after a collision with Max Factor," sniped Krishnan. "How much lip gloss? Did you leave any for the rest of Leicester?"
"You don't want me to succeed, do you?" Jas pouted and thrust out a hip so the layers of diaphanous silkiness that made up her skirt shifted and stroked her thighs.
"You can't keep the masquerade up forever. Besides, why do you think white girls can't apply? Isn't that racist or something?"
"It didn't say. I just think I stand a better chance if they think I'm Indian. I'm Jasmeena today, not Jasmine. And I'm borrowing your surname."
"I hope people don't think you're any relation of mine."
"Aww, Krish." Jas leaned on the counter so the fountain of tiny gold coins that constituted her bikini-style top clattered down on its Formica surface. "You almost are my family. My big brother."
"Are you going? I've got shelves to stack."
"Your empire to run." Jas wheeled around dramatically, opening her arms to encompass the rows of tins and packets and bottles that made up the thriving corner shop. "Your fortune to make, big bro," she said.
And that was all he could be, despite the crush she'd had on him for the several years she'd been working in the shop. He'd never marry a white girl. He was too traditional. Come to that, he'd probably never marry. He was far too busy running his clutch of grocery shops to indulge in frivolities like dating. What a horrible waste of a handsome man.
"So where's Sunya?" he asked, lugging a boxful of packet rice from the storeroom. "You'll need to get going soon, won't you? What time's the audition?"
"We have to be there at three. But I'm going alone. Sunya's ill. I'll just have to get the train."
Krishnan unbent his spine, drawing himself to his full, impressive height, and jabbed a long finger at his assistant.
"Like that? You're taking the train to Nottingham dressed like something out of the pages of the Kama Sutra? Oh no, Jas, I don't think so."
Jas stared at Krishnan, his presumption provoking conflicting emotions of indignation and excitement.
"What's it to you?"
"If I'm going to be your big brother, I should act like one. You can't have it both ways."
"Krishnan, I'm going to this audition and you aren't going to stop me."
"No. But I'm driving you there."
He put a hand on her shoulder, steering her towards the door and fishing for his mobile phone at the same time.
"What about the shop?" She watched him change the sign from 'Open' in six languages to 'Closed'.
"I'll call Ashok. He can cover until we get back. I'll just have to close up until he gets here."
"There's really no need, I can--"
"No, you can't." He pointed a key ring, eliciting a bleep from a sleek, silver car parked across the street. "Come on."