It was about twelve in the afternoon in London. I could smell the faint scent of sweat lingering on the clothes of people that strolled by. It was one of those lazy days where the air is humid and musty. The stores on Knightsbridge were crammed with tourists and pedestrians clustered around the fancy tea shops trying to decide which shop had the nicest décor. It all looked very prim and proper to me. I walked down the stairs and tapped my Oyster card on the pad. There was a woman sat directly across from me on the tube. At one point our eyes linked together. She was in her late twenties maybe even very early thirties. She had short reddish, brown hair and dark circles under her eyes. When she looked at me she pursued her already skinny lips till she looked like she was just squeezing the skin from both sides of her lips into her small but vile mouth. She looked at me with beady little eyes under her light bangs. Being from New York, I naturally started back and waited for her to look away, but much to my surprise she didn’t look away; she glared back harder. She continued to suck the skin from her face into her mouth and her eyes grew darker as they descended deeper into their sockets. Her unkempt eyebrows drew in and covered her beady little eyes with another layer of disgusting shadow. I started back still, noticing big red pores on her pale white skin. And then all at once I felt it; it crept up to me like a chill during sex starting first from my breast and going down till I couldn’t bare it anymore. The urge to laugh out loud in that woman’s face. I turned my eyes and a soft smile adorned my face. I wanted to say, “I think you’re really beautiful.” -Shammy
Posts Tagged ‘fiction’
Shruti was born and raised in New York. She had never traveled outside of the states, let alone the tri-state area. She was feminine and pretty. Shruti was quite popular in school although she was only close friends with a few people. She usually just spent all her time at home with her family, or at school accomplishing things, or with Lily. Lily was one of her best friends.
Lily never really had any other friends. She was the shy quiet type. She wasn’t the type to pass notes while the teacher was talking, instead she’d sit in the front of the classroom raising her hand at frequent intervals. At school she mostly kept to herself, except when she was with Shruti and her friends.
She met Lily one day on the walk home from elementary school. Lily was standing on the sidewalk looking around frantically. There was an old drunk man that was awfully close to her. He wore a winter coat, in 70 degree weather and his dirty brown hair looked as if he hadn’t brushed it in months. Shruti sensed something was not right and ran over to Lily. “Hey is everything ok?”
“Get out of here little girl. This is none of your business,” the drunken man yelled at Shruti.
She looked at Lily and nodded. She didn’t know if Lily understood what she had meant but she had to do something.
“Hey you little bitch; me and miss fancy pants are just fine. Aren’t we baby? You can run along now,” he yelled angrily. His breath reeked of the disgusting smell of alcohol and his big hands were black and filthy with dirt. He reached out to grab Lily and Shruti shoved him with all her might so that he would topple over. He strode back and his left foot landed on an empty can of coke. He tried to balance himself but it was too late. Lily just stood there terrified as he hit the ground with a thud. Shruti grabbed Lily’s hand and the two of them ran down the block and around the corner like they never had before.
“I’m Lily, thank you so much for helping me out there. That guy was such a creep.”
“Don’t even mention it,” Shruti said. “I’m sure you would’ve done the same thing for me. Are you okay though? Did he hurt you?”
“No. Thank god you came when you did.” Lily said shivering.
For two girls who were from completely different worlds, they clicked like they had known each other forever. After that they were inseparable. Where ever one of them was, the other was sure to be on her way. They soon went off to middle school together and that’s where everything changed.
Shruti remembered the day when everyone got picked up from middle school and Lily waited outside for her to get out, so they could be safe together. At first, there were only a few kids who left because they were called to the main office. Then more kids were called away, they took their bags and their sweaters. Shruti realized they were all leaving. She waited for her mom to come too, but she didn’t. There were only four other kids, left in her class who hadn’t been picked up. It was only twelve in the afternoon when Shruti’s teacher told them to gather their things. She wondered what was so special about today that her principal decided to let everyone out early. She went outside and there Lily was waiting for her. “I’m so excited! They should make everyday a half-day like this one,” Shruti exclaimed as they walked toward the bus stop. Lily didn’t respond, instead she grabbed on to Shruti’s hand tightly as they crossed the street.
“Hey what’s wrong?” Shruti asked.
“I’m really glad you’re here. I would be scared to go without you.” Lily said.
“Umm, yea me too. I don’t even know what happened. Do you?” Shruti asked.
“My ELA teacher said the world trade center was attacked. There might be terrorists around,” she said grabbing onto Shruti’s hand.
“Really? Oh man no wonder everyone was getting picked up from school? I hope we get home safe!” Shruti exclaimed. She was so scared to be outside. She had no idea what she would do in case they were in any sort of immediate danger. There was a small minivan that pulled up to the bus stop they were standing at. The driver opened the door and everyone that was waiting for the bus, got in. Shruti and Lily looked at each other in confusion. Weren’t all these people waiting for the bus just like they were? Why did they get into a stranger’s mini-van? A man gestured for them to come inside as well. Lily edged forward.
“Lily, can we not go with them? I just want to wait for the bus. I don’t think it’s safe for us to get a ride from a fake taxi driver.” Shruti said.
“You’re right Shruti. Terrorists’ could be anywhere.”
Chills ran down Shruti’s spine. How would they know if they saw a terrorist? I don’t even know what that is exactly, Shruti thought. The bus never came that day and the two of them ended up walking hand in hand, the mile and a half to get home. This was all before that faithful day at the handball courts.
Shruti was in her senior year in middle school. In those days, she used to come in early to play suicide with Lily before classes started. The whole game of suicide was like handball. The objective was to catch the ball on a fly. Whoever catches a ball on a fly gets to peg the person who originally threw it. It was their routine game before school. They always used to team up together and go up against everyone else. If Shruti threw the handball and someone was going to catch it, Lily would run and try to catch it instead so that Shruti wouldn’t get pegged with the ball. If Lily caught it, she would never peg Shruti, if one of the guys caught it, they wouldn’t hesitate. One day, when they were both preoccupied with the game, their friend Ivan came up to Lily and whispered something in her ear. Lily looked back at Shruti and quickly turned away when Shruti looked back at her.
Ivan was the other best friend, the newer addition to their group. Shruti met Ivan in the 7th grade. They were in the same class. They didn’t click immediately. Actually, Shruti very much hated his guts when they first met. Ivan used to tease her and make fun of the comments she made in class. And of course, Shruti retaliated with harsh comments and curses of her own. The teasing eventually let up and the two of them decided they were more productive when making fun of others, together. He knew Lily through Shruti. The three of them would talk on the phone for hours and hours in those days.
The ball flew in the air and like always Lily ran to catch the ball before anyone else could. She thrust her arm into the air on top of her head and fell back.
“Oh my god. Lily, are you okay?” Shruti screamed.
In her hand she squeezed the tiny little blue handball. Tobe and Jonathon, two of the guys that were relatively close to her rushed up and asked if she was okay. Jonathon lent her a hand and lifted her back to her feet. Lily turned and looked at Shruti and in one swift motion pegged the ball as hard as she could. Ivan ran forward and caught the ball and threw it towards the wall starting a new game. Shruti stood still in amazement. Why did Lily peg her? Did she do something wrong or did Lily suddenly decide she wanted to play fair? After the game they walked back to school together. “Hey what’s up? Did I do something wrong?” Shruti asked.
“No, of course not. Why would you think that?” Lily said smiling. “Hey guys wait up”, she called and hurried forward to walk with Jonathon. “I’ll catch up with you later Shruti.”
After school that day, Lily didn’t come out with her class. Shruti waited but Lily never showed up. “Let’s just go. Lily probably got picked up or something,” Ivan said to Shruti.
“Hmmm I don’t know. Let’s just wait a couple of more minutes.” Shruti felt even more confused than she had in the morning. She couldn’t figure out why Lily would’ve tried to peg her so hard. Had Lily been mad at her for some reason? Lily never showed up that day so Shruti and Ivan made the walk to the train station alone.
“You know we are graduating soon and you and I are going to different high schools but you have to promise me you won’t ever forget about me or what we have.”
“Ha ha, Ivan. Why are you getting all sentimental on me? You know we’re always gonna be friends,” Shruti said putting her arm around his.
Ivan’s face lit up with all different hues of red. “Good,” he smiled. “You have no idea how much that’s means to me. How much you mean to me,” he said taking her arm away from his and grabbing onto her hand. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” Ivan said as he squeezed her hand. “Ok, I have to tell you something; promise u won’t see me any different and be weird about it?”
“What is it Ivan?”
“Promise you won’t get mad and stop talking to me.”
“Ok I promise.”
“I think, I don’t know, but I think I’m in love with you.”
Shruti stopped walking and looked at him. She meant to say something but she couldn’t find the words. Her hand felt hot and sweaty as she let go of Ivan’s hand.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do so I told Lily today, when we were playing suicide. Please don’t get weird around me now. Your friendship means everything to me,” he said.
“Ivan, I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything. Just leave it. Shruti, this doesn’t have to change anything. Just pretend I didn’t tell you, ok? I just needed you to know and now you know, and we can both just forget about it ok?” Ivan spurted out. “Come on let’s just pretend this didn’t happen. Please,” he said desperately.
“Ivan, I think I’m gonna walk home. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Ivan nodded quickly and sped up towards the train station. Shruti watched him go. She waited for him to turn around but he didn’t, so she slowly turned to leave.
Shruti wanted to tell Ivan all the things she had in her heart, but she couldn’t bring herself to. Graduation was weeks away and she would probably never see him again. He would change when he went to high school, he would see another pretty girl and everything between them will be broken. She couldn’t risk their friendship, it meant too much to her. She knew she’d always love Ivan and if it was really meant to be, it would happen one day. It just wasn’t the right time now. It would be too risky and the consequences were something she wouldn’t be able to bear. She didn’t know then, that things would never be the same.
Summer vacation was finally coming to an end. It was the longest summer she’d ever experienced. Shruti walked down the empty street alone, straying further and further from her home with each step. The sun had already started its journey down and ripples of pink and purple filled the sky. There was no one to be seen on their porches and all the kids seemed to have already gone to sleep. The quiet was consuming. Ever since Lily decided she didn’t want to be friends anymore with her, everything was different. That day changed everything. Shruti and Ivan weren’t best friends anymore and Shruti and Lily weren’t even friends anymore. How could one little secret have torn them all apart that way? She thought their friendships were stronger than that. Lily was like the sister she never had, and all of a sudden they were strangers. She always had the feeling Lily liked Ivan as more than just a friend, but she didn’t know. There could be no other explanation for it. What else could Lily have been upset about?
“Criinnggggg!” Shruti slammed her hand on the snooze button and tried unsuccessfully to doze off back to sleep. Today was the first day of high school; she was bound to run into Lily again. What would she say she wondered? The whole summer had passed and Lily hadn’t said a word to her. She took her time getting dressed, changing at least three times. What if she just didn’t go? Then she could delay seeing Lily again. She didn’t know what to expect and that scared her. It was first day of high school and instead of worrying about fitting in or not making any friends; all she could think of was what her ex-best friend would say. Shruti sat down to have breakfast, but found she was too nervous to eat. I should just get it over with, she thought to herself. She took one last look in the mirror and left her house before she could change her mind.
Shruti walked into her choir class that day and sat down next to two girls she didn’t know. Lily walked in and sat down on the other side of the room. She didn’t look at Shruti or anyone else. Shruti waited for Lily to look her way but it seemed Lily’s head was fixated towards their choir instructor Mr. Peters. After what felt like an hour of his lecturing he called up groups with girls to come and audition. They had to sing do re me fa so la ti do so Mr. Peters could assign them to a voice group. He called up Shruti, Lily and three other girls together. Shruti’s heart beat louder than she could think. Would Lily just keep ignoring her? When it was Shruti’s turn to sing she felt her checks turning red, she had never auditioned before in her life.
“Don’t worry, I’ll hum with you.” Lily said, smiling. It was the first words she had said to Shruti since middle school had ended. Although it wasn’t an explanation, Shruti’s heart felt light and she sung at the top of her lungs, “do re me fa so la ti doo.”
– Shammy 4/5/11
“Khali! Ey khali!” She called out, hoping for an empty rickshaw. Her voice was soft and smooth, her accent very proper. I could barely make out the few people on the street, now that the current was out. I cycled in the blinding darkness past a beggar, and pulled up next to her.
“Uttara Model Town, section one, road four, house twenty-two,” she said. Any other rickshawala would have told her no, it’s too far, but I didn’t say anything, I just peddled. That was the first day I saw her. She wore a beautiful, expensive, embroidered, salwar kameez2, with a thin white orna3 wrapped around her head. Little strands of curly black hair shown around her face. When I turned the corner, I glanced back for a second and caught her looking into the night, her lips red and her complexion fair. After a long thirty minutes, we finally arrived at her three-story brick house. She hopped off and quickly punched in the security code to her building. I slipped the twenty taka4 she gave me into my pocket, and turned away. Only rich people live in houses like that, houses that have electricity all the time.
I peddled till the blisters on my feet oozed, till my calves ached, till even my gamsa5 dripped of sweat. Amah6 told me to buy some flour so Sarayu7 can make roti in the morning, but all the stores have closed now. Sarayu is only nine, she does all the house work and still has time to run around and get lost in the neighborhood. I stepped inside quietly knowing I would have to work on an empty stomach tomorrow.
“Tui aisos?”9 Amah asked half sleeping, before I got the chance to reply, she started snoring softly. I opened the small, Dano tin-can, and put in the hundred-seventy taka I earned that day. I wondered which would come first, Amah’s death or a doctor’s appointment. I looked to see if there was anything to eat, but there was only rice water, as usual. I covered it, and put it to the side. Sarayu and Janya10 could eat that in the morning. I made my bed on the floor next to them, and closed my eyes.
I cleaned up, and headed out, before the sun had risen the next morning. I stopped in front of the local tea shop for a moment and stared at the glass, into the eyes of a stranger looking back at me. My shirt was torn on the side and my face the color of tar from the sun. Those two beady eyes, white against my black skin, stared back at me. I turned away. Kids of all ages were jumping around full of excitement: holding each other hand in hand, or arm around neck, some had book bags on their backs, others just carried a few books. I missed the days I went to school. I had only one friend, he was a Muslim. The other kids would tease us and push us off our stools, me because I was a Hindu and him because he associated with me.
“Dekhna, Hindu haramjadre,” 11 a local store holder shouted as I cycled past the tea shop. Those were the first words I heard that morning. How much longer is it going to be like this? Since Abah died three years ago it’s been like this. I was eleven. Janya had just been born, and Sarayu was barely six. Amah used to work as a cleaning lady, at the Mirza residence, but after she got sick, they wouldn’t have her anymore. I knew if I didn’t make the money, Sarayu would have to be married off to Mr. Thakur. Some days I thought it was the only way to get out, but Amah says she would rather die than give her the life she hated.
It was a sunny day; the rain hadn’t come back yet. I was about to turn the corner to wait on the main road for costumers, when I saw Sarayu running like a mad-man towards me. She didn’t take the time to hear the curses coming out of people’s mouths, nor did she stop when her only anklet broke off and disappeared into the mud. “Bhaya! Bhaya!”12 She screamed out, “Amah.” I scooped her onto the rickshaw and cycled as fast as I could to the slums where we lived. Janya was crying, and Amah lay on the floor, covered in blood. She was trying to mutter something, but barely a whisper came out. I franticly checked the room to see if anything was missing and spotted the Dano tin can across the room. I walked over slowly, wishing, praying that there was still something in there. My whole life savings, everything I’ve worked day and night for was in that can. In one moment, the bleak life that was set for me changed forever.
Amah lay there dying. “Stay with her,” I shouted, and took my rickshaw to Mr. Thakur’s house. He was a man in his mid thirties, who already had two wives. “Oh come, brother, come. What brings you to these parts?” He asked smugly. “You can have her, but you must give me her dowry now.” He laughed, “Of course that’s not how it works, bring her to me first; you will have your money.” She is only nine years old, I thought, still pure and innocent. “No, you can have her, but I need that money now,” I said firmly. He laughed again and looked at me closely. I stared straight into the nothingness. He went inside, and within a few minutes came out with a box. “That’s all I can give you for now,” he said. Without uttering another word, I swiftly returned home.
Amah lay there still, this time with her eyes closed. She was barely breathing now. “Janya, keydo naa baba, keydo naa,”13 I whispered to her as I picked her up. “Asho.”14 I placed her on my rickshaw and pedaled slowly through the slums, past the beggars on the side of the road, past the market, past the cricket park, past the great buildings, past the children who ran around in shoes, to arrive again at house twenty-two, on road four, section one of Uttara Model Town. I kissed Janya and placed her in front of the heavy white gates. “Eykane thako, ami ashe.”15 She stood there, with the box in her hands, looking out at me with curious tiny eyes. I turned away and cycled back through the streets, to the muddy road of the slums, stopping only to pick up dry wood along the road.
I finally reached the small tin room all four of us occupied and went inside, Sarayu was gone. She must’ve have run off again. She is like the wind; she doesn’t belong anywhere, to anyone. Most girls are that way here, bread to be married off to another. I would rather die alive then live in this selfish world where people are not appreciated for being people, instead they are judged by their last names, religion, and sex. “Amah, amah…” I whispered. She lay on the floor, cold and still. I wrapped my fingers around hers and waited for the flames to engulf us both.
– Shammy 12/13/09
1 Kali: empty 2.A common way of calling a rickshaw, similar to calling a cab.
2 A traditional South Asian three-piece woman’s outfit, consisting of pajama like pants, long tunic and a scarf called an orna or dupatta.
3 A scarf worn with salwar kameez.
4 Currency in Bangladesh; 70 taka is equal to 1 USD.
5 Thin cotton towel that is commonly used in Bangladesh because it dries relatively fast.
7 Hindu girl’s name meaning the wind.
9 You came? Dialect commonly used by uneducated, lower class Bangladeshis.
10 Hindu girl’s name meaning life.
11 Look at that Hindu bastard.
13 Don’t cry sweetie, don’t cry.
15 Stay here, I’m coming.
16 The Hindu word for cremation.