The following short story appears in our Spring/Summer 2019 issue and was the 2018 Tiferet Writing Contest Winner for Fiction. The entire issue is available in print or digital format. Or, you can purchase a subscription and save.
11am – April 21, 1970
Hidden behind the bolts of saree fabrics on display at the Khulna Bazaar branch of Noman Silk Emporium is a closet that was, until a year ago, routinely used by the shop’s tailor for client fittings and alterations. Large enough for the average Bengali woman, and usually too small for her portly mother-in-law, the quasi-changing room has a false bottom that only a few know about. Underneath is a crawlspace that runs five arms long but only two arms deep, stored with the remnants of old saree orders. When women from the surrounding Khulna area came in to try on their saree blouses and shirts, it was here the tailor often crouched to look up into the fitting room through a peephole on the floor, imperceptible like a groove in the patterned, worn wood.
It was here Rumana now sat, awkwardly tucked away in the dusty crawlspace surrounded by a swathe of blouses and petticoats in different stages of completion, strips of magenta, peacock green and burnt orange silk, and a plastic blue measurement tape. She used the tape the last time she was here, having been struck with the sudden urge to quantify the size of her stomach, which has started to spill dough-like over the waist belt of her pants (borrowed quietly from her brother’s room) like a misshapen silk pillow, once smooth and firm but now marked with pockets where the surface went completely slack. She wished the hiding spot were large enough for her to sit cross-legged without having to round over; at 16, she feels she’s taking up more space than she did before and has developed a terrible habit of cutting off the sleeves from her clothes because they are all too tight now, the flesh underneath expanding faster than she knows what to do about it. Crawling around on her hands and knees was uncomfortable but it also made her feel safer somehow; as if having to stay crouched and contracted, palms and knees heavy but stable, meant less of her was exposed.
There was no knowing exactly how long she’d have to hide this time but whenever the Mukhti Bahini rode into town on their trucks, it was the same routine for Rumana and her family. They’ve been following it for three months now, and so far, it has worked. Their cook, Aziz, clangs the pots lined along the kitchen wall, a signal for everyone in the family to leave the house immediately.
BASMAH SAKRANI is a Pakistan-Canadian writer, currently living in Memphis, TN with her husband and 2 dogs. She is a storyteller by nature and works in advertising by day, fiction by night. Her interest in conflict and identities is inspiring a collection of trans-cultural short stories for her MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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