Yes, I went there—to her house. Couldn’t stop myself, having returned to the country, my country, after a decade.
She introduced me as an old family friend to her husband—a clean-shaven man in the traditional kurta-salwar, his sandaled feet flat on the floor as he sat back in the couch that looked too high for me. So, I chose a low, upholstered chair across the coffee table. She went inside, anklets ringing, bangles clinking, the pink dupatta trailing behind her. The husband and I talked.
He loved to hunt, he said, pointed to a reindeer head mounted on the wall behind him. Brown eyes gleaming, antlers and hair a little dusty. I told him about my poetry, the collection that came out last month. The reason I was here, after all these years—on a book tour.
“Poet?” he unbuttoned and rolled up the sleeve of his kurta. “Soft man, soft emotion…”
She returned with a wooden tray holding a flower-patterned teapot, matching cups and saucers, a plate of cream-filled biscuits, some fried bread. A little thick in the middle now, but her face was as innocent, as radiant, as in my mind and eyes, my days and dreams, my breaths and beats.
“Begum, have you read any of the man’s poems?” the husband asked her.
“Umm, yes…no,” she stuttered. “Did you start writing after…” she looked at me and in her eyes I saw them bobbing up and down, emerging and submerging—the lines, the pages of verses I wrote for her, for us.
A boy, about five or six, darted in from outside, bringing with him a whiff of roasted meat, probably from the kebab-shop I noticed across the street. He scooped up a biscuit from the china plate. Beautiful boy, just like her: same heart-shaped face, mocha-brown eyes, a straight-arrow nose.
“Ahmed, where are your manners?” she scolded the boy. He grinned and licked the orange-white cream in the biscuit with his tongue.
The husband said, “Son, come here, did you greet your uncle?”
“Uncle, who?” the boy asked.
A cough shot up my throat but I managed to gulp it down. He called me Mamu—mother’s brother. Never had I imagined being called that. Her eyes remained glued to the floor as if she were a shy new bride, her fingers pleating an unpleating the laced edge of her dupatta.
“Salaam, Mamu!” the boy snatched another biscuit from the tray and ran past the paisley-printed curtains covering the doorway.
“The thing about hunting is,” the husband sipped his chai noisily, “you’re not afraid of blood on your clothes, your hands.” He held his large hand in front of his face, examining it. “Once, I extracted a living heart from an animal’s chest. It throbbed in my palm for half a second before the dog pounced on it.”
A dog barked from somewhere deep inside the house which I assumed had many rooms opening up into a courtyard where the animal was tethered. The deep, threatening bark, echoed in the air until the man shouted, “Bahadur!” The dog stopped after a reluctant yelp, an acknowledgement of its master’s order.
“Something about freeing a heart…banished into a cage, pushing, beating restlessly against the ribs. Maybe, you can write a poem about it. Poets know hearts better than anyone else.”
“It was this one’s heart, Begum,” he addressed her and pointed to the deer-head on the wall. “The animal you said was the most beautiful creation of nature.”
He roared with laughter, “If my wife likes a face, I’d pin it here for her, forever. Pretty woman that she is. Don’t you agree, Poet Sahib?”
I fixed my gaze on the curtains and took quick sips of the tea to mask any expression my face may betray. My toe itched inside the Italian leather shoe.
He continued, “You married, Poet Sahib?”
The word hung there, oscillating like a pendulum between the man and me, creating an impassable stupor. He pressed the cup and saucer into his lap, her hands clutched them so tight her knuckles turned white. The air grew unbreathable, thick, as if ready to precipitate. I reached over and placed my cup back in the tray to create some movement.
Thankfully, a savior arrived—the boy, rushing in through doorway, holding a cricket bat and a ball. “Abba, let’s play,” he said to his father.
“Yes, let me wear my shoes,” the husband rose, his head reaching the same height as the deer-head on the wall.
“I should leave,” I stood up, embarrassed for my small stature, and extended a hand towards him. He squeezed it hard in his bear-like paw and turned to her, “Begum, remind me to grease my guns. Sometimes, even when a man’s not hunting, the game is on.”
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American writer. Born to a middle-class family in India, she later migrated to the United States. Her work has appeared in Reflex Press, Flash Fiction Online, Kahini, and elsewhere. She has been highly commended in National Flash Microfiction Competition, shortlisted in SmokeLong Quarterly Micro Contest, shortlisted in Bath Flash Fiction Festival. She is currently an editor at Janus Literary and a Submissions Editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her debut flash fiction collection Morsels of Purple is available for purchase on Amazon and in local bookstores. More at https://saraspunyfingers.com. Reach her @PunyFingers.