LILACS, by Marcallina James


On Second Avenue lilac bushes grew along side our house that wasn’t really our house. Sister and I hopped along like baby chicks on crackling twigs.

Late spring 1976-We live on the bottom floor of a duplex on the south side of Minneapolis. Our daddy’s younger sister lives upstairs with her two kids, our cousins. They often have black eyes and bruises on their arms and legs. Momma and Daddy don’t yell at us or hit us like that, they only scream at each other. When Momma gets real mad, she starts throwing whatever is close to her: forks, plates, books, shoes…lots of stuff. Daddy ducks and yells in a loud voice. Then he runs toward momma and shakes her. “Woman are you crazy? You almost hit the kids!”

At first it used to scare us when they argued, but they do it so much my sister and I just go outside. We play on the side of the house where sour rhubarb and lilac bushes grow. We cup our ears and listen to the tweet, tweet of the robins in the trees. We don’t care if the grass only grows in patches or that the mud dirties our white tennis shoes.

NASREEN, by Anjum Tanveer


Nasreen and I had the same haircut when she was six and I was five. It was an ugly mushroom cut, the kind most Indian parents subject their children to at that age; it didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl, it was practical and kept just enough hair out of your eyes while still preventing your forehead from getting dark in the sun. But my haircut was chic and cute– meticulously trimmed by my father– bangs swept up and secured with my favorite false ruby-topped pins. Nasreen’s hair looked like her eight-year-old sister had taken a scissors to it– in the dark, while blindfolded.

It certainly would not have been far from the truth. My cousin Nasreen was the youngest of seven children and I was the eldest of four, and that was often all the explanation that was needed when anyone watched us play together: one was an over-loved, well-dressed brat accustomed to getting her way, the other, a grubby-looking, perpetually mucous-streaked ragamuffin who fought tooth and nail for her chance to brush Barbie’s hair. But I would always let her. I could never say no to Nasreen, something she herself told me I needed to learn to do, many years later. Besides, I still had a Teresa doll for my own.

TERRA MERITA, by Tahseen Khaleel


I am lying down in a dark room in the back of the Mario Tricoci School on Sheridan Avenue on a fall afternoon. I have been given ample warning not to come here by my best friend, Sana: “They pick people off the street to give terrible haircuts,” she had told me darkly, as she ran a finger through what I thought was a rather chic bob that she had gotten there previously, “And I don’t think they clean any of their things.”

But here I am in the middle of a Mario Tricoci facial, a few days later. My eyes are squeezed shut, but it isn’t doing any good. The magnifying lamp is so bright, it is shining right through my eyelids, and a tiny woman with garishly outlined lips is slathering my face with something cool and creamy. I would probably be enjoying this if she didn’t talk so much.

“You’ve got nice skin, honey,” she tells me, “It’s too bad about your pores though. Get a steamer, it’ll do you good.”

“Mmhmm.” I mumble, as she smooths some of the cream around my lips.

“You do anything at home to get your skin this way?” I am suddenly alarmed as I feel her fingertips press firmly over my eyelids, going in circles. I see fuzzy pink spots on the insides of my eyelids. I am nearly one-hundred-and-four percent sure that she shouldn’t be doing this– aren’t eyes and lips safe zones or something like that? But I say nothing and clear my throat.

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