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.

HAPA, by Thaseen Khaleel

Irfan Parvez had three pictures of Madhu with him in total, but his favorite was neatly tucked into a plastic, silver frame he had picked up at a Chevron the day he’d landed in Lihue. The frame stood like a silent guardian in the left-hand corner of the large architect’s desk he had pushed into his dingy suite in Kauai Palms Extended Stay Hotel, watching him as he pored over blueprints and scratched his eyebrow with the back of a Sharpie. Whenever the wet, midday heat crept in through the windows, as it was doing now, seeping into his brain and turning the numbers in his mind to putty, he would toss aside the marker and grab the picture frame, tracing his fingers over the cheap glass.

She looked like a princess in this photograph: she was wearing her wedding sari, the sparkling ghunghatveil pulled over her head, golden sequins glimmering in the photographer’s flash. Her smile was shy and her kohl-rimmed eyes were lowered, the vermilion bindi between her brows glowing like a ruby. He sighed. It was because of that tiny, scarlet spot that his parents had not come to the wedding.

“You can die with your Hindu bitch for all I care,” his father had spat at him when he came home to invite them. The old man had then turned in his chair and refused to look at him. His weeping mother asked him to leave. So Irfan had promised Madhu he would do exactly that, as he took her hand in his some days later, and walked around the ceremonial fire, whilst a fat priest wrapped in orange robes recited marriage vows and had them repeat after him.

Five Women, by Thaseen Khaleel

5 Women

How Rabbits Taste – Ammijaan (My Grandmother)

Whenever you come visit us,
You sit by the bay window, watching the rabbits,
Your little hands folded neatly over your sari.
It makes you look bigger than you are:
A white cloud gathered and folded over
Shrunken bones and hanging skin
Encircled with rings and bangles of gold.
I wonder what you think about.

One day I try to ask as I plop down next to you,
Enjoying the smell of your Vicks and jasmine oil,
My head against your bony shoulder and you say:
“I wonder what those kharghosht taste like,
I used to hunt them back in India.”

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