Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar
It’s a Sunday. I’m collecting fallen gooseberries under the tall, shady tree outside our house. A rickshaw stops at the door. Safina Khala, my aunt—Ammi’s younger sister—steps out. She’s wearing salwar-kameez, blue like the sky above. Khala! I give her a hug, hold her warm hand, and lead her inside, into the courtyard. She gives me a bunch of bananas from the woven basket she’s carrying. Who’s it? Ammi calls from the kitchen, then emerges, bringing with her a whiff of mutton biryani. She freezes in the doorway on seeing Khala, stares her sister down, head to toe, then wipes her brow with the dupatta in slow motion. Abba looks up from polishing his work shoes, and says, Aao, aao, Safina. Welcome, Safina. He goes inside, brings back a pink 20-rupee note, hands it to me, Here, son, bring a fruit cake for Khala. Ammi instructs me to ask the baker for yesterday’s cake, it’ll be cheaper. I run to the bakery, my mouth watering. When I return, Khala’s gone.
No, something’s not right. It’s a Sunday, all right. Abba and I are watching something on our black-and-white TV. An aroma from the kitchen wafts in the air. There’s a knock on the door. Abba answers. Aao, aao, Safina, he hugs Khala lightly. I rise from the chair, my eyes on the bananas in the woven basket she’s holding. Ammi enters the living room, a steel dish heaped with biryani in her hands. Why’re you here, Safina? Do you have no shame? Ammi asks, her hands and voice trembling. Khala takes a few steps towards Ammi, says, Sister, I came to clear the air between us. Ammi slams the dish on the floor. Rice glistening with fat spills on the floor, mutton pieces slide under the couch. What’s wrong with you, woman? Abba scolds Ammi. You think I’ll run away with your sister? Ammi slumps to the floor, a hand pressed to her brow. Khala scoops up the mess with a broom. Abba hands me a 20-rupee note, Go, get something to eat, son. When I return, Khala’s gone.
No, it isn’t a Sunday. Another holiday. Independence Day, maybe. It’s afternoon; we’ve already eaten the mutton biryani. Ammi’s helping me paint egg-shells for a school project. The radio is on and Abba’s tapping his fingers to Urdu ghazals. There’s a knock on the door. I answer, and circle my arms around Khala’s waist. Aao, aao, Safina, Abba says. Ammi drops the eggshells to the floor. Khala places a bunch of bananas on the table. Just in time for chai, Abba pulls a pink 20-rupee note from his pocket, then says to me, Son, bring a fruit cake for Khala. I slide my feet into slippers and Ammi says, The bakery will be closed today, and we don’t have money to waste on cake. Abba tears the 20-rupee note right through the middle. My money, I’ll do whatever I want. You’re full of silly suspicions, woman! Ammi shivers like she’s caught the malaria fever. Khala puts an arm around her, Sister, I came to clear any misunderstanding. Abba pulls out more pink rupees and lights them with a matchstick. I don’t remember whether I went to the bakery or not, whether Khala left or stayed, but I remember the flame. The blue-orange that burnt us down.
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American writer. Born to a middle-class family in India, she later migrated to the USA. Her stories and poems have appeared in many publications, in print and online. She is the winner of the ELJ Creative Micro Non-Fiction Prize, has been commended in National Flash Micro Fiction Contest, and shortlisted in Bath Flash Fiction Contest. She is currently a Prose 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.com. Her chapbook will be released later this year. More at https://saraspunyfingers.com. Reach her @PunyFingers