Red

By Samia Abbasi 

At age thirteen, the girl was draped in red.

For the day that she saw red blooming in her underwear, was the day that her mother whispered to her father that the girl was “ready.” The girl avoided the gaze of the thirteen-year-old boy next to her. He tried to hold her hand as the village minister murmured to their fathers. Then, her father and her new husband’s father embraced. Their mothers cried. Were they tears of joy?

At age fourteen, the girl stared at a freshly dug grave.

She touched her stomach; it ached with a stretched emptiness. She remembered the tiny child in her arms whose every breath was laborious. The village midwife said that he would not last long. Pray for him.

At age fifteen, a healthy baby boy arrived.

Unbeknownst to the girl, he would grow up to cross oceans. “College” became a word that she would associate with his absence. Her children would gather around eagerly to read his letters to her so she, too, could learn about the far-away world in the scrawl of his handwriting.

At age fifty-three, she boarded a plane for the first time.

The woman was bewildered by the people of different skin tones, the clean bathrooms, the bland food, the way that this place moved just as quickly but quieter than her home country. Nobody understood her. What made this better?

At age sixteen, a girl asks about her grandmother.

While the girl’s mother tells the story of her grandmother, she interjects, “Why did no one teach her how to read or write?”

“She was too old. She did not even want to learn English. Nor did your grandfather,” her mother responds.

“But why?”

“She is so strong, though. She had ten kids and came to America. Her oldest son went to Stanford,” her mother simply says.

“Can we really base our successes on our children’s successes?” the girl blurts out.

Her mother gets up to stir the chai that sputters and fizzles on the stove.

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