Mouths of Brown Girls
Mother sewed my mouth shut in the winter of 2009. It was a week after the night I had refused to sleep in my cousin’s room.
But why, everyone laughs. Did you two girls fight? You were practically joined at the hip yesterday.
We’re only here for a week, Mother adds, and then you won’t see each other for a year.
I scream in response. Mother won’t have it. There, you’ve hurt your cousin’s feelings. Are you happy now? I am made to apologize to her.
What a troublesome girl, my aunt titters, she must be seeing boys. Scandalized looks are exchanged, and I am made to take a thorough shower to clean all the impure thoughts away. My cousin looks on from the corner of the room.
That night, neither of us sleep, listening for the heartbeat of each other. She shifts. I turn, pretending I’m having a nightmare. The shame lies between us, I can feel it wafting along the bed towards my side. It strokes my hair gently, warning me not to open my mouth.
But I refuse to open my eyes, to show any sign of being awake.
When I do wake up in the morning, there are claw marks all over my legs, my neck, my chest. The shame is retreating back across the bed, trailing blood and hair in its wake. Thick, dark hair. My hair.
It’s a stunning place to get married, our village. Nestled atop a mountain, river running by, chilling winds from the Karakoram Mountains blowing in.
She is a stunning bride. The red and gold details of her wedding dress suits her alabaster skin. I wonder how I would be able to wear red on my wedding without a horde of aunts shaking their heads. Brown skin is a whore’s skin. A poor person’s skin. A derelict’s skin.
The bride’s hands, which never shift from her lap, drown under the henna and the gold. So much gold for someone so small. Her shoulders hunch forward from the weight. A brown girl’s Atlas.
The groom enters. She is made to sit next to him like a prize hunt, made to lower her gaze in humility to fit her role of the hunted.
She looks at me only once. It’s a look of triumph. I do not argue back; after all, the memory is not hers to be ashamed of.
The memory in question now drowns under the weight of lonely, married men, private school boys and thick dark hair. I have turned it into a lie. You would not believe it anyway.
Why not? They all ask the same thing. I do not answer. I wake up with claw marks and scattered blood and hair and my whore skin. The stitches Mother put in have now melted into my lips.
They all say my mouth is the best part of me. I never reply.
Umaima is from Lahore, Pakistan and has spent half of her very short life in the closet and the other half in libraries. This is the first time any of her writing has seen the outside world.
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