Over the next few weeks, I will be posting extracts from a novel I began writing in 2008, but discontinued after a few months due to lack of motivation and confidence in my writing and situational and personal problems. The story is called ‘The Boy in the Leather Sandals’. Constructive criticism very welcome! Here is the first extract:
Green Burfi, Chocolate Cake – A story of cultures colliding
This extract is from the first few pages of the first chapter of the story.
“Burfi? No – laddu? Yes – laddu,” said the heavy woman in the turmeric coloured sari, as she picked up the saffron coloured, golf ball sized sweet meat. She nudged the concoction of condensed milk, sugar, cardamom and pistachios away. “Burfi later,” she said, giggling.
She had introduced herself as Nighat maasi, Nadeem’s aunt; his mother’s sister. One of many aunts, it seemed. Farah had lost count. She tried scanning the room again for Maliha, her best friend, but her view was obstructed. Nighat Maasi’s bare bouncing belly heaved as she leant over the tiny Farah and stuffed the yellow sweet meat into her unwelcoming mouth.
“You like laddu?” she said, nodding her head and grinning. Her paan stained teeth glared at Farah.
“So skinny,” said the older woman, shaking her head. “Just skin and bones. You’ll need to eat more laddu. You know our Indian boys, they like real women. You must eat laddu, you know? To give you a shapely bottom. And this chest?” Nighat Maasi shook her head again, “like that of a ten year old”.
Farah gulped in embarrassment and almost wretched at the thought of a laddu diet. She felt knuckles pressing against both sides of her face, then a clicking sound and giggling again. “For good luck,” said Nighat Maasi. “May you give Nadeem many sons my dear!” she said, before stepping away, only to be replaced by another new relative with a handful of sweet meats and an eager smile.
It was her wedding day. The most beautiful, memorable day of every girls life – that’s what she’d heard and that is how she had dreamed it would be. And it would remain dream.
All Farah could think of right now, was the aching in her stomach. She could feel her belly expanding, as the sickly sweet sugar, and the dense greasy fat from the ghee, that made up the sweet meats, trickled down, lining her stomach and making her fat. The fingers that fed her felt like weapons invading her mouth. She couldn’t take any more of it – she had to be sick.
Farah turned away and tried to stand under the weight of her crystal-garnished lengha. But a hand prodded her, and she plunged backed into the seat, as a hand swept towards her with a syrup soaked gulab jaman.
“Please,” she urged, “I must go to…”
But before she could finish, she was placed back into her chair, with a sharp nudge, and a small crowd gathered round her and picked at her hair. One cousin tugged at her heavily embroidered and beaded dupatta, the veil-like shawl that was now being pinned into position, on top of her head. Another cousin touched up her make-up. They spoke excitedly.
“Hurry, he’ll be here any minute. She must look perfect! Inaya, pass me a couple of pins, the duppatta has come loose, it’s falling off her head.”
“Ouch.” Farah winced as a clothespin dug into her shoulder
“Sorry! Oh but isn’t this exciting Farah? Suha says she saw him, before the ceremony at the mosque – she said he makes a handsome groom. A bit shy though, you know? She said he didn’t say much, and when she greeted him, he wouldn’t even look at her. Out of respect – that’s what Nani Ma said, when I told her. Hah! You have an innocent one my dear.” And she winked, before smacking Farah’s cheek with her brightly painted lips.
“ Oh I still can’t believe it, I still can’t believe you’re married” said Samina, rummaging through her handbag for a tissue and dabbing at her dry eyes.
Farah lifted her heavily laden head and attempted to scan the room. They’d said he was coming, but for all the fuss that was being made, the bridegroom had not yet arrived. She did spot Maliha though, and repressed the urge to shout over to her. She needed her friend’s support. Maliha stood over a table of guests, Farah recognised some of them as her college friends. They must have only just arrived, she thought. The group chatted excitedly, and laughter erupted from the table as Maliha spoke. Farah tried to catch her friend’s eye, but Maliha was enjoying the rapport of her friends too much, to look up.
Maliha had always been, the more sociable and confident one of the two friends, the charming, and slim and beautiful one. And Farah had always been grateful for having such an admired and popular friend.
Farah and her parents had arrived in the UK fourteen years ago. She had just turned seven and was quickly enrolled at the local Primary school in the little town of Batley. The only English words she knew were ‘hello’, ‘yes’. ‘no’ and ‘ok’. She didn’t understand much more of the language either.
Her first few months at the English school, had been a nightmare. Farah was teased and cajoled mercilessly, for her darker skin, her strange name, her foreign language and dressing, and her lack of the English language. She would cry, and beg her parents not to send her to school, and would often throw a tantrum, demanding that they go back home, to India.
Some months later, Farah, with her fellow pupils sat in the reading corner as her teacher, Mr Redgrave; a man with wide, watery blue eyes and long dark hair, played his guitar and sang to them ‘Morning has broken’, by Cat Stevens. They were interrupted by the head mistress.
“Mr Redgrave, so sorry to disturb you,” said the head mistress. “Not at all,” he replied, standing up from his chair. “And this, must be the new pupil you mentioned.
The children raised their heads, to get a better look at their new classmate. Farah nearly gasped in surprise. The girl, like Farah, appeared to be of South Asian decent, but was dressed in a pair of dungarees and polo neck, unlike Farah’s traditional salwar kameez. It was the first time Farah had seen another Asian pupil at the school. She stared at her intently. The girl stood straight, and scanned the room. She met Farah’s gaze and grinned at her. As the head mistress exited the classroom, Mr Redgrave introduced the girl as Maliha Karani. What a pretty name, thought Farah.
“Who would like to volunteer and look after Maliha?” asked Mr Redgrave. The children smiled back at the new girl, but nobody raised their hand. Then Maliha picked up her school bag, and from it, took out a box of chocolates.
“My Mummy said I should share these with the class,” she told Mr Redgrave, then smiled at her peers again. One, then two, then three hands shot up, then another and another.
“Well, thank you Maliha. How about we have them at play time,” and he placed the chocolates on his desk before regarding the show of hands. But before Mr Redgrave could pick a volunteer, Maliha stepped forward and earnestly announced,
“She’ll look after me,” and walking towards the back row, came and sat next to Farah. “We’re going to be best friends,” she told Farah.
Her excited cousins interrupted Farah’s thoughts. She raised her head to see the procession of young men entering the hall. Farah’s gut tightened and her nails dug into her palms. She recognised the groom at once. He wore the traditional Indian wedding garments. A long embroidered and tailored jacket, gathered trousers and a decorated turban. Farah heard her cousins giggling and whispering beside her, and tried to capture their camouflaged conversation.
“But he should be wearing mojri,” whispered one cousin.
“Shhh… not so loud,” another one scolded.
Discreetly, Farah gazed ahead and looked down at the groom’s feet. Instead of the traditional, pointy-toed shoes; the usual footwear for an Indian bridegroom, he wore ragged leather sandals.
Farah was seeing Nadeem for the first time. She had only seen a picture of him before. He had been smiling in the photograph, but his face held a stern expression now. Nadeem’s shoulders were slouched, and Farah guessed that he was even taller than he appeared. Nadeem towered above his relatives, as they approached the stage towards Farah. Farah clutched her bouquet tighter. Her heart thumped against her chest, as if trying to escape.
The bride’s mother rushed towards the bridegroom. She hugged him briefly, before leading him up onto the stage, to the throne like chair, next to her daughter. She held his hand and placed it over Farah’s. Farah’s hand froze at the touch. The urge to pull away was severe. She looked up to see the tears in her mother’s eyes and tried to relax. This hadn’t been easy for her mother either, Farah knew that. So she turned to Nadeem and managed to feign a smile, before welcoming the piece of burfi he held out to her.
The Boy with the Leather Sandals by Akeela Bhattay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.