Picture Credits: Samar Ahmad

On Lana’s left shoulder, there is a lion’s scratch. Four red lines take up the space of her upper arm. The same spot marred with a permanent scar of a chickenpox vaccine in my arm, lighter in color than the rest of my body. It surprises me how she hasn’t worn a different dress or sprawled a scarf on her faulty shoulder. Not only because the scratch is too visible and attending an engagement party requires a degree of perfection. But because I see in Lana’s scratch a premonition of my upcoming marriage. Having walked that door four years ahead of me, I see in her a godsister. Never shave, always use sugar, is one of her instructions I’ve followed ever since. 

No extra hair on my brows, upper lip, pits, or arms. I have a bruise on my bikini area only because I turned down Zainab’s offer to do it for me. I couldn’t imagine myself on the carpet opening my legs for some lady’s leaning head, applying warm sugar, then using a wash rag, pat the area, and pulling it forcefully opposite the hair roots while my nieces played hide and seek, and the maid peeped every now and then to check if Zainab needs another pot of tea. Zainab came with a Tupperware of hardened sugar, a portable gas stove, and a wad of wash rags, the likes of those sold by Afghani children at the traffic lights for only two riyals. Zainab advised me to apply cream on my hair-cleared areas, but Mom thought it disgraceful to use food on one’s body. I haven’t told Mom of Lana’s story about the girl she read on the internet who masturbates with a cucumber. I used cornflower and rosewater instead of cream.

“You look gorgeous,” Lana says after I walked the festooned path to the dais. As we embrace, I noticed the scratch and felt awkward, unsure where to place my hand. The scratch preys on the spot where I usually put my right palm as our cheeks touch in salute with flying kisses on either side. I inch my hand lower, closer to her elbow, to avoid touching the scratch. Crimson, bloody, and the four lines asymmetrical. If we have been in Africa, I wouldn’t doubt the lion scenario, but we are not. The scar is too large for the claws her Siberian cat and the teeth of her father-in-law’s German Shepard. Sitting next to me as other guests flood the dance floor, I whisper:

“Are you ok?”

“Yes,” she says and holds my hand to stand up and dance.

When Mom called the guests for dinner, I ask: “What happened?” and she says: “Later.” Ahmed’s sister is holding her phone. Lana hugs me and leaves.

When Ahmed inserts the engagement ring in my left hand, and his mom helps to take off the jewelry set my parents bought to put on the ruby white gold set they brought, I see in each ruby a trapped woman in the confines of her man’s world. Ahmed clasps the bracelet. The bracelet is too large, kept in the black leathered box, and so is my recollection of the four masculine fingers lassoing Lana’s arm.

About Fatima Alharthi

Alharthi writes essays and short stories. Her work appeared in Los Angeles Review. X-R-A-Y, SmokeLong Quarterly and Tahoma Literary Review among others.

Alharthi writes essays and short stories. Her work appeared in Los Angeles Review. X-R-A-Y, SmokeLong Quarterly and Tahoma Literary Review among others.

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