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Things I say to my son while he sleeps

Story by Hananah Zaheer (Read author interview) December 7, 2020

Art by Huseyin Akuzum

If you end up breaking your promise and climbing out the window into the alley and meeting those boys whose beards are nearing manhood and whose angry eyes pick at my body—I know they see a useless woman, a crumbling moral life, no man to protect me—and who slip you into the dark mouth of the old internet café down in Johar Town and who won’t let you smoke (though I am grateful to them for this,) with whom your eyes sharpen when you tell them you want to be pure and when they pat your shoulders and say you are doing Allah’s work, brother, and who give you advice on how to bow when you pray and hand you a gun and tell you your father is probably in Hell, though listen he was a good man, no matter what he did– it is not a sin to work at a bookstore when you have four mouths to feed, even when the books have things that are shameful and you have to listen, he was not spreading immorality, son, he was keeping you alive—if they find you battles to fight, tell you all the things wrong with the doctor’s family you’ve lived next door to you entire life, whose mother carried you when you were little, whose children you played with, who was the first to run to your father with when he lay bleeding in the street (remember, he steadied your hand over your father’s chest, showed you how to keep the blood inside?)—but whose daughter steps out of her house without covering her head and if little fires of shame burn inside you for knowing them and because you see my head uncovered in the market, too, and those boys tell you that the entire neighborhood is watching you share your wall with a Kafir, that your father died not because of the bullet but because he was sin and because an unholy hand touched him at the end, and if they burn enough of your heart that it scatters like cinder and if you find yourself bold, in the moonlight, and your feet are steady on the brick along our street and, even before the chimney smoke has died down in our house, even before your brothers have gone to sleep, already you can feel yourself a man, the kind of man who wants to clean all the sin from his blood, who will be wrapped in coldness at the kitchen table in the morning, the kind of man who will always find purpose in erasure, who tells himself he will never bear the insult of a blasphemer’s existence on Allah’s earth, if those boys’ words are the beat of your steps, if your hand is bold enough to ring the doorbell, knowing I am waiting for you just a few feet away, knowing your brothers are looking for you like you used to look for your father, and if you stand at that door, waiting for it to open, and if your fingers are just a little numb around the gun and if you shift your feet and if you feel as if there are a million eyes on your back but you feel alive, more alive than you have ever felt, forgetting that your existence is the purest thing there can be, turn the gun to your own head, son, and shoot.

About the Author

Hananah Zaheer

Hananah is a writer, editor, improvisor and photographer. She serves as a Fiction Editor for Los Angeles Review, and as senior editor for SAAG: a dissident literary anthology—a project that seeks to not only lay claim to revolutionary ideas and avant-garde traditions, but to make space for radical and experimental South Asian art and writing in the literary world. She is the founder of the Dubai Literary Salon, an international prose-reading series.

She is the author of Lovebirds (Bull City Press, 2021). Other writing has appeared or is forthcoming in places such as Kenyon Review, Best Small Fictions 2021, Waxwing, AGNI, Pithead Chapel, Smokelong (Pushcart nomination), Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, South West Review, Alaska Quarterly Review (with a Notable Story mention in Best American Short Stories 2019) and Michigan Quarterly Review, where she won the Lawrence Foundation Prize for Fiction. She was awarded a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Fiction at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference for 2019, was a finalist for the Smoke Long Fellowship 2019, the Doris Betts’ Fiction prize 2014 and a recipient of residencies and fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Rivendell Writers’ Colony and the Ragdale Foundation. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart prize.

You can find her at www.hananahzaheer.com or on Twitter @hananahzaheer

About the Artist

Find more photography by Huseyin Akuzum at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Nine

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