Sometimes when I walk past her room
I hear her howling. The kind of wailing that turns
your stomach on its head. We’ve all done it.
But I keep walking. Once or twice, I’ll stop—
at the top of the staircase
and look at her white bedroom door. Then I light a cigarette
and keep on walking. The same cigarette
tastes and burns different; in different rooms.
Her and I, we always dreamed of a house with winding stairs;
ceilings high enough to drown our bellows. He turned
into a caricature of himself. And us, the muffled voices yelling STOP
in the dialogue bubbles that never quite fit (in his comic)…
Do they need to hear hollow nothings? I can’t be fucked to do it.
So I pretend to hide behind my laptop, light another cigarette
and when the jungle is asleep, and they wedge a stopper
in their doors—to let the silence in—the rooms
taste sour still, waiting for the beasts to return.
I sit cross legged on the floor, staring
at the words, as if hanging from a clothing line in the air.
Cries, shrieks, anger, insults; mangled and vomit
ed. I can imagine his face, slowly turning
red, playing emotional roulette;
his eyes possessed as he kicks down my bedroom
door. But I’ll be gone, running nonstop
until my burnt lungs give out. Sometimes when we argue on top
of the twenty something stairs,
is it so bad that I want to push her down?—then sprint to my room,
lock the door, leap off the balcony and leave it—
all behind. Their only reminder of me will be the cigarette
stench soaking my walls, and his head will turn
towards the fluttering curtains;
but I’ll be gone. His anger will stop
the tears from staining his cheeks. He’ll slip a lit cigarette
to this mouth, stare into the smoke and pretend that he is staring
at me. I imagine the other two will cry, and in the corner will quietly sit
waiting to hear my naked feet paddle into the room.
Somewhere in the outskirts of Delhi, cigarettes turn
bitter. And it is far away from my room that I will stop,
stare at our moonlit villa, and know—gilded bricks make prisons, not homes.
Brinda Gulati has two degrees with a first class honours in creative writing from the University of Warwick. Her writing is an unlikely marriage of reconciling her Westernisation with her Indian body and space. Her nonfiction and poetry has found homes in The Sunday Times UK, HOOT Review, and Berfrois Magazine, among others. Her works can be found at www.brindagulati.com
Zaam Arif is an American-Pakistani contemporary artist residing and working in Houston, Texas. He is the youngest Pakistani artist to be published in The New Yorker. In 2021, his work was selected to be exhibited in the Malamegi Lab Award and was awarded the Malamegi Lab Research Grant in Italy.
Zaam explores existentialist experiences of the layman, the experiences that we tend to hide. He confronts it with a penetrating interpretation of human nature, transformingit into a visceral reality. His work is a manifestation of his understanding of the contemporary human condition along with insights garnered from his study of classical literature and psychology. He is adamant in exploring the harsher truths and inner conflicts that plague us all in this day and age, using visual contrast in all his pieces, whether through colour, lack thereof, or the medium itself, to express it.