Spotlight: Mina Malik-Hussain

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

It's Nice to Have a Hobby


The second piece in our December 2020 ‘Spotlight’ series is a short story by Mina Malik-Hussain. Combining the macabre with dark humour, ‘It's Nice to Have a Hobby’ tells the tale of a group of women who indulge in a unique leisurely pursuit.


“It’s such a wonderful return to the basics,” Amina said, tucking the phone under her chin. “I didn’t realise how satisfying it is to do things with your hands.” She flexed the pedal on her sewing machine, which whirred with a satisfying briskness.


“Of course! I think it’s why Nani still doesn’t have arthritis,” replied her mother. Amina could hear the click of knitting needles on the other end—it wasn’t just her grandmother that was good with her hands. She squinted at her sewing machine, licking thread. It was tricky, with the phone and the narrow eye of the needle.


“I hope you’ve been keeping up with your friends,” her mother continued. “I worry about you being lonely, all by yourself in your flat.”


“It’s been fine, Ami. I have people in the building I’m friends with and we’ve been isolating the same way, so I think I’ve got a safe group of people I can have chai with.”

Shukar hai. These western lifestyles, they just don’t suit us. You weren’t raised like this, nuclear family-shamily, I don’t know how you’ve adjusted to so much silence, all by yourself in that flat.”


Amina laughed. “The silence is the best part, Ami, you should try it sometime.”


Badtameez. I like my noisy house, thank you very much. Acha, I’m going now, Ertugrul is beginning.”


“Bye, Ami, have fun doing Turkish poondi.”


Chup ho, pagal. Bye.”


“Bye.”


Amina laughed, setting the phone down. A pang of love struck her, imagining her mother sitting on her usual spot on the living room sofa, knitting needles bobbing as she watched her soaps on the same television they had had since Amina was a teenager. She’d offered so many times to replace the clunky old box, but her mother insisted that she preferred it to the sleeker, shinier models out there. Amina wasn’t convinced and was planning to replace it by stealth the next time she was home.


Whenever that would be, Amina thought sourly, rummaging in the little drawer of her sewing table for a bobbin. Covid lockdown had been imposed just days before she had been due to fly out of Atlanta back to Lahore, and she had stayed put instead of risking being stuck in Lahore for an undecided period of time. At least she could keep her job, and thereby independence. Amina wasn’t certain her mother wouldn’t try to introduce her to some Nice Boys once she had Amina in the house for longer than three days, and Amina had limited interest in Nice Boys.


She snapped the bobbin into the needle bed and gave the foot pedal a few experimental pumps. The machine whirred efficiently, like a hungry metallic cat.


“Good, good,” Amina murmured. She got up from the little table. It was almost five p.m. She put the kettle on in her cheerful little kitchen. The yellow and white backsplash glowed in the late afternoon light, complemented by potted herbs lined in terracotta planters on the counter. Amina hummed to herself, putting out mugs, herbal teabags and plating some cookies from a jar. Promptly at five, the doorbell rang. Amina glanced quickly after her reflection in the chrome toaster before striding over to open the door and let Raquel in.


“Hello, hello!” she lilted, stripping off her mask as she ducked in quickly. Plopping a big canvas bag onto the floor, Raquel grabbed the disinfectant spray on the table by the door and gave herself and the bag a quick once-over before flopping onto the sofa. “I’m so glad we’ve got this sew-date, I’ve been going crazy at home.”


Amina hovered by the kitchen counter. “Tea? Peppermint or chamomile?”


Raquel waved a hand. “Peppermint, anything is fine.”


Amina brought two mugs over and sat down. “Sheila will be here any minute, then we can begin.”


Raquel sipped at her tea. “That’s great. Have you been able to get any new fabric?”


Amina nodded eagerly. “Just last week! I think it’s ready to use now. Such a supple texture, I think it’ll be really lovely.”


“Lucky you, I’ve had a real dry spell. I’m not sure I mind though, it’s been a break. Sort of.”


The friends drank their tea companionably until there was a brisk knock on the door, announcing Sheila’s arrival. A petite, pale redhead, Sheila was wearing a tartan cloth mask and dragging two small wheelie bags.


“Let the games begin!” she announced, heaving them in.


When you strangled kittens for fun, a lone woman in an apartment didn’t seem especially problematic. Until the lone woman was joined by two more, and chloroform was produced, and before you knew it, you were on a slab in the narrow space behind the shower wall, on your way to sartorial rebirth.

Raquel clapped her hands in glee. “This is going to be epic! How did you manage?”


Sheila grinned, spraying her bags. “A little something called CoveLove.”


Amina wrinkled her nose. “Covelove? Like…Covid love?”


Sheila nodded mischievously. “The very same. It’s a dating app for people ready to lift the lockdown on their personal lives. And that’s a direct quote from the app.”

The women all laughed.


“Bloody idiots,” said Raquel, unzipping her sewing case and lifting her machine out onto the coffee table. “They deserve what comes to them.”


“Yeah, if you think you’re untouchable… here we are to touch them good,” Sheila giggled.


The women set up their sewing machines. Amina put a record on her player, an old Mehdi Hasan one.


“I love your oldie music,” Raquel commented. “Even though I don’t understand a damn word. Why is it always so sad?”


“Because we don’t see love like you do,” Amina replied. “It’s always about loving from afar and loving an imaginary ideal that’s so much better than the real thing.”


“Yeah, because when you actually get under someone’s skin, and confront their bones, then that reality hits different,” Raquel mused.


Sheila nodded. “Take this, for example,” she said, pulling out a long, pale brown strip from her second wheelie bag. “He was so lovely. He used to send me poetry and play his guitar for me over the phone.” She stroked the piece nostalgically. “But he was also a control freak who kept hassling me about my leg hair.”


Amina snorted. “Leg hair? You’re as hairless as a baby. He clearly didn’t know any South Asian women.”


“Or Spanish ones,” Raquel chimed in, stroking her arm hair wryly. Amina and Raquel both dissolved into laughter.


“Amina, play that one where she does ‘don’t be silly’, that’s my favourite one,” Raquel said.


“Isn’t it great?” Amina replied, crossing over to the record player console. “That was a really funky time for Pakistani music.”


“Yeah, us and our entire floor knew that.” shot back Raquel.


Sheila watched them laugh, feeling that familiar jealous pang that shot through her whenever Amina and Raquel got into a conversation like this. They were old friends, ever since they were freshman roommates together and sometimes Sheila felt like she was watching them from one side of a clear wall. In moments like these she could see how Amina and Raquel had a unique space they shared, warm with memory and love, that Sheila would never really be a part of, and it made her sad and irritated in equal parts. She felt like she was late to the party in many ways.


“Okay, so have you got anything darker?” Raquel asked, pulling out a half-done piece from her own bag. “I’m stuck on this because I wanted a hood, but I haven’t got enough material for it.”


“Do you want a wearable hood?” Amina said, examining the half-finished cape. “I don’t think you’ll have enough for a big one.”


Raquel shook her head. “No, it’s more a street look kind of thing.”


Sheila rummaged through her bag and extracted a largish, roughly rectangular piece of darker material. “You could try this. Nice and soft, utterly weird bastard. Wrung a sparrow’s neck before breakfast because it was making too much noise.”


Amina winced. “Poor little bird, how cruel.” She fed an almost-finished piece under her needle, clicking the presser foot down. “I do like how this cape is shaping up though. It’s almost all from one guy.”


“Always a nice continuity,” Raquel nodded approvingly, carefully turning her scissors around the pattern she was cutting out of her material. “Was he quite tall?”


“Yes, and a bit fat too,” Amina replied, squinting at her machine as it whirred. “I wonder if I should do a double stitch, sometimes fat ones turn out thin in the skin.”


“Show me?” Sheila said, walking over. She fingered the material hanging off the side. Hmm. Maybe one more parallel line. A contrast would be nice.”


“Good idea…maybe a green?” Amina suggested. “He was wearing a green t-shirt the day I harvested. Looked nice.”


Raquel got up and went to the kitchen. Next to the fridge was a cabinet. She slid a panel aside, pressed some numbers into the keypad that was revealed, and opened it. A waft of foggy air misted out of it. Raquel rifled through the contents.


“We’re running low, girls,” she said solemnly, holding a hanger from which dangled a large plastic-sheeted envelope that looked like what a coat cover would, if it were manufactured by Ziploc. The cabinet door closed by itself behind Raquel with a smooth hydraulic hiss and audible click of its locking mechanism. She observed the process with satisfaction. “I’m so proud of that, five years strong and still smooth as silk,” she said to nobody in particular.


“That’s true,” Amina said. They both gazed at their secret fridge door fondly. “Now stop showing off, you big dork,” she added, squinting at the stitches she’d just made.


“Well, it’s a good thing then that I’ve got a little surprise for you two then,” said Sheila, with a bubble of mischief in her voice. The others looked up.


“You have that look in your eye,” Raquel said slowly. She and Amina exchanged a glance. Amina and Sheila had been living across each other for six months before striking up a friendship over mis-delivered sewing supplies. When Amina went home to Lahore, Sheila watered her plants; when Sheila went wherever she did, Amina fed her cat. They progressed to Sheila being invited to dinner every Thursday, a ritual Amina and Raquel had had for years. And one midnight, when Sheila rang her doorbell with a strange, wild look on her face, eyes strangely aglow, it was Amina who had, barefoot, slipped across the hall to see what Sheila had done.


It was one thing to help your friend through her first murder, but quite another to realise you had found yet another kindred spirit. And so, Amina helped Sheila bring her still-warm lover across the hall to Amina’s bathroom. More specifically, the sliding panel behind her shower cabinet, beyond which lay a properly tiled little room with an industrial strength grinder, waste disposal system and excellent drainage—Raquel was an architect who was very, very good at her job. Sheila watched with incredulous relief as the two friends worked in efficient tandem, cutting, snipping and chopping. “How long have you been doing this?” she had asked, sitting down abruptly. Amina and Raquel had chuckled—another private moment between them. “It’s a good space, isn’t it?” Raquel had said, evading the question. Sheila had let it alone. Some questions weren’t particularly relevant.


Of the three of them, Sheila was the most unpredictable. It worked to their advantage, since Sheila did most of the ‘recruiting’. They were always careful, looking for out-of-town visitors whose dating app profiles were only active when they travelled. They sifted through the unsavoury parts of the Internet, where dangerous people were only too happy to meet a delicate young lady with curling auburn hair, alone. What could possibly go wrong? When you strangled kittens for fun, a lone woman in an apartment didn’t seem especially problematic. Until the lone woman was joined by two more, and chloroform was produced, and before you knew it, you were on a slab in the narrow space behind the shower wall, on your way to sartorial rebirth.


Amina spoke first. “Fess up, what have you been up to?” Sheila tried to look remorseful but was entirely unsuccessful. Do first and ask for forgiveness later.


“What if we got a hit… tonight?”


“Tonight? And how would that be happening?”


“It would be happening if a friend of yours had seen someone fucking hot on CoveLove and was feeling horny in both ways.”


Amina groaned. “Aw yaar, Sheils, I don’t feel like sharpening knives tonight man. And I just scrubbed the grout in the back room!”


“Come on guys!” urged Sheila. “I swear to you he’s going to be utterly worth it, he’s so delicious you’ll be covered in drool…wait I’ll show you.” She pulled her phone out of her back pocket and began scrolling. She held out her phone to the two others.


There was a brief silence.


“Holy shit, Sheila!” Raquel gasped. “Do you know who that is?”


Sheila shrugged. “Someone flaming hot?”


Raquel grabbed her own phone and began tapping. “No, you idiot! It’s not just someone fucking hot, it’s Brendan Truske!”


“What?” said Amina, peering closer at Sheila’s phone. “The really rich guy?”


“Not just really rich!” Raquel said, handing her phone to Amina. “He’s that billionaire, his house parties are insane—a model who dumped him apparently OD’d at one of them. Conveniently.”

“Fuck!” Sheila said. “But… he wasn’t arrested or anything!”


Raquel’s lips twisted sardonically. “I wonder why that is.”


“Shit, guys,” Sheila said, beginning to pace. “I didn’t know! I just thought he was another dumb asshole on the site!”


“He is undoubtedly a dumb asshole, but he’s a really dangerous and well-connected one. This isn’t the same as some sex offender from Kansas,” replied Raquel dryly.


Amina began packing up her sewing machine. “Well, that decides it. It’s not like he’s coming here or anything, Sheila—just cancel whatever you set up with him and it’s probably time to delete that CoveLove profile. It’s okay, we can handle this. Besides, just because someone overdosed at a party doesn’t make the host a murderer.” She zipped her sewing case shut. Raquel and Sheila just stood there. “What? Come on, let’s clear up. I made spaghetti.”


Sheila gulped. “He’s just messaged. He’s downstairs.”


Amina tut-tutted, throwing her hands up in the air and feeling like her mother. “So tell him to go away, then! What’s gotten into you?”


Sheila toyed with her phone.


“Don’t you dare,” said Raquel.


“Just hear me out,” Sheila said. “Let him come up. It’s not a big deal. We don’t have to do anything, I’ll just get my rocks off in my own place, and he can leave!”


“How can he just leave when you’ve promised him— “ Raquel grabbed Sheila’s phone “ ‘a gr8 kinky time, maybe sum knife-play’? He’s a weird, dangerous dude and he’s famous enough. People are going to notice if he just vanishes in Atlanta on a business trip!”


Amina winced. “What on earth is ‘knife-play’ anyway? It sounds disgusting.”


Sheila grabbed her phone back. It started buzzing with incoming messages. “Well, you have to pander to the crowd to pull them. He’s messaging me. Come on guys, what’s the worst that can happen? He’ll try to pull a stunt? You girls are literally across the hall, I’ll just call you. Amina, you can use your lawyering intimidation skills on him to make him scram. It’ll be fun!”


Raquel rolled her eyes. “You know that is literally the dumbest plan I ever heard, don’t you? You’ll just speed dial us if a stranger decides to murder you?”


“Obviously I’m just simplifying, but he’s here now and I’m so fucking bored. Come on, we’re not new at this, nothing like that has to happen.”


Amina had been tapping at her phone whilst the two bickered. “Girls.” They looked at her. “That model. She didn’t just OD, someone cut off her finger.”


There was a brief silence. Sheila’s phone buzzed again. She looked down at it.


“I don’t know about you, but I think I’m in love.” Her fingers flew over the screen.


Amina sighed. “Then tell him to come here.”


Sheila’s typing paused. “Are you sure?”


Oil on canvas by Zahra Asim (from the private collection of Sehr Latif)

“Yes, I’m sure. Take him into the guest room, Raquel and I can be in my room and it’s less stupid than you trying to Morse-code us from across the hall.” Amina said, beginning to tidy up.


Raquel’s nostrils flared in annoyed disagreement, but she began helping Amina anyway, picking up the material they had been using during the sewing and stashing them in the hidden refrigerated cabinet. When Sheila got pig-headed over something, it was very difficult to distract her. It made her an excellent material scout, but it had its drawbacks. “And be sure to disinfect him before ravishing him, it’s bad enough that he won’t be wearing a mask,” Amina added sternly. Raquel shuddered. “Disgusting. We’ll have to burn the sheets.”

Living room restored to its usual ordinary prettiness, both women sat down expectantly on the couch. The doorbell rang.


Sheila fluffed her hair. “It’s show time!”


Raquel rolled her eyes. Sheila grimaced, not without a touch of irritation. “Stop being such a killjoy, he isn’t going to be chopping my head off here.”


Then she opened the door and Brendan Truske strode in, smiling a full-lipped, lazy smile.


“You must be Tracey,” he said, putting out his hand to shake. He brushed a lock of brown hair out of his eyes as they settled on Amina and Raquel, trying their best not to gape at him. “I didn’t realise we would be having company,” he added, his voice pitched at an extremely pleasant timbre. Sheila giggled, almost simpering.


“This is my housemate, Audrey.” Raquel waved casually at her usual alias.


“And this is her friend Rupa,” Sheila continued, gesturing at Amina. Brendan smiled at both, looking them straight in the eye each time as he introduced himself. Amina’s stomach flipped over, and her eyes slid to the side. A lifetime of being told not to talk to boys was a habit that ten years of living away from home hadn’t yet broken.


“Welcome to our humble abode,” she said. “I mean, this humble abode. Uh.”


Brendan laughed. Raquel was shooting daggers at Amina, who looked away quickly. They weren’t supposed to engage, particularly not with a fiendishly handsome man. Who knew what kinds of fiend he really was? Sheila seemed to really want to know as she pulled him towards the guest room. “Come on, let me give you the tour… to my room,” she drawled.


Brendan pulled his arm away. “But you haven’t given me a chance to talk to your lovely friends yet.” he said, folding himself into one of Amina’s armchairs. Raquel eyed him warily.


Yeh kya hai?” she muttered to Amina in the Urdu she had picked up from Amina over the years for precisely such coded purposes. Amina smiled for show.


Pata nahin.” she murmured.


Brendan looked at the women. “Hey, what language is that? I know some Arabic, habibi habibi.”


Amina felt that familiar relief of a handsome man’s charms instantly evaporating the minute they said something stupid.


“It’s nice to meet you,” she said, pointedly getting to her feet. “I have to get some work done, so.” Raquel stood too. Brendan stayed seated, looking up at them with amusement. Raquel leveled a mocking look at him.


“Don’t you have something you’d rather be doing too?”


Brendan’s gaze shifted to Sheila, who was perched on the back of the couch trying her best to look nonchalant. “I was promised some… interesting times,”he said, reaching inside his jacket. Amina felt Raquel tense beside her, and for the first time she wished she were closer to the kitchen, and the knife block. The Taser under the sofa might not quite cut it in this situation. She held her breath, her heart thumping, as Brendan drew out a switchblade. “Maybe we could be fruitful and multiply our fun.” He let the blade hiss out, the lamplight glinting yellow off it.


“Absolutely gorgeous,” Sheila purred, springing up before either of her friends could respond. “Why don’t you show me that big boy privately?” She grabbed Brendan’s hand. This time he rose and allowed himself to be led to the bedroom. He looked back at Raquel and Amina. “Feel free to join us, ladies,” he said, waggling the switchblade and winking. Raquel flipped him the bird.


An hour later, Amina and Raquel were woken from their doze in front of Netflix by a scream. Both women leapt awake, electrified. Amina dove to the carpet, pulling the Taser out from beneath the sofa.


“Sheila?” Raquel yelled, striding to the door. It flew open. Brendan staggered out, clad only in underwear, gasping. They could hear Sheila crying hysterically. A cut above his forehead dribbled blood down the side of his face. “Are you okay, Sheila?” Raquel called, warily circling Brendan and trying to see inside the dark room.


Sheila’s voice emerged, a ragged sob. “Raquel, Raquel, it’s my hand!”


“What have you done to her?” Amina shouted, brandishing the Taser at Brendan. “Get away from the door or I’m firing this!”


Brendan wheezed, shaking his head. He lurched aside and Raquel rushed in, turning on the lights. A barely-dressed Sheila was hunched on the bed, clutching her hand and moaning. Blood soaked the bedding. In the middle of the crimson patch lay a finger. Raquel cursed in Spanish and ran for the first-aid box.


“Shit! Shit!” Amina cried from the door, where she kept her Taser pointed at Brendan. “Are you okay, Sheils? Is that…your finger?”


Sheila nodded, trying to stop crying. “The bastard did it!” Raquel’s mouth twisted in anger as she threw the white box open. Spools of wrapped bandages and a dented tube of Polyfax skittered out. “What the fuck is this?” Raquel said, squinting at it.


“It’s Pakistani Neosporin,” Amina retorted. “And it’s not going to do a damn thing for that. Get ice and a paper towel, and call 911.” Raquel ran out again.


Amina heard a clunk. Brendan was standing in the bathroom, near the shower. “Get away from there!” Amina shouted, sprinting towards him. He tried to dive away, but she pulled the trigger. Electricity crackled from the Taser as 1200 volts charged into Brendan, who crashed to the tiled floor like a sack of rice. Amina closed the bathroom door and shoved a hallway chair under the handle.


Raquel had wrapped and bagged the finger, and Sheila was breathing into a paper bag, trying to calm down. Raquel was holding Sheila’s injured hand up above her head. “I Googled it,” she said to Amina with a sheepish look. “The EMT will be here in ten minutes. They were apparently already in the area.” she paused. “I didn’t think you were actually doing to do that knife shit, Sheila.”


Sheila shook her head. “We weren’t. We were in the middle of things, and he pinned me down… I thought it he was just being forceful. And then that bloody knife came out.”


“That fucker must have done the same to that model,” Raquel said darkly. “But the buck stops here.”


Amina glanced back at the bathroom door. “Well, he almost found the chop shop so I Tasered him. Where’s that bloody switchblade?”


“Hold on, you did what?” Raquel said, trying not to laugh. “Where is he?”


“I locked him in the bathroom,” Amina said, looking through the sheets and the comforter. “He’s passed out. Why was he gasping?”


“I don’t know,” Sheila said. The doorbell rang. Amina went to let the EMTs in. The rest was a blur of neon jackets, many voices talking at once, and then silence. And happily, the same from the unconscious man in the bathroom.


*


Amina’s phone rang. She wiped her hands on her apron and answered, propping the phone against the toaster.


“Hi, Ami,” she said, lifting the lid off the pot of rice she had on the stove. Her mother’s forehead wrinkled at her—as usual, she was holding the phone at the wrong angle for Facetime.

“Are you cooking?” she asked.


“Yes!” Amina said, carefully running a spatula through the rice. “I’m making khichri!”


“Why? Have you got a tummy upset?” The phone righted itself, and Amina’s mother’s worried face peered at her as if she could see into her daughter’s body through the little screen. “Did you eat fish? It isn’t the season, you know!”


Amina’s mouth quirked at this reminder of desi culinary superstition, that you shouldn’t eat fish in months with no ‘r’ in their names. “Nobody believes that here, and you know it. I just felt homesick. Got to go now, bye!”


“Always rushing off somewhere. I’ll call you again darling, don’t be sad.”


Amina smiled. “I’m not sad, don’t worry. Love you.” She hung up, scooped some khichri out into a bowl and carried it down to the guest room.


“Knock knock,” she said, going in. “Here’s lunch.” Brendan Truske was sitting on the bed, a long sturdy strip of canvas around his ankle. The other end was padlocked to the foot of the bed. “Have you decided when this shitshow is coming to an end?” he asked. “I came here for some fun, not being taken hostage.”


Amina smiled thinly, sitting down. “That was all fine until you cut off my friend’s finger. We take things like that very seriously around here.”


Truske snorted. “The bitch was asking for it.”


Amina felt her heart beginning to race with a familiar excitement—that moment when one realises that the choice of recruit was just perfect. She took the fork from the bowl she had brought in. “Some might say the opposite, Brendan,” she said, twirling the implement in her fingers. He watched her. He didn’t look nervous enough. He was thinking she couldn’t do much with a fork. She put the hot tines under his eye and pressed. She could feel things slide beneath the metal, trying to resist, giving way. He screamed. “Why are you doing this?” he sobbed. Blood ran down his face in a slow trickle.


“Why does one do anything, really?” Amina said. “I’d argue that it’s just fun when bad things happen to assholes.”


“So what? Are you all some kind of vigilantes?” he whimpered, clutching the side of his face.


“Heavens, no. We just like to sew.” Amina said, sticking the bloody fork into the bowl of rice. “Don’t forget to eat your lunch.”


She left the room and found Raquel coming in the front door. “Good timing, Ray. Tea first, then fun?” Raquel grinned. “Fun first, tea later?” They held hands as they walked down to the guest room. “Guess what I found?” Raquel said, stopping by a small tiled cabinet in the hall. She took out Brendan’s switchblade. Amina clapped.


“Well done! What a poetic touch!”


Raquel pulled a small bottle of chloroform out of the cabinet too. The two friends proceeded down the hall.


*


The doorbell rang. Amina bounded over to open it, revealing Sheila smiling wanly at her. Amina pulled her inside and enveloped her in a hug.


“Careful,” Sheila said, holding her bandaged hand away from their bodies. “Doctor says I can’t flex my hand until everything is healed enough.”


“It’s so good to see you,” Amina said, leading Sheila to the sofa. “Does it still hurt a lot? It looks okay, somehow. Did they buy the story of chopping your own finger off with the switchblade?”


“Yeah.” Sheila said wryly, turning her heavily wrapped-up hand over. “It’s a relief to be back, though. I love my mother, but two weeks is enough time at home.”


Amina smiled. “We’ve got a surprise for you!”


“Oh no,” Sheila said. “The last time this group did surprises, it ended up with fingers on ice. I think I’m good for a bit.”


“It’s too late, because we’ve already done it. Consider it a tribute to our club. Come out, Raquel!” Amina called.


Raquel sashayed down the hall from the room, beat-boxing her idea of a cool tune to catwalk to. She was wearing an elegant cape draped around her shoulders that swung slightly as she pranced to the sofa, doing an exaggerated turn to show it off. The inside, and the hood, was lined with a rich paisley silk.


Sheila gasped. “Get out of town! You finished the cape?”


Raquel grinned. “What do you think?” She gave a little twirl. “Doesn’t it look amazing?”


Sheila nodded enthusiastically. “I’d clap if I could! God, it looks fantastic. Especially that hood!”


“Nothing like fresh material,” Raquel said, flipping the hood up over her head and stroking it, imitating a model. “Vogue, strike a pose.”


The kettle whistled, and Amina got up. “Tea, anyone?” Raquel carefully put the cape away in the refrigerated cabinet. Sheila settled happily into the sofa cushions. “I love you guys, and our club. It’s so nice to have a hobby.”




Mina Malik-Hussain is a writer and poet based in Lahore. Her work has appeared in Vallum, Architectural Digest and Scroll, amongst other literary magazines and journals. Mina is currently enrolled in an MSt in Creative Writing at Oxford University, and is the host of The Coffee Table, a talk show on national television.


Photo credit: Nashmia Haroon at Nashmia Haroon Photography.











About the artist: Zahra Asim was born in 1990 in Lahore, Pakistan. She graduated with a Bachelors in Fine Arts from the National College of Arts, Lahore, in 2014 and completed her Masters in Art and Design from the Beaconhouse National University Lahore, in 2019. She has participated in numerous group shows organised at various art galleries nationally and internationally. She was also a part of a residency at Sanat Initiative, Karachi, in 2014 and VASL Summer Residency in Karachi, in 2019. Her art is a narrative about congested spaces, which in her mind’s eye are a play of pattern-like formations. She currently lives and works in Lahore.

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