The following is an excerpt from a piece first published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 5 (2021).
Sana woke up from a dream of a storm. Turquoise sky lowering with grey. Grand and frothing waves. Far away, a black speck, a boat perhaps, a person in distress. A fleck of mascara on the inside of her glasses.
Ali lay in bed next to her, still asleep, one naked thigh out of the covers and propped on a pillow. Beyond her bedroom the dark apartment lived a life of its own. She had not opened Mina’s room, not even to check if there was any leftover food that should be thrown out.
At Mina’s funeral in Karachi their mum had made Sana hand over Mina’s phone. Then she spent a whole day huddled into a sofa in a corner of the living room, wrapped in a vast shawl from which only her fingers protruded, entering birthdates, zip codes, fragments of their old landline phone number—5877, 7065, 0659—until she hit upon the password. Sana was already back in New York when, photo by photo, followed by spurts of twenty or thirty at a time, mum WhatsApped her everything from Mina’s selfies folder.
Tonight’s dream started in the bar where Sana had met Ali for their first date. The date had been set up weeks ago and she went, she wanted to leave the apartment. Ali sat opposite her at a Formica table the colour of curdled milk, his figure melting into the orange lights. She watched his fingers turn over the leaves of a book and charted with interest and trepidation the growth of a liquid feeling in her stomach. When he looked up and smiled, she did too, and then she noticed the TV mounted above the bar behind him. It was playing a video from Mina’s cell phone.
Mina stood on one of the rickety wooden boats that they used to rent for crabbing, six or seven of them pooling their money for a day out on the stinking water at Kemari. Sana could tell that she was on the second storey of the boat by the pole topped with a green flag that rose up behind her. Sana could hear the wind, but Mina was alone. Everybody else was probably downstairs eating masala aloo and crab lollipops with sticky fingers while Mina had her deep thoughts by herself up in the wind. The torn red blanket of an awning snapped, and light leaked out of the frame as clouds approached behind her.
Mina looked off to the side, looked back at Sana, then said: “I’m just recording this as a note to myself.”
Sana didn’t want to look at what Mina had thought she would need reminding of in the future. Keep it to yourself, she thought.
Sana and Ali had been messaging on Tinder for months before they met. She didn’t expect much but he had turned out to be a surprise. “Did you know,” he said on their second date at the Met, “That Turner tied himself to the mast of a ship in the middle of a storm so that he could figure out what it felt like to be a ship before he painted one.”
What it felt like to be a ship.
“Is that really true?” Sana said.
Ali shrugged. Turner painted the wind with black paint. A burnt brown finger of wind reached out to touch a floundering white sail. The ship leaned away as far as it could. There was one tiny patch of clear blue sky right in the middle of the canvas, but the ship faced the other way, into the storm that funnelled toward it from the front of the canvas, from Sana.
“I feel like I’m standing at the beginning of the storm,” said Ali.
Mina used to call Turner Mallord. My Lord Turner. Once she came home with a poster of a painting roiled by water and ink and said, “I love him, this old duck.” But when she had to choose subjects for her A Levels, she chose Computers instead of Art. She liked the cold empty back of the computer lab where she looked up paintings and books on Internet Explorer. The sunny art room was too much for her, everybody in a circle on the floor with their drawing board on their knees, facing each other. She made their mother cry actual tears by painting on the newly whitewashed walls of the bedroom she shared with Sana, a big clumsy tree, many pairs of eyes. Hurricanes with thick grey poster paint. Sana hated it—she wanted the walls to be clean, with neat aluminium windows and nicely framed photos like at her friends’ houses. Their landlord wouldn’t paint over it all for many, many years.
Their dad was encouraging, but his enthusiasm waned when the trees and the eyes didn’t improve. More enthusiasm than talent, he said. More enthusiasm than sense, said their mum. Both of you.
Mina had counted the tiles on their floor and divided them into two and painted blue lines down the middle of their room. She marked a common path around the edges of the room and to the bathroom and the door. She threw screwed up paper and then a shoe at Sana when Sana trespassed onto her side. And once Sana wouldn’t stop poking her feet over the edge of the line, so Mina threw a glass at her, water and all. It exploded on the wall by Sana’s head and Sana paused, stunned, and then burst into tears. Mina said sorry, sorry, don’t tell mum, you’re all right, sorry, until Sana stopped crying and then Mina laughed. Sana laughed too.
Anum Asi is a writer from Karachi, an alum of the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Young Writers’ Workshop and VONA/Voices Fiction Workshop. Her fiction has been published in Headland and Litro Online, and she was a finalist for the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, 2019. At the time of volume five's publication, Anum was working on a novel while pursuing her MFA at Cornell University.*
Sanam Seema Mangi was born in Larkana, Sindh. She received her BFA in miniature painting from the National College of Arts, Lahore, and now lives and works in Karachi. She was recently selected to show her art at the Shakir Ali Museum, Lahore. Seema has held several exhibitions of her works at major galleries in Pakistan, including Ejaz Art Gallery.
NB: Author and artist bios for archival pieces are accurate as of the date of publication.