The second in our new series of literary vignettes is ‘The Girl’ by Durre Shahwar. These vignettes will be glimpses into the thinking of the writer and their experiences; from the day-to-day to the extraordinary. They might have the intimacy of a diary entry, or have the scope of something much larger.
I’m instantly drawn to her the minute she gets on the bus with her mother. Despite the rush hour, they manage to sit a few seats ahead of me. Others that come on after them stand, their hands clinging to poles. The girl seems to be in a quarrel with her mother. Her dark eyebrows are buried low, mouth set tight in determination, small shoulders shapeless beneath a green cardigan. She projects out of her small frame. The sun falls on and off her like a broken bulb, revealing the old eyes beneath the childish pixie cut. Eyes that patiently will the contact of her mother’s eyes. Her words are indistinguishable and almost inaudible among the babble of the people on the bus, but her voice crosses enough for me to know her anger.
She suddenly spits. Looking around the bus, no one else seems to have noticed. Or if they have, they have chosen to ignore it. Most stare distantly past whatever is in front of them. I look back to the girl, willing her to do it again. The motion replays behind my eyes, too clear to be imagined. She is still staring at her mother, who is still refusing to meet her gaze. The back of the parent gives away nothing but the slight shake of the head which ripples down her long, plaited black hair which contrasts against her orange sari.
The girl talks again. My mouth begins to soundlessly repeat the easiest word that my tongue can pick up, trying to match it with other words it knows in Urdu. She must be five. I think of my five-year-old niece, whose shy, plump face still only utters singular words, looking up at strangers from behind her mother’s skirt. Then the girl looks over at me, briefly. The scowl is still in her eyes that are bigger than the life of a five year old. Suddenly I am afraid and divert my eyes back to the red brick houses that mark the start of the suburban area of the city.
I try to imagine where they live, whether it’s a house or flat, big or small. Are the rooms wallpapered or white washed? The colour of the bricks, the size of the door, the curtains in the window.
I expect them to get off at every stop, but they continue sitting with ease. As though they are in no hurry to be at any particular place. It is contrasted with the other passengers’ anticipation of their destination. But there is no anticipation in them, this mother and child. They seem untethered from the list of errands, the dinner to be made, the post waiting on the doormat. When they do eventually get off the bus at their stop, I feel a sense of loss. Like finding a book with half of its pages ripped out.
Durre Shahwar is a writer and an Associate Editor for Wales Arts Review. Her work explores social and cultural issues, race, identity, intersectionality, and mental health. She is the co-founder of ‘Where I’m Coming From’, an open mic that promotes BAME writing in Wales. Durre is currently doing her PhD in Creative Writing at Cardiff University.