By Fatma Alharthi
This short story won second place in the nonfiction category of the Sekka Literary Prize 2022.
‘Are you done yet?’
Ahmed tries to open the door, assuming the halt of the shower signals an end to my restroom time. I am looking for the measuring tape. I shove the kohl eyeliner, sponge, brush, the bag of Plackers Flossers and the empty glass jar of face lotion I intended to reuse for some facial mask, like rose water with cornflower, which I have saved in the refrigerator, and apply it to my face every other day before washing it off, but it sat there for months, the lid lost and remnants of the lotion stuck on the container’s wall. I open the second drawer—contact lenses—the third—hairdryer, hair curler and straightener. The fourth has iron wax that I only used once. Ahmed knocks again.
‘Not yet. Wait for a few minutes.’
‘LabCorp. It might get crowded.’
‘It’s always crowded.’
He opens the door with a penny, undresses and gets inside the shower. I haven’t measured my waist or my thighs yet, but just from looking sideways in the mirror, some lumps can be ladled into my hands, some extra, extra fat that put me into the body of any of my sisters, but never me. Ahmed hums in the shower. His slightly enlarged paunch doesn’t seem to bother him, or if it does, he never talks about it. I stand on the scale. 134.08, it reads. I lost two pounds. Great, I just want to see the exclamation on the nurse’s face in the next GYN appointment saying, ‘You lost weight’, or ‘You look good’, or ‘How do you manage not to gain weight? That’s impressive!’ and then I’ll go nonstop talking about my zero-carb diet, my yoga, daily walk, the gallon of water I drink and the sixty squats in the shower. Except that this time, none of these is true. Ahmed’s hums stop, and so does the water.
‘Are you okay?’
Ahmed asks as he dries himself vigorously with the towel. I’ll remember to let him teach our child the art of drying so I won’t have a kid coming from the toilet dripping water. Other than his slightly tanned face, neck, arms and legs, the rest is white, maximising our chances of having a white kid. He calls me his brown sugar, and looking at him now, I realise that I never came up with a nickname that tells of me loving his white skin. He can be my marshmallow, but a marshmallow needs to be plump, and Ahmed is not plump, not structurally, I mean. He shakes his deodorant, applying two squirts under each pit. Ahmed starts putting his clothes on. Perhaps washing his hair every day makes him look cleaner than I do when I finish my shower. His bright face exudes cleanliness, and his hair spikes from the fluffy drying of the towel. I would never set a towel in my hair, as curly as it is, only the wide-toothed comb, styling cream and straightener.
‘Seriously, who upset you?’
Personalising the question elated me, making me feel like a partner worthy of pampering.
‘Be empathetic, okay?’
‘I’m just depressed with my body shape. This is not me. I look at my thighs, and I can’t look at them again. So bulky, so not like me .’
His Ummm is a leap in marital understanding. The old Ahmed would put on the hat of a consultant, telling me what to do and whatnot, that depression is severe, and that I shouldn’t conflate it with stress or disappointment. And aren’t I the one who always says we are what we think about? He is usually right about me blaming the wrong thing, like the piles of laundry, or fear of intimidation in grad school because of my bump or North Florida’s incessant rain that halts my daily walk.
This story is part of The Power of Words Issue. To continue reading this story and to read the issue in its entirety, click here to buy a digital copy of the issue.
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