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Fahmidan Journal / Issue 7 

Ghazala

by Areej Quraishi

Forty-six years ago I wanted hair like my mother’s

Bunched into braids encircling her crown

so it couldn’t touch the ground

The sooty streaks sprouting at her roots

have now ensconced her ebony mane

But it still takes just as long for my fingers

to untwist the plaits curving into a horseshoe

that dips beneath her nape


She and Baba named me for the gazelle

Sprightly, slender and sharp

I was none save for the last but all was well

for a time, because I was taught I was perfect

I could eavesdrop after being sent from the room

as Doctor Uncle murmured about “Trisomy 21”

I could swing higher and skip stones farther

than my brother, named for The Ascension


Miraj, I’d jeer, decades before the day I ceased to speak,

I thought I was the one with special needs!

Mama and Baba’s laughter reminded us it didn’t matter

that this Ghazala didn’t emulate her name


It didn’t matter that I was stout, slow and scant-haired

that my fingers couldn’t knit or knead

that my schoolfriends couldn’t understand me

when my tongue switched the s’s with d’s

and left out the r’s and f’s



Then my khalas sent Binny and Munni to Osmania

and I said When will my turn come?

They said When you’re older, until

Dolly and Akbari, still waddling in diapers

when I lost my first tooth joined college too

and the answer changed to Inshallah.


Henna crusted and flaked off all sixteen of their palms

on each wedding day, uncovering swirls of maroon

against which I rubbed my nose, gulping the sugary scent

and the graveness etched in Mama and Baba’s faces

when I asked for my turn again taught me



that Trisomy 21 wounds womanhood.



That was the day the coin-sized whorl on top

of my scalp began widening, the day I began sporting


a cap


and Miraj’s old kurtas, t-shirts and shorts

because people only like perfection when it’s the right kind


Each new year, I cradled each cousin’s new baby and

each new year witnessed them saying more while I said less

until one day, my lips refused to even utter

Jeethay raho


My legs refused to carry me to void my bladder

where I was supposed to

Less and less I reached to undo my mother’s hair,

more and more I spit food back into my bowl


around whose rim is engraved a silhouette,

slender, spry, slight,

a ghazala.

Areej Quraishi

Author / 

Areej Quraishi's writing appears in Indiana Review, The Normal School, Sycamore Review, Porter House Review, jmww, Baltimore Review, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. It has received accolades and finalist spots from Glimmer Train Press, CRAFT Literary, and Salamander Magazine. Her writing explores familial relationships, cultural identity, memory, and fairytales. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Washington-Seattle and is a Black Mountain Institute fellow and PhD candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is the former Editor of Witness. She's currently at work on a novel and two short story collections.

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