She dices bright yellow bell-peppers the size of her fists into strips with methodical movements of her wrists, — up down up down –, silver blade swinging through flesh
into wood like a guillotine. Her iPhone hums Fleetwood Mac from the countertop. The sun is low and sifts through the window-blinds, tints the scene sepia. Straggling strands of kinked hair stick to her glistening forehead. She tips half a bag of Coles frozen onions into the pan, frosted white-green crystals breaking the surface then turning translucent. The oil hisses, spits.
“Sara”, she says. “You okay? With this?”
The girl across the room looks up. She has long dark hair curled tightly around her face and sits folded up on the arm of the sofa.
“Curry. You okay with curry?”
“Oh. Yeah, sure.”
The day is hot and dry, a synecdoche of Adelaide summers. A thin black fly like a broken-off tip of a pencil careens at her; she swats at it, then lifts a paper from her bag and places it over the bowl of chicken, sees the “74” scrawled in red at the top, and flips it over with a scowl.
“So”, she says, “Sara, how’s, you know… University and stuff?”
The air is still and humid and stabbed through with thin golden bars where dust dances like stars, and it hurts her, because she feels like she’s disintegrating, like her skin is eroding away into dust and leaving her behind, untouched. She looks over at Sara, sitting in the shadows, examining her fingernails, and she feels gouged.
“Why aren’t you saying my name?”, she asks, and immediately regrets the words.
“You’re not saying my name, are you avoiding saying my name?”
“I’m not avoiding anything. I’m not a names person. I’ve never been one.”
“You used to say my name.”
“I’m sure I would have used it on occasion-“
“Didn’t you like saying my name?”
Sara looks up at her, exasperatedly, but at her, and she feels a small burst of triumph. “What the fuck are you going on about?”
“I just don’t see why you’re not being an adult about-”
“Oh fuck off,” Sara says, “you’re the one who told me I was some kind of traitor for my decisions, that I was letting all the little brown kids down? Fuck off-”
“You are, they’ve spent their whole lives internalizing false media narratives that tell them they’re not beautiful and you know what you’re telling them, you’re telling them that any pretty brown person who can actually get someone white is going to always-“
“I don’t give a shit about your sociological bullshit-”
“You used to! You did that stuff in uni-”
“I took one elective cos we were dating and you told me to! I’m a biology major. That’s what I am. I don’t give a shit about being a political statement, okay?”
“Everything is political, yeah, blah blah blah. Did you ever consider that maybe, y’know, just maybe, I happen to actually like Sam?”
“I don’t know”, she answers, and she really doesn’t. She turns away and tips the chicken into the pan. The sweet smell of frying onions fills her nose and she feels her mouth water, and it reaches into some part of her and makes her feel, strangely, okay.
“Why are we even fighting, Sara?”
“No, I mean. Why? Let’s just not fight. You came here for dinner, let’s have dinner.”
She flashes Sara a smile and gets an uneasy smile in return. Baby steps, she thinks, things will be fine, I’ll be fine, baby steps. She raises the blinds and the room floods with pale gold light that pools across the brown of her furniture, and puddles into a tiny white sun in the glass bowl on her coffee table that studs prismatic shards of white into her walls. The light falls on Sara, and her dark hair looks coppery in the sun, and she looks golden, the light almost liquid, like she was made out of amber, gold and gorgeous, in stasis, something that froze one day and left a little of her trapped inside.
“Look”, Sara says. “I do like Sam, okay? I really do. This has nothing to do with you, okay?”
“You’re being nice to me. Keep being nice to me, okay? Look, stop making me feel shitty because I’m not as gold-star as you, okay, it makes me feel like you never liked me at all-“
“Of course I liked you!”
“It makes me feel like you liked me for what you thought I could be, not cos of who I was, okay, you’ve given me such a hard time-“
“I liked you, Sara.”
“Show it better next time!”
“Did you like me?”
“I did”, Sara says. “I really did.”
“I didn’t know you did.”
“What the hell?”
“You never said you did.”
“Oh.” Sara looks up at her. “Look, I’d just started uni and you were in third year and I was a little in awe of you, okay, I felt such impostor syndrome being with you at first, you were so smart and worldly and you namedropped bell hooks and Arundhati Roy and you never ever said you liked me and I just wanted to seem cool, okay?”
“Didn’t I say I liked you?”
“I liked you.”
“Good to know.”
“I just wanted to hear you say my name, you know.”
“You could have just said so, Asha.”
She turns around, turns the stove off. “I didn’t want to seem pathetic.”
“That’s not pathetic. Asha. You fucking idiot.”
“I don’t fucking know. I felt so rejected, okay? I felt like you were just moving on to someone prettier. Or something. I don’t know.”
“God, you idiot. We weren’t even together when- none of it was about you.”
“Good to know.”
She ladles some chicken onto two plates and carries them over to the coffee table, and sits down cross-legged on the floor opposite Sara.
“I haven’t been nice to you, have I?”
“No, you haven’t… I wanted you to be supportive, you know? I cared what you thought.”
“Thanks. You could just have said so, you know. If you were hurt.”
“You did like me. Really like me.”
“Yeah, Asha. I did.”
“Do you like me? At all? Still?”
Sara smiles. “No.”
The sun has almost set and the apartment is the cloudy dark of dusk, all solid shadows except for slatted bars against the back wall. She looks over at the window, at the thin pillars of light cutting the room, at the dust swirling dancing suspended in sunbeams, dust made from her, dust that was her, shimmering like stars in the tail-end of a galaxy, the most beautiful thing she’ll ever see, she thinks, and she feels fine.
Image by Bianka Bell
By Zayaan Ali