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Fatima Farheen Mirza
Once I met a man I could love and in his mouth my name dissolved. Pronounced how my mother whispered it when I was a girl, feverish and falling into fitful sleep. To hear it was like tuning through radio static until suddenly— song. I flinched. Told all my life that love means obedience, I’d made a deal with my child-universe: fine, I’ll live without it. Crossing streets, the thought would come abruptly: I’m nobody’s girl. Wind lifting hair. Wolf without fangs. Winking at the moon herself. Reverse alchemist, I’d turn gold into copper, lovers into time passed.

On his rooftop, the man I could love passed me a bowl of washed strawberries. I pursed my lips. Wore tattered baseball caps, wiped make-up from my face. I did not want to be called beautiful. I wanted to be hidden. Yet every time we spoke a veil in the universe tore— have we lived this life before? For one blinking summer we were magnets dancing, pulled together, repelled apart.

I was proud when I said goodbye to him. Kept my hands in my pockets. Kept my end of the deal. Walked in forests kicking snow and breathing frost clouds. Attended dinner parties, candles flickering, centerpieces spilling peonies. A tour of Laura’s closet, doorknobs imported from Sweden, cedar sachets, dozens of sweaters, all cashmere. I nodded wow and pressed my spoon into my pudding. On weekends, I auditioned dates in red bars. My song on the jukebox, eyeliner all glitter, I popped pink bubblegum and lied with my body. Danced hard until violet sky then hooked my heels from two fingers for the long walk home. All night, all across the city, sirens sang their lonely songs. I wanted to be found.

When asked, Why didn’t you tell him you could have loved him? I laughed. I was twenty-five the first time my mother called me beautiful. Her text read: Never noticed your eyes before. I held my phone until the screen darkened, lit, darkened. My father cried when strangers piled bouquets at Diana’s funeral. Love? My mother said, No one needs love to live.

But once I met a man I knew I could love and I climbed a hundred steps to reach his rooftop. Squinted in the bright sun just to see him. That was my throat parched from the climb, my heart in my chest, rattling like an animal I was ashamed of. I wanted to want nothing. Not even water.

In Paris, I translate nobody’s girl into French: daughter of no one, girl of nothing. C’est moi. FKA Twigs spins on stage and I’m dizzy too. Didn’t I do it for you? How powerful was she, singing from the tender inside of an eggshell. Her desire a creature she claimed. I thought I was proud when I said goodbye to the man I loved, but now I know I was a coward. Afraid to ask a question I didn’t know the answer to. So afraid to be made a fool, I’d fooled myself. For weeks, I’m in a daze. Bakers call after me, holding paper bags of pastries, Mademoiselle, have you forgotten what you wanted? I shatter a glass door. Tell the nurse threading my stitches I walked right through it.

That night I dream a fever dream: my mother is the last uniformed girl waiting by the school gates. The slow drift of snow. When no one comes to claim her, I go.

I wake and take the next train. Call the man I love and say I’m here. I’m ready. Come and pick me up. Make a fool of me for free. St Pancras is lit electric pink too, I want my time with you
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