I do not know my mother’s name. Nor the color of her eyes. Her hair. The sound of her voice.
Lilt of her laugh.
I have seen her though. In faded pictures, tucked away in old love stories. That is where she lives now. Amongst the idealists and the romantics and all the other broken things that were burned for their beauty.
Still, I have seen her. Her eyes like almonds, the color of mitti. Fine boned and broad shouldered and bold, in some pictures, she stands with her shoulders thrown back, her defiance rippling along with the waves of her hair. She wears motia’s in her curls and bangles on her mehndi drenched hands. She is bright and gentle and true.
She always wears green. Garments of silk that I do not know how to name draped around her, a cloak fit for a queen. At her brow and wrists and feet and throat she wears gems that are more armor than ornament and there is such innocence and belief in every inch of her burnt out existence, it brings me to my knees.
In my aching heart I know she does not stay this way. I know how the pictures change and fester. Every time I thumb through the stacks, I see my mother wither.
See the motia’s pulled from her tangles, see her hair brushed and shorn, coiled back ruthlessly, so at odds with her laughing curls.
As the pictures age, she does too; the despair robbing her of life. I see it in her body, in her clothes. As the dancing silks become pastels and chiffons and lace gloves and other things I can name but do not want to. Other things that do not taste of my homeland. I see her calloused feet pressed into too small shoes. See her arms folded and lips painted coral, pulled back in a broken imitation of a smile. I see the smell of sun and ‘ittar’ bleed away from her skin and her shoulders hunch and her kohl eyes bleed and for an instant, I bleed too.
For the mother I loved and loved and do not know. For the mother who was first murdered and then erased. Written out of the fairy tales and war bards and pushed into corner crevices of the world itself. The mother who might’ve held me and rubbed oil into my scalp. Who might have taught me to dance. Who might have made me brave.
And I bleed for the mother that might have been my home.
mitti - earth/dirt
mendhi - henna
motia - Jasminum Sambac/Arabian Jasmine
ittar - perfumed oil
Mina Shoaib is a poet living in Pakistan. She is a student, who takes inspiration from her homeland, her people and her heart in the hopes of creating something true. She has previously been published in Ireland’s Flight Magazine and she hopes to one day go to the moon.