Anjum Hasan

For seventeen years we passed through Mawlai in a bus —
saw waxy red flowers in the pomegranate trees and a man
pegging brilliant white napkins on a clothesline against the wind.
We didn’t live there and those who lived there didn’t care about
the buses passing through at all times of the day, right up against the
mauve beef hanging in its pockets of fat, and the shops with shiny strips
of tobacco showing through shadows, and the new houses and the
old houses where the same sort of people lived, or at least that’s
how we felt, passing through in buses for seventeen years.

But we won’t be doing it anymore — looking out of a window
at a patch of maize in its copper earth, eggs in a wire basket,
hand-painted signs near open doorways that remind us
of sunlit drawings in children’s books about places that grow
sad in their unreality with every passing year, simple signs in
white paint — hangne ngi die tiar, hangne ngi suh jainsem.
We’ll forget what they looked like, the rough golden clapboard shops
with their unwrapped cakes of soap, the windows in houses no
bigger than a man’s handkerchief, and it will be difficult to remember
where each of the cherry trees stood because they flowered so briefly
before lapsing back into their dark green anonymity.
The graveyard on a gentle slope, the fence weighed down with roses!
We’ll want to urgently tell someone, if we ever happen to return,
that we knew this place, passed through it in a bus for seventeen years,
but having said that we won’t know what else to say about Mawlai
because we never really got off there or bought things from its shops
or stepped into someone’s boiled-vegetables-smelling house
to watch the street through netted curtains. We’ll keep quiet then
and try to ignore that sense which is not pain but has pain’s cloudiness
and its regret and its way of going and returning.

Anjum Hasan