Today's Story by Shehnaz Kahn

“If I survive,” I thought, “I will return with money and items and experiences.”

Trails and Entrails

I remember the day I was allowed to go on my first expedition – to scour the evening markets for silks. We entered the market at dusk since the hellish sun of this place did not allow for living in the daytime hours. Our inn lay within a fortified mansion outside of town, ‘sanctuary’ I called it – watchtowers aligned with the four corners and we passed in and out of this place tracked by the dark eyes of the unsmiling guards. I only saw their eyes behind the cloth they wound about their faces, and those were large and black, not glowing with any warmth that I can see. I wished the watchtowers were minarets, serenading the air with the call to prayer – I don’t understand what they say, but while it lasts it’s like a reprieve from the constant worry of survival.

Our inn was not close to town and it took us some time before we got there, but it was a pleasant trip in the red air of the desert sunset, the cool breezes nestling into our skin.

We saw the glow of fires and lamps in the distance . We saw the market first, then came the sounds, faint – like a faraway wave or the voices of the dead, calling across a great distance.

The most amazing emissary of the market was the smell, what a wonderful, many-fingered thing it was! Spices and oils, incense and food, sweat and wine and urine. I closed my eyes and wished to be left alone to contemplate, but was nudged along by the crowds. Things appeared and passed by – dark eyes glinting in the torchlight, silver jewelry bright against dark skin, the undulating luster of the garb of the natives.

Two quick right turns got us to a good-size shop set away from the crowds of the main market. We entered and were escorted to a private room. In the way of this place, we sat on the floor. I felt awkward and uncomfortable. Our merchant entered and it was obvious my companion knew him well. They greeted each other and the merchant startled me by speaking to us in our language, fluently. He offered us black tea and sweet pastries – I wanted to ask for water, but stayed quiet.

The silks were brought out by a small boy and laid out on the white sheets spread on the floor. The colors were so varied, the textures so rich I felt as if just looking at them would take care of any thirst or hunger or tiredness I could ever have.

My merchant taped me on the shoulder. I turned to look at him and his eyes clearly said “pay attention!” I shuttered my gaze so I’m wasn’t too distracted by the colors and weave of the stuff laid out. I listened to the back and forth of the merchants, their dialogue peppered with reminisces and bargaining and laughter. My merchant bought five bolts of silk – not a huge purchase, but there would be many, many such meetings to come. They would take place in different bazaars along this route, under open skies and within halls and among crowded stalls. Suddenly I felt lost, missing my home. “If I survive,” I thought, “I will return with money and items and experiences.” I had yet to find out that it would ensure that I will never be completely at home among the walls and faces and dirt of my old town ever again.


Shehnaz Kahn lives in California and writes things that persistently buzz around her head. She loves magical realism. 


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