Thinner Than Skin

Thinner Than Skin by Uzma Aslam Khan Read Free Book Online

Book: Thinner Than Skin by Uzma Aslam Khan Read Free Book Online
Authors: Uzma Aslam Khan
Tags: General Fiction
Beach, but I knew it wasn’t for the view that she’d brought me here.
    Without looking at me, she said, “Take me back.”
    I assumed she meant to her warm purple house in the Mission. “Let’s go.”
    “Take me back to the places in Pakistan that you love.”
    I was stunned. If she’d never been to them, why did she say
back
? And why now? And why ever?
    When she said it a third time I understood that she presented her idea as a condition: take me back and I will keep loving you.
    For always? I wanted to ask. No matter where?
    I looked at her boldly now, and she returned my stare. I was hoping she’d understand that this is what my eyes said.
    It was here that a man loved her, a man with whom she could spend an unknowable quantity of time doing just about anything: walking, going to the movies, eating sushi and Guatemalan tamales on the same day, gossiping about a father in Berkeley, a father I’d still not met because, as I was growing tired of hearing, he was unpredictable—I didn’t know whom she was protecting more, him or me—but who’d brought her to this country when she was three and stayed. I didn’t understand why a thirty-year-old woman—yes, she turned thirty today, it was meant to be a happy day!—with a great job and a great house in a pretty neighborhood in a pretty city didn’t feel this was home. All I understood was that she didn’t. She was at a time in her life when other women long for a child. Farhana longed for a country.
    “You’re going home next summer. I’m coming with you. That’s what I want you to give me for my birthday. I want this promise.”
    I didn’t want to return. With her, that is. Nor did I want to explain that for me it was a return, but I didn’t think it was for her. Nor that, just as she took joy in showing me this corner of the worldbecause I was new to it, I could only take joy in showing her mine if she acknowledged it as new to her. Not if she claimed it as her own. I’d spent the past year lingering over northern California and could freely admit there was much I’d yet to learn. How many months was she prepared to linger over Pakistan? How many years? Would she have the patience to wait and yield till the geography really did begin to construct the person, the way the breakers beneath us constructed the shore? Did she
want
to yield? Of course not. It was a country practically under siege.
We might be interested in you but not in your landscapes
. What images did she want to see and to which land did she want to return?
    We’d been happy. I wanted to stay happy. I said, “I’m going for work.”
    It wasn’t a lie. The plan was to spend next summer in the Northern Areas with a friend from school, Irfan, to take pictures. Though loath to admit it to Farhana, this past year I’d sought Irfan’s help in paying my share of the rent. Irfan always wired the money without complaining, though of course it was meant to be the other way around. I should be wiring money home, not receiving it. Till I could pay him back, I’d keep working long hours at a brew pub a few blocks from my apartment and take whatever other work I could find, usually as a wedding photographer. I anticipated doing the same even after next summer, no matter how many images I shot of vertical or horizontal wildernesses. Yet her reply stunned me.
    “Work? What’s the point? You’ll never sell any. At least I know glaciers.”
    I stopped rolling on my toes.
    “Perhaps you’re going back for the wrong reason,” she kept on.
    “And being your tour guide is the right reason?”
    She bestowed upon me an ice-black stare, the kind I was to receive the following year from a very different creature, in a very different place. Behind Farhana, I could see the guns that once pointed to the minefields outside Golden Gate. How easy it is to envision enemies lurking in the tide. As I looked over her shoulder,imagining what shapes those phantoms had once taken, I couldn’t have guessed that

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