It’s like I’m back in the flat again - 
its walls, sun-licked and sand-swept 
the smell of baby powder and wet wipes.

Mum asks us to wash our hands 
and shed the outside before we cross
the threshold of her bedroom

to hold my baby sister. Days
pour into nights, the din of traffic
and azaan is all I know of the outside.

It swirls and skates without me.

On the afternoons that time stills 
into my parents’ snores, I slide into
their cupboard, close the door on myself.

Before the fear of small spaces,
before this ache for others’ hands and bodies,
I imagined ballrooms into the cramped cupboard,

wrapped myself in my mum’s shawls and abayas,
called myself a queen where no one can contest it.
I’ve outgrown that first flat,

my bed, the wide mouth of my room and 
the allotted spaces in supermarkets
and tube carriages.

I linger now at the choice of cereals, palm 
each mango that I take home. Pretend
this too is an intimacy.

I haven’t hugged a friend in fourteen months
so God sends me dreams where I do.
When the world opens up, I’ll be at the gates,

feet twitching, palms clenched, 
like it’s the first day of school and I’m ready 
to use all the words and ways of being 
I have only seen on TV.

Listen to the poem here

Artistic Statement

I was struck by the range of human emotions people confessed to in their reflections. There seemed to be a before, all the things we are eager to shed and say goodbye to as well as an after - this possible, hopeful future the vaccine promises. It reminded me of previous periods of isolation and loneliness in my own life, where the outside world was a myth my favourite cartoon characters enjoyed, and I observed. 

Artist Bio

Fathima Zahra is an Indian poet based in Essex. She is a Barbican Young Poet and a Roundhouse Poetry Collective alum. Her work has won the Bridport Prize, Wells Fest Young Poets Prize and the Asia House Poetry Slam. Her debut pamphlet is forthcoming with Ignition Press (August, 2021).

Read the other poems here:

Survive(d) – Hanna Ali

Of Partings & Preludes – Momtaza Mehri

ধন্যবাদ – Nazneen Ahmed

MementoUs – Keisha Thompson

Now এই সময় – Eeshita Azad

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