Golgi, Soren Carlson-Donohue
“Don’t slouch, Gazelle, you look like an alley cat.”
Sister’s chidings are lost on me now as I sit on our steps. Her steps. My steps now. I am alone. When did Sister become Bride become Mother? When did I, Gazelle, the smallest of the children, become Bride-Waiting? I do not understand this passage of time. I do not understand this appeal of waiting on display, like the fruits in the market, like the flowers in the stands, like a tapestry on display, for a man to come by and take me as his own. His prize. His choice. His wife.
I do not have Sister’s supple and straight spine. I do not have Sister’s easy smile or eyes as soft as dewy grass or curves as fine as a sculptor’s craft. I am like a potter’s training work. The Maker was not experienced in his craft when he made me.
I spend my days draped in Sister’s old white. It was made gray from days of dusty streets, but Mother just sighs with tight lips and a tighter smile. She washes my hair with perfumes and tries in vain to ease the knots from my mane. It is hidden all the day in my scarf, but it never stays contained. It remembers too well the days in the alley when I used to run free and wild with my brothers. They are not boys anymore. They are men with beards and swords and women they call on each morn and noon and night. They smile as wide as their stride in the marketplace and speak in booming voices. When did they grow to be so? Why am I always left behind?
My arms are dusted in sandalwood powder today. The smell reminds me too much of Sister. When we were small, Mother said we couldn’t adorn ourselves so until we were Brides-Waiting. Sister did not listen. We were at a festival and she was dancing. She was wearing red, and her hair was not yet tucked away. Her feet were bare and her laugh was music and her words were a song. She was beautiful. She is beautiful. I miss her so.
My brothers’ friends visit some days. They are handsome now. They were not before. Their limbs were too thin, their voices too high, their faces too bare. They were rough and incomplete sketches of manhood. Now they are looking for wives.
“Nadia Lah,” they greet me and extend their hands. I am no boy, but I will still shake. They sit a while. They used to call me Gazelle. I used to run with them. When did they begin to call me by my given name? When did I become a woman in address?
Others pass by the steps each day. We are not far from the market so the merchants and their boys trundle their carts along the cobbles and the dust. The boys smile at me, and I raise my eyes to meet theirs. They cannot stop to greet me, but I want them to. I am lonely these days. They are too young to be of any consequence.
A merchantman stops at our step one day. No, not a man. Not a boy either. He is something else. He is handsome. His eyes are not like mine. They are lighter, and they are made lighter still by his smile. They are the color of almonds and shaped so. His cart is full of oranges. When Sister and I were small, we would share an orange on the hot summer days. I devoured more than her, but she was kind and paid no mind to my selfishness. Her babe likes oranges too. Her cries are silenced with the fruit. Sister’s husband is a merchant, and he spoils her. That is what Sister says in her new dress. No more graying white for Sister. She is clad only in fine silk. The merchant extends his hand, and there is an orange in it. I should not accept such a gift, though it is small.
“Nothing is free, Nadia,” my father scolded when my fingers would feel the grapes and plums piled high on wobbling tables in the marketplace. Sister knew the price of things well. She knows it better now. Her husband taught her the prices of figs and pistachios and incense and myrrh and wool. She runs his shop when he is away. He travels to the widest regions of our world. He is disappointed to have a daughter.
I shake my head with a scowl and do not accept the proffered gift from his extended hand. He leaves it beside me and departs. I rise, and when I know that no one can see, I take the orange into my hand. I will visit Sister today.
Her home is not so far away, but she is often busy. She has servants now and a babe and a husband and a store and a home of her own to oversee. She has much to occupy her days. I stop in front of her door. Do I knock or enter? Do I act as a stranger now? I knock. One of Sister’s maids opens the door. She smiles at me.
“Madam Kateb,” she calls. Little Gazala totters out of her chamber. She has grown so tall. She will be beautiful like her mother. I lift her onto my hip and offer her the orange. Sister says that she was named for me. She emerges from the kitchen, her face flushed from the heat. Her belly has grown heavy.
“You’re expecting, Safia?”
“For five moons. You haven’t come in so long.” She places her hand on her stomach. “The midwife says he’s a boy. He kicks like a warrior.” Her laugh is weak but proud. I wonder what that is—to have a child inside of you. I wonder what it is to have a man to love you. I wonder if I will sit on the steps alone all my days. I wanted that. I want that. I want to be free, but I don’t want to be alone.
I hand Gazala to the waiting maid. Sister extends her hand to me, and I take it. She places our hands together on her stomach, and I feel the kicks of the little soldier. Sister moves her hand to my face. She takes me into her eyes. I am afraid for her as she is for me. She is happy. She asks me if I am too. I cannot answer her.
The moon has become thin again by the time the merchant passes. His cart is full of olives now. When his gaze meets mine, I offer him what I can: a smile.
“Beautiful girl, what is your name?”
About the Author
Katie Brownfiel · College of William & Mary
Katie Brownfiel graduated from the College of William & Mary in 2020 with a BA in English and Secondary Education. Her poetry has previously been featured in The Gallery and Winged Nation. Katie now lives and teaches in Newport News, Virginia. “Rue du Chameau” first appeared in Collision.
About the Artist
Soren Carlson-Donohue · Oberlin College
“Golgi” first appeared in Plum Creek Review.