On Eid in Tucson, I paint my turmeric-stained fingernails pink, so I can meet my friends. Under a bottle brush tree with the flow of the wind, people, a landscaper tinkering with a cactus behind my station on a concrete bench, the city debris sticks to my nails and fossilizes as I blow on the wet paint. Preserves the day, the city, the low air quality warning, the carbon from the towers of the largest employer in the city that makes missiles, missiles that are probably in my country right now, my other country, my actual country. And maybe pollen from mesquite flowers and Japanese privet and the long orange flowers that hummingbirds love. Maybe a hummingbird’s spit. So I walk down the square of shops glittering in the sun— there I am in the coffee shop’s dark windows, breasts rounded by a Victoria’s Secret bra, face under a hat that keeps my skin beige, not my subcontinental farming ancestors’ dark, and with this face and these hands, these fossils at the ends of my fingers, I feed my friends. The last little Cinnabon Delight we split four ways, lick its creamy filling off my pinky, eat the pollen, the missile dust. “You’re dressed like a lesbian’s upscale apartment,” my friends tell me, and I wanted to match the desert, but even this is funny, how I didn’t even have to try. Like how I’m afraid of skin cancer, but even this will make my mother happy, my mother who wants from me, the colorist brand of respectability. Like mosquitoes in amber, the empire lives in my nails, dulls the lacquer of layers of Ballet Slippers— the Queen of England’s favorite nail polish.
Dure Ahmed is an immigrant Muslim writer from Pakistan. Currently an MFA student at the University of Arizona, they have work appearing, or forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, and The Lumiere Review. Follow her on Twitter @dure_ahmed.