“smoking kills” – a scene

It was dark and cold and raining. 

The two strangers waiting at the bus stop knew that they were in for the long haul. The bus was never on time so the weather only made the delay longer. One of them sat down on the broken bench and dug through her bag, searching for something with fervor. The other one kept standing, watching the drops of rain on the window. They race against each other, in his mind.

The silence was uncomfortable, 

He reached into his pocket and pulled one out. Thin and white with cancerous smoke inside. He pressed it between his dry lips and lit one end with the red lighter his father had given to him. He may not have had a backpack or a ride home, but he did have this. 

The slow drag and puff of smoke caught the woman’s attention. Her hand was still inside the bag when she looked over at him. Specifically, at his lips and the novelty he held against them. 

May I?

She didn’t have to elaborate what she was asking. He nodded, taking it out of his mouth and passing it to her. At one point in her life, she would have rather died than shared something with a stranger. But unlike a cigarette, a bottle of water was less addicting. A bottle of water didn’t cure the shaking in her hands or the pounding in her head.

She took a drag and sighed out the smoke into the tense air of the bus stop. He watched her. 

The waltz began. The music replaced the thumps of the rainstorm. Two hands moved back and forth, passing the white baton seamlessly without losing a single puff of precious carbon.  Less words were spoken and more saliva was exchanged between the two strangers. 

Back and forth, back and forth, till the baton looked more like a stump. He stopped the dance and dropped in on the ground, stomping it with the top of his shoe. The music stopped and the silence returned. The bus was running 30 minutes late

Playground Weddings

At first glance, I thought it was a joke that there was a huge group of well dressed individuals gathered in the main square of Downtown Rapid City. As I got closer, I saw the white tent, DJ and a huge sign congratulating ‘Hannah and Sam’ on their nuptials. 

It was a wedding reception, right in the middle of several pedestrians, cars and shops attempting to shoo away little children in suits and dresses. It was a strange place to have a reception, too public and too noisy. I don’t know how the wedding party were dancing around while traffic loudly went by, less than ten feet away. Not to mention, the several people who were gathered around the wedding party, watching like hawks.

By now, I was too curious to walk away so I went closer to the party, noting the ginormous wedding cake in the corner of the tent. A few people walked by, one of them rolling her eyes at the grand and obscene matrimonial celebration. I wonder who had broken her heart. 

“Why are there so many women in white?” I asked my Mom who was also transfixed with the party. After living in America, we were yet to witness a wedding, white dresses and Taylor Swift themed dances included. The only wedding I could remember was my cousin’s and she was so miserable next to her groom that we spent the whole time eating never ending plates of food and watching her sleazy husband flirt with the bridesmaids. While the focus there was on the family, this wedding was different. The bride and groom were being celebrated. People were happy to be there, even if their dance moves were a bit questionable at best. 

To answer my previous question, Mom pulled out her ally card, “Maybe it’s a lesbian wedding?”

“A polyamrous one, apparently.” I replied, referring to the multiple women in white

She didn’t say anything else, instead she swayed to the sound of Elvis crooning about rivers flowing and falling in love. My eyes landed on the groom and bride. They were twirling around the dance floor, staring into each other’s eyes. As I watched them, the traffic and nosy onlookers seemed to disappear. True to the numerous romance novels I’ve indulged in, there was no one else in the room but them. I felt embarrassed to watch them but I couldn’t get my eyes off the white and black blur.

“Let’s go, we don’t belong here,” Mom dismissively said, pulling me away from the magic unfolding before me. She was right, I didn’t.

Paper Lanterns and Shakespeare

“Write about the lanterns.”

I was 10 years old and my family was in Vietnam for our summer break. During one of our small evening trips, we reached a small village where we walked around and ate dinner in a small stall. While waiting for my dad to finish taking the perfect picture of a Vietnamese market place, my mom was hit with a bolt of inspiration. Every night, people would bring their lanterns, slowly place them in the stream outside the village and watch them float off, only to be found by a lonely fisherman somewhere in the middle of the sea. It was a magical sight. My mind immediately went to my favorite movie, Tangled. I strained my head but couldn’t see a golden-haired girl on a boat anywhere.

“Write about lanterns?” 

I was confused why she asked me to write about paper lanterns. A part of me regretted ever telling my parents that I liked to write. Now, they believed that I could create a Shakespearan level sonnet out of anything, nature, imperialism and paper lanterns. I wasn’t an artistic genius, sometimes I thought my talent was a fluke and any minute, someone would pull the wool over their eyes. I wondered how a four line poem about a sunflower led to this. 

“Why don’t you write about lanterns?”

She rolled her eyes at the idea. “I’m hopeless at writing, you’re the poet.”

“One poem doesn’t make me a poet, Ma.”

I noticed the slight disappointment in her face. She shrugged off my comment and took out her phone and handed it to me, the brightness turned up to 100 and illuminated my face. “Look around you, there’s so much to see and experience. Better write it down or else you’ll forget.” 

Mom pointed to the pink lantern that passed us. It was slowly moving up and down because of the soft waves. It had flowers all over and a bright yellow light from the center. I watched it for a few seconds. It was fascinating how something so little could capture the attention of a hyperactive 10 year old but I couldn’t seem to move away from it. Like the people who had put the lantern down in the water, I felt like I was letting my worries and problems disappear with the movements of the paper lantern. Up and down, side to side, knocked over and pushed back up again. Despite the waves, the lantern pushed through and kept the flame going. 

I think I know why my mom wanted me to write about a lantern.

Just Keep Swimming

To anyone who has ever felt burnt out doing the thing that they love.

When I was 10, I spent an entire summer learning how to swim. It was a surprisingly rare feat for someone in my immediate family, considering the fact that my dad was the only one who could do more than dip their feet in the shallow end of the pool. My parents enrolled me with a swim instructor in my neighborhood pool where I would grudgingly wake up every morning at 6 AM and spend numerous hours in the pool. I learnt free style, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. My instructor was an eccentric man who always taught the strangest phrases to remember how to swim. My personal favorite was the term “bobbling” when referring to breathing underwater by letting out bubbles. He would send me under the water and yell at me to “Do bobbling!” in order to cement an instinct in me to breath.

To his defense, it worked. I didn’t die. 

The lessons began as enjoyable to me but, like many long term engagements I would get into, I began hitting a burn out towards the tail end of my summer. I was getting tired, irritable and longing for a summer of sleeping in till 11 am and wasting time away in the burning sun. Rather than that, I would find myself in the pool, bobbling and swimming along the long end of the pool. I would ask myself, what was the point of all this?

Eventually, this irritability began to show and it became harder to keep my head above the surface. I would spend less time under water and kept popping up for air. My instructor was very mad at me. After all, the point was to learn how to swim without needing air every five seconds. Everytime he would follow me as I freestyle back and forth, he would watch me pop my head up for air, even if I didn’t need it. I would apologize but proceed to do it again. And again. And again

He gave up with me but not without leaving me with a sentence that would follow me through life. It was during the 40th lap I was undertaking. We were both exhausted, tired from the sun and ready to get the day’s lesson over with. I stopped myself from my unbreaking freestyle stroke to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t, I can’t do it.”

My teacher sighed, “Why are you not trusting yourself? What is scaring you?”

I realized that I had no answer. I had nothing to be afraid of. 

The entire summer, I had spent with my breath. Breathing in the salt water, 6AM wake up and watermelon juice my babysitter would make for me after practice. Breathing out anxieties of sore muscles, no time to see my friends and tight swim caps that would suck all the blood out of my head. 

But after weeks and weeks of constantly holding my breath in, blaming exhaustion for my fears and nerves, it was time for me to let it go. Exhale the feeling of burning out and get back in touch with the reasons why I fell in love with swimming in the first place. The feeling of freedom, having no control over my body but also being hyper aware of every movement my muscles made. 

As my instructor would say, I had to let out all the bubbles and

just simply breath.

A Very Large Expanse of The Sea

Freeing. Scared. Cold. 

The ocean is a mystery to me and a recently discovered fear. After seeing images of the large bodies of water that surround us, countless shark movies and a couple of close calls, I never really enjoyed being in the ocean for too long. However after watching people race into the shallow waters of Fort Myers beach and the dolphins jumping around, I felt inspired to strip down to my swim suit and jump in after them. 

In theory, I shouldn’t have been afraid. There was a huge gap between the sandy waters near the beach and the red zone where the water dips. I knew how to swim. I had back up, my family sat around me and several other beach goers. So I jumped right in, feeling a cold feeling wash over my legs. It felt good.

“This feels amazing!” I reaffirmed to my Dad who nodded back, still wearing his sunglasses and hat in the water. I sat down and let the waves hit my back. I felt myself falling over and I let it happen, the sand clouding my face. It burned but I felt giddy and got back up again. The ocean can be cruel but I allowed it to play its games. 

Even though this part of the ocean was full of people running in from the beach, I felt like I was the only person in the water. I stretched my arms and felt the cool water against them.  The waves were gentle on my skin. When I lay down, no one crashed against me. It’s just me and the water. 

My cousin yelled, “Let’s go further!” 

In my state of delirious joy, I nodded and we swam closer and closer to the end of the safe zone. Our parents couldn’t see us and soon they became small dots in the distance. I kept on swimming, ignoring the fact that the sand under my feet was getting lower and lower. I felt free. I felt whole. 

A wave crashed against me. I was not prepared for it so I got knocked off my feet and down into the water. In a terrifying moment, I realized there was no sand for me to land and my head hit the water. The waves had turned their backs against me and pushed me further down. I couldn’t breathe, the salty water burned my eyes and my cousin was nowhere in sight. 

I had pushed my luck and went too far. I was alone now, no one to help me out. A fight or flight instinct kicked in and I pushed against the crashes and swam towards the beach. Even though I was close enough to make out the lines on my Mom’s beach towel, it felt like hours before I resurfaced, heaving and red in the face. My eyes were burning now so I splashed some cold water on my eyes.

As they adjusted to the light, I focused my sights on the red buoy I had crossed. It was only two miles from the beach, but it felt like I was so far away when I was in the water. I suppose that is the power of the ocean. I was among thousands of people and animals, but for a moment, I felt like a speck in the very large expanse of the sea.

Serina and Sahar’s Story

I had the opportunity to work with an organization based in Kentucky called Kentucky Refugee Ministries. The company works with refugees who relocate to Kentucky, trying to help them get their way around their new homes. KRM (Kentucky Refugee Ministries) works to provide them with resources like jobs, medical appointments and homes, getting a driver’s license or learning about the American way of life. This summer, I was an intern for the KRM office in Lexington, KY. Along with my usual tasks of scanning papers, making boxes of item to be placed in the homes of refugee families and aiding with tasks around their office, I also got to work with their team on a writing project that focused on the refugee youth.

The refugee youth is a group of people who can often be overlooked when it comes to resettlement. They may be too young or more often than not, expected to figure out this new life on their own. as someone who moved to a new country at an impressionable age, I understood the perils and challenges of moving to a new country. Although our stories and journeys are different, I found that most youth share the same sense of excitement and loneliness when it comes to resettlement. I got to interview five students, from various countries and backgrounds, and talked to them about their move.

This is Serina and Sahar’s story.

One of the greatest challenges that both immigrants and refugees who relocate to the United States face is learning the English language. English is widely regarded as a notoriously hard language to learn and adding that to the general stress and difficulty of moving to an entirely new country can often make the life of the refugee youth even harder. Although it is a very popular language amongst many people, English is not taught around the world and for some families, it is a path to a better life. 

Serina and Sahar Shalash moved to the United States from Jordan two years ago. Sahar is in 7thgrade and Serina is in 6th grade, and they were still in elementary school when their family, their parents and three siblings, moved to the United States. Their primary goal was to learn the language which would help them get a good education and a way to live a better life and a very different one from the one they left behind. 

Many families who move to the US come here for a better life, especially for their children. Serina and Sahar’s family was no different. They came here hoping that their children would be able to learn and communicate in a language that would be spoken all over the world. However, this move came with its own challenges. 

Sahar said that she found it hard to understand her peers in school. Not only did the language barrier make her school life more challenging but also the cultural difference. She said her fellow classmates were very different from her and found it hard to make friends. Learning English was not as much of a problem for her, she relied on her studies, books, and a couple of movies to get the knowledge she needed.

Most of the youth that immigrates to a new country, especially at an older age, faces the challenge of fitting in. It is hard enough to have to leave behind friends and family, the two sisters said that it was the worst part about having to leave Jordan, but the several cultural shocks which came with moving here makes the transition to US much harder than anticipated. On the other hand, Serina had a different story from her older sister. She talked about how she made friends very easily in her new school and did not face as much of a challenge in classes. One teacher stuck out for her. An English teacher who was respectful of the recently immigrated teenager and made sure to make Serina sit in the front of the classroom during her lessons. 

I often hear about stories of teachers and their impact on their students, especially those refugee youth who face more challenges than anyone in their classroom can imagine. Speaking from my own experience as a student who immigrated to the US when I was 12, certain teachers are still in my mind as I think about my adjustment to my new home. Their actions and encouragement made more of an impact on my life than they could imagine. Sometimes, even the simplest praises or words of advice would turn a hard day into a positive one.  

Serina and Sahar’s stories show a window into an aspect of refugee youth that many people seem to forget. While a large focus is given on the adults who make the decision, or are forced to make the decision, to move to a new country, the youth are often not mentioned. Sometimes, the children are expected to adjust on their own which is unfair to their lack of experience. Their stories are reminders to adults, students, and teachers about the importance of sensitivity and patience. The journey of learning English would become more than just a challenge to overcome, it would be a start to a new world of opportunities. 

This is the website for Kentucky Refugee Ministries which will feature a few ways you can get involved in helping their mission


A Short Story

I woke up in a cold sweat. I was in an unknown room, not the comfortable room I had fallen asleep in last night. I wiped my eyes and watched sunlight streaming into the room. When my eyes finally adjusted to the light, I took a look around my room. It was a small space with blinding white walls. There was a desk, a bed and a bedside table, which, I later discovered, was completely empty. I got out of bed and walked to the window. The view didn’t give me any clue of where I was. It was a large field, the clouds had covered the sky and I could see a small road leading to the building I was in. That lead me back to my initial question, where was I? I racked my brain, trying to remember where I was. I thought of my last memory, visiting my daughter and her kids. My daughter had been angry about something, I remembered an argument but I couldn’t remember what caused the fight. All I got was flashes of things she had yelled at me. “You’re getting old, mom!” and “Second time this week!” 

I frowned, what an unpleasant memory. I remember walking home-or did I drive? I tried remembering everything I knew about myself. I was 78 years old, I had one daughter and I lived in an apartment in Chicago. I had visited the doctor a month ago but I couldn’t remember why. I looked back outside. I noticed a road leading into the building I was in. Had I seen that before?

Suddenly I heard steps outside my door. I ran to the door, banging on it loudly, “Let me out! Help!” I was desperate, but to no avail. The steps quietened and I was back to the silence. After an hour of trying to recover my memory and try and remember where I was, my door slowly opened, I jumped off my bed and saw a woman, dressed in blue nurse scrubs and had a big smile. She pushed a trolley into my room and shut the door before I could make a run for it. I got a brief glimpse of the outside world. It was a plain hallway. The nurse smiled at me, “Morning dear! How did you sleep?”

“Where am I? Who are you?” I questioned her. She laughed, “Oh silly, you know who I am and why you are here!” She turned to her cart, it was full of medicinal bottles. She took something out, it was a needle. I began yelling on top of my lungs, “Stop! Stop! Get away from me! Help me!” I grabbed the window and pushed it open. I tried sticking my hand out but realized there was a glass to block me from jumping out. I ran to the door, pulling at the handle. The nurse never lost her smile and pulled me back into my bed. I got another flash of memory. My daughter standing near the door as I walked away from her. no, I was being lead away. I looked back at her and she was crying and apologizing. Why? In my moment of weakness, the nurse grabbed my arm, pushed me into my bed and pushed the needle into my arm. I felt a wave of coolness fill my body and I was weak. I collapsed onto my bed and my eyes began closing. “There, that should do the trick for the rest of the day.” She walked back to her cart and in my last moments of consciousness, I saw a shadow open the door. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “”Nothing, she forgot she was in the home again. Gave her a small dose. Poor things, the older they get, the less they remember.” The shadowy figure nodded, “Alzheimer’s, it’s a killer.” The two walked out as my eyes shut. Lastly I heard the door close. 

I woke up in a cold sweat. I was in an unknown room, not my comfortable room where, I could have sworn, I had fallen asleep in..


Why My Family Moved To The US

My family moved to the US in 2018. My mom had gotten a promotion and needed to be in her company’s headquarters in Lexington Kentucky. I was 12 when we moved. Initially I was upset at the thought of leaving my friends, home and family to move to a foreign country and being a new kid. However, the thought of living in the land of freedom and opportunities was much bigger than the fear of change. We were thrilled about the life we would get to live in America. In the beginning, I used to feel very foreign. I live in a city where there aren’t that many Indian families which was very strange for me and I would feel like an outcast anytime I was in public. After getting over the initial insecurity, I took advantage of the place I was in. I signed up for any opportunity I got my hands on. Moving here helped me get so many new windows to improve and show off my interests and passions. That is why my family moved to America, for equal possibilities and platforms to excel. 

This article is also published on https://my-america.org/your-story/. It is under the tab of “opportunity”.

The Essence of Eid

I have always been celebrating Eid ever since I was a child.  My parents made it a point to celebrate it every year so that I had an exposure to being part of two religious communities. Every year my father would go to the mosque in the morning and after his return my parents would give me Eidi, which is a tradition for elders to give the children some money on Eid morning. Then we would either celebrate the day by having lunch with my paternal cousins or have a small lunch at home with all the traditional Eid sweets. This year however I got to celebrate the festival with my paternal family who celebrate this day with great gusto and excitement. Finally, the day arrived, and I had a marvellous time. With food being cooked and served every two minutes and the fun I had with my cousins, I could easily say that was the best part was the day. However, it was a different sense that made my Eid better. It was the undeniable sense of community that was there. The sense of community is unfortunately something I as a child living in Delhi have never experienced. Everybody in the tiny town got together to celebrate, even those who weren’t Muslim. Everyone decorated and ate together and there was a sense of everyone being together and happy, even if it was only for one day. All anger is forgotten, and a sense of fraternity is created.

That is the true essence of Eid.


My Father’s Childhood Tales

  When I was visiting my grandma during my holidays, I was told some interesting stories about my father when he was a child. I had already heard that my dad was a naughty child but this time I got to hear some of his childhood tales! These stories have been told to me ever since I was five years old and everytime I hear them, it is like I am hearing about a new person all together! 

 Never mess with a monkey

 When my father was living in Gorakhpur, his friend and him decided to do the best thing two kids could do when they are bored, they decided to kidnap a baby monkey to keep as a pet. Considering the two were no more than five-year olds, they did not think about the consequences at all. The place was filled with monkeys, so one day my dad and his friends crept up behind a group of monkeys and scared them away and left one baby monkey cornered. The two were proud of their accomplishment but that feeling quickly fizzled out when they saw that one of the biggest monkeys had been standing behind them the whole while and she was not happy. My father’s friend quickly ran away leaving my dad to face the music. By the time my dad was rescued from the monkey’s clutches he had been badly beaten up, but the monkey was nothing compared to my grandmother when she found out about what had happened. She scolded my dad for acting careless and doing such a pointless and dangerous thing. To this date this story has been told to me so many times and I have also learnt an important lesson, think before you act and never mess with a monkey!

The unfortunate blade eater.

Once my father was playing with a sharpener with my aunt. My aunt was a young one year old, so she just watched my dad use a screwdriver to open the sharpener. My aunt was a curious baby, so she did the first thing she could think of and she swallowed the blade of the sharpener! My father panicked and ran to my grandpa who in turn ran to the doctor. The doctor told my grandparents and my father that there were only two ways to get rid of the blade, one was via surgery and one option was to keep feeding my aunt bananas till the blade came out the natural route, and thus began the great banana fest! My aunt was fed bananas day after day and every time she used the bathroom my grandpa would see if the blade had come out. Luckily on the fourth day the glistening blade had come out and my aunt was unharmed. So, any time you play with sharp objects, make sure you keep it away from any curious (and hungry) children!

The laddoo eaters.

 Whenever there was a festival or function in my dad’s school there would always be sweets kept for people to snack on. The best sweet would obviously be the delicious laddoos, a special delicacy of India. My dad and his friend were both very hungry that day, so they decided to steal some laddoos to eat during the function. Alas! The window next to which the sweets were kept was far beyond any of their reach, so they decided to climb on top of each other to reach the treasure waiting for them on top! Just as my dad, who was standing on top of his friend’ shoulders, grabbed one of the sweets, he was pulled down by his mother who had caught sight of the two thieves and dragged them to their respective fathers. The rest, they say, is history!