Rings of Onion

Art by Abby Murphy

Rokeya Begum Zaman

Freedom was a foreign taste 

The type of taste you would find in home-made food and history books. 

Not in any homes before 1971 

The people of Bangladesh only knew desperation and enemies

that they would never escape the raj 

no number of saris could decorate their starvation 

no number of water lilies could refresh the   

fatigued bodies that were spoilt with droughts. 

My grandfather was aware of what was expected of him.

Every ambition he had turned into gallons of milk. 

War feeds no one. 

War only meant sacrifice. 

It made him feel lonelier knowing that the next is not the last 

that any celebrations were immediately erased by the pressing fear of rations around the corner. 

He listed out the pros and cons on never ending sheets of papers

like a parent with a shopping list, there was always something you forget. 

re-using his memories made him realise that no ring of forgotten memories could make him want to stay.

The stones scraped and carved into his feet like a knife would do to a jackfruit. 

Or like the army would do to his guts if they ever found him.  

He now understood that the choice wasn’t really between peace or war. 

It was between war and war. 

Ridicule reigns when honour and reputation is not your concern. 

This shame travelled through generations like his mother’s cooking did through the house. 

He somehow always felt camouflaged until the day he died. 

His children were on the next plane to England 

they spoke of the place fondly in their mother’s tone 

Their thoughts were churned into sweet honey 

coating a layer on his tongue. 

When he eventually left, his world view was crushed into a mere paste 

that painted his face scarce 

the once flavourful landmarks stained a bitter crevice of his brows 

the taste was just a tantalising trick

the hope still ignited his stomach. 

He never felt more lonely than when he finally reunited with his children and wife. The daydreams of freedom were too bare to overwhelm his senses anymore.

My grandmother 

sliced onions at 4 in the morning. 

That small, over staffed restaurant was the closest home a struggling man could feel

the homely mirage was marinated with deceit as soon as their shift started. 

He used to always say when he held me I would cry

I think even as a baby I could sense his panic. 

I remember his arms being warm and safe 

the thought that someone who looked so much like me, never felt out of danger

slid his fears into my mind like vegetables on a chopping board. 

He knew the type of freedom he craved was the one his children’s children 

would taste 

and his children’s children’s children would be lucky to savour.

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