Fifty-poisha Coin

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Happy hour in the Cathedral of Bird Shit. Leon is assigning everyone a mouth percussion sequence to perform symphonically as he tells the story of losing his virginity.

Brie's goes: Boump chiggy boump boump.

Susan sings: Weeee oh weeee oh weeee oh.

Eddie: Hum da-da hum. Hum da-da hee.

Nasreen gets the words: Ooooooooh, love to love you baby.

All together now.

Leon dances his sleek shirtless body. "Wuzzup Bird Shitters! Whozin the Cathedral tonight?"

Boump chiggy boump boump.

Weeee oh weeee oh weeee oh.

Hum da-da hum. Hum da-da hee.

Ooooooooh, love to love you baby.

"She was seventeen and horny as a jazz band. I was motherfuckin' twelve."

Boump chiggy boump boump.

"Mommy and Daddy, they was head up to a funeral overnight. Momma said, 'Deneesha, Girl. Come next door and watch my baby. I pay you ten dollars to spend the night.' And Deneesha, she thinkin', Hell yeah, Missus H. You leave yo baby with me, you come back tomorrow, he be a man."

Weeee oh weeee oh weeee oh.

"This girl be comin' over with an agenda. She want my little prick and she want it baaaaaaaaad."

Hum da-da hum. Hum da-da hee.

"We was watchin' The Love Boat 'n' shit when Daneesha dive her hand down in my boy pants and pull out my soft little dickie and rub it 'till it grow into a hot throbbin' missile."

Ooooooooh, love to love you baby.

Leon cocks his head back and bellows up the chamber. "And from that day on, boy I got a motherfuckin' boner every time somebody in the family died."

Boump chiggy boump boump.

***

"No no, it's a list," Brie is saying. "Of sexual scenarios."

Leon is rapt. "How you decide who's on the list?"

"It's not who, it's how. For instance, a stranger."

"I'm a stranger!"

"Not anymore. I know how you lost your virginity."

"Oh man, you see, Eddie?" Leon laughs. "Your motherfuckin' honesty pledge cock blockin' me."

***

Midnight brings the cold and kills the laughter. Darkness but a disc of night sky above. The birds settle and coo, and the group has fashioned a canopy from a piece of old canvas to protect themselves from further indignities. Tired, hungry, but no one can sleep.

"Shamim wooed me," Nasreen is saying. "He warned the other boys to stay away because he was going to marry me. He made me paper flowers and took me on strolls along the Jamuna. It was very romantic. Shamim rubbed himself against me and begged me to marry him instead of studying nursing. He told me he would fill me with a baby and he would work as a businessman and I would stay home and not worry. So I married him. It was not the wedding of my dreams, but it was good. My saree was fine and my family was there. But two weeks after our wedding, my father was killed in town. His head was struck by the mirror of a passing truck as he rode on his bicycle. This was very bad for my family, but it was worse for my new husband's family, because it meant that my dowry would not be paid in full. My mother and sister and I would have had to work double shifts at the clothing factory for two years to come up with the money, but my mother's hands were terrible with arthritis and Shamim insisted that his wife not work. So it would be up to my sister, but she was coerced into marriage with a family willing to forego the dowry, so we were powerless and trapped. I begged Shamim to let me work to pay the dowry down, to have mercy on my family, but he was furious. That night he raped me while his mother pretended to sleep, and then once I had fallen asleep, the two of them poured the acid over me."

Leon is shivering. "Motherfucker. Hope his ass rots in jail."

Nasreen offers Leon the drape of her saree. "He is not in jail. He was given little more than a warning not to burn me again."

Brie and Nasreen's eyes meet in the darkness. The woman pulls a locket from beneath her saree and asks Eddie for his lighter. She ignites the flame near the tiny photograph inside, and Brie leans in to see a striking young woman with dark silk hair and delicate features flashing the photographer a sly smile. "The first years were very hard. I had to let go of many things, release the parts of myself that relied on my beauty. It was a critical aspect of who I was and in an instant it was lost." She releases the lighter and the flame dies. "There was an old blind man who spent his days sitting on a stack of mats begging down the street from where I lived. His eyes were like blue milk and he had this terribly ugly little dog that would sit on his lap. Us children would dare each other to go steal a poisha from his pot. I was always the most daring, and one day I took a fifty-poisha coin from him. He wouldn't have known it was in there. If he had, he would have put it in his pocket. I flashed it at my friends and we spent it on jahlmuri and date palm juice and candies. And even though I was the one who took it, I always felt so guilty. I wanted to put it back but I didn't have the money, and shortly after that we never saw the man again. In my heart, I felt that I had killed him. That he had gone hungry as a result of my theft, which I did to impress my friends, a terrible offense. I carried this guilt with me for a very long time. When Shamim burned me and I woke up in the hospital and the nurse walked me to the mirror, I counted all the ways I had behaved badly in my life. Stealing that fifty-poisha coin was the first thing I thought of." Nasreen hands the lighter back to Eddie. "After I was released from hospital, I was living with my mother, terribly depressed. I thought my life was over. People looked at me like I was a monster, and when I looked at myself, I agreed. One day my mother insisted I go out for a walk. She said, 'Life is for the living and you are still alive, Nasreen. You must find a way to be happy.' So I went out walking for the first time. My wounds were very fresh and pink and every head on the street turned to gawp at me. From the only eye I had left, I was crying. I decided then that I did not want to live. I turned back, frantic to get home. I did not know how, but I decided I would die. And then I saw him. Ten years older, thinner, but it was him, the blind man, sitting on the same stack of old mats, with that very same ugly old dog in his lap. I felt the presence of God. I walked to him and dropped a fifty-poisha coin into his pot. He sensed my presence. I asked him, 'How do you go on living everyday in the darkness?'

The old man looked in my direction with his milky eyes and smiled. He told me, 'If I set aside what I cannot see, there is not nothing left. I still have my legs and my arms and my hands. I still have my mind and my thoughts and my words. I still smell the dal and I still hear the children playing and I still feel the soft fur of my dog's back when I stroke him. I have only lost one thing out of many.'" Nasreen draws a breath. "It dawned on me. I too had lost only one thing. And what luck, I realized, to lose something that I was bound to lose eventually. I still had my mind and my body and my dreams. I still had almost everything. I emptied my coin purse into the old man's pot and kissed him, raised my pink face to the sky to praise Allah, and walked home to tell my mother that I would be okay." Nasreen tucks the locket into her saree. "I am remarried to a kind man. I am a nurse. I have a daughter. I am okay."

Brie takes the woman's hand to feel her strength.

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