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Essay News Poem Review Short Story

2024 | Short Story

Drinking Tea at Lahore Chai Masters

My short story, Drinking Tea at Lahore Chai Masters, is published on The Markaz Review.

When Mehreen and Asma compare notes, they realize they are still not unfettered lovers.

Mehreen stretched her arms above her head and yawned. Their eyes met for a moment, then Asma looked away. Their relationship was at a stage where they knew what each other was thinking just from their expressions. The sun was already slipping away without having had its chance to shine because of the smog. Some days were like that. Never succumb, Asma said to herself. Never, not to the noise, or this business of life. Better the silence of sorrow. She had had a craving for karak chai, so they’d come to Lahore Chai Masters, a dilapidated kiosk in one of the gullies off Walton Road. Further down the alley, a group of men were seated in a circle on the ground playing rummy. This is what you did on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

A waiter with a pink showering cap on his head placed two cups of tea on the wooden stool. He covered them with saucers to stop the tea from cooling and keep away the flies. They were his only customers.

“What a time of day it is,” Asma said, “as though our whole lives were compressed into this hour.”

Mehreen gave her a sharp look.

“Doesn’t it?” Asma said.

A crow rocked on the dead wires above them and cawed, Mehreen did not reply but kept her gazed fixed on her. Asma lifted the saucer and picked up her cup. Of course Mehreen had heard her, but why didn’t she respond? What was she thinking? It was moments like these when Asma needed reassurance, and Mehreen wasn’t forthcoming, that Asma felt she’d never been understood…


2023 | Short Story

Silence is Golden

My short story, Silence is Golden, is published in The Markaz Review.

His own greatness misunderstood, Dr. Fazal takes a vow


Monday morning and Dr. Fazal was ready for a productive week. Dr. Fazal, to be clear, did not have a PhD, nor was he a medical doctor, but his colleagues called him “Doctor” because he was full of “timeless philosophical wisdoms,” as he said himself.  He’d made the suggestion at an HR meeting in jest when he realized he was always being consulted when there were serious problems to be solved, and the name had stuck. One time, many years ago, he had the feeling that his colleagues were making fun of him, but that was a forgotten memory. When he did remember, he told his wife, “Being wrong is just as powerful as being right. Sometimes even more so.” He’d been at Amber Investments for ten years working as the Deputy Human Resources of HR Manager. He was not in any doubt that a man of his talent and superior intellect was destined for higher places. His favourite saying was, “In six simple words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It starts and stops with me.”


2023 | Short Story

Poached Eggs

My short story, Poached Eggs, is published by On Eating, a multilingual journal of food and eating.

‘Marry me Nuru,’ Jaffer said in his precise, measured tone. ‘Together we’ll build our future in a new Kenya.’

He was standing opposite her desk at the Chambers where she worked. She’d met him several months earlier and they’d struck up a friendship.

Nuru had a Pitman’s Secretarial Diploma and a driver’s licence from the first Ladies Driving School in Nairobi. With her natural beauty and qualifications she felt she deserved a man who really appreciated her.

Jaffer was a confident, self-made, business man. He was shorter than Nuru, already greying, and had very ordinary features. But he was able to charm her with his big dreams. He spoke excitedly about Kenya’s future, saying he believed everything was possible.

Nuru’s family were not happy with her decision to marry Jaffer; they had received many marriage proposals for her from professionals; a lawyer and a dentist.

But Nuru was adamant about Jaffer. ‘He appreciates my ambitions and intelligence,’ she said…


2023 | Short Story

Mary the Mchawi

My short story, Mary the Mchawi, has been published by The Los Angeles Review. Click the link to read the full story.

We in this house know our place. We never pry, ask unnecessary questions or poke our noses into our boss’s affairs. Occasionally, however, we admit, we gossip. Of course, we keep an eagle eye on anyone new who joins the house.  We work here and live in the DSQ, or Domestic Servants Quarters.

We want to tell you about Mary. She was the new cook and came at the beginning of March when the old cook sent Ma’am a message to say he wasn’t coming back. He didn’t offer any explanation and Ma’am said she’d been left in the lurch yet again. She grumbles, but we’ve been with the house for more than ten years and she knows we are faithful.

Before we had a chance to ask our relatives and friends if they wanted the old cook’s job, Mary showed up. She appeared one morning at the gate wearing an orange dress with purple flowers. When the guard asked her what she wanted, she said she had appointment with Ma’am. He let her in and we watched her walking to the kitchen door with slow, steady steps. The rucksack on her back looked heavy, which struck us as strange. What on earth was she carrying in that bag?


2023 | Short Story

Rich and Poor People

My short story Rich and Poor People published The Markaz Review.

Rich people have no idea what it’s like to be poor.


When you’re poor, you’re used to people dropping dead like flies and spending half your salary every month on funerals. Being poor means you’ll die young, because if you’re ill, you won’t have a car to take you to the hospital. And if by some luck you get there by bus, you’ll have to sit on the cold floor in the hospital corridor and wait for hours. And when the nurse finally takes you in, there’ll be no bed, medicine, or doctor. If you survive, your baby might die. If you hit your chest and cry, everyone will say it was God’s will, and if He took away your child, maybe one day He’ll give you a chance to change your destiny and know what it’s like to live like the rich.

Rich people have the luxury to mourn. They make a fuss about every death as if it were not a daily occurrence. Take Ma’am Farida and Mr. Abdul. I’ve been working for them for twelve years now. Last month Mr. Abdul died of a heart attack, and now Ma’am Farida is heartbroken. Every morning she opens the sliding doors to the balcony and looks at the apartment directly across the way. If you asked her why she was so interested in the neighbors, she’d tell you she didn’t care about them — it was what they were feeding the crows that bothered her. That’s another trait of the rich: They’re not interested in the poor, but more worried about the birds starving…


2022 | Short Story

Anarkali, or Six Early Deaths in Lahore

My short story Anarkali, or Six Early Deaths in Lahore has been published in The Markaz Review.

In the ancient romantic tale, Anarkali was a courtesan dancer in the Mughal court of Salim Jahangir who dared to fall in love with him. As the story goes, she was buried or burnt alive for her crime. Here, she is a poor street sweeper in Lahore, nicknamed Anarkali by a white professor researching bombing incidents on the city’s churches. Anarkali is the ordinary woman who is invisible, who goes unnoticed and unremarked by history. She is the one who dares to live her life in her own way, and pays a heavy price for it. Even today, centuries later, for a woman to love someone outside her class and caste is fraught with danger.


2022 | Short Story

Hot Mango Chutney Sauce

My story, Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, was shortlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Watch the office music video of Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, starring Meesha Shafi and featuring Swineryy.

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2022 | Short Story

Warm Beers and Soggy Burgers

I’m thrilled that my short story, Warm Beers and Soggy Burgers, is being published in Mechanics’ Institute Review. Publication date, 28th February.

MIR is a contemporary magazine designed to represent the quality and diversity of the UK literary scene. The website is managed by Project Director, Julia Bell, and Managing Editor, Peter John Coles, and maintained and edited by a rotating group of Birkbeck students, alumni and staff.

If you ever come looking for me, you’ll find me sitting in my car at the Kisementi car park, listening to Radio One. Kisementi is a shopping centre on Number 12 Bukoto Street, in Kololo, a suburb of Kampala. Opposite me are the Fat Boyz pub and Payless Supermarket. On my left are a local handicraft shop, The Banana Boat and The Crocodile restaurant and, on my right, the Christian Bookshop. From my car, I enjoy watching the congestion of boda bodas, special hires, taxis, matatus and private cars. I do this every day for a few minutes or few hours. It all depends…


2021 | Short Story

Queen Victoria In The Basement, shortlisted

My short story, Queen Victoria In The Basement, has been shortlisted in the White Review short story competition. The story is set in the basement of the Lahore Museum. I was inspired to write it after seeing the statue of Queen Victoria in the Armoury and the guard who was looking after it.

Dear Mr Chairman,


Yesterday, after I switched on the spotlight so that you could see the Queen properly, you covered your nose so I wanted to explain why there’s a smell.

Please, allow me to introduce my good self to you. I’m Benazir Mirza (also known as Aspro), and for ten years now, I’ve been working as guard and caretaker in the basement of our prestigious Lahore Museum. But more than that, I’m a devoted sevadari to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria.

Sir, I want to tell you everything – how after Partition the Queen was dragged from Charing Cross Road, where she’d sat under the shade of a marble pavilion since 1904, and dumped here in the basement. However, I don’t want to lie and pretend that I haven’t been watching you for many years. I see you every morning when I’m taking my tea break at 11.30 am at Khalid’s kiosk and you drive through the gates of the Museum. You sit at the back, on the left, with your window rolled up. I even know your number plate…


2021 | Short Story

A Safe Place

Langata Prison, Nairobi, December 2008

Kay slept on a thin mattress with a torn blanket to cover her. In the corner of her cell was a steel bucket and a brown sponge for wiping both her body and the rough walls finished with gloss grey. The bulb hanging from the corrugated iron roof was never turned on. The only light coming in was through the barbed wire in the narrow ventilation gap between the roof and walls. Her cell, at the end of a long, wide corridor, had a small internal window with bars which overlooked the passageway lined with other cells on either side. These were shared by five or six women. Once a day, before they were marched out to the fields, they ate together in the passage seated on low stools. Kay slept and ate on her own.

‘Oi,’ she  shouted, ‘there’s a cockroach in here.’

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