Brown Mirror

Brown Mirror

There were three kids with mustaches at Richard M. Nixon Middle School—Haroon Ali, Arjun Singh, and Rahul Balakrishnan (all three of South Asian descent, of course)—and because of this everyone always got them confused, even though Haroon was four inches shorter and wore large, circular wire-frame glasses that made him look distinctive, like a frightened woodland creature. He was the last of the three to grow his facial hair, the black fuzz on his upper lip not appearing till seventh grade, just after he turned twelve. Arjun’s had emerged the year before, and Rahul, as far as anyone could remember, had always had that thin line of black hair on his upper lip, sitting languidly on his dark skin, like some kind of foreign insect.

As with many of the changes puberty inflicts on adolescent boys, the mustache appeared on Haroon’s face all at once—one day after school, he was staring at his reflection in the bathroom to inspect a zit when he suddenly saw it, a prominent patch of dark hair on his upper lip. He panicked and shaved it hurriedly off with his dad’s razor, nicking himself in the process just under the nose. The cut required him to wear a small bandage, which because it was much lighter than his own skin stood out and led everyone at school to call him “Indian Hitler.”

“I’m Pakistani,” he would say indignantly, in the high-pitched voice that made all the eighth graders laugh.

He was actually American (or, as some would insist, Pakistani-American), and he’d only been to Pakistan once in his life, when he was two years old, a trip he didn’t remember (since 9/11, a year ago, his parents found it uncomfortable to visit, not because of any unrest there, since there had always been unrest in Pakistan ever since its independence in 1947—coups, wars, CIA-sponsored assassinations, etc.—but instead because of all the questions they were afraid they would get asked by the TSA and Homeland Security upon reentering the country, especially given that Haroon’s father’s passport photo had been taken in the 1990s when he’d been experimenting with his own facial hair and featured him with a long beard that might once have been innocuous but that now looked too much like a certain on-the-run Saudi man who was likely hiding in the very country they’d just returned from).

When Haroon’s mustache reappeared, one week after he’d shaved it, darker now than it had been before, he decided to leave it in place, mostly out of fear that he might cut himself again. When he arrived at school that day, he tried not to notice the way the others were looking at him, the skateboarders with long hair hanging out by the front gate, the groups of girls in skinny jeans laughing in circles across the courtyard, the nerdy Asian guys playing Magic the Gathering in one of the hallways, or even his homeroom teacher, Mrs. Walker, who stared at him a moment longer than usual during roll call, as if he had something strange on his face, before proceeding down the list of names.

“He looks like Arjun now!” whispered Travis, a white guy with blonde hair who sat behind Haroon and always smiled creepily at him, as if he were waiting for him to turn around so he could stab him in the neck with his pencil.

He wheeled his chair towards Haroon and leaned close to inspect his face.

“And Rahul!” said Matt, a white kid with brown hair who was tall and had a deep voice and who played third base for the little league baseball team and on whom all the girls had crushes (Haroon too was on the team and played second base, though none of the girls ever had crushes on him, even though he was almost as good a player as Matt).

“No way dude,” Travis said, with that authoritative tone only middle-school boys could master. “Rahul’s way fucking darker!”

“Travis!” Mrs. Walker said. “Language!”

“Sorry,” Travis said.

Second period was computer class, and Haroon entered the lab to find Rahul and Arjun there before him as always, sitting on the black swivel chairs before a row of teal blue iMacs, already logged in and browsing the internet on Netscape. As Haroon plopped into his seat and pushed his backpack under the table against the mess of wires, Rahul looked up excitedly.

“Haroon bhai!” he said, in an exaggerated Indian accent. “We heard the good news!”

He wheeled his chair towards Haroon and leaned close to inspect his face. Haroon smelled curry on his breath.

“Not bad,” Rahul said, as if he were a teacher grading a student’s art project. “Though you’re still in the early phases. Let’s give it a few more weeks and see how it grows.”

Rahul’s own mustache was as dark as mechanical pencil graphite, though compared to both Haroon’s and Arjun’s, it came across as natural, and Rahul wore it as confidently as he did his sunglasses (now pushed up above his bowl cut) and his baggy shirt and shorts, looking as always like he was some Indian hip hop artist who’d just landed a record deal.

“Let me see!” Arjun said, wheeling his chair over too.

Arjun, unlike Rahul, looked nothing at all like an artist (hip hop or otherwise) and wore an ugly green striped collared shirt tucked into thin green pants pulled up above his waist (it was the kind of nerd-chic that would be cool ten years later but that in 2002 made him look like someone whose parents still picked out his clothes). His face, meanwhile, was set in that goofy expression, mouth hanging in a half-smile, eyes wide open, like a stupid sidekick on a Cartoon Network show who somehow always bumbles his way into solving the mystery or expressing the episode’s moral message. His mustache, his defining feature, wasn’t nearly as thick as Rahul’s, but because his skin was lighter, a brown closer to Haroon’s, the line of black fuzz stood out much more prominently.

“Dude, you look like my cousin Raj!” Arjun said. “He’s in high school, but his mustache grows the same ways as yours, slanting down on either side like that.”

“No, you know who he looks like?” Rahul said. “Raj Kapoor!”

“Who’s Raj Kapoor?” Haroon asked.

“Yea, who’s Raj Kapoor?” Arjun asked.

“You don’t know Raj Kapoor? Dude, he’s like this really famous Bollywood actor from back in the day!” (Rahul was really into film, both Bollywood and Hollywood, and his dream was to one day be a famous director (“Like Satyajit Ray!” he’d often say, another name that meant nothing to Haroon and Arjun).)

Rahul wheeled his chair up to Haroon’s computer and pulled up a photo of Raj Kapoor on the Netscape browser. It was black and white, and Kapoor was wearing a suit and tie and looking out past the camera with a grand, soulful expression, a tuft of wavy hair falling just above his right eye.

“I don’t look like him at all,” Haroon said.

“Yeah you do, man!” Rahul said. “Here, take off your glasses and look over at the door.”

He took Haroon’s glasses and set them on the table. Without them, Haroon could barely see, and Rahul and Arjun were just indistinct brown shapes in a sea of blue iMacs.

“OK, now look more serious, like you’re thinking of something really important.” Rahul reached out and adjusted Haroon’s hair so that a tuft of it hung down over his forehead. “There. See?”

“Dude, you’re right!” Arjun said, looking from the computer screen to Haroon’s face. “He looks just him!”

“What’d I tell you?” Rahul smiled and then put on his Indian accent. “So handsome, Haroon bhai!”

“Can you make me look him next?” Arjun asked.

“What the fuck are you dickheads doing?”

They all turned in time to see Travis enter the lab. He walked slowly, with his classic gangly and bow-legged swagger, a style of movement he’d adopted mainly because he thought it made him look cool but also because if he didn’t walk with his legs spread so far apart, his baggy jeans would fall to his ankles, since he wore no belt and always sagged them halfway down his ass, so that everyone could see his white, Target-bought, Hanes-brand underwear. Like many white teenage boys in the early 2000s, Travis was appropriating the style of black rappers from the 1990s, a choice at odds with the fact that he also seemed to harbor deep racial animosities towards the very group he sought to imitate (he was often overheard screaming the n-word on the trail behind school with his group of white friends, whether as a pejorative or as an exclamation of delight it wasn’t entirely clear).

Travis threw his backpack onto his chair and then shoved Haroon away from his computer and leaned over the screen. With his pants hanging as they were, he looked as if he were about to whip out his dick and rape the poor iMac through its CD-ROM drive.

“Dude, what’s this?” Travis asked, laughing and pointing to the image of Raj Kapoor. “They’re looking up terrorists! Mr. Bryce, they’re looking up terrorists!”

Mr. Bryce, who as sitting at the other end of the room, didn’t even glance up at the mention of his name. He was one of those balding, middle-aged men who always looked tired, and he’d long since given up trying to impose any discipline in his classes, realizing quickly the futility of attempting to control thirty middle schoolers around computers in such a poorly a designed room (arranged so that it was impossible for him to see anyone’s screen from his desk).

“He’s not a terrorist!” Arjun said, his voice rising into a whine that sounded similar to Haroon's own. “He’s a famous Bollywood actor!”

“Looks like a fucking terrorist to me,” Travis said.

“Get the fuck away, man,” Rahul said, shoving him back.

“Or what?” Travis asked, turning to Rahul.

“Or I’m gonna beat your ass into the ground, you little piece of shit.”

Travis laughed but returned to his seat and put headphones over his ears. Rahul shook his head and looked over at Arjun.

“Don’t take him seriously, man” Rahul said. “It’s what he wants. Just tell him to fuck off and he’ll go away.”

In class that day, they were all supposed to work on their final assignments, a general art project that could consist of anything so long as it used a program on the computer, due in a week at the end of the semester. Most of the students were making something with the animation software, the girls generally some kind of narrative featuring various animals (usually horses) engaged in some school related drama that ended with everyone learning a valuable lesson about friendship, the boys plotless action scenes with stick figures skateboarding or fighting each other with swords or guns (or both, in the case of Travis), all of which usually ended extremely violently (in Travis’s animation, one of the stick figures chops off the other stick figure’s head but then drowns in the geysers of blood that spew from the body). Rahul’s was the most ambitious, a complex animated sequence featuring a brown stick figure with a lightsaber running through a multi-level obstacle course reminiscent of the original Donkey Kong, but with Matrix-style slow-motion effects and Super Smash Brothers sounds, essentially a pastiche of his favorite movies and video games. Arjun’s, more simplistically, was an animation featuring cars that raced around a circular track and occasionally grazed each other and then inexplicably exploded.

Haroon decided not to do an animation and instead was using Paint to create a single detailed image, a large domed palace in a fantasy landscape, full of palm trees and desert cliffs in the background and small stick figures in the windows and in the gardens, including a King, a Queen, and their attendants and guards, a group of children playing with dolls and chess pieces in their room, advisers and diplomats standing in curtained hallways, soldiers gathered outside in formation, and a large brown flag fluttering atop it all from a tall spire. Haroon had never before demonstrated any kind of artistic skill, and he usually did poorly on school projects that required drawing, but for whatever reason he quite enjoyed creating this image, this other world he could escape to for an hour every other weekday. He didn’t know it, but unconsciously he’d taken inspiration from the vertical images of mosques on the prayer rugs he was used to seeing in the local Islamic center, as well as the Mughal miniature paintings that his mother liked to hang throughout their house, which were full of such precise and detailed figures arranged in a similarly consciously artificial way

“People are stupid,” Rahul said.

Today, though, Haroon found it difficult to work on his project. Whenever he tried, he kept seeing his own face reflected on the iMac screen and the strange mustache like a black smudge on his face. He tried turning up the brightness, but the light was too blinding.

“Hey,” he turned to Rahul. “Why did you keep yours?”

“What?” Rahul asked. He was in the middle of a particularly challenging sequence, in which the brown stick figure hero has to toss up his lightsaber to deflect a bullet and then wall-kick to the next level, catch it, and kill the two stormtroopers guarding the door.

“Your mustache,” Haroon said. “Why didn’t you shave it?”

“Dude,” Rahul said. “Why would you want to shave it?”

“Because people think it’s weird.”

“People are stupid,” Rahul said. “It makes us different, man. What, you want to look like fucking Travis?”

That evening, while Haroon, his little brother Amir, and his parents were sitting on the couch eating keema aloo and watching Seinfeld reruns (a family tradition), Haroon asked his father whether he would teach him how to shave.

“Shave?” His father looked surprised and turned to face his son, a bit of keema dribbling down his face. “Why do you want to learn to shave?”

“Because I have a mustache,” Haroon said.

“So?” Amir asked. “Dad has a mustache.”

It was true: Haroon’s father did have a mustache (the beard, though, he’d shaved back on September 12, 2001). It wasn’t the thin mustache of Raj Kapoor, but a thick, 1970s one, with bristles that hung down over his upper lip, and every week he trimmed it carefully in the mirror. Until now, Haroon had never imagined him without it.

On the TV, Kramer had entered a room, and the audience was applauding.

“Why do you want to shave your mustache?” Haroon’s mother asked. “Are the other kids at school making fun of you for it?”

“No,” Haroon said quickly.

“Then what’s the problem?” Haroon’s father asked. “You don’t want to look like your father?”

“No, it’s not that,” Haroon said, quietly.

“Don’t I look good?” his father said, turning to his mother. “Like Burt Reynolds!”

“Who’s Burt Reynolds?” Amir asked.

“You don’t look anything like Burt Reynolds,” Haroon’s mom said.

“Yes, I do!” Haroon’s father insisted.

That weekend, still mustached, Haroon joined his little league team for a game against a rival team from their league. His fellow teammates had by now all heard of his new mustache, but none of them said anything about it, at least when he was in the dugout.

“I think it looks great,” said his coach, patting him on the back. “Like Dennis Eckersley!”

As Haroon was warming up, fielding grounders at second base, he watched the other team standing along the fence in their dugout. He recognized many of them from school, including Travis.

“Dude, who’s that?” Travis asked, point directly at Haroon. “Is that Arjun? I didn’t know Arjun played baseball!”

Haroon misjudged a grounder and let it dribble through his legs. The rival team laughed.

“Hey, stay focused, Haroon!” his coach yelled from the dugout. “No mistakes out there!”

“I think it’s Rahul,” said one of Travis’s teammates.

“No dude, Rahul is darker!” Travis said, loudly. “Wait, no, it’s Haroon! Haroon! Haroon!” He started calling out Haroon’s name and lengthening the last syllable so that it sounded like some strange wolf cry. “Haroon! Haroon!”

Haroon felt himself sweating under the heat and missed another grounder, which bounced passed him and rolled into the outfield.

“God dammit, Haroon, get your head in the game!” his coach yelled.

“Wait, Haroon, can we call you Apu?” Travis called. “Like, Simpson’s Apu?”

“No!” Haroon shouted, his high-pitched voice unfortunately belying the anger he hoped to convey.

“Ooh, Apu’s mad!” Travis said. He then put on a fake Indian accent. “Thank you, come again!”

Everyone laughed, including several of Haroon’s teammates, and Haroon felt himself redden. The sun beat down heavily, and the sweat from under his cap was running down his face. He took off his glasses and wiped his cheeks with his sleeve so the other kids wouldn’t think he was crying.

Later, towards the end of the game, the sun had set, and evening was falling across the diamond. Haroon’s team was down two in the bottom of the fifth (middle school games only went to six innings), and Haroon was up to bat, with two outs and a man on second and third. Matt was in the on-deck circle, taking practice swings and watching Haroon anxiously.

Travis, who was the catcher, started laughing as Haroon approached the plate.

“Alright, you got this, it’s just Apu!” he called to his pitcher, another white kid with blonde hair who looked just like him. “Let’s make him ‘thank you, come again!’”

Haroon, his heart beating, set up his stance and raised his bat. Behind the pitcher and beyond the outfield’s stretch of grass, the sun was dipping between the hills, and Haroon could see the houses of this California suburban town, one of them his own, all arrayed in orderly girds across the hillsides, together forming this quintessential American community. Cars passed by on the streets, and the nearby street sign reading PLEASANTVILLE ROAD creaked in the gentle wind. It was the kind of evening out of a 1990s movie, when the hero of the story would hit a home run and be embraced by his team, while the villain would turn away in disgrace or else reform his ways and apologize for all he’s said and done.

Haroon took the first pitch, a called strike. He thought it had been outside and off the plate, but the umpire was a high school kid who’d smoked a lot of weed just before this game and was barely holding it together.

“Come on, Haroon,” his coach called, half with encouragement, half with worry. “Let’s go. Base hit’s all we need.”

On his last two at-bats, Haroon had hit two singles, the last one off this same pitcher, so he knew he could do it again. The pitcher waited in the stretch with his hands before him, his brow furrowed in concentration as he cast brief glances over at the runners on third and second. After a moment, he stepped forward and fired home a pitch. Haroon swung and heard the clunk of the metal bat making contact with the ball—but as it sailed upward, he watched it curve to the right and over the other team’s dugout, towards the stands where the parents and the players’ girlfriends sat watching.

“Foul!” the umpire said.

“Alright!” Travis called, smacking his fist into his glove. “One more, man, one more! Let’s strike this little jihadi out!”

The other team laughed, but Haroon ignored them. He readied himself again and watched the pitcher carefully. His heart was racing, and though there was sweat beading on his brow, it felt cool now in the evening breeze. In the on-deck circle, Matt watched nervously, his bat pressed into the dirt.

Just before the pitch came, with Haroon ready and preparing himself to swing, Travis looked up at him and, in a calm voice, said, “Fucking sand nigger.”

Harmon was stunned, and when the pitch came, he didn’t swing, even though it was right down the middle.

“Strike three!” the umpire cried, with delight in voice, relieved the inning was over.

Travis stood up and laughed and patted Haroon on the shoulder with his glove.

“Nice try, Apu,” he said. “I guess baseball’s just not your thing.”

On Monday, in homeroom, Travis was so gleeful he didn’t even comment when Haroon walked in and just smiled at him in that eerie, unsettling way. Matt was there too, looking frustrated and dejected.

“Hey man,” Matt said, leaning over to Haroon after he sat down.

“What?” Haroon asked, expecting a reprimand from his teammate.

“Don’t let what happened on Saturday get you down, okay? We all strike out sometimes. It’s part of the game.” He clapped Haroon on the shoulder. “We’ll get ‘em next time.”

Haroon was surprised. He wanted to say something, to thank Matt for saying what he did, to tell him it meant a lot—but Mrs. Walker had already started calling roll.

In second period, Haroon entered the computer lab to find Rahul and Arjun there as always.

“Let me look at you!” Rahul said, swiveling his chair towards him. “Yes! Still there!”

“Stop it,” Haroon said, pushing Rahul’s hand away.

“What’s wrong?” Rahul asked.

“Nothing,” Haroon said.

“Was it the baseball game?” Arjun asked. “I heard you struck out or something. Everyone kept coming up to me and telling me I was a loser, and I had to tell them that it wasn’t me and that I don’t even know how to play baseball.” (Cricket was Arjun’s game, which he and his father played every Sunday on the baseball diamond with a group of other Indian and Pakistani men and their kids.)

Haroon ignored Arjun and logged into his computer. When he opened up his Paint file, though, he found his picture replaced by a totally unfamiliar drawing.

“What…”

He stared at the screen, dumfounded. The palace, the desert background, the King and Queen and all their courtiers—all of it was gone, completely erased. In its place was a large head, colored in with dark brown paint, with crooked wire frame glasses and a mustache across the upper lip. In messy writing, the name HAROON was scrawled at the top of the page and to the right a speech bubble with the words “Thank you, come again!”

“Dude, what the fuck?” Rahul asked, staring at the screen.

“Wait, you didn’t draw that, did you?” Arjun asked.

Haroon stood from the chair, his hands trembling, just as Travis entered the computer lab.

“Oh hey, Apu found his portrait! What do you think Apu? Pretty good, no?”

Haroon looked over towards Mr. Bryce’s desk. As always, their teacher was engrossed by his own computer, humming to music, headphones over his ears. Haroon stepped towards Travis, his heart beating furiously. He wanted to take a baseball bat and swing it at Travis’s head, to smash his face in like it was a baseball pitched to him right across the plate—

“Haroon, no,” Rahul said, grabbing his arm.

Haroon realized he’d grabbed one of the swivel chairs by the base and was trying to pick it up. There was sweat all over his face and he felt his glasses about to slip from his nose. For once in his life, Travis looked scared.

I said get the fuck out of here.

“It’s not worth it,” Rahul said, his hand holding firmly to Haroon’s arm.

“He erased it!” Haroon said, through tears. “The fucking asshole erased it!”

Travis, now seeing that Haroon was crying, began to laugh and point, looking around at the others.

“The terrorist’s crying!” he said. “What’s wrong little terrorist? You didn’t get the 72 virgins you were promised? Or did someone else do the jihad you were planning?”

“OK, that’s enough you little shit,” Rahul said, turning to Travis. “Get the fuck out of here. Right now.”

Rahul pointed to the computer lab’s glass door. Travis’s eyes widened in surprise.

“What?”

“I said get the fuck out of here.”

Travis looked like he was about to laugh. He glanced from Rahul to the others around him. Everyone was frozen in place, staring at him from their seats, and the room was completely silent, except for Mr. Bryce, who was still humming to himself.

Rahul remained standing, his finger pointing to the door. In the glow of the computer screens, his mustache looked particularly prominent, a dark line drawn elegantly across his face, and it made him look glamorous and defiant, like an actor in an old movie standing up to the villain. Travis’s smirk slowly faded from his face.

“Are you deaf, motherfucker?” Rahul said, raising his voice. “I said get the fuck out!”

Rahul stepped menacingly forward, and Travis stumbled back, tripping over his sagging pants. He managed to avoid falling to the ground by catching himself on his chair, but everyone in the room laughed instinctively. Travis’s face grew red, and he walked quickly to the door, one hand gripping his pants to hold them up, his white Hanes underwear glowing in the monitors’ reflected light. Haroon watched through the glass door as Travis’s bow-legged stride carried him hurriedly down the hallway, until he disappeared around the corner.

Everyone in the lab began talking excitedly, and an Asian kid, Vincent Lee, gave Rahul a high-five. Rahul, looking pleased, turned back to his computer.

“Dude,” Arjun said, “that was hella awesome! You were like someone from a movie!”

“Like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction,” Rahul said, with a smug smile.

When they sat down, though, Rahul’s smile dropped away, and he looked over at Haroon.

“You okay, man?” he asked.

Haroon stared at his screen, where Travis’s drawing stared back at him, like a mirror. In the screen’s reflection, he couldn’t even see his own face anymore.

“No,” Haroon said. “I’m not okay.”

“Listen. He’s just an asshole. You stand up to him once, and he won’t bother you again.”

But Haroon didn’t believe him. Rahul wasn’t like Haroon, or Arjun, or any other brown kid Haroon had ever known. Somehow, through sheer will, Rahul had overcome it all, being Indian, having dark skin, growing facial hair at age ten—none of it ever bothered him, and he just went on with his life, and people respected and even admired him. Haroon knew he could never be like Rahul, but he realized in that moment that that was all he wanted—to be able to stand up to someone like Travis, to tell him to fuck off, to get him to back down and be silent, to get him to disappear.

Haroon erased Travis’s drawing, but when he found himself staring at the blank Paint page, he realized he didn’t have the energy to start his own picture again. He closed the program and went over to Mr. Bryce to explain what had happened.

“Another student deleted your work?” Mr. Bryce asked, incredulous.

Haroon considered. Did he really want to be the kid who tattled, on top of everything?

“I don’t know, actually,” he said. “I think I might have forgotten to save it. Can I get an extension on the project?”

Mr. Bryce sighed. “Haroon, I’m sorry, but a deadline is a deadline. You’ll have to turn in whatever you have.”

“I don’t have anything,” Haroon said. “The page is white.”

Mr. Bryce put up his hands in a shrug. “Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Haroon. There’s nothing I can do.”

At the end of the semester, after Haroon had failed his final project (he got a C in his computer class, which was the worst grade he’d ever gotten), he learned to his dismay that Rahul was moving away.

“My dad got a new job in Boston,” Rahul said. “So we gotta relocate.”

He shrugged as if it were no big thing. The three of them were eating lunch on the swivel chairs in the computer lab, while Mr. Bryce sat at his computer. The rest of the lab was empty, and the rows of iMac screensavers glowed eerily back at them. The air smelled like the Indian food that all of them had brought.

“Dude that sucks,” Arjun said.

“No, it’ll be fine,” Rahul said, taking a bite out of his kebab. “It’s technically a promotion, so my dad’ll be making more money.”

“Yea but—we’ll miss you,” Haroon said.

Silence fell between them. Beyond Rahul, through the computer lab’s glass door, Haroon could see other students sitting in the hallway, laughing.

“Yea, well, we’ll stay in touch,” Rahul said. “We’ll email and shit.”

He patted one of the computers, which made a strange, hollow sound.

That day, after school, Haroon and Arjun watched as Rahul got into his mom’s car and then drove off out of the school parking lot and down Pleasantville Street, past the baseball diamond and towards the hills of distant houses. He wouldn’t be leaving for a week, but it felt to Haroon like he was already gone.

“Well, at least we’re still friends,” Arjun said, looking at Haroon.

Haroon stared back at him, at his stupid face, at the mustache across his lip.

“Are we?” Haroon asked.

Arjun looked surprised and a little hurt.

“Dude, of course we are!” he said. “People like us, we have to stick together.”

Haroon felt himself growing angry, and he didn’t understand why.

“What do you mean ‘people like us?’” he asked. “I’m not like you!”

“Haroon, come on. Look at us—”

“No!” Haroon stepped up to Arjun and shoved him in the chest. “No! I’m nothing like you! Okay? I’m nothing like you!” He shoved him again, and Arjun stumbled back and fell hard on the pavement.

“Ow!” he cried. “Dude, what the fuck?”

He’d scraped his elbow on the ground, and it was bleeding a lot. He stared up at Haroon as if he were about to cry.

Haroon turned and ran, all the way back home, determined not to look back at Arjun lying on the ground. When he got through his front door, he was breathing hard, and he had to sit on his staircase for a moment to catch his breath. Eventually, he made his way upstairs and into the bathroom.

Inside, he grabbed his dad’s razor and stepped up to the mirror. He stared for a long moment at his reflection in the glass, the glasses, the big eyes, the dark skin, the mustache. He imagined it was Arjun looking back at him, and then Rahul.

Slowly, he turned on the tap and put the razor under the water, and then lifted it to his face. He wanted to shave off the mustache in one stroke, to pull out every hair so that it would never grow again. But he also wanted more than that. He wanted to use the razor to scrape away his skin. He wanted to run the blade across his face and his arms and every inch of his body, to peel away all his dark brown skin, every last awful bit of it, until all that was left was white.


Aatif Rashid  is the author of the novel Portrait of Sebastian Khan. He’s published stories in The Massachusetts Review, Arcturus, Barrelhouse, and other places and currently writes regularly for The Kenyon Review blog.

Aatif Rashid is the author of the novel Portrait of Sebastian Khan. He’s published stories in The Massachusetts Review, Arcturus, Barrelhouse, and other places and currently writes regularly for The Kenyon Review blog.


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