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  • Simple Battery
  • Maria Thomas (bio)

A man sat next to me on the tube. Straight away he started talking to his wife opposite us in a quick, large language, and waving his hands about to make his point. So enamored and assured was he of this point that between Canada Water and Canary Wharf, he hit me in the face. That was how this day began.

Wrigley was still dead. I went into work, my cheek screaming, and Anu pressed a wet wad of green paper towels to this tender part. “You should report him,” she said.

“Who?” I said.

“The tube guy.”

“For hand talking? It was an accident.”

“He was reckless, Loraine. It was a battery.”

“It’s probably not that simple.”

We were paralegals who sometimes wanted to be lawyers, but then again who wanted to be one more of something the world didn’t really want? Wrigley had been a lawyer. He’d worked above us. Much higher up.

“Nothing’s ever simple,” Anu said. “Hand talking? You’re strange, you know that?” She laughed, and squeezed water from the sodden wad. I laughed too. “Keep still,” she said, and kept pressing.

It was Friday and she was getting married on Saturday. We’d already thrown her a work hen party, where we went out for drinks with pink, cock-tipped cocktail sticks skewering our cherries and curls of peel. Then she’d gone on leave. Anu-in-the-office was actually a trespass. A transgression. “Wait, why are you here?”

“Hindu hullabaloo. It’s too fucking much.” She dropped the paper towel wad on her desk. I wanted to toss it up at the ceiling. I wasn’t Anu; I didn’t know how to transgress with style. She started up about the pre-wedding preparations, and her fiancé, Deepesh, who was picked from a great lineup that had considered the contours of her deepest soul. Consequently, she really loved him. Had I really loved Wrigley?

Anu scratched at herself, one hand then the other, from where the Mehndi had caused a mild reaction. I hadn’t been invited to that party. Real friends and family only. How many miles had everyone there traveled in their lives, just to reach the point where they could paint her hands, together, in London? Thousands. My great aunt Eunice had traveled five thousand miles to London from Jamaica, only to get run over by a bus. [End Page 12]

“Your people will be worried, Anumati,” I said.

She kissed her teeth. “Deep knows where I am.”

Then she got on the phone to tell him.

Here was Anu, caught between two worlds. She never said this but it was what bonded us, as colleagues. I’d gotten very excited about her nuptials. I’d decided her wedding represented a kind of watershed in my own life. It was arbitrary but necessary: I’d been staring at myself in shop windows for too long. In fact, every time I passed reflective glass the shapes of my face would mock me. I had nobody to talk to about it. The wedding was the event where I would cash in my tokens for a stable version of myself. For a new, non-mocking face. I’d been collecting these tokens for years.

Anu kissed her teeth again. Then she said something in her other language and laughed. I taught her teeth kissing, for jokes, but now it was hers. She did it all the time and so I couldn’t really do it anymore without everybody thinking I was trying to be Anu, even though teeth kissing was really a black thing, not an Asian one. Nobody had arranged me a marriage. Was teeth-kissing a token? If it was, I’d just handed it over, like it was nothing.


“I’m just popping out,” I said. But nobody heard.

12:00 pm. I had to eat because you have to eat to keep it moving. What I really needed was fresh air, but the firm was housed in a vast building designed to stop people from ever wanting to leave. I took the lift down to the basement...


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pp. 12-24
Launched on MUSE
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