- Nakshi Kanthas
I see women work on nakshi kanthas. I see my aunts work on embroideries. They start their work early in the morning. I join them in the afternoon. I walk by the ponds, see familiar faces dip into the shallow waters, women with their saris wrapped around their necks. Their children swimming around them. The green branches lie low. The dogs take careful steps as they stand guard, nails forcing their way into the muddy ground. The scent of summer in the air. Owls hidden from sight. The world, once more, turning its face away from winter. As I walk around the circular pond, the earth rotates, and I speed to the other side, and return again. I walk back again. The loose fans, their motors hanging, turn, and I find myself here. My eyes are young here, those childhood fears return. Uncertainty in the dry air. And without failing, the women rise from the ponds, their children swimming past them, climbing on land. A silver can rolls down the street, aluminum cuts through madness. Lovers return for the sake of lovers.
I hold the large, cotton canvases for my aunts. My aunts don't talk much. They listen. But when they speak they repeat things. It is in their mannerism to repeat things. Villagers come by to see me. They tell me how much I am missed. As I become older I am not only holding the kanthas, I begin working on them. When they repeat the same words, I sew the same area on the kanthas. These areas are the corners. I remember one summer when a villager, Sabiha, used to come by. And so, as soon as Sabiha walked through the front door, I moved the large and heavy kantha around and I worked on a corner. The embroidery slowly formed shapes, flowers, as I waited for Sabiha to finish narrating what transpired in her life since she last left the place. Other than the humdrum, occasionally there was the surprise entry of Laylaa, her sister, who would pay a visit from her village, and then it would be time for us to hear about Laylaa's life. At some point, [End Page 172] it became clear to me when Sabiha was about to introduce a seemingly sudden, yet completely predictable, twist. It was usually her eyes that gave it away. It was usually a visit from Laylaa.
I take out a white nakshi kantha. The cotton is crinkled. The orange lines hold the patterns in a frame. There are hundreds of rose buds surrounding the inside of the orange lines. There's a large jasmine in the center circled by smaller ones and twin rose buds, all of which are held in place by kulas with grains of rice in them. The delicate stitches cover the whole sheet. There is a story in the spaces between the stitches. Or are the stitches the stories? A breath taken between the colored stitches, thinking, where should I go next? The stitches are like my hair. They spread all over the sheet the way my hair is on my head. There are too many stories for me to ever know. So I stitch on, and switch colors from blue to green and green to yellow. My aunts sit with me. When they finally speak, they sound hurt. They repeat. [End Page 173]
Sabrina Islam is from Dhaka, Bangladesh. She spent her early childhood in New York, Connecticut, and Florida. She holds an mfa in creative writing from University of Maryland, where she teaches college writing. Her writing engages with return, lost love, and family relationships. Her stories can be found in Flock, Acta Victoriana, and the minnesota review.