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SAGIRAH SHAHID

Sarah still believed she could make it off the bus without pissing herself. The doors were right there and if she could somehow unclench long enough to propel her body to the front of the bus, maybe she could haul ass off of it in time. On nights like this one, after surviving the hellish shift that she had, Sarah figured karma owed her one. Shit, her whole life was already like one of those Cracker Jack prizes—useless crap getting in the way of what you’re really after.

Jeff never made her feel that way, though. Whenever they made love he was always tender, the type to pause in the middle of it just to make eye contact and caress her temples. She still remembers wanting to touch the thin scar splayed across the top of his hand. It was the first thing she noticed about him when he placed an order at her register. And she was not that type of girl. You know, the type to daydream about a man just because he has scars or whatever.

And she was not that type of girl. You know, the type to daydream about a man just because he has scars or whatever.

But it was something worth noticing—Jeff's scar, that is. The way it paralleled so near a deep-blue vein on his right hand, as if the edge of whatever had injured him tried and failed to cut it, the surviving vein now living so intimately with its shadowed mark. Even before Jeff came back the next afternoon and ordered a different side dish every thirty minutes before finally asking Sarah in a sheepish voice what her favorite thing on the menu was, Sarah knew she needed to touch this man’s skin.

But tonight it’s not about Jeff. It’s about Sarah and her body. So to hell with it. Sarah stands up from her seat on the bus and for about three seconds she believes she can do it. The doors are right there. She tells herself she can make it through those sweet doors and free her bladder somewhere welcoming and private. She is about two seats away from the driver before she has to sit back down.

. . . Sarah knew she needed to touch this man’s skin.

Once, when she was six years old, Sarah found a coloring book on human anatomy in her grandmother’s basement. She couldn’t make out all the words, but she tried to give each lettered section its own crayon. She was unusually careful about staying inside of the lines. She remembers how embarrassed her mother’s face got after Sarah proudly held up her colorful picture of a green uterus with two purple fallopian tubes. Sarah’s mother told her that it was Haram to draw pictures of naked people. This confused Sarah for years because she had only colored-in the picture and there were no naked people.

In the fifth grade, Sarah read that the bladder and the vagina were separate things, that they conducted two separate but, apparently, essential functions. Holy shit, Sarah thought the first time she noticed a change in her own essential functions down there.

To be clear, it’s not like Sarah was ashamed of Jeff or anything, but she knew she had to break it off eventually. Mostly because she could hear the chalky shrieks of her mother rattling in the back of her head, lamenting that her college dropout daughter has further embarrassed her Muslim family by having mindless sex with a 37-year-old convicted felon—yada, yada, yada. It’s always about her mother. Even when it’s not.

It’s always about her mother. Even when it’s not.

Sarah grips the handlebars of the seat in front of her. She can feel every microscopic whoosh inside of her. Then it’s on its way. Like a fucking broken dam.

Sarah is the only passenger left, so she tells the driver, Look, man, this is going to happen. Then she lets it go. It goes on for what feels like an eternity, like her bladder was hoarding Culligan jugs or something.

Jeff cried the morning she broke up with him. Sarah had never seen a grown man cry before. None of her mother’s husbands stayed around long enough to cry. So when Jeff cried, she wasn’t sure what to do. Jeff had been to prison—not for anything fancy, just burglary—but still, Jeff had been to prison. Jeff lifted weights. He looked like the kind of man who could wrestle down an escaped zoo bear. Jeff had once built Sarah a dresser drawer made out of recycled wood because she had complained she had no place to store her clothes whenever she stayed the weekend. Here was this man, Sarah had thought, who had spent his whole life doing unimaginable things with his hands. Here he was weeping, pleading with Sarah as if she held something he so desperately needed to grasp.

Here he was weeping, pleading with Sarah as if she held something he so desperately needed to grasp.

The driver is already laughing before Sarah can stand up. She is mortified. But the pressure is gone. Her body is either uncomfortable or satisfied; it’s really hard to say at this point. All she knows is that she is wet now, her bottom cloaked in embarrassing warmth. On her way off the bus, Sarah’s soggy khakis cling helplessly to her thighs. Fuck.

Sarah fumbles through a hurried apology. She never meant to . . .  The driver wipes a stray tear from the corner of his eye. He tries hard not to laugh when he tells her that it happens more than she thinks.


Sagirah Shahid is a poet who was writing poetry. Now she's a poet writing poetry and fiction. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Illustrated by Meher Khan.

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