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Surrender

By
February 1, 2010

As Sunil stood in his backyard staring at the carcass of the small unidentifiable animal—a cross between a rat and a Chihuahua—he realized he was missing something important. Tall concrete walls protected his compound from the surroundings, but every morning he still found empty arrack bottles, plastic bags filled with rotten smelling mud, decaying king coconut husks, and, now, a dead rodent.

Sunil tried to ask the man he’d hired to guard his compound if a storm had dropped these things. Sunil had heard about such events: objects and animals caught in the eye of the storm and dumped somewhere far from their origin. The catcher stared at him, his broad face even more puckered and contorted than usual. Sunil used his best broken Sinhala to explain again, but the man’s eyes grew wider. Finally, Sunil gave up.

Was it the monsoons that sent that stuff over the compound wall, Sunil demanded of his thirteen-year-old daughter, Emily.

“Monsoon? Monsoon is months away.” Emily replied with that look of scorn, far too common these days.

“Then what’s doing that? Leaving those things there.”

“Boys from the village. They come at dawn.” Of course she was right. He’d seen the boys loitering on the beach, but had thought that they were only beachcombing.

“Why?”

“Because we have a swimming pool and they don’t.”

Sunil rose very early the next morning and waited near the wall. The first bottle came over, silhouetted against the rising sun. “Stop,” Sunil cried out. Nothing happened for a few seconds, then he heard giggling. A boy called out something in Sinhala that Sunil did not understand but knew was a taunt. Sunil peered over the metal gate that separated his yard from the beach just in time to see five boys running across the sand.

  *       *       *

Sunil was a thirty-five-year-old Sri Lankan-born American engineer. He had returned to the home country a year before to work for an American engineering firm based in the capital. So far, the one thing he loved about Sri Lanka was the house his company had placed him in. After he and Emily had spent eight months in a cramped company apartment in the middle of Colombo, they’d offered him this split-level in a quiet fishing village a half-hour from the capital. Located on a dirt road far from the village and close to the beach, with its air-conditioned office and private swimming pool, the house had felt a haven, the only haven he had in a country that seemed to assault him every day with things the meaning of which he could only barely comprehend. Then the boys started coming.

She had listened carefully and solemnly and had not said a word when Sunil finished. Sunil was sure that once again he had not made himself clear.

Sunil decided to ignore them, but they didn’t go away. Instead, they became angrier. They stood on the beach each morning, demanding to use the pool. They taunted the catcher, an elderly Tamil man Sunil had hired to clean the grounds and guard the compound gate. The catcher left soon after. The Scotsman who owned the house next to his told Sunil to go to the stationhouse. The chief inspector was a capable man.

Sunil did as the Scotsman suggested. The chief inspector barely acknowledged Sunil as long as he thought Sunil was Sri Lankan, but when Sunil explained he was a supervisor at a foreign engineering firm, the inspector’s demeanor changed. Still, nothing was done, and when Sunil returned a week later, the chief inspector frowned. “What to do? This is the way here. They will get bored and go away, sooner or later.”

It was a passing conversation that solved the problem. Sunil had complained about what was happening to the cook Amara for no other reason than that he had no one else to talk to. Amara had listened carefully and solemnly and had not said a word when Sunil finished. Sunil was sure that once again he had not made himself clear.

Early the next morning, Sunil woke to see Amara standing in his backyard. As the first arrack bottle went sailing through the air, Amara made her way to the back gate, and called to the boys. She whispered something to them, and they listened. Whatever Amara said worked. After that, the boys did not come back.

  *       *       *

Sunil’s parents had immigrated to a small town in North Carolina when he was only four. When Sunil was old enough to make such choices, he’d thrown himself into fitting in. For most of his life, he’d referred to himself as a Southerner. He spoke in y’all’s and qualified every other word with real. Y’all have a real good day now. Growing up, he’d listened to Cheap Trick, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin and hid his parents’ baila records. His parents had struggled when they arrived in the States and had put all their energy into keeping the family from poverty; they threw what little they had into giving Sunil the chance to become a good American. They never visited the home country, so he never felt any strong ties.

Two years ago, his parents decided to sell the family business. They packed up their entire life and retired to Boca Raton. The moment they did, Sunil realized he did not have a single connection to the small town in which he’d spent his childhood and young adulthood. He had no friends left there. He had no deep attachment to or interest in Southern history and culture. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if he wasn’t already divorced, if he and Emily hadn’t spent their lives moving from one city to the next because of his work. Sunil felt suddenly rootless, bereft. When the position at the engineering firm came along, it seemed a sign: the homeland calling Sunil back, providing an answer to his loss. It would be an adventure for Sunil and his daughter, an opportunity for them both to discover a part of themselves.

But things hadn’t quite worked out the way Sunil expected. Since arriving, he’d become isolated in a way he’d never predicted. Sunil’s coworkers were mostly Europeans or Sri Lankans. Even if they had shared a culture, Sunil felt as their boss a distance that precluded friendship. The Sri Lankans he met outside of work thought him odd; maybe if he hadn’t looked like them they would have tolerated the difference. Instead, there was a period of discomfited friendship before they’d drop away. He was close only to Sheila, the other American working at his company. He’d started seeing her in part because she reminded him of North Carolina.

Sunil’s daughter, on the other hand, woke up one morning, a few months after arriving, able to speak Sinhala fluently. Sunil still tripped over words, so it was Emily who negotiated for him at the kadés and the fishermen’s market. Emily explained things to Sunil about the country and its culture. She coached him about the mores and values. He appreciated Emily’s intelligence and her willingness to help him, but at times it seemed to him that the country had grossly upended his role in Emily’s life. He was supposed to be the one who cared for her, protected her, sheltered her. Now it was the other way around. She was the parent and he was her child.

  *       *       *

After six months of dating, Sheila had explained to Sunil over dinner that he was a nice guy but there was something incomplete. Incomplete? Just tell him what, and he’d do whatever she wanted. He’d bring her flowers. He’d take her out for more romantic dinners. Maybe they could take a vacation together? Sheila shook her head slowly. There wasn’t something incomplete about their relationship she elaborated. There was something incomplete about Sunil himself.

Sheila’s words stung, and Sunil brooded over them for days. Truth was, it wasn’t the first time a woman had said something like that to him. Hadn’t Emily’s mother insinuated something similar just before she left? After the pain of the breakup eased a little, it occurred to Sunil maybe it wasn’t completely his fault. Maybe he’d been dating the wrong women. Maybe he should try to date someone more like himself. Maybe, if he was going to return, then he should return as completely as he could.

Sunil had recognized early that Amara, the cook, was special. She was open and charming; there was a genuine sweetness in the way she smiled and laughed. She was also smoking hot. In the mornings, Sunil would watch from the upstairs window as she walked down the dirt road leading to the house. The men, the women, even the cows ambling among the piles of roadside garbage, stepped into the drainage ditch to let her pass. Sunil observed on more than one occasion the Scotsman next-door watching Amara over the compound wall. One time, Sunil stepped into the yard to see his neighbor seated on the balcony, binoculars in hand, watching Amara as she hung the laundry to dry. When the Scotsman realized Sunil had seen him, he trained his binoculars at some distant seabirds.

“Learn from book not good.” She tapped her ear. “Music fun and give how real people talk.”

Recently, Amara had started taking classes to improve her English. She’d asked Sunil if she could practice by talking to him. She began by telling him she had two sons, a six-year-old and a twelve-year-old. The reason she was learning English was so that she could get a job in Jordan. Her husband was already living there—had left five years ago—and was working as a driver for a wealthy family. Her husband had learned English in school, but she needed to make her English better if she wanted to work outside the country. Sunil was grateful for the conversations. And why not? Amara needed someone to help her with her English. He needed someone to teach him about the country so he wouldn’t have to rely so much on Emily.

Amara became more flirtatious. She giggled when Sunil spoke to her, and she stood closer to him. One day he reached out and touched her gently on the arm. She shivered.

A few days later, Amara told him that her cousin had given her an old tape recorder. He’d told her to listen to music—American and British music. “Learn from book not good.” She tapped her ear. “Music fun and give how real people talk.” Her cousin had given her old tapes he’d kept since he was a teenager. She listened to the tapes in the evening after she returned home from Sunil’s. Her eldest son helped her with the lyrics. He was learning English at school.

One day Sunil asked her what American music she liked.

“Eagles. Chick-a-go. Michael Jackson. Cheap Trick.”

Sunil perked up. “Cheap Trick? I listened to Cheap Trick growing up.”

“You learn good English from Cheap Trick, no?”

“No, not really. I mean I knew English before I started listening.” He drew closer to her. “But I love Cheap Trick. What’s your favorite album?”

“Album?” Amara enunciated carefully.

“Song? What’s your favorite song?” Sunil waved his hands about but wasn’t sure how to mime Cheap Trick. “Fav-o-rite song by Cheap Trick.”

Amara nodded that she understood. “I want you to want me.” She said the words clearly and precisely, looking straight at Sunil. Amara smiled coyly. “I beg you to beg me,” she continued.

He coughed, hoping to hide that he’d forgotten to breathe. “Yeah, good song.”

“What is your favorite song?”

Sunil knew he should stop, but the answer came to him naturally, without much thought. “Surrender.”

Amara stared at him blankly so Sunil began to sing. “Momma’s alright. Daddy’s alright. They just seem a little weird. Surrender—”

She giggled. “Surrender,” she sang.

“—but don’t give yourself away.” They sang in chorus. Or at least Amara sang something that sounded like that. Sunil couldn’t really be sure.

  *       *       *

Sunil’s encounter with Amara was easy to arrange. Sunil told Emily that he needed the afternoon to catch up on some reading. He found Amara in the kitchen filling pastry dough with ground meat. She didn’t seem surprised to see Sunil, and she didn’t seem at all curious when he stood in the doorway of the kitchen watching her. He finally worked up the nerve to ask her to make a pot of tea and went to sit on the patio.

Amara brought out the tea on a serving tray and placed it on the table in front of him. When she leaned forward to nudge the sugar bowl closer, her hand grazed his knee.

She unfastened the hooks and eyes that held the front of her blouse together. When she reached the bottom one, she stopped.

He didn’t know how exactly they made it to his bedroom. Amara led and he followed mutely behind. Later, when he replayed the moment, he could not remember moving, placing one foot in front of the other. Upstairs, she sat on the edge of the bed and looked up at him.

“What about your husband?” he whispered. As soon as it came out of his mouth he wanted to kick himself.

But Amara remained unruffled. “In Kandy, in the time before—”

“Old days,” Sunil offered helpfully.

“Yes, in the old days. The woman run house. She can choose and have many husbands.”

“A woman could choose to marry multiple men?”

Amara nodded. “She could choose one brother. Then choose the other. When she with one brother she hang shirt belong to him in door.”

Sunil laughed. “Like this?” He took off his shirt and walked out onto the sun deck. He tied it to the railing. The fabric billowed and fluttered in the breeze. When he turned to go back in, he noticed the Scotsman on the balcony, watching a pair of terns flying in the distance. He suppressed the urge to call and wave.

Amara was still giggling when Sunil returned. She unfastened the hooks and eyes that held the front of her blouse together. When she reached the bottom one, she stopped. “Mahattaya,” she began.

“Sunil, please call me Sunil.”

“I bring my sons to pool?” She pointed outside.

Sunil’s stomach dropped. Good God, why hadn’t he thought of that sooner. Something so simple like letting her sons use the pool. “Sure,” he stammered. “That won’t be a problem.”

She undid the last fastener and removed her blouse. She pulled off the skirt and then her bra. She lay back on Sunil’s bed. She’d let down her hair for the first time since he’d known her; the tendrils formed black curlicues along the surface of Sunil’s pillow. He lay down next to her and traced the silky outline of one.

Later, he told Amara, though he was not sure how much she understood, something he had not told anyone—not Sheila, not Emily. He had family to the east, near Trincomalee. He’d been to visit only once. Up until he reached the border of the war zone, he was surrounded by the lush, tropical landscape he’d grown to expect. Then suddenly nothing. No animals. No houses. Just bleached and barren land. They passed men on bikes with AK47’s slung over their shoulders, and army convoys. When he came to the shack where his aunt lived, an old woman ran out and pulled him into the house. According to Sunil’s mother, her sister was in her late forties but this woman looked, with her grey hair and worn skin, nearly eighty. It had taken him several minutes to realize this was his aunt, his mother’s younger sister. The house she lived in had no doors, no glass in the windows. There was only an ancient electric range in the back and a small radio/television balanced on a crate. The pair had muddled through a brief conversation. Finally, Sunil promised to return, and bring Emily with him. He hadn’t yet. He sent his aunt money every week, but every time he considered a second visit he told himself it was too dangerous because of the war. The truth was he could not face his aunt again, her poverty, the enormity of her loss.

As Sunil finished his story, he realized Amara had fallen asleep. Gravity had flattened her breasts to reveal the skin along her breastbone, not brown like the rest of her but a creamy yellow. The base of her stomach sloped into a nest of coarse, thatched hair that extended down the insides of her thighs. Sunil nudged Amara awake and explained that Emily would be home soon. Amara dressed quickly without any mention of what had just happened between them. Their day ended as it always did with an exchange of wages, a list of items that needed to be bought at the market, and a polite goodbye.

  *       *       *

“Dad, why is your shirt tied to the deck rail?” Emily was standing, hands on hips, at the edge of the swimming pool. She was peering up at his bedroom.

Sunil nearly dropped his beer bottle. “I was drying it,” he stammered.

“Why didn’t you hang it on the clothesline?”

“I was in a hurry.” Sunil took a swig of his beer.

Emily considered this response for a moment and then tucked her long brown hair under her swimming cap. She dove into the pool.

The water gave her skin a fine sheen. Even though she still had the unformed features and ungainliness of a thirteen-year-old, he knew she was going to be a stunning woman: one more thing that would pull her away from him.

Sunil crouched at the edge. He watched as his daughter did back flips under water. It still took his breath away to watch this glorious creature that he had somehow created. He was only a baby when she was born—though he had thought at the time he was mature beyond his years and perfectly capable of raising a child. Now he wanted to apologize again and again for all the mistakes he’d made. Emily made his life more real. At twenty-two, twenty-eight, thirty, his friends were going to bars, picking up women, and then complaining to Sunil their lives were shallow. Not Sunil. He had to take Emily to school, help her with her homework, make sure she was clothed, fed, bathed. He’d nursed her when she was sick. They’d grown up together.

But she was also, especially in the past few years, an alien. He’d expected his child to be an extension of him—the better part. She would be the blank slate on which he’d write the things he’d learned about life, a means for correcting all the mistakes. Instead, she seemed to contain a whole other world, replete with foreign signs and cues, and someone had forgotten to provide Sunil with the guidebook.

Emily swam over and propped her arms on the side of the pool. “What?” she demanded.

The water gave her skin a fine sheen. Even though she still had the unformed features and ungainliness of a thirteen-year-old, he knew she was going to be a stunning woman: one more thing that would pull her away from him. “I’m thinking of letting Amara’s sons use the pool. Once. Maybe twice.”

Emily scrunched her eyebrows together and puckered her lips.

“You can’t let her use the pool. It’s just not done.”

“What does that mean?”

“Servants have their place. And we have ours. If you’re not careful, the servants will manipulate you.”

Sunil clenched his jaw. Why was it so hard to get her to listen to him? “She’s not a servant,” Sunil insisted. “And this is my house. If I want Amara to use the pool, then she can. Because I’m the adult and I say so.”

Emily smiled slyly. “I don’t know, dad. This may be your house, and you may be an adult, but this isn’t your country. There are ways that things are done here and the truth is you don’t always know what they are.” He blinked at her. “You should listen to me,” she added, “like you usually do.”

She kicked off from the side of the pool and backstroked away. Sunil stood up. Just as he reached the house, she called. “I think your shirt’s dry.” Sunil flinched but kept moving.

  *       *       *

When Sunil went to sleep that night, he could still smell Amara on his sheets. He reveled in the scent and imagined her body. Even without language, they’d connected. He couldn’t explain how or why, but she was not a stranger. He imagined continuing the affair, quietly of course. Still, the next day when he saw her approaching the house, Sunil fought the urge to sneak away. Amara smiled shyly when she saw him. “Sir, I bring sons to pool tomorrow.”

Sunil thought of Emily. Just to make things easier, he should probably arrange this on a day his daughter wouldn’t be around. “How about we make it another day.” Amara looked dismayed. “The day after tomorrow.” Sunil offered quickly.

“But that is—”

“A school day, I know. But Emily stays for tutoring. I’ll come back from work early.”

Amara hesitated. When she spoke her voice was surprisingly firm. “Sir, you not be here.”

“Why not?”

“Four months we no come to pool. Now you tell come. Older boy see you and understand too much. I tell him you and Emily go away. You leave gate open. We sneak in.” Sunil wanted to protest, but he couldn’t deny a sense of relief at not having to face her sons.

At work, away from the house and Emily, Sunil dwelled on Amara. With his staff popping in and out of the office, with Sheila emailing details about a new obstacle to the project, his time with Amara felt an idyll. He called his secretary into his office.

“I need to find a tape.”

She looked confused. “There is sticking tape in your desk drawer.”

“No, a music tape. An album. You know, songs.”

The secretary scowled. “A music tape? We are a third world country, but we are not that backwards. CDs and DVDs now, sir.”

“I need a tape of an album. Cheap Trick at Budokan. It’s a concert album.”

The secretary began to protest. “eBay it,” demanded Sunil. “Buy the CD and tape it. Just get me the tape.” Sunil’s secretary closed the door behind her.

That evening at home, Emily was going on about some trip she wanted to take the day after next, but Sunil was lost in his dream of presenting Amara with one of the best concert albums ever made. Of course, she wouldn’t really be able to appreciate it, but she could listen to it and think of him. It was innocuous. Something she needn’t be embarrassed to play around her kids. Emily prodded him, asking his approval to do something. Sunil just nodded.

The next day Sheila sent several emails with the heading “Reminder.” He opened none of them. When Sheila was feeling unsure about her effectiveness she tended to send a rush of urgent emails. All of them could be ignored.

The day Amara was supposed to bring her boys, Sunil made sure to see his daughter off. Emily gave him a quick peck on the cheek and got into her friend Harishini’s car. For a moment he wondered when Harishini’s driver had started picking Emily up for school. But he didn’t think anymore about it. Work was especially quiet. It wasn’t until late after lunch that Sunil realized he hadn’t seen any of his Sri Lankan employees: not Ranil, or Harry, or Sujeeva, or Bavan. When Sheila came into his office, he asked where everybody was.

“Didn’t you get any of my emails?” Sheila demanded. “Today is the new moon.” He stared at her blankly. “It’s poya. A government holiday. Can you really be so out of it?” She shook her head. “This happens every month, Sunil. And you’re a Buddhist. How can you not know about your own religious holidays?”

Sunil sat up in his seat. “School’s out today. Isn’t it?” But he already knew the answer. Sunil made some excuse about having to go home for some papers. He picked up his briefcase and ran out the door.

During the ride home, Sunil replayed his conversation with Emily the night before last. Hadn’t she said she was going on a trip? She’d be gone all day, no doubt. There was nothing to be worried about.

When he reached his house, two boys, soggy swim trunks clinging to their bony legs, were standing in the doorway. Sunil tried to smile at them, but the oldest one glowered and shielded the younger brother with his body.

Emily was seated inside. Amara stood in the shadows.

“Guess what I caught them doing?” Emily demanded.

Sunil glanced at Amara. He said her name softly.

“They were in the swimming pool, dad!”

He took a deep breath. “I let them, honey. I told Amara she could.”

Emily’s face contorted with anger. “Why?” she cried. “I told you not to.” She stamped her foot. Amara’s son was peering through the gap in the door, following everything that was being said. Emily turned and spoke in Sinhala to Amara. Sunil did not understand but somehow he knew she was firing her. Amara blanched.

“Give us a few days, Amara,” Sunil said softly. “Think of it as a temporary suspension. Come back in a week, when everything has calmed down.”

Emily sat in her chair, her body contracted with rage. Amara shooed her boys out the compound gate. After Amara was gone, Emily sat fuming. “How could you, dad? How could you humiliate me like that?”

“Humiliate you. How did I humiliate you?”

“You went against me. You let them use the pool! I told you not to.”

“And I told you this is my house.”

Emily stamped her foot. “But you wouldn’t even know what to do with it if it wasn’t for me.” She hiccupped loudly and then burst into tears. “You told her to come back,” she wailed. “Why?”

When Sunil didn’t respond, Emily covered her face with her hands and ran into her room.

  *       *       *

For the next week, Sunil and Emily avoided each other. Avoided speaking. Avoided contact. Sunil had brooded, hurt and angered by Emily’s callousness. Then he received a call from the village police. The constable informed him that his daughter was with the chief inspector at the stationhouse, and that he should come. The line went dead before Sunil could ask any questions. He ran into Sheila as he was leaving work. She insisted on accompanying him.

At the stationhouse, the constable, a woman, led Sunil through the stationhouse to the chief inspector’s office. As they walked, the constable informed Sunil that his house had been attacked when Emily was inside. Some boys from the village had scaled the compound wall. Emily had hidden under a computer table in the home office while they’d ransacked the rooms. Eventually, she’d come out and confronted them. When they saw her, the boys had run off. She’d gone to the neighbor’s house for help.

Sunil barely listened to the story. He only wanted to know if Emily had been hurt in any way. No, Emily was not hurt, the constable reported, but she was in shock. She had identified one of the vandals, the leader, as the son of Sunil’s cook. Sunil stopped in mid-stride. The constable turned her dark, slanted eyes on him. “Sir, do not be upset. The chief inspector has arrested him. The cook is with the inspector now.”

Amara and Emily sat on either side of the inspector’s office. The chief inspector presided over the scene from behind an ancient teakwood desk. Emily was huddled, despite the heat, her face stained with grime and tears. Sheila ran to her and took her into her arms. Amara sat quietly. She did not acknowledge Sunil.

“You have Amara’s son in custody?” asked Sunil. The chief inspector nodded. Sunil turned to Emily. “You’re okay, baby? You weren’t hurt?”

His daughter smiled bravely as Sheila rubbed her shoulders. “I’m okay, dad. But they messed up the house.”

The room was badly lit; a cloud of clay dust hung heavy in the air. Sunil had to squint to see. “What will happen?” he asked.

“Her son,” the inspector gestured in Amara’s direction, “will go before the magistrate. In his favor, he didn’t know your daughter was there. He seems sorry. Still, there must be punishment.” Amara tried to speak, but the inspector put up a hand to stop her.

“The boy’s only twelve,” Sunil began. “That’s pretty young. And if he’s sorry?” Amara and Emily were there only because of him. He had to do something. “We don’t want more people to get hurt. We could,” he hesitated, “we could drop the charges. Couldn’t we? I’m sure Amara, I mean, our cook, will punish her son.”

Sheila frowned. Emily’s body tensed. The inspector smiled grimly. “This is not some American police show, sir. This is not the NYPD Blues. We cannot just drop charges against boys, even twelve-year-old boys, who attack foreigners. Imagine what your firm will say. Imagine what your Scottish neighbor will say if we let this boy loose without punishment. The uproar will come down on my head.”

“But you don’t get it,” Sunil sputtered.

The inspector thrust his face toward Sunil. “What sir, do I not get?”

It came then: the words of Sunil’s nearly full confession. He explained how because he liked Amara, even cared deeply for her, he’d promised her and her kids they could use the pool. He had also, in a way, reneged. It was obvious how anyone, especially a little boy, would be angry about that. Sunil was new to the country and didn’t know the way things worked. He’d made some mistakes that he didn’t want to go into. Anyone could easily see everything was his fault. He was the only one to blame.

As he spoke, Sunil knew his admission was not having the intended effect. Before Amara and the boys, maybe even before he came to Sri Lanka, there had existed a point when his words had carried import, had had weight and significance, but Sunil couldn’t remember now when or where that point was. How, he wondered, had he become so lost.

The chief inspector listened with the tips of his fingers pressed together as if in prayer. After Sunil had finished, the inspector was quiet for a beat. When he spoke, he pronounced each word carefully, as if he were addressing a small, especially dim child. “There is only so long,” the inspector intoned, “that a man can pretend to be a fool before he really becomes one. No?”

Sheila had left Emily’s side and stood now beside Sunil. She considered Amara and then Sunil, a woman doing a complicated calculation. She placed a hand on Sunil’s shoulder and whispered, “Take your daughter home.” When he did nothing, she said firmly. “For God’s sake, let it go.”

  *       *       *

As he entered his office the next day, Sunil’s secretary handed him a package. “What’s this?” he asked.

“That tape you wanted, sir. Cheap Trick, Live at Budokan. I found it on eBay like you asked. I am very sorry, sir, it took so many days to come.”

Sunil unwrapped the package and took out the tape. The cover was tattered; the label had long ago worn away. He wondered if it was even listenable. He held it in his hands; wound and unwound the strip of shiny, brown plastic. Sunil considered keeping it, stashing the tape in his desk. But what was the point? He ran his finger one more time across the cassette, before chucking it, brown paper wrapping and all, into the trash.

G

Sirisenapicture.jpgHasanthika Sirisena’s work appears or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, Epoch, StoryQuarterly, Witness, Best New American Voices, and other publications. She is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony. In 2008, she received a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her story, Murder the Queen, was earlier chosen by guest fiction editors Amitava Kumar and V.V. Ganeshananthan for this magazine.

Writer’s Recommendations:

Picking Bones from Ash: A Novel by Marie Mutsuki Mockett. An impressive debut novel. I felt drawn to the complex and recognizable characters and moved by Mockett’s beautiful prose.

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. A smart, complex debut novel that both challenged and moved me deeply. Extraordinary.

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