An Unknown Girl


In the evening bazaar

studded with neon

an unknown girl

is hennaing my hand.

She squeezes a wet brown line

from a nozzle.

She is icing my hand,

which she steadies with hers

on her satin-peach knee.

In the evening bazaar

for a few rupees

an unknown girl

is hennaing my hand.

As a little air catches

my shadow-stitched kameez

a peacock spreads its lines

across my palm.

Colours leave the street

float up in balloons.

Dummies in shop-fronts

tilt and stare

with their Western perms.

Banners for Miss India 1993,

for curtain cloth

and sofa cloth

canopy me.

I have new brown veins.

In the evening bazaar

very deftly

an unknown girl

is hennaing my hand.

I am clinging

To these firm peacock lines

like people who cling

to the sides of a train.

Now the furious streets

are hushed.

Iíll scrape off

the dry brown lines

before I sleep,

reveal soft as a snail trail

the amber bird beneath.

It will fade in a week.

When India appears and reappears

Iíll lean across a country

with my hands outstretched

longing for the unknown girl

in the neon bazaar.


Moniza Alvi