Excerpt from A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Girl Like That

by Tanaz Bhathena

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena X
A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2018, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2019, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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Zarin

The wails Masi let out were so heart-wrenching, you would think I was her only daughter lying dead before her instead of the parasite from her sister's womb, as she had once called me. She should have been a professional funeral crier. Porus's mother knelt in a pool of his dark blood and joined Masi in a cacophonic duet. Masa was more somber. He dabbed his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt, took deep breaths, and tried to compose himself. The officer in charge of the accident scene told Masa that our corpses would be kept in a local morgue till arrangements for the funerals were made.

His loud voice floated upward to where Porus and I now hovered, a few meters above the wreckage on the Al-Harameen Expressway in Jeddah—completely dead, yet not entirely gone.

We stared at the scene below: Porus's smoking Nissan crumpled like a Pepsi can, the green-and-white squad cars, a flashing Red Crescent ambulance, the Saudi police in their long-sleeved khaki uniforms with black berets, our mourning families. The police had blocked off several kilometers of the highway shoulder and most of the right lane with bright orange construction cones. The area around the car was marked with yellow tape.

It had taken them an hour to remove our bodies from the Nissan, and even that had been fairly messy. There was blood everywhere. Blood that smelled like metal and gushed from our bodies like springs. Blood that had splattered across the windshield, and pooled on the floor of the car. A tire that had somehow come loose during the accident lay a few feet away, coated with the same dark, gleaming liquid.

"Aunt," I heard Masi tell the police officer in English when he asked her how she was related to me. "Mother's sister."

Masi gare de phansi, I used to taunt her in Gujarati when alive. My aunt who would strangle me with a noose. Strangulation and suffocation were common ways of getting rid of unwanted children in India, the country where I was born. Quick and easy fixes for daughters who were supposed to be sons, for orphans like me who were foisted upon reluctant relatives. Once, on a vacation in Mumbai, I heard the Dog Lady tell Masi that there were rare occasions when very rich families paid their maids to do the job. Strong, limber women from slums like Char Chaali who used pillows or sometimes their own hands to snuff out the life of a newborn.

Masi's hands were shaking now. A side effect of the pills my uncle made her take for her "sleeping problem," as he liked to call it. With Masi, everything was a side effect. Tears, mood swings, the beatings she gave me over the years, the raging fits she sometimes threw when I did something that reminded her of my dead mother, or worse, my dead father.

A few feet away, Masa stood talking to another police officer—a short and potbellied man who was gesturing wildly in the air. We were not Saudis or Muslims, so I knew that neither Porus nor I would be buried here. Expatriates who died in the Kingdom were shipped back to their home countries for funeral rites. There were procedures to be followed, paperwork to be taken care of at the morgue and the Indian Consulate. Rites before the last rites.

But it was obvious to me, even from up here, that the potbellied officer wasn't talking about paperwork. He pointed toward our bodies, shouting in a mix of English and Arabic. If I moved a little closer, like Porus had, I could probably hear everything he was saying. But I didn't need to. From the context of the scenario it wasn't that difficult to guess the reason for the police officer's displeasure. Few infractions riled up the authorities in Saudi Arabia more than a girl voluntarily seeking out the company of a boy, especially one who wasn't her brother or husband.

"I will miss my mother," Porus told me softly.

I did not reply. I didn't think I would miss anyone, really. Perhaps I would miss Masa for the times he had been remotely sane: the few instances when he spoke his mind in spite of Masi's constant henpecking. But I tried to forget Masi as a matter of convenience. I wasn't exactly Mother Teresa during the short span of my earthly existence, so there was no guarantee that I would spend my afterlife on a stretch of white heavenly sand. Why rack up more unpleasant memories if I ended up going to hell?

Excerpted from A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. Copyright © 2018 by Tanaz Bhathena. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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