Afeefah Khazi-Syed

Afeefah Khazi-Syed: The Prequel, Dear Kashmir, My Lunch Box: The Exotic Bazaar, A Radio Set to 104.9 FM

The Prequel

my father was born under kerosene lamps,
in a place where monkeys taught children to
spring from the river-blue cement roofs
onto fields of crunchy-green grass

where the laughter of
playing in the streets blended with the
crowing of roosters: the perfect alarm clock

where kites adorned the sky,
glistening in the sunshine and where hot,
street-side pakoras were perfect for a rainy day

left behind
for flick switch / mechanical ring / lone star night

journey of a single canvas suitcase

never forgetting to
return to that place
in time, holding the
hands of his own kind

This is Where the Story of You

Dear Kashmir

you and I, we are not that different
the color of our skin traverses across
the same paint palette at Home Depot
october Sky to Dark Camel
and every shade that falls in between

you wake up to the warmth of sunshine
i wake up to the warmth of sunshine
but yours fights through the Kunlun Mountains
and mine through the Boston Skyline

we both know the smell
of the air just before it’s about to snow
but you know other smells too
of sweaty crowds
chanting in the streets
of mortal shells
dissolving into thin air
of flesh
losing its meaning beyond this nationless land

in the moments before I go to sleep at night
the breeze of my ceiling fan reminds me of my
andhra grandmother
and the coolness of her morning terrace

somewhere in the middle of the night
it hits me that I have such fond memories
of a place that takes away yours

it leaves me with nightmares of
patterns of electric fences striped borders
so held up on the You and I that they forget
azadi is what keeps Us alive

i am suspended in the paradox of my homeland

the sun sends to you its warmth
from 92.96 million miles away
while the country of my ancestors fails to do the same

my lunch box: the exotic bazaar

i haven’t even snapped open the blue lid
of my ikea tupperware when the blend of
spice and color meets your eye

a smile stretches across your face
as you pick up
on the refined smell of Haldi and Garam Masala
staples of my mother’s kitchen

but in reality there is a whiff in the air
different from the typical concoction of PB&J
MorningStar Nuggets and Mac n’ Cheese

you hover over my seat at the long cafeteria table
calling my mother’s Khatta Khanna
Neon Rice

the yellow carton of Frooti in my hand
is more tempting
than the Apple Juice or Chocolate Milk in yours

when I pull out my dessert,
a ziploc bag of Kaju Katli,
you ask if I’m eating silver

“this is just for decoration.”

the differences between our lunch boxes
is a difference of its own

it intrigues you

and when you ask if you can try some,
i smile back.

ammi always knew to pack extras.

A Radio Set To 104.9 FM

the radio of every car we ever owned was set to 104.9 FM

my mother says that they drove me home from the hospital in silence
and that 104.9 FM did not exist back then

but in my version of the story,
i was brought home to the gentle rumbling of 104.9 FM
whispering into my two ears
a love for a land i was not born in

because in fifth grade, i thought that Taylor Swift was a nickname
for my fast-running first middle school best friend Taylor
Swift did not sing on 104.9 FM

and when my mother came to pick me up after school that day
i wiped my tears because she smiled when i sang
to Laung Da Lashkara playing on 104.9 FM

i no longer fall within the broadcasting radius of 104.9 FM
my roommate is playing Sweet Caroline on our bluetooth speaker
we sing to it in our best impressions of Neil Diamond

and yet
every part of me aches for a radio that is set to 104.9 FM

Afeefah Khazi-Syed was born and raised in the DFW metroplex but has always called two places home: the suburbs of Texas and her grandparents’ homes in Southern India. After studying biological engineering at MIT, Afeefah finds herself on a new journey as a medical student at UTSW. Afeefah attributes her love for writing and storytelling to her grandparents’ bedtime stories and the many writing mentors she has found throughout her life, from high school english teachers to other immigrant writers.