I saw a gorgeous photo on Twitter of a bangle-seller, choori-wallah, and it made me think of my flash fiction 'The Bangle Man', which first appeared in the anthology 50 stories for Pakistan, published eight years ago to raise money for victims of the 2010 floods.
Every day he arranges the fruit outside his shop. He wears an old grey sweater, thin trousers and chappals. He has a limp. Molly wants to tell him he causes her beautiful pain, this old man with dark skin. He makes her think of the bangle man. They'd spent a summer in Pakistan when she was a child - almost thirty years ago. They’d stopped off at Damascus, her white mother holding her hand tightly. The man drinking tea in the airport looked sad, he had bloodshot eyes. She thought about him for a long time. She wondered why he was so sad. Then she thought all men with dark skin looked sad. Except her uncle in Islamabad, he was always laughing. He called the ants in the sugar Tom and Ann. The ants were huge, Molly had never seen them so big. Her uncle drove them to Murree hill station. She cried all the way up, there were hairpin bends and hardly any barriers. Her mother was scared too, but trying to pretend everything was fine. At the top her uncle bought her a pink basket and cracked a walnut between his palms.
When Faiza Auntie said the bangle man was coming Molly was excited as she’d never met a bangle man. The bangle man looked poor and thin. He had bloodshot eyes like the man in Damascus. His cart stood outside the house and Faiza Auntie squeezed red glass bangles onto her arm. The bangles broke. She got angry and blamed the bangle man. It wasn’t the bangle man’s fault, Molly later told her mother as they lay on the giant white bed, looking up at the fan. Faiza Auntie is too fat! The fan was like a helicopter.
Molly’s cousins said she looked like a boy with her short hair. They dressed her mother in a sari, wrapping her up, giggling. The sari was blue with silver stars. It reminded Molly of her Heidi book and the illustration of a midnight sky. She told her cousins but they’d never heard of Heidi. She missed her Heidi book and wished she hadn’t left it at home. She wrote an airmail letter to her best friend and told her about Tom and Ann and the bangle man. She told her about Tin Tin, the ice cream man. The ice cream was green. She told her that everyone said Acha and wore chappals. She told her about the morning all the white breakfast dishes slid off the table. She didn’t know until later this was an earthquake.
It's autumn and the old man is arranging the fruit outside his shop. He has changed his chappals for socks and sandals. Molly walks past and smiles.