The Eggplant

11/28/23

The first time, when Yasmin was sixteen, she hid the necklace under a mattress. Her mother stumbled upon it while cleaning her bedroom, but Yasmin claimed she’d won it in the school’s cooking competition, and her mother bought the lie.

Growing up, Yasmin spoke Urdu at home but English in all other places except the mosque, where the maulvi’s Arabic recitations made her curious.

In college, Yasmin evolved from amateur to apprentice. She obeyed the rules (work with a buddy, pick small items, appear confused).  Whenever they entered a stationary store, the impulse made her body quake. Those moments, right after something was dropped into her tote, were profoundly calm.

When Yasmin turned twenty-six, her partner got married. Walking solo down the drugstore aisles wasn’t as thrilling. The score wasn’t enough to make her swoon. It was working in cahoots with someone.

She took to lingering in the shadows.

Sometimes she’d spot a stranger bitten by the same bug. But they could never be her stroll mate.  Her stroll mate had embraced the suburbs with purple purpose.

Then Yasmin discovered a path she could brave alone:  taking what belonged to the people she knew.

It made the spaces between her toes tingle.

Still, on the afternoon of Kelly’s baby shower, Yasmin quashed the urge as she pulled up outside her friend’s Calabasas mansion.

Entering the home, Yasmin tossed a gift-wrapped box onto the pastel sculpture taking shape in the foyer.

Blue balloons drifted across the ceiling as the guests drank raspberry champagne, biting into deviled eggs. Soon the women gathered in the living room where Kelly opened presents. Yasmin held her breath when the guest of honor reached for the package Yasmin had carefully gift-wrapped that morning.

“Creepy,” Kelly said after she opened the box. It was a teddy bear that squeaked, Hey buddy! every time its synthetic fur tummy was pressed. Chanting these words, the bear’s green eyes lit up. Yasmin had nicked the toy from a costume shop in Hollywood that sold vibrators and leather belts.

Tossing the strange bear onto the rug, Kelly placed a hand on her protruding belly. “Oh  my.  Zeke Junior is kicking.”

Murmurs flooded the room as Yasmin retreated into the shadows, her heart boiling in her chest.

Any resolve Yasmin had to behave was thwarted by the baby’s foot.

Stepping away, Yasmin tiptoed down the hallway leading to the bathroom. She knew Zeke’s study would be vacant.  He was out golfing with the other husbands.

Turning around to ensure no one had followed her, she slipped inside his office, closing the door behind her.

A desk, bookshelf, and chair came into view.

The window overlooking the garden reminded Yasmin to be quick.

But what she’d come to take wasn’t on the desk where she’d noticed it.

She opened the desk drawers, mouthing an Arabic prayer for finding lost items.

The top ones were empty.  In the bottom drawer she found a collection of Bukowski poems that looked familiar.

Trembling, she reached for the book and opened the cover.

On the flyleaf was the inscription she’d written:  Happy Birthday, Z.  I kidnapped this for you.

Yasmin sighed, remembering. She’d given the book to Zeke months after they met in college.

The only thing Kelly had stolen in her pale but privileged life was Zeke’s heart. She wondered whether Zeke would laugh or be enraged when his wife told him about the bear.  A moment later, she placed the book back in its coffin and shut it closed.

In the hallway, footsteps brushed past the door on some separate mission.

Yasmin gazed at the minimalist space.

She’d go mad if this stinging in her neck wasn’t settled.

She collapsed onto the chair by the desk, but moments later, she spotted what she’d come searching for: the mini-eggplant stapler, which had fallen under the desk.

Yasmin reached for it as sweet relief flooded her body. It was the same stapler they’d taken the day they first kissed, though later Zeke would break her heart.

Sitting up, she clenched the eggplant.  After all these years, he’d still kept it.

Across the room, her own shadow hovered near the bookshelf, watching her.

~ fin ~

Mehnaz-Sahibzada

Mehnaz Sahibzada is a 2022 Jack Hazard Fellow in fiction writing for her first novel in progress, Jaani, a coming-of-age story set in Pakistan.  Her writing has appeared in Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen, Jaggery, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. A high school English teacher and author of the poetry collection, My Gothic Romance (2019), she lives in Los Angeles.  For inquiries, contact Mehnaz through her website at www.poetmehnaz.com