Shaili coughed by the wood fire until her ribs ached, but her aunt didn’t excuse her from the kitchen.

Nima, who had trained many girls in the day but loved Shaili the most, asked, “Child, just cover your mouth with the shawl. Besides, who will cook for your husband?”

“I will check the stove before checking the husband, aunty,” Shaili said, bolder than necessary. Her truths came out just like that. 

Nima couldn’t stifle her laughter, and, in turn, a coughing fit. She couldn’t stop tears bursting from the corner of her eyes. Shaili was honest and brave, just like her mother. Nima wondered what Shaili could have learned if her mother hadn’t died in childbirth nine years ago.

Shaili bolted to reach for water, remembering the lesson: glass nearly full, no spilling, a shy smile. She performed. But, she spilled a few drops. Then, some more. She marched on, delivered the half-filled glass, and smiled to the brim. Her heartbeat kept mounting in speed. She didn’t know what her eyes said to her aunt. Shaili didn’t dare look away for a moment.

“Child, you want to play with both fire and water,” Nima finally said. She knew her niece was more than a future bride. Nima knew she had to teach Shaili how to tame the flames within her. “Let’s begin with fire.”

 

About the Writer

Anuja Ghimire is from Kathmandu, Nepal. A Pushcart and two times Best of the Net nominee,  her most recent work found home in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Brown Orient, The Good Men Project, and EcoTheo Review, among others. Her chapbook Kathmandu is forthcoming from The Unsolicited Press in 2020. She lives near Dallas, Texas with her husband and two children.