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Arranged over a game of poker

‘Twenty thousand rupees.’
‘Thirty thousand rupees.’
My head was placed on the ace of spades.

‘Your daughter, to marry my son.’

Like the shifting tide
controlling the moon
Maher turned over his cards.
A royal flush decided my fate.
The cards flicked down, pricked
my heart.

I would be wed.

‘Your daughter Sagittarius? My son be very happy.’

My aunts draped me in gold
fabric, glass bangles rattled
against my coffee skin, threatening
to cut, draw blood. My feet
pushed into slippers, finely
embroidered, with a thick needle.

‘Play the shehnai, let the wedding commence’

My gold Lehnga choli wrapped
my waist like a serpent.
My breath trapped in the pit
of my stomach. Sitting beneath
a canopy of drooping
sunflowers, my groom smiled.

The shehnai, played on.
A knot was tied between us,
creating a fabric bond I could
not tear. Across the fire
we made promises, I watched
as the smoke stole them away.

You dusted sindoor in my hair,
stained my scalp with the red
sign of marriage, like a sheep
marked up in a farmer's field.
I closed my eyes and smiled,
a half smile, for you.

by Laura Hargreaves

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