Born in Luton to Bengali parents in 1981, Mahsuda Snaith has lived in Leicester since she was six years old. A member of Leicester Writers’ Club, she served as a judge for the Muslim Writers Awards and has won a number of national short story competitions. After studying at De Montfort and Leicester Universities, she became a primary school supply teacher. She writes contemporary fiction and is inspired by bold imaginative writing with a twist of humour.
She Dreams Of Starfruit
Death had never been so welcome. Alia had been ill for too long, was tired of her relatives’ constant cooing. They had no trust in hospital food, spooning dhal and rice to her behind closed curtains. Yet bland, boiled vegetables no longer bothered her. In the face of death, these matters were trivial.
When the chattering ceased at nightfall Alia dreamt of Bangladesh. She saw its still waters, heard the cries of fish wallahs as they walked by her house. They had baskets balanced like scales across their shoulders, carp heads lolling from the edge with eyes agog. She saw her husband running up behind them with a newspaper in hand. They were advertising for work in England; he had been called to fulfil his destiny! He hadn’t enquired about her destiny, had been too busy filling out forms. He ignored her reluctance, pretended not to see her tears as the airplane lifted off and the children began to shriek. Her overweight fool of a husband had brought her to a land of bitter winters and loose morals. And now this was where she would die.
There were worse deaths of course. She knew people dying of disease, malnutrition, floods. All in all she was grateful that she lay where she lay. Yet still she dreamt of Bangladesh. Soft sunsets over paddy fields. Bougainvillea fragrancing the summer air. The starfruit tree behind their house and Eshan, trying to catch the street boys as they scaled the trunk to steal the amber prisms. Eshan, misjudging his grasp, falling and splitting his head on the concrete. Lying motionless and surrounded by the smashed yellow flesh of starfruit. So long ago, yet the memory was vivid. When Alia left Bangladesh she not only left her homeland. She left her son.
On the day of her operation Alia had a different dream. She was sitting on a mound of starfruit, slicing their rubber skins into five pointed wafers and placing them upon a tray. Beside her sat Eshan, picking up the juicy slices and popping them into his mouth. He looked up, smiled and held the glistening yellow fruit to her lips. She took it between her teeth and chewed, juices filling her cheeks. So blissful was this dream that she thought herself in heaven.
Upon waking after surgery, Alia was surprised to see the dour-faced doctor unusually upbeat. The operation was successful. She’d be back home within days. Alia’s children were grinning, her husband’s brows raised high in surprise. She found her lips smiling too. For years she’d been guilt stricken, unable to accept that her son had gone while she remained. But now, as she lay in her hospital bed, Alia savoured the lingering flavour of starfruit on her tongue. It was not bitter and sour as she’d expected but sugary, and full of sweetness.
I have only been to Bangladesh once. Aged nineteen, and with a poor grasp of the language, I found myself immersed in a world both alien and yet strangely reminiscent. The language was recognisable, the food akin to the meals I’d had at home and everywhere I looked there were faces like mine. But I’d been unprepared for the poverty that surrounded me, the dry choking heat and the smells that littered the air. I was brought up in multicultural, metropolitan Leicester. Now I was in my “motherland” where I couldn’t leave the house without a male chaperone and had to refrain from speaking in public so sly taxi-drivers wouldn’t hear my accent and charge us treble the rate.
She Dreams of Starfruit places my own experience in reverse. I envisioned a narrator who had left her beloved homeland of Bangladesh behind to come and live in England. I tried to imagine the things she’d miss and the regrets she’d have. Through the writing of this piece I learnt that, although our love of the familiar can cause homesickness, it is the memories we leave behind that cause the most pain.
People make a city and it is people, from whatever background and age, that influence my work. Returning to Leicester after my trip to Bangladesh I felt the cosiness that comes with home, yet my world was tinged in a new light. I had learnt that, despite the separation of land and sea, there are things that bind us all. Suddenly I had a renewed gratitude for the country my roots were set in, the city that I had grown and flourished in and the diverse stream of people that have crossed my path along the way.