Chapter 1 1
As I reach for a pair of silver earrings that my best friend, Soojin, might like, Zohra smacks my hand away.
“Don’t touch anything!” she hisses.
“How am I supposed to look, then?” I laugh as I rub my wrist.
“With your eyes, and then keep walking. Tell me what you like, and I’ll go back and get a good price.”
“What if I want to see something up close?” The market is overflowing with a dizzying array of goods—rows of glittery bangles in every color imaginable, bolts of silky fabric, and mounds of beaded slippers, hair accessories, and evening bags. It’s all screaming to be picked up, or at least photographed. I’ve already taken at least fifty photos and videos, and we’ve only been here for half an hour.
“Don’t act interested in anything, Amina! And put your phone away.” Zohra’s tone is firm, and she suddenly sounds more like my mother than my sixteen-year-old cousin.
I glance at my older brother, Mustafa, who’s walking a few paces behind us, like a bodyguard. He’s dressed in dark jeans and a T-shirt, and his short scruffy beard makes him look older than Zohra, even though they’re the same age.
“Do what she says.” He shrugs. “You don’t want to get ripped off.”
I slip my phone back into my bag, resist inspecting the earrings, and keep moving. It took a bit of convincing to get Zohra to bring us here, instead of the fancy shopping center we’ve already been to twice in three weeks. Being there made me feel like I was back at Southridge Mall in Greendale, Wisconsin, instead of where I am: Lahore, Pakistan.
I’ve been wanting to visit Anarkali Bazaar despite Zohra’s warnings about pushy salespeople and pickpockets. Mustafa and I grew up hearing Mama’s stories about how she’d wait for school to end and catch a rickshaw here when she was a teen. When she described sharing freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and spicy samosa plates with her girlfriends in vivid detail, I could almost taste them.
My hopes of finally tasting those things in real life were crushed when Mama cautioned, “Don’t eat anything off the street” as the three of us left my uncle’s home with his driver, who dropped us off at the market. Mama’s worried that our American stomachs won’t be able to handle anything but filtered water, home-cooked meals, and a handful of approved restaurants. That means no samosa plates from the carts we pass, no matter how incredible they smell.
“Imported from China.” Zohra clicks her tongue against her teeth as she watches me eye a sparkly clip that I can picture in my friend Emily’s long blond hair. “You want things made in Pakistan, don’t you?”
“Yeah. Stuff my friends can’t get in Greendale.”
“Your friends can get anything from anywhere,” Mustafa reminds me. “Thanks to something called the Internet.”
“Okay, stuff they don’t have, then.” Mama already bought gifts for our closest family friends, Salma Auntie and Hamid Uncle. I picked out an outfit for their daughter, Rabiya, since we have the same taste in desi clothes: nothing itchy or “auntie-looking.”
Zohra links her arm with mine and navigates me through the crowds, warning me for the seventeenth time to watch my purse. I wouldn’t be carrying a purse if I were wearing jeans, but I’m in a thin cotton shalwar kameez that’s more comfortable in the fierce summer heat. My hand is gripping the bag that’s stuffed with the money I collected from generous relatives excited to see me for the first time in eight years, and I try not to bump into people.
“Your friends will like those.” Zohra points with her eyebrows toward a stall filled with colorful lacquered boxes and figurines. “They’re made in Kashmir.”
“They’re pretty,” I agree.
“Go see, but don’t say anything. Once the shopkeeper hears your English, the price will triple.”
I wander over and pretend to admire a shawl when I notice a green-and-gold box with a curved lid. It’s shaped like a little treasure chest and would be perfect for Soojin. Then I spot some stunning jewelry in a glass case, including a silver necklace with a row of small cobalt-blue stones. I try not to stare at it.
Zohra turns to the shopkeeper after I secretly signal what I want to her.
“Bhai Sahib,” she beckons in Urdu, calling the man with a mustache and thick glasses Mister Brother to be polite. “Tell me the right price for this. No ripping me off.” Her tone is surprisingly aggressive.
Then Zohra picks up a candleholder, instead of the green box. When I start to protest, she gives me a death stare. I watch in silence as they haggle in Urdu over the price of something I don’t want. Mister Brother claims excellent quality. My cousin complains it’s robbery and says she isn’t a fool. Then Zohra suddenly drops the candleholder as if she’s deeply offended by it and starts to walk away.
Mustafa watches, his dark eyes amused, as Zohra yanks my arm and starts to drag me off with her.
“Sister, see this,” Mister Brother offers when our backs are turned and we’re almost in the next stall. “I give you this for a good price.”
Zohra turns around reluctantly.
“Don’t waste our time. We’re in a hurry.”
“Come, see, very good price.”
Zohra squeezes my arm and returns to the stall, acting like she’s doing Mister Brother a favor. He shows her some bowls and gives her a number in rupees. I have no idea how much money that is since my Urdu is especially terrible when it comes to numbers. Plus, I forget how to convert Pakistani currency into dollars. Zohra shakes her head and then points toward the box I want.
“How about that? Can you live with it?” she asks me, wrinkling her nose as if it’s barely worth considering.
I start to sweat.
Am I supposed to say yes or no?
I take a gamble and nod yes.
“Okay, final price. No games.” Zohra challenges the shopkeeper.
The arguing continues until Mister Brother finally gives Zohra a number she grudgingly accepts.
“What color?” she asks me. I point to the green box for Soojin and a turquoise one for Emily. Zohra adds another bright red one to the pile.
“From me to you,” she says.
“What about that necklace?” I whisper to Zohra. She starts to shake her head, but Mister Brother has superhuman hearing and whips the case open and hands me the necklace before she finishes.
“Very nice,” he says in English.
Zohra gives me another glare, and Mustafa starts to chuckle. I giggle too. There’s no way Mister Brother hasn’t figured out we aren’t from here, no matter how hard Zohra tries to hide it. We’ve got American written all over us. Mustafa’s T-shirt literally has the Captain America logo on it.
“It’s very pretty,” I say in my best Urdu, although I know my accent sounds pathetic. “What are these stones?”
“Lapis,” Mister Brother replies in English, beaming. “Very real, very cheap.”
Zohra tries to convince me to walk away again, but I won’t budge.
“Can you give me your best price, please?” I imitate the Urdu phrase I’ve heard Zohra use. Mister Brother gives me a nod of acknowledgment, but then Zohra takes over, speaking for me. My face burns.
How am I supposed to get better at Urdu if no one lets me practice?
I can’t understand everything they’re saying, but it’s obvious Mister Brother has the upper hand. After he names his final price, I pull out the wad of rupees from my purse, and Zohra counts some and hands them over in defeat. She won’t look at me. But I take the necklace and thank the man in Urdu. And he grins like he just won the lottery.