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Today’s featured story is Garments by Tahmima Anam

The BBC National Short Story Award is one of the UK’s biggest prizes for a single short story. Writing Magazine is delighted to showcase extracts from this year’s five-strong shortlist.

The winner of the BBC National Short Story Award 2016 will be announced live on BBC Radio 4 Front Row at 7.15pm on Tuesday 4th October.

Today’s extract, below, is from Garments by Tahmima Anam.

One day Mala lowers her mask and says to Jesmin, my boyfriend

wants to marry you. Jesmin is six shirts behind so she

doesn’t look up. After the bell, Mala explains. For months now

she’s been telling the girls, ya, any day now me and Dulal are

going to the Kazi. They don’t believe her, they know her boyfriend

works in an air-conditioned shop. No way he was going to marry

a garments girl. Now she has a scheme and when Jesmin hears

it, she thinks, it’s not so bad.

Two days later Mala’s sweating like it’s July. He wants one

more. Three wives. We have to find a girl. After the bell they look

down the row of sewing machines and try to choose. Mala knows

all the unmarried girls, which one needs a room, which one has

hungry relatives, which one borrowed money against her wage

and can’t work enough overtime to pay it off. They squint down

the line and consider Fatima, Keya, Komola, but for some reason

or other they reject them all. There’s a new girl at the end of the

row but when Mala takes a break and limps over to the toilet she

comes back and says the girl has a milky eye.

There’s a new order for panties. Jesmin picks up the sample.

She’s never seen a panty like it before. It’s thick, with double

seams on the front, back, and around the buttocks. The leg is just

cut off without a stitch. Mala, she says, what’s this? Mala says,

the foreign ladies use them to hold in their fat and they call them

Thanks. Thanks? Yep. Because they look so good, in the mirror

they say to the panties, Thanks. Jesmin and Mala pull down their

masks and trade a laugh when the morning supervisor, Jamal,

isn’t looking.

Jesmin decides it won’t be so bad to share a husband. She

doesn’t have dreams of a love marriage, and if they have to divide

the sex that’s fine with her, and if he wants something, like he

wants his rice the way his mother makes it, maybe one of them

will know how to do it. Walking home as she did every evening

with all the other factory workers, a line two girls thick and a mile

long, snaking out of Tongi and all the way to Uttara, she spots

a new girl. Sometimes Jesmin looks in front and behind her at

that line, all the ribbons flapping and the song of sandals on the

pavement, and she feels a swell in her chest. She catches up to

the girl. Her name’s Ruby. She’s dark, but pretty. Small white teeth

and filmy eyes. She’s new and eager to make friends. I’m coming

two, three hours from my village every morning, she complains.

I know, Jesmin says. Finding a place to live is why I’m doing this.

 

 If you would like to read the full versions of the five shortlisted stories an Anthology published by Comma Press is available now:
Available at www.commapress.co.uk and all good bookshops, and as an eBook at www.amazon/kindle.

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