Your Skin (2022)
“Melanin is not your enemy”- Joy Crooks
Hating the sun was a learned attribute. I remember returningfrom a holiday, and a boy in
my class not recognising me because of the tan that hadkissed my skin. My mother ,
frustrated as she had tried to keep me shielded withparasols and hats, to prevent me
becoming too dark.
My mum’s skin was fair, olive at most when the sun wouldsweep it. A tan that Mums in
the playground would envy, a glow that radiated modestly. Ihave my father’s dark roast,
enriched with the rays, sweat dripping like dark chocolatestreams as we poured ourselves
into the sea.
When you are young and Brown, they try to stop you playingoutside. Girls must always be
careful. It is always different for girls.
For when we feel the warmth bestowed upon our cheeks by thesun, we enrich. The dark
pigment will tell people that our status and class, that ourhands must bare labour to
survive, a trait that is frowned upon by others. Our darkBrown skin doesn’t tick the boxes in
the survey when they try to find us a husband. Whiteness iswealth, whiteness is power, and
anything close to it is close enough.
Aunties and Mothers will plaster their cheeks withanti-agers, retinols, and skin bleach.
Fair and Lovely to keep the melanin at bay. They willcelebrate the fairness that coincides
with starvation and iron deficiencies, and they will instila fear of nature’s greatest feeder.
May bank holiday, I sat in a tent while the sun cooked mefrom the outside like a boil in the
bag rice. Layer after layer of factor 50, as though themelanin would be activated from steam alone. I proudly stated “I don’t want totan” to my white peers, as though it made
me closer to them in some way. Nightly routines of lemonjuice rubbed into my cheeks,
across my moustache and side burns. Constantly spending mychildhood erasing parts of me
in hope it would remove the otherness of being the token Pakifriend.
Doing anything and everything to create as much distancefrom my brownness as possible
and falling into a hole of misplaced identity that wouldtake years to climb out of. Parts of
myself would stay stuck in the hole, parts I do not know ifI can every reclaim to this day.
I was twenty when I fell in love with the sun. I accepted Iwas South Asian, and allowed the
melanin to thrive through my body. I grew back the hair thathad been ripped from my arms
and I allowed my shoulders to bathe in the warmth.
My largest organ has been nourished once more.
When I was a child I loved being in the room with my motheras she completed her night-time routine. This won’t be a telling of a glamorousexotic woman who brushes her long silky hair one hundred strokes or bathes herlocks and skin in aromatic nourishing oils. This is a lightly tanned Brownwoman, with thinning, bobbed coils, and sagging breasts. Rough spikes and cheaprazor burnt legs, and modest pyjamas. This is the embodiment of a working-classwoman through the lens of a Brown girl.
My mum would unsuccessfully try to shrink herself, hidingthe folds of her stomach with her
work clothes from the day. I would lunge forward from myparent’s bed, desperate to trace
the purple-red dents around her back and shoulders with myfingers. When I close my
eyes now, I can feel the warm soft sensation of our skintouching. The hair on her torso is
fine and almost unnoticeable when I compare it to my own.
As my own body ages, I witness it transition through healingand recovery. My collar bones
and ribs have sunken back into their body, and my innerthighs find comfort in their
touching. My own softness has begun to resemble that of mymother’s. Nutrition once again
brings curls to my hair and folds to my stomach. I adorn mybody in colour and serotonin
inducing fabrics, that remind me of mothballs in thecupboards and suitcases of silk. Nani’s
gold hoops and bangles rest on my skin as they once didhers, and I run oil through my hair
as she once did for my mother.
Sometimes Mum fights with me, says I need to live within mymeans, live modestly. I
resemble a magpie drawn to the vibrant, loud, maximalistthings that glisten in the light. We
are very different. At twenty five had to provide a stablehousehold. A balanced world between traditional South Asian house wife, andmodern working woman. I like to believe she had a choice to have that life, butI know that the world had already set a course for her to take.
My very own, South Asian, working class hero.
Homesick on Eid
In a flat with my dogs
And my lover
But the smell from the kitchen
That wrestles with the extractor fan
And floats down the street
Does not smell like home to me
I want to wake up in the morning to sweet desserts and spices tickling the hairs in my nostril
The doorbell to ring once or twice and it not be a delivery from an order I forgot I made
A morning kiss and cuddle could never compete
With a tight embrace over the shoulder one two three
Tea and coffee rounds after every meal and in between
Uncle and dad coming home after their namaz
And we hug one two three
And we feast
Scraping the last grains of rice that try to stay on the plate into our mouths
Fingers running along the inside of the bowl to get every last drop
This morning I don’t even get a text
I don’t know if it’s today or tomorrow
Waking late to a meeting on the sofa
My thighs fused with the plasticy cover beneath them
I eat hash browns and bbq sauce while watching strangers travel the world
And I cancel plans to fall into a habit I’ve spent years breaking
Climbing into an empty bed with my screen rotating through clips of strangers
To make me howl with 15 second laughter
My mood swings to the far end of the spectrum
I want wetness to fill my eyes
But instead I frown
Thinking it’s my flakiness or ruined plans
But I’m just homesick on Eid
Blue Box Blues
Maybe Derby’s not so bad
A room in Lewisham for a grand a month
I’m sat in a blue box
Buildings growing taller around
but I stay small
low to the ground
under market value
I’m waiting for this email to come
for that one to become a two
market value of a blue box
buy it back
private social housing
if you take the poor person out of the social housing does it become luxury?
I’m having a crisis
who’s got a grand to spent on a bedroom anyway?
If the housing association are increasing rent I’ve got no hope with the private private housing
I’m in the private social housing
the private social blue box housing
the knock down the furniture shop to build luxury social housing housing
It’s still a council estate
with private social housing
and young professionals from home counties
who’ve got a grand to spend on a room so anyway
the private social housing would rather they live here
than aunty and uncle next-door
and Kim the cat lady
I’m in the middle
with my private social housing
under market value
working class but my parents own their home now
upper working class? lower middle class?
but I don’t have a grand to spend on a room
so when that one becomes a two I’m really
screwed because I have things in every room
screwed because I’ve become comfortable in a housing crisis
I missed the first wave that knocked my friends back to their parent’s
I’ve settled in a temporary blue box that’s heading the same way as the furniture shop
but in the mean time they want to squeeze as much profit from this poor
and that means
and luxury housing.
Maybe Nottingham would be okay…