White Powder : Bonus Winner | Season 5

– Shreyashi Biswas


We set out in the morning
Ready for school, like any other day,
Our bags were full of things we needed.
Half-empty bottles of slightly-milky, slightly-salty water
That no rich child in the West would touch,
Dusty clothes and anything else that we could save
From under the rubble
Of the home that existed until yesterday.
Razia managed to save her make-up box.
It was barely a box.
A cracked plastic colour palette, a frazzled thick brush and a cotton bud
She held it against her chest, clasping tightly with her little plump fingers.
Like her greatest treasure.
Barely six-year-old, make-up blush stuck to her
Plump cheeks still drooping with baby fat.
The red is trying to overcome the white powder.
Razia was a happy child, four years younger,
Who liked to put make-up on everyone?
Her father (where is he?)
Her mother (where is she?)
Her brother (where is he?)
Her sister (me)
Even now, she ran up to two men
Standing near the mounds of rubble.
One held a microphone with a big ‘PRESS’ badge, and the other a camera.
Where are you going? They asked.
To our school, to live there,
Razia laughed with them.
The man with the microphone picked her up
And she put on some red blush
On both his cheeks.
In that big black bulletproof vest, he looked like a clown
In this circus of hell,
Then we watched him
Like a child, fat blobs of tears drop
From his chin, his slippery snot in his palms
He buried his face and sobbed.
He said he had forgotten
How to feel
Human anymore.
I thought of school
Two months ago, when everything was normal,
When we talked about things:
Crime stories, horror stories, ghost stories,
And someone told us about a man who took a picture
Of a skinny child in Sudan
Lying on the ground, in the throes of death
Like a hungry bag of bones
Ribs patterned on the skin
As a vulture waited behind
The picture became famous.
And the world applauded
And the man who took the picture
He took his own life.
It almost made me wonder
Which was worse?
Watching a tragedy
Or living it.




After a distant bombing,
There was white powder
Of a different kind:
Not soil, not dust, not concrete,
Not the flying ash from the wrecks
That irritated our nostrils.
It was of a different kind:
It burned, and burned.
And burned
Razia rubbed her eyes, crying
She said it burned
The two men with the microphone and the camera
They desperately dusted themselves
Panic-stricken, they said many words
Like phosphorus, hospital, God, sky, demons,
They said it would burn
Until it reached the bone
And would keep burning
Until it was cut out
We were not going to school anymore
The hospital was two kilometres to the east
From the main road.
We ran
While it burned.
I zipped my bag open and pulled the bottle
Of slightly-milky, slightly-salty water
Undrinkable, strictly for drinking
And patted my hands with it.
My skin looked white
But beneath the white powder
Was brown.
They said all people were equal
But somehow
White was more equal than brown.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *