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Historical Fiction LGBTQ+ Coming of Age



A sea of arms shrouded in black rose and fell in unison like tumultuous waves in a stormy sea. At the anguished cry of Ya Hussain they beat their bare, hard chests. Abbas Ansari, a boy of thirteen years flinched as the lashing intensified and inched against the wall. Some men at the front of the hall beat themselves with chains. The acrid smell of sweat and tears whirled around the dense crowd. The reciter at the podium incited tears with each word he uttered. The roar of self-flagellation resounded across the hall. Abbas spotted his father’s naked torso. The raw skin on his back was criss-crossed with red lines. Each lash of the merciless chain drew fresh blood from his father’s back.


Abbas had been attending the gatherings since he had turned seven. He knew that the twelve days of the month of Moharram were designated for Shia Muslims to relive and mourn the events of Karbala which transpired during the October of 680 AD. The mourners beating their chests yearned to feel the pain of Hussain Ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad. Hussain and his seventy-two followers battled the tyrant King Yazid with his massive army of a thousand soldiers. Yazid had blocked their access to the river Euphrates for three days as Hussain and his followers grew desperate with thirst. The children’s howls resounded across the desert and evoked no mercy from the enemy forces guarding the river.


The bawling grew louder as the reciter evoked terrible incidents of the battle. The wailing of six month old Ali Asghar until an arrow sliced through his fragile body. Hussain’s murder and beheading. The women and children of the Prophet Mohammad’s family being chained and dragged through a burning desert to be presented at the court of Yazid. Hussain’s courageous sister, Zainab standing up to Yazid in his court and giving a speech reprimanding him for his cruelty and promising him his doom.


Abbas was terrified and awed in equal parts at the violent passion rippling through the crowd on the tenth day of Muharram. The narration brought tears to his soft brown eyes. He wept in silence at the events of torture being recounted.


As soon as the mourning concluded, Abbas ran out of the hall, eager to commence the task he cherished most. He drank in the cool evening air, relieved to be outside. He preferred being on his own to being surrounded by people. He never fit it with either girls or boys his age. He picked up a large flask of milk mixed with rose and pistachio syrup and rushed out of the building to the street. Many rows of tables and chairs were laid out under a twilit sky for men and women observing the Ashura fast. Men and women took their place at the table waiting to open their fast. Abbas couldn’t help beaming as he quenched their thirst. He poured out rosy thick milk for them, an intense joy bursting through him. His flask was soon empty and he rushed back to get more. He avoided the farthest side of the table where his father was seated amidst his friends, a black shirt discreetly covering his wounds.  


Abbas was gentle and nurturing in his mannerisms, unlike the men in his family. He liked playing with dolls more than cars or guns. He was attracted to female attire and makeup. His mother was fearful as she watched him step into adolescence. At his birth, sweetmeat was distributed and colourful fireworks illuminated the night sky as he was the first boy born after five girls. He was the designated male heir who would carry the bloodline forward. She couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge the possibility of him crossing the gender threshold. She coaxed him with treats whenever he displayed some socially acceptable sign of manliness. His father was stricter, he would discipline him with a thrashing when he could. His uncles warned he would amount to nothing and embarrass the family. Abbas had become good at hiding in various strategic spots to escape the keen eyes of his father. But he often wondered who he was and what he was meant to be. He knew he loved helping people in distress. He brought in stray cats and birds who were sickly and nursed them back to health. 


His grandmother was the only one who understood him. As he cuddled with her in her blanket, drawing comfort from the smell of betel leaves and tiger balm that she applied to her aching limbs, she stroked his hair with her hands. ‘You are just like your namesake, the brave Abbas Ibn Ali, who rushed past enemy lines at great risk to his own life to obtain water for his thirsty companions.’


‘What was the point of riding to the river if he knew he would be killed?’


‘Sometimes the most honourable and sensible option is to keep trying even if we’re aware of its futility. We must never give up helping people in need, we must never stop trying to save people in trouble.’


Abbas could relate to the selfless brother of Hussain. He envisioned himself hurtling down the desert on his horse uncaring of the countless enemies chasing hot at his heels. Sparse palm trees flew by his line of vision as he rushed towards the Euphrates river. He reached the foamy turquoise waters in a flash of speed and agility leaving his enemies far behind. He leapt down from his horse with his flask. Leaning at the sandy bank, he dipped his palms inside the rushing current but just as he was about to drink he remembered the thirst of the children wailing in the camps. He couldn’t bring himself to quench his thirst when he knew his beloved family and companions were dying of thirst. He opened his palms and the water trickled through his fingers. Filling his leather flask, he mounted his horse again. He was accosted on the way back by soldiers eager to shoot the first arrow that would claim his life. Arrows pierced his flask and his flesh simultaneously. Blood mixing with water formed flowery crimson patterns in the sand.


The boy, Abbas Ansari, who was named after the legendary hero Abbas Ibn Ali, smiled and decided who he wanted to be.



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In Iran, everyone, but especially the poor, know of a transgender woman named Abbas Ansari who invested her modest family wealth into a successful national restaurant chain. Her keen business acumen, hard work and innovative ideas have led to profits that continue to increase annually. But this is not what she is famous for. Every Friday Abbas opens her restaurant to feed the poor and needy free of charge. She travels across her various restaurants and at the commencement of the meal she fills their glasses with water with such joy and humility that one would think the poor were doing her a favour. People call her a messiah but she prefers being called the water-bearer.  



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August 23, 2022 12:53

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6 comments

Lee Disco
16:36 Sep 03, 2022

An excellent and unique take on the prompt, the way you dive into the character is downright inspiring. Great work!

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Salmah Ahmed
09:47 Sep 05, 2022

Thank you! :-)

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Michał Przywara
22:26 Aug 31, 2022

That was an unexpected twist, but fitting for the character. I like that the same story being celebrated gets interpreted differently by different people. Abbas found a kindred spirit in her namesake, and a much needed ally in her grandmother. Critique-wise, I like the pacing here. The beginning is quite intense until we "zoom out" and see what's happening, and Abbas' private struggle is well established. Wanting to do well by others, but also subject to a conservative family, and trying to reconcile all that with faith. The time jump for ...

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Salmah Ahmed
08:53 Sep 01, 2022

Thank you so much for this comprehensive and insightful critique! Means the world to me. You are absolutely right, I wanted to keep this one short and rushed the end, I could transform this into a longer story at some point (if I have time) with more real estate given to building up and reconciling the resolution.

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Anil Bahuman
10:24 Aug 29, 2022

Heartwarming story. I wasn't aware that Iran has exemplary business owners like Abbas Ansari. Her empathy and compassion makes one take a deep look at oneself and reflect on what really matters in the world we inhabit. And what it means to go to great extent to help those in need like EU citizens coming forward to help Ukrainian refugees. The frame within a frame narrative device works perfectly well in this story, and for me, evoking images of the Ukraine conflict in the core story.

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Salmah Ahmed
13:50 Aug 29, 2022

Thank you so much, the story is fictional, but the message is exactly what you're saying. Empathy and compassion is what matters in today's world.

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