Contest #54 shortlist ⭐️

Her Beautiful Hands

Submitted into Contest #54 in response to: Write a story about someone looking to make amends for a mistake.... view prompt

77 comments

Drama

Her hands were pitch-black now, but they had not always been.

The bus lurched on the iron bridge crumbling apart. It stumbled on the bumps of the road like an infant learning to walk. She would have clutched the armrest to reassure herself that she would survive the journey, but between the residual dirt and sweat left like a legacy by previous passengers, and the old man subtly trying to shift closer to her, she remained indecisive.

“Going to work?” an old lady enquired, elbowing the old man as she spoke. He smiled sheepishly and shifted away to the gang of hooligans who were howling at girls on the street like wolves. He looked as if he wanted to join them.

Begging divine intervention to avoid over-friendly travelers, she began to shift her lips into a benevolent grin, then remembered that her front gum had been bleeding in the morning. To avoid looking like a vampire after a successful expedition, she gave the lady a close-lipped smile, then dabbed at her mouth with a certain amount of haste. The wind billowed in through the window, making the old lady clutch her shawl more carefully.

“Where is it that you work, exactly?”



They called her the beauty of the town. Every boy in her village was madly in love with her, but she could never love anyone except herself. Was that why her beauty faded like the sun at twilight, which would come back only with the dawn of humility?

People came and went out of her life like shadows. But there are shadows only where there is light. No one stayed where darkness was.


As the coldness engulfed her, she took her hands out of her pockets to shut the window. Dust dripped from her darkened hands like poison, making the lady cough and spit out mucus. The fine particles lingered for a long time in the lady’s mouth, stopping her from attempting to chat her up again. But maybe it was because she did not need to ask: the word ‘miner’ was wrapped across her lips, her eyes, and her hands, across each nail of her fingers, across the knuckles that she still cleaned at night, desperate to get back some of their initial fairness, the lines in her palm that she tried to scrub away. The same lines that a fortune-teller had read and predicted that she would be a breaker of hearts.


She had neglected to mention, however, that the heart would be her own.




The mine was coated with dust. The older workers were on leave today. Today was the government’s mandatory health check. They had all been practicing coughing the previous day, so that they could be diagnosed with respiratory diseases and get free wages for the rest of their lives.

Her father had not faked it when he had worked there. The medical examiner had adjusted his spectacles when he saw her clutching her father’s hand while waiting for the diagnosis, afraid of how this stranger could break a world of happiness with his instruments. But in the end, he gave back the report to her father, not caring that it was as good as gibberish for him. “Better get her that job before it kills you,” was all he said. Her father’s lung cancer had grown like a weed in his body, affected as much by cigarettes as by the specks of coal that he breathed in like oxygen.


All her sisters crowded her, like maidservants crowding a princess.

“Your hands are so pretty,” they said wistfully, their eyes burning with envy. Her mother came in to call her; being the eldest, she was the only one called to her father’s deathbed. He did not smile when he saw her or tell her his last wish. He gripped her pearl-like hands in a death grip, so that purple bruises formed in seconds. “Don’t let the rest of them starve to keep these safe,” he said, and coughed. When she nodded, he released her hands and coughed for minutes before his lungs collapsed in the maze of tumors that his body had become.

It is how each miner dies, she told herself. Coughing all the way to the afterlife. Hands blackened by coal, but the heart never tarnished by its darkness.


The mines suffocated her, as they did always, a black cloud of heavy dust engulfing her. There was no one today except the supervisor, his chair carefully balanced under the shade of the sun, a local novel in his hands and a smug smile on his face. The only thing he supervised was the amount of coal each worker dug. She remembered that smile, those soulless eyes-


Her mother stood behind her in the mirror, her hands fidgeting nervously in the absence of the bangles she had always worn. Her mother taught her that the husband is the light of a woman’s life, and his death is worse than her own, for after it, the living goes out of her life.

“Your hands look disgraceful,” her mother scolded. “Already we refused to give them your dowry before marriage, so making you look pretty is all we can do. Your hands are your only beauty; wear those wristlets and adorn them, or you’ll darken them working your life in the mines.” She wondered if that was a prediction, or the curse of not being able to find a husband.


She forced a smile and went outside, suppressing her horror at the man who stood before her. It was one of the boys who always stood outside her house, begging her to marry him. She felt his cold eyes running over her body and shrugged off his icy gaze, focusing only on the artificial silver of her ring. In her mind, she pretended that he stared because he really loved her, because he could see into her and see all her flaws. Not because he liked the shape of her waist, or the curve of her eyelashes, or the length of her hair, or the fairness of her hands. She shivered as she recalled his first wife, dead after the first month of her marriage. The bruises and bite marks on her arms and neck, which everybody wanted to believe was the work of an animal. Her dead body, gossiped about in the village as a warning to wives.


On the day of her marriage, she sat patiently in her room, waiting for him. No one from the groom’s side arrived. Not even the groom himself.

She remembered him coming into her room the previous night. The reek of alcohol and coal from his body had made her retch and gag. “I am your husband,” he had slurred. “I can do whatever I want.” She recalled herself pushing him away, and him slapping her in rage. He told her not to provoke him, and she fell silent, letting him do whatever he wanted. That was what her mother wanted, was it not, a lifetime of silence and suffering for retaining the whiteness of her hands?

She remembered feeling choked in his presence and deciding that she would rather suffocate in the dust of hard work like her father than choke in oppression.

She wondered what her mother would say if she knew that her dowry had been given away, after all. Not to encourage marriage, but to avoid it.



The supervisor, as if sensing her gaze, left his novel and stepped towards her. “Are you actually going to do any work with those useless hands of yours?”

As she descended into the mines, the familiar dust tingled in her nostrils like the smell of fire. For a moment, she immersed her hands in the coal all around her, rejoicing when the dark substance melded with the blackness of her palm. Maybe her hands were not as white as snow. But when she would die, she would not be remembered as the girl who got humiliated at her wedding. She would not be remembered as the girl with the white hands. The only thing that would remember her for years would be the coal, the black of it fused with her once-white fingers and leaving its mark upon everyone it touched.


For a moment, her hands looked beautiful. 

August 08, 2020 12:39

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77 comments

09:36 Aug 17, 2020

Hi Pragya! This story was awesome! It had me hooked! I did spot a grammar error though --> “Already we refused to give them your," = That should have been, "We already refused to give them your," Overall, great story! Score: 4.7 out of 5

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Pragya Rathore
11:38 Aug 17, 2020

Oh! That's very sweet of you, thanks! But it's too late to edit, so I'm going to keep it :)

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12:11 Aug 17, 2020

You’re welcome!

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09:06 Aug 17, 2020

Nice story! I just didn't get some parts. Like this one. "Her hands were pitch-black now, but they had not always been." Is this supposed to be in the end? But otherwise, it's good. Like the details and the ending. Score: 4.4/5

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Pragya Rathore
09:11 Aug 17, 2020

Thanks a lot, Vivaan!! No, it's not supposed to be in the end. You see, the story is told with flashbacks, so the first line is in the present. I see how it might have been a little confusing. Thanks for pointing that out! :)

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Zilla Babbitt
22:35 Aug 13, 2020

You asked me to read, so here I am. This is beautiful! I love the hands theme, and you have some great prose: Dust dripped from her darkened hands like poison... The storytelling is all there, but I think the main problem is the flashback. A flashback is okay, but in these the main character is literally remembering while remembering. Make sense? It reads kind of backward and confusing. Just put the memory you intend to express as the actual flashback. Great prose, good job. Keep it up!

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Pragya Rathore
01:36 Aug 14, 2020

Thank you so much, Zilla! That means a lot coming from you. Thank you for taking out the time to comment :)

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Kristin Neubauer
17:40 Aug 19, 2020

Such a powerful story. First, your writing is incredible. So vivid, so strong. But second, the story itself - wow. I came away in awe of the narrator, rather than pitying her for having no good choices. She is a powerful woman herself, in so many ways. Amazing and beautiful story!

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Pragya Rathore
17:42 Aug 19, 2020

Thanks a ton, Kristin! Your comment made me giggle. So sweet of you to read and comment! I'm really, really grateful to you. Thanks again!

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Jonathan Blaauw
14:24 Aug 17, 2020

Wow, what an amazing story! The way you use metaphors and similies to vary your comparisons and create beautiful images – throughout the story but in the flashbacks in particular- is brilliant. The whole thing is vividly descriptive and paints a heartbreaking picture that is very absorbing, if a bit disturbing at times, to read. I love stories like this that, while fictional, draw attention to the plight of real people. August is women’s month in South Africa and although I find the fact that we need to be reminded that women have the same ...

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Pragya Rathore
14:35 Aug 17, 2020

Thank you so much, Jonathan! That frankly means a lot to me, coming from you. This topic was something that I dwelled on in my free time, and I felt that the obsession about being 'beautiful' does not and should not define who you are. The heroine was beautiful! It's wonderful that South Africa, which has such a rich culture, is celebrating the sacred power of the female. It strikes me now that a simple 'Thanks!' would have sufficed :)

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Doubra Akika
12:11 Aug 15, 2020

This is so beautiful, Pragya. I loved the writing and your character was so amazing. I loved how she valued her self-worth through everything! Really beautiful job.

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Pragya Rathore
12:17 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you so much, Doubra! :)

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Doubra Akika
12:27 Aug 15, 2020

It was my pleasure!

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Corey Melin
00:37 Aug 09, 2020

Very interesting and superb on the prompt. Always a joy to see the directions writers go.

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Pragya Rathore
01:03 Aug 09, 2020

Thank you so much, Corey! :)

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Siya Gupta
12:40 Aug 08, 2020

What a beautiful story! I loved the take on self-worth. Good job, keep it up!

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Pragya Rathore
12:55 Aug 08, 2020

Thank you so much! :)

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12:59 Dec 05, 2020

Had me hooked! What an interesting plot! Could you write more sometime? I really like the lesson of sorts in the story.

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Avani G
14:35 Sep 21, 2020

Congrats for the shortlist, queen! Keep working hard! :)

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Pragya Rathore
14:38 Sep 21, 2020

Thanks a lot, Avani! A queen's work is never done ;)

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Avani G
14:38 Sep 21, 2020

Haha

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Ananya Bhalla
18:10 Sep 12, 2020

A little confusing, mainly in the flashback, but I love your storytelling. Amazing vocabulary.

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Pragya Rathore
18:35 Sep 12, 2020

Thanks a lot! :)

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Lily Kingston
14:32 Sep 09, 2020

This is so beautifully and vividly written. I like the way her hands change throughout the story. Keep up the good work and keep writing!!

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Pragya Rathore
15:37 Sep 09, 2020

Thanks a lot, Cara! :)

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02:52 Aug 29, 2020

Hello! How are you? You may not recognize me because I am new to this website, and an 11 year old... Loved the story! ❤️ It was beautiful and detailed. Mind checking out a few of my stories?

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Pragya Rathore
02:54 Aug 29, 2020

Already did. :p Thanks! :)

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Charles Stucker
16:42 Aug 23, 2020

“Going to work?” an old lady enquired- typo inquired This reminds me of a song called Coal Miner's Daughter. The tragedy of having to work at a low skill job. It's a sad truth and one which seems insoluble. This piece really brings out the desperation of people in less developed areas who willingly make the choice to die working in order to feed their family. Technical note (not known by many) it is the silica in the mines, not the coal, which causes black lung. As the coal depletes, miners encounter more silica particles and die even ...

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Pragya Rathore
17:34 Aug 23, 2020

Thanks a lot, Charles! That was frankly fascinating! Your feedback is the best :)

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Pragya Rathore
17:37 Aug 23, 2020

I checked on the web, and 'enquire' isn't wrong. Thanks for telling me, though! :p

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Charles Stucker
18:15 Aug 23, 2020

Must be a British/American English thing. Sorry to waste your time.

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Pragya Rathore
18:22 Aug 23, 2020

Hey, you didn't waste my time at all! Now, I know better: next time, I'll be writing 'inquired'. :) I love it when you comment on my stories :p

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Tariq Saeed
12:16 Aug 23, 2020

Good attempt.

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Pragya Rathore
12:47 Aug 23, 2020

Thanks! Did you not like it?

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I just saw this so it's late but congrats on being shortlisted!

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Pragya Rathore
02:02 Aug 23, 2020

Thanks Peachy! :)

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K V Chidambaram
17:49 Aug 22, 2020

Begging divine intervention to avoid over-friendly travellers. Phrase of the day for me.

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Pragya Rathore
18:10 Aug 22, 2020

That's socially relevant for introverts :D

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K V Chidambaram
18:50 Aug 22, 2020

How not for extroverts ?

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Arvind Kashyap
07:25 Aug 22, 2020

It is a beautiful story written in nice style.

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Pragya Rathore
06:23 Aug 23, 2020

Thanks a lot, Arvind! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

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Siya Gupta
19:26 Aug 21, 2020

By the way, congrats on being shortlisted!

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Pragya Rathore
19:32 Aug 21, 2020

Thanks Siya! :)

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Krishi Norris
14:39 Aug 21, 2020

This was such a great story! I saw that this was shortlisted, congrats!

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Pragya Rathore
15:36 Aug 21, 2020

Thanks a lot, Trinity! You knew before me :)

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