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

78 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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78 comments

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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Blane Britt
11:43 Aug 20, 2020

Your story reminded me of an episode of George's hands on Seinfeld. Good work.

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Pragya Rathore
13:18 Aug 20, 2020

Thanks Blane!

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Harken Void
08:18 Aug 20, 2020

Hey Pragya! I've read your story and I think you've done a great job with this one! Very prolific and descriptive. You've captured the struggle of a toxic occupation and its effects on family life and health - and, not sure if this was intended, how something you have to do in order to survive can hurt you; like she had to go work in the mine and ruin her hands, but her hands were very beautiful and she could potentially be a hand model. The only constructive criticism I can give is: 1. Opening sentence, which is crumbling apart; the bus ...

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Pragya Rathore
08:52 Aug 20, 2020

Thanks a ton, Harken! Like I said earlier, your critique always ends up helping me out a lot. I really, really appreciate you taking out the time for it. Thanks a million times! :)

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Harken Void
09:03 Aug 20, 2020

You're welcome :)

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Maya W.
14:46 Aug 19, 2020

Wow, this was so beautifully written! I especially rally liked the last line, I think it really tied the story together. If you could, would you check out my stories? Thank you!

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Pragya Rathore
14:48 Aug 19, 2020

Thanks, Maya! I'll definitely check it out :) Mind checking out my other stories too? Thanks again! By the way, humongous fan of TMI here :p

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Maya W.
14:51 Aug 19, 2020

Yeah, sure! Good to meet another Cassie fan, lol.

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Pragya Rathore
15:04 Aug 19, 2020

I love ALL her books! I'm what normal people might call 'obsessed' :).

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Maya W.
15:21 Aug 19, 2020

Haha, same...

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Tariq Saeed
14:43 Aug 19, 2020

Pragya,The old man and OLD lady is good.I think you didn't read one of mine.

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Pragya Rathore
14:46 Aug 19, 2020

Thanks, but I'm sorry, I don't know what you're trying to say. Could you please explain?

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Pragya Rathore
15:30 Aug 19, 2020

Would you like me to read your stories or something?

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22:36 Aug 17, 2020

As requested, here I am! Wow, this was good! Its message was very powerful and I loved the title: it wrapped the whole story up. Amazing job, keep writing! ~A

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Pragya Rathore
02:03 Aug 18, 2020

Thank you so much, Aerin! Thanks a lot for reading :)

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18:50 Aug 17, 2020

I liked the way you laced the past and the present together in this one, and your main character's determination was definitely commendable!

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Pragya Rathore
19:04 Aug 17, 2020

Thank you so much, Emilie!

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Shruti Saxena
16:27 Aug 17, 2020

This is some beautiful writing! Loved the imagery and the vividness your writing conveys, it pulls us into this heartbreaking yet engaging tale so well. Great job!!

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Pragya Rathore
16:57 Aug 17, 2020

Thank you so much, Shruti! It's so sweet of you to say that :)

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Emma Lin
15:12 Aug 16, 2020

Love the theme of self-worth and self-respect! Lovely executed! :)

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Pragya Rathore
15:59 Aug 16, 2020

Thank you so much, Emma! Again, thanks for reading and commenting :)

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Sia S
09:20 Aug 13, 2020

Dang!!!! That was sooooooooooooooo♾ Awesome!!! So minutely described, the suspense, the description!! Awesome 👌💯💯 -S

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Pragya Rathore
10:44 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you so much Sia! :) I appreciate you taking out the time to leave a comment :)

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Sia S
10:49 Aug 13, 2020

Welcome and No problem, looking forward to more!!

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Pragya Rathore
11:13 Aug 13, 2020

You can check out 'The Bright Side' if you would like to read more of my stories. It would be a huge favor :)

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Sia S
11:34 Aug 13, 2020

Sure be there right now !!

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10:30 Aug 10, 2020

I really loved this take on the prompt! Your description was amazing, and I absolutely loved how believable your character was. Outstanding job! -Brooke

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Pragya Rathore
13:06 Aug 10, 2020

Thanks a ton, Brooke!! :)

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15:03 Aug 10, 2020

My pleasure!

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Aditya Pillai
06:44 Aug 09, 2020

So well written! This was a great read. You clearly have command over the language and use it masterfully to convey the emotions you want the reader to feel. The pathos and the overall gloom hits us and is engaging. The writing style is beautiful, and I loved the ending lines. Great work! Would love to hear your thoughts on my latest :)

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Pragya Rathore
06:50 Aug 09, 2020

Thank you so much! I'll definitely check out your stories :)

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