Happy Monday everyone! I’m thrilled to be joining the blog tour for Saima Mir’s debut crime thriller The Khan today. I’ve got an enticing extract for you. I can’t wait to read this, especially after hearing Saima talk and read as part of the Leeds Lit Fest last month.
Massive thanks to the fabulous Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me on the blog tour.
A successful lawyer, Jia Khan’s London life is a long way from the Northern streets she knew as a child, where her father, Akbar Khan, was head of the Pakistani community and ran the local organised crime syndicate. His Jirga rule – the old way – was violent and bloody, but it was also justice of a kind.
When her father is murdered, Jia must return to his community. In the past, the police relied on Akbar Khan to maintain the fragile order of the streets. But a bloody power struggle has broken out among the various communities and now, nobody is safe.
Justice needs to be restored, and Jia is about to discover that justice always comes at a price. Against a backdrop of racial divides, misogyny and prejudice, The Khan is a thrilling crime debut, set in a world rarely explored in fiction.
The frayed fabric of the black niqaab scratched at her nose and she raised her hand to adjust it, bringing it taut over her lips. She hurried on. The setting sun worried her. She would be late for work.
Broken syringes and greying condoms lay spent, caught between the pavement and the road, trying to disappear into the sewers beneath. Engine oil mixed with rain pooled around them and spread into the gutter.
Ahead of her a new Bentley waited, its engine purring gently. Further up and across the road a bruised, blonde working girl leaned into a sheenless VW Golf. Hidden behind grubby old textile mills, this forgotten strip of land equalised rich and poor. They all came here. From near and far. To have their cars looked at and their bodies serviced.
The young Muslim woman’s eyes, watchful, hollow and kohl- rimmed, moved from lamp post to lamp post and then to street corner. For one brief moment her resolve weakened and she consid- ered turning around and heading home, but then she remembered the Final Demand letter her mother had handed her as she’d been leaving and something tightened in her stomach.
Sakina, her name was, and as she pulled her arms tight around herself, hoping their warmth would melt some of the hardness that had set in, she reminded herself of its meaning: serenity. ‘Bas thorai saal hor nai putar,’ her mother had told her, her tone as gentle as her coarse Punjabi would allow. ‘Once your brother finishes university he will take care of everything.’ But only Sakina knew what those few years were costing. She was paying with more than money for the university fees, rent, bills and bread her family needed. Her father’s death had come suddenly and he hadn’t had time to make provision for his wife and children. He had been a good man and she missed him with an all-encompassing heaviness in her heart. He had always been proud of Sakina and she wondered what he would have thought of her now.
But there was little time to stop and contemplate such things today. Quickening her pace, she stepped over the shadow of a short, stocky man who was leaning against a blackened wall. He sucked on a cigarette, pulling smoke into his fat fist as he spoke to the driver of the Bentley. Sakina walked past him. He paused as if recognising her and then offered his ‘salaam’. She nodded in acknowledgement and crossed the road.
The red heels of her shoes clicked hard; they weren’t made for cobbles. The blonde prostitute was also struggling to balance on the stones. Brushing back her hair, the hooker rubbed her hand suggestively up her thigh, her small skirt leaving little to the imag- ination. She leaned into the driver’s window of the car, the skirt rising further up her thighs, revealing the marks left by previous clients.
Sakina stole a glance at the punter in the Golf as she passed, measuring him up, taking in his cropped black hair, pock-marked cheeks and the blue-green tattoo on the side of his head. There was something menacing about him, something that made her take the black satin of her niqaab and pull it tighter over her painted lips. He turned and looked back at her, his empty eyes burning right through her, as if he could see what she looked like under her purdah. She hurried on.
Realising she was about to lose another customer, the prostitute swore loudly at Sakina. ‘That’s right, why don’t you just fuck off? Bloody ISIS lover.’
Her words backfired and her potential client looked at her in disgust. ‘Ladies shoun’t talk like that,’ he said, peeling her fingers off his car and drawing up the window.
She stood her ground, refusing to leave. ‘Aw, darlin’, don’t be laike that. For some dirty Paki?’
But the driver had made up his mind and he turned the key in the ignition, the car edging forward slowly and hugging the curve of the kerb. When he reached the 620 bus shelter where Sakina was waiting, he switched off the headlights and rolled down the window, the engine still letting its readiness be known. The sun had now buried itself deep into the ground; the only light came from the street lamp next to Sakina, spotlighting her in its orange glow. She tried to look past the man, focusing on something, anything, in the distance. His smile remained fixed. She turned away, but not before catching a glimpse of the purple bank notes he was holding. She turned back, watched as he counted the cash slowly and delib- erately. She looked at his face again, making a mental note and itemising his features as she’d been taught to do by the other girls. She eventually stood up, walked to the car and climbed in. The punter leaned across the leather seat and respectfully helped her adjust her seatbelt, breathing her in as he did so.
‘You brown girls are hard work,’ he told her, ‘but your smell alone is worth it.’
Sakina pulled down her niqaab and smiled. She lifted the folds of her black burqa to cross her legs, revealing thin, red leather stilettos and dark olive skin. The man grinned. He loved this city.
Who Is Saima Mir?
SAIMA MIR is a British Pakistani journalist who grew up in Bradford. She has written for The Times, the Guardian and Independent. Her essay for It’s Not About The Burqa (Picador) appeared in the Guardian and received over 250,000 hits online in two days. Saima has also contributed to the anthology The Best, Most Awful Job: Twenty Mothers Talk Honestly About Motherhood. Saima lives in London.