This piece of flash fiction was prompted by Sacha Black’s writing challenge. If red lipstick is your thing, why not enter a story?
Esma slid the lipstick up her sleeve. There were no security tags on little things like that, and it was only a cheap one anyway. She cast a furtive glance around. The security guard was busy searching for bombs in backpacks. The girls around the makeup stand with their gentle pushing and jostling, laughing and joking covered the awkward movement as she wriggled the lipstick safely up past her elbow. The in-store music covered the pounding of her heart. Settling her headscarf straight and tucking the ends tighter beneath her jacket, she pushed out of the shop as swiftly as she dared.
The pedestrian street outside was full of Saturday shoppers. Esma melted into the crowd, only letting out her breath when she was certain the security guard was not going to shout after her to stop. The illicit chunk of plastic bored into her flesh with each step she took towards the bus stop.
Even seated at the back of the bus, Esma remained rigid with anxiety. As if there were security cameras on buses! Only in the silence of the room she shared with her two younger sisters did she dare shake the lipstick out of her sleeve, stroke the shiny case, slip the smooth, blood red lipstick out to admire the lusciousness of its colour, its unctuous taste and texture.
She shivered and touched it with the tip of her tongue. So many things were forbidden. The taste shot through her, a bolt of pleasure. The familiar pervading household smells of coriander and harissa evaporated, and her nostrils flared as she breathed in the cosmetic’s faint perfume. Red lipstick encapsulated all that was bright and exciting in the world outside. A world she was not allowed to enter.
The sound of the front door opening startled her, and she fumbled with the drawer, her drawer in the shared wardrobe, and pushed the glittering, fabulous object beneath a carefully folded pile of scarves and gloves.
Two days later, as she turned into her street coming back from school, a small figure leapt out of the entrance to her apartment block and ran towards her. Farida. Her face was pale, lips pinched, and her eyes stared, wide and fearful.
Esma knew. Her little sister didn’t need to tell her.
“Ommy found it. Abu is… wild.”
Esma stared into the distance, not seeing the apartment blocks, the paper blowing in the gutter, the grimy, anonymous cars that flicked past. Already the street belonged to the past. She smiled and hugged her sister, held her close for a moment. Then she turned and headed back to school. Someone among the advisors and social workers would know of a place where she could stay.