Exploring the art of prose


Stick Shift by Jawziya Zaman

Image is a color photograph of foggy mountains through the windshield of a car; title card for the new short, "Stick Shift," by Jawziya Zaman.

In “Stick Shift,” Jawziya Zaman reminds us that, beneath a story’s humming, multifaceted voice, quickly paced action, and sharp humor, often lies the writer’s exquisite control—a sense of care and nuance that allows for the acrobatics that ultimately rise to the surface, entertaining and enlightening us. As the story opens, Zaman’s protagonist, Naz, finds herself back in Pakistan after graduating from a US college. Unemployed and restless, her top priority isn’t gaining employment or reconnecting with family, but finding sex. Luckless with men, she pivots to embrace her bisexuality on a dating app, a decision that serves as the story’s inciting incident and propels this premise into brilliant new territory.

The core plot of “Stick Shift” drives forward via the connection between Naz and Nida, the older woman with whom Naz first clicks after turning her dating profile settings to “full-on gay.” Yet, this is no clean solution to Naz’s initial conflict: the tension only rises and explodes, with Zaman upending our expectations at each turn. Early on, Zaman writes, “The physical safety Naz felt while gay online dating was unprecedented. She didn’t have to plan for contingencies or worry that she might end up raped or dead in a ditch before dinner was over. She wouldn’t have to share her live location on WhatsApp with a team of women and report back at the end of the night.” But, this sense of relief does not last.

Nida makes Naz uncomfortable again and again, the narration showing the nauseating whiplash of having to constantly adjust and recalibrate our expectations, attractions, and confusions around what it means to compromise and how much we should allow ourselves to bend before breaking. The dark comedic tone Zaman creates in the face of the lurking disquiet that emerges between the two women offers much needed relief while also helping to bring both characters to life on the page. Naz performs a series of negotiations and choices in much the same way Zaman makes artistic choices that allow this story to be both propulsive and meditative, disconcerting yet funny, highly specific yet relatable.

“Stick Shift’s” ability to throw a spotlight on issues of control between two people, regardless of their gender or sexual preferences, is only possible thanks to Zaman’s control, which, interestingly, comes down to her ability to exercise her right to artistic choice.  —CRAFT


After the texts fizzled out with the fifth guy in six weeks, Naz finally gave up and changed her app settings to full-on gay. Self-cannibalism would’ve been less painful than having a conversation with these one-neuron fools and she couldn’t do it anymore. Besides, the gay thing wasn’t dishonest. She’d had crushes on girls in school and identified as bisexual for years now, even though she’d never pursued her interest proactively. Men hovered at the lip like flies, small, sticky, and ubiquitous, so she’d ended up straight by default—permanently wistful and defensive like all the other bisexual women she knew. It was time to make better life choices. But the environment posed serious challenges.

“Bro,” her friend Aisha said. “You think it’s difficult for het women like you in Karachi? What a joke.”

Naz was at Chai Master with Aisha and Zainab. The tea was crap but it was the only dhaba where they were nice to the stray dogs and you could smoke your joints out in the open without being harassed. Aisha took a sip and made a face. “I matched with this chick after like, months of nothing on Tinder,” she said. “We’re getting along great. But this one day she’s talking shit on a recent one-night stand, and I find out it’s my older sister.”

Zainab snort-laughed so hard, tea spurted out of her nose. Naz corkscrewed a tissue and stuck it up her left nostril. Zee slapped her hand away. “I’m not a het,” Naz protested uselessly. She’d just returned to Pakistan after completing a degree in women’s studies from a US liberal arts college, and the whole time she was there, Zee and Aisha mocked her impassioned sermons about bi-erasure and stigma. Neither of them had been awarded scholarships from the colleges they’d applied to, so unlike Naz, they’d gotten their degrees in Karachi. You’re in America for fuck’s sake—what problems, what stigma? Aisha would holler at her every summer when she came home for the break.

Zee took a long drag and reminded Naz through a cloud of smoke that the queers of the Islamic Republic had actual problems, the gravest of which wasn’t the threat of familial estrangement or violence or death, but of lifelong celibacy. It was numbers, pure and simple. Of the handful of dateable human beings in Karachi, if you tossed out the hets and adjusted for age, politics, interests, and hang-ups, you were left with maybe seven people in the city, all of whom were already your best friends or your exes or both.

Zee, who played fast and loose with the rules, twizzled her currently maroon hair around her fingers. “Lower the shit out of your standards,” she instructed. “Up your age range. Go with the flow.” She’d just wrapped up another fling with her ex-girlfriend’s ex, and was definitely getting more ass than any of the other gays, though none of them fully understood how and from where. She was vague about the details, the way friends getting laid more than you always are.

“If you overthink dating in the sexually repressed republic, it gets bleak,” Zee added with a pointed look at Aisha, the champion overthinker who wouldn’t date a woman her sister had already banged.

Naz considered the facts on the ground. She was twenty-three and restless and unemployed and had no prospects of escaping to a foreign country for sex and a master’s degree anytime soon. The men of the country were interchangeable caricatures, a joke. Her extended family was making the usual marriage inquiries and her mother looked like she wanted to cry all the time. Naz needed some fun in her life, and also, she desperately needed some bisexual street cred.

She logged back into the app fully gay and took Zee’s advice not to overthink it.

Her friends weren’t kidding. It was a tragic arithmetic. That night, Naz swiped left on fifteen profiles: ten were women she knew way too much about because they were all Aisha and Zee’s exes; two were Aisha and Zee; and the remaining three had dumpster-fire reputations you pretended not to know about when you ran into them at parties with the extended social circle. So Naz upped her age limit to forty-five, lowered her standards, then lowered her standards some more. She lay sprawled on her bed with her head hanging off and a giddy kind of apathy overcame her. She swiped right like it was going out of style. She swiped on the hot mountain climber, and the one who mentioned her preference for threesomes under a picture of the Quran. She swiped on profiles without pictures and bored housewives and a woman whose only listed interest was pizza. Sure! Why not! Six minutes later, the app told her she’d run out of lesbians so she tossed her phone beside her pillow and slept.

In the morning, two DMs. Her pulse quickened. She ignored the first one and went straight to the hot mountain climber, the masc-of-center forty-two-year-old with the messy crew cut and that casual lumberjack look that made Naz’s knees wobble. She hadn’t thought the older woman would be interested given their age difference, but she’d swiped right on her anyway.

Wow that Cancer-Gemini cusp is an intense one! Wink emoji.

Zodiac banter, Naz thought. Promising.

You have no idea. The contradictions are killing me. Crying face emoji.

The hot one told Naz her real name was Nida. They began texting, and found they still had stuff to say to each other after the lame boilerplate conversations about hobbies and Netflix ran out a few days later. Aisha and Zee went to work stalking Nida on social media and when they found no accounts, public or private, concluded it was either a Gen X thing or a serial killer thing. Naz checked her phone frequently because Nida was an avid texter at all hours of day and night. She was flattered that this older woman with actual life experience and a scary executive job in risk analysis found her so interesting. And when Naz had nothing new to say, she’d just respond with memes of waddling penguins or horny dolphins or belligerent geese, and this seemed to satisfy Nida’s desire for near-constant engagement.

Since texting was going so well, Nida suggested they speak on the phone. Naz was momentarily stressed because the only people she spoke to on the phone were her parents, but she summoned up her courage and made the call. The first words Nida said were, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Naz was delighted. The cadence of Nida’s voice was dialed to permanent flirtation, insinuation in every syllable even when she recounted mundane errands she ran that day or some stupid mistake her assistant made at work. Naz daydreamed about late-night drives and rumpled bedsheets while Nida blathered on; she imagined being naked in the older woman’s bed with the door flung wide open for all to see. Nida had a swanky seventh-floor apartment all to herself and didn’t have to play lie-and-sneak with her aging parents. Naz pictured having her own apartment too, one that overlooked the sea in a city where the sea wasn’t tinged a toxic green and didn’t smell like fermenting sewage. She furnished this imaginary apartment in her head, and herself in shorts and a sleeveless crop she’d never be able to wear at home. She’d have parties that lasted till dawn and have a new person in her bed every night. Is that how Nida spent her free time? The thought of all that freedom was a wild turn-on.

Nida’s flirtations had a bossy edge, a compliment followed by a demand. “You have the perfect figure for a sari,” she drawled on the phone. “Put one on and send me a picture.” It was an odd demand but also exciting because it was delivered in that unbearably sexy voice. “It’s not odd,” Aisha pointed out. “Older desi butches are all channeling Dilip Kumar. They’re into the black-and-white heroine aesthetic—kajal and saris and jooras and shit.”

Everyone would be lost at sea without Aisha’s talent for dispensing historical context at crucial moments. But Naz wasn’t interested in playing a tragic 1960s Bollywood actress so she consulted Zee, who was texting her in all caps every night shouting for updates.

Naz typed, Yo she’s kinda bossy but it’s hot coz I’m not reading years of patriarchal conditioning into it?   

Zee, eternally unimpressed, texted back, It’s her pics. A+ on thinking with your dick bro. Anyway go MEET her then see.

Fair enough.

On the phone to Nida, she said, “I’ll put on a sari if you do.”

Nida burst out laughing and said, “You have a lot to learn, babe. That’s not my vibe.”


Naz felt a zing all the way down to her toes. She sat up. Zee was right, it was definitely time to meet. “Do you want to hang out tonight? We could go for a walk in Seaview?” She hopped off her bed and went to her dresser to pat some foundation on an emerging zit on her forehead.

“Are you scared to be alone with me?” Nida asked. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

The physical safety Naz felt while gay online dating was unprecedented. She didn’t have to plan for contingencies or worry that she might end up raped or dead in a ditch before dinner was over. She wouldn’t have to share her live location on WhatsApp with a team of women and report back at the end of the night. The idea that she might fear for her physical safety so much that she needed familial hoards by the sea to protect her from another woman was absurd. She shrieked with laughter and fell back on her bed.

“Scared? Of you? God no! Obviously not!”

There was a long pause.

“Oh,” Nida said. “Okay.”

A deflated silence followed. Had she offended Nida? Did Nida want her to feel apprehensive about their first meeting because it meant Naz took her seriously? Naz was thinking of how to quip her away out of the awkwardness when Nida recovered and said, “Great! In that case, how about if I pick you up now and we get an early lunch instead?”

Naz didn’t mind so much that the Seaview plan was dismissed without further discussion. Lunch indoors was probably a better first date choice than a walk by stenchy Clifton Beach. But—the pickup? Too much pressure.

“Sure! Name the place and I’ll meet you there,” Naz said.

“I’ll pick you up,” Nida replied.

“Nah don’t worry about it, I’ll drive.”

There was a pause.

“I thought you weren’t afraid of being alone with me.”

“I’m not!”

“Then I’ll pick you up, babe.”

Naz rolled her eyes. She didn’t understand why the only two options here were to be dependent on Nida or afraid of her. But then she heard Zee’s voice in her head, don’t overthink it bro, so she tried a fallback change of tack, the whine-and-pout combination.

“What iffff…” she said, all coy and lilting. “What if I picked you up instead?” And then, the pout: “I can be in the driver’s seat too, you know….”

It worked. Nida laughed and said, “Let’s just meet there.” Naz released a breath she didn’t realize she was holding and her annoyance was replaced with a twinge of guilt for assuming the worst about Nida. She hung up, impatient for the date, and went to her closet. She’d wear something understated but sexy. Something easy to slip off.

They’d decided on the interminably boring but consistently good lunch place on Twenty-Sixth Street, and Naz saw Nida as soon as a waiter opened the door for her. Goddamn. She was taller, and the crew cut was even scruffier and hotter in person. They said hello and hugged quickly.

“How was the drive over? Any traffic?” Nida asked.

Naz reminded Nida she lived only fifteen minutes away and the traffic wasn’t so bad in this area, anyway. Nida didn’t say anything in response but gestured at Naz to sit, and the waiter to bring them chai. Nida pulled a cigarette from the Dunhill pack on the table, and as they stared at their menus in silence, Naz realized with surprise that Nida, for all her phone swagger, was radiating nervousness. How adorable! Naz felt managerial, important. She’d been on heaps of dates where she’d successfully forged her way through the thicket of people’s nerves.

“I think I’ll have the grilled red snapper,” she announced, and then she took charge and recounted funny anecdotes from her day, showed Nida a picture she’d taken of her dog leaping into the bathtub this morning, and noted which jokes Nida laughed at. When Nida’s shoulders visibly relaxed, she interspersed her anecdotes with light personal questions that required minor introspection but weren’t invasive. In Nida’s enthusiastic answers, Naz noticed how she talked with her hands and the way she slid her middle finger in slow circles around the rim of her glass when saying something especially serious. Naz’s skin grew warm.

She liked Nida’s performative combat boots in the Karachi heat, and how Nida leaned back in her chair and spread her legs like a rude man on public transport. Nida took up space without thinking about it, and Naz relished these new discoveries. In turn, Nida was taking her in too, making eye contact for longer but also slipping her eyes down to Naz’s mouth when she talked. When Naz tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, Nida said, “Don’t. It looks perfect the way it is.” The compliment emboldened Naz, and she blossomed in her own sexiness and the warmth of knowing that she’d single-handedly brightened the forecast of what might have been a B minus date. She pictured the two of them from across the room and how good they looked together. Her hair was shampoo-commercial quality today. She leaned forward and tilted her head and looked into Nida’s eyes, so glad she’d worn her favorite push-up bra on a whim, the pink-and-gray one.

The waiter came to take their orders.

“The pasta alfredo chicken for me,” Nida said. “And the grilled red snapper for the madam,” she continued and gestured in Naz’s direction.

The madam? Naz blinked. The only other person who ordered for her in restaurants was Sameer chacha, the sleaziest of the uncles, during inescapable monthly dinners with the whole family. She and her female cousins rolled their eyes at how he called them madam to the waiters but insisted on long full-frontal hugs instead of the quick, awkward side-hug reserved for family members of the opposite sex. She’d mashed her lip horribly on the button of his kameez the last time he’d pressed her face into his chest. Nida’s sudden lapse into desi-uncle behavior was confusing. Naz made a mental note to discuss with Aisha and smiled a little too brightly at the waiter—See? I’m not a madam!—and thanked him as he refilled her empty glass with water.

“Ma’am, we don’t have the snapper today,” the waiter said.

“Oh, it’s fine. I’ll have—” but Nida stopped her and stared at the waiter.

“What do you mean, bhai? I’m a regular here, and you always have the snapper.”

The waiter cleared his throat. “Ma’am, sorry, we’ve run out today. But there are other options you can consider?”

Nida’s voice rose. “Aray nahi yaar, madam wants the snapper. What do you mean you ran out? Who’s the chef?” She threw the menu down.

The waiter shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Ma’am, actually…” he said but then trailed off.

“See if you can arrange it,” Nida said and waved the waiter away impatiently.

He stood there in silence and cast uncertain glances at them both.

Naz was appalled. It was Sameer chacha all over again minus the bad breath and the pubic beard that poked your forehead when he lunged at you. Talk about killing the vibe. Naz concluded this whole date was a huge mistake and she’d get a headache and leave right after the check came. Nida in the meantime was giving the waiter a murderous look, as though challenging him to disagree with her.

Naz finally jumped in. “Please please, it’s fine, I’ll uh, I’ll have the steak. Medium rare. Salad on the side. Thank you!” she said with another shoe-polish smile.

The waiter scribbled on his pad and left in a hurry.

Naz glared at Nida. “Did you want him to run down to Keamari and go fishing for my lunch?” she demanded. “I can order for myself, I’m not a child. And I don’t care whether it’s the snapper or something else. It’s just food,” she said.

Nida flinched. Her hands tightened around her glass and she dropped her gaze to the table. “I’m so sorry,” she said and sucked in a ragged breath.

“I just…” Nida stopped.

Naz took a sip of her water and waited.

“I just wanted to make sure everything was perfect,” Nida finally burst out. “I really want you to have a good time. That’s all.”

Naz saw her deep-set eyes darken with fear and understood for the first time that Nida was doing everything she could to impress Naz, whose anger was replaced with a familiar honeyed certainty, a loosening of limbs that told her she had Nida. She didn’t need to fluff her hair or show her cleavage or pedal through conversation topics to fill the silence.

She’d had Nida from the start.

Naz held the older woman’s gaze as she reached over her wrist to take a cigarette from the open Dunhill pack. Her hand brushed Nida’s. She lit the cigarette and took a languid drag.

“I’m having,” she said without breaking eye contact, “a great time.”

“You’re so sexy,” Nida breathed.

The afternoon flew by easily after that, the way it does when you’re armed with the fantastic certainty that you’re going to be naked with someone very soon. There were no more snags in conversation, no awkward pauses. The food was good. Naz let Nida pay without protest because she knew well enough by now that there was no point in offering. When they walked down to the parking lot, Nida’s hand on the small of her back made her skin tingle. Nida walked her to her car and waited as she got in.

“Of course you drive stick,” Nida observed.

“Why of course?”

“Control,” Nida said. She smirked at Naz but then her mouth softened into a smile before she turned away and headed to her car.

Naz felt she was on the verge of understanding something about Nida, some deep-seated insecurity that could only be soothed by feminine capitulation disguised as indulgence, the sweet perfumey brand of it so easy to employ. Well too bad, Nida wasn’t going to get it this time.

“Yeah, so?” Naz said rudely.

Nida looked over her shoulder and called out, “I’ll drop you a pin, see you at my place.”


Naz turned the key in the ignition and watched Nida’s receding back, the confident strut and the graceful slope of her shoulders. Naz thought of antelope all of a sudden, a beautiful galloping herd, their flanks glistening in the afternoon sun. No one’s perfect, she reasoned as she backed out of the parking lot. She stopped the car briefly to text her parents a lie about where she’d be for the next several hours, and then followed the pin that popped up on her screen a minute later.

The elevator door had barely opened onto Nida’s floor before her hands were circling Naz’s waist, her mouth sliding down Naz’s neck. In the apartment, Nida excused herself to go to the bathroom and Naz used the interruption to catch her breath and assess the surroundings. Clean lines, a minimalist aesthetic, and tall lamps throwing warm pools of light across the room. A blue-and-gray theme. Naz stared out the living room window at plunging views of the city and was momentarily disoriented by the series of maneuvers that led to this moment, the ease with which she played this game. On a whim, she pulled out her phone to text Zee and Aisha her location but then the bathroom door creaked shut and she heard footsteps and the click of the living room lights being switched off. They were in the dark. Are you afraid to be alone with me? Nida had asked. Possibly yes, Naz thought. But it was too late now. Nida was behind her, turning her around and kissing her softly—exactly the way she liked.

She had no idea how long they stood there in the living room, their mouths first tentative against each other’s, then curious, then hungry but never overpowering. She fell into it, unused to the deep quiet in her head instead of the cacophony of straight women’s voices she usually heard right about now, all of them lamenting the same things. Dating men had taught Naz that the first make-out session was akin to a dress rehearsal in which the lead stumbles in drunk and hasn’t bothered to learn the lines. If he knew how to read cues—your unresponsive body, your mouth closing against the assault of the wriggling, sluglike tongue—he might improve, but there was really no guarantee. Naz leaned into Nida’s body, and the older woman’s hand was firm around her neck as she walked Naz backward to her room and pushed her gently onto the bed. Nida stood at the foot of it and stared at Naz unhurriedly, like they had all the time in the world. Naz exhaled. What was this reverent consideration, this unbearable tension?

There was no more insecurity in Nida’s demeanor. How many women had she slept with, anyway? In Naz’s mind a tangle of limbs unfurled in slow motion, bodies splayed out and curled around each other, Nida in the center of it all. She was incredibly turned on but also acutely aware for the first time of her lack of relevant experience. She looked away. “I’ve never done this with a woman before,” she said. She didn’t like being stripped of the protective garb of her glibness in daylight, her witty banter. She closed her eyes and wished her wild hammering heart would shut up already.

Above her, she heard that sexy, low laugh so she opened her eyes and saw nothing but warmth in Nida’s face, and amusement.


Oh, that zing again all the way down to her toes. Nida joined her on the bed, stroked her hair, and brought her mouth close to Naz’s ear. “I got you,” she murmured and then Naz was away on a cloud because it turned out Nida in bed was a clever gymnast, nothing like Nida fumbling around in the restaurant like an idiotic uncle trying to impress. She had a prowling animal confidence with Naz’s body, which she moved and turned and twisted like silk, and Naz thought they must have looked like one of those shiny Insta ads for aerial yoga.

Nida’s tongue found a spot behind her knees, stroked the curve of her waist, and trailed kisses along the sharp lines of her shoulder blades. Her attention to every inch of Naz’s skin was an epiphany. Every new sensation she drew out was a glimpse into the future, into possibility: What else could these bodies do? What could possibly come next? For the first time in bed, Naz wasn’t skipping beats. She wasn’t relinquishing herself to the bewildering speed of a male body halfway through a race for which she’d barely woken up. Nida used her whole body to pleasure Naz—her forearm, the heel of her palm, the tips of her fingers, the smooth length of her thigh, her knee. And who knew about the inventiveness of the tongue, its astonishing versatility? Curved, flat, soft, firm, long, slow—a human Swiss army knife, Naz concluded in wonder. Every time she caught her breath and collected herself enough to try and return the favor, Nida would hold her wrists down, press her back into the bed, and begin the sweet torture all over again while murmuring filthy little nothings into her ear. Holy fuck, Naz thought while panting like a dehydrated dog in the June heat, I need to text Zee.

Hours later, when Naz thought they’d covered every conceivable variation on the theme, when she thought she’d died at least seventeen times over, when every inch of her body was wrung out with pleasure-induced exhaustion, Nida brushed her lips along Naz’s ear and whispered three magic words no one had ever said to her before.

“I have dildos.”

In the plural!

What a time to be alive.

“Yes,” Naz whispered through disbelief, through laughter. “Yesyesyesyes.”

Afterward, Naz lay limp on the bed, her noodly legs flung across Nida’s, and contemplated permanent lesbianism. She wanted to crawl into her own bed and sleep for a week. Nida traced her fingers along Naz’s arm. “I’m so glad you didn’t run away back home after lunch,” she murmured.

“Oh, me too.”

“I was nervous you might, since you were so insistent on driving yourself. You really didn’t need to, you know. I’ll pick you up next time.”

Naz groaned and pushed Nida’s hand away. “Why are you so obsessed?” she demanded. After the mythic sex they’d just had, she couldn’t believe they were right back here, debating drivers and automobiles.

“With what?” Nida looked confused.

“Cars! Gears! Who drives! Who cares?”

“Easy, easy!” Nida chuckled. “Calm down.”

“I am calm.” Naz turned her back to Nida.

“Why are women so damn moody?” Nida said and smacked Naz’s butt.

Naz jerked away. “Obviously because the moon affects our wandering uteruses and estrogen levels,” she snapped.

“Are you about to get your period, babe?”

“Ugh, shut up.” Naz shook her head. What was this?

Nida’s voice became studiously casual. “Look, all I’m saying is, I like taking care of the ladies. I don’t get why young women today let your angry feminism get in the way of a little bit of chivalry.”

The words went rushing through Naz and settled hotly in her gut like the beginning of food poisoning. She heard a demented hyena cackle and Zee’s voice in her head: Brooo you kinda just fucked Sameer chacha huh?” She sucked in her lips to keep from screaming out loud, and Nida, who was still wearing her strap-on, chose that exact moment to grab Naz, turn her over, and squeeze her in a full-body bear hug. Naz felt the weight of it against her stomach, hard and slick, and a miserable churn of implications she’d been conveniently side-stepping all evening.

Just one perfect date.

Was it too much to ask?

And then she couldn’t breathe anymore because Nida’s hand was pressed to the back of her head, and her face was buried in Nida’s chest and there were raw steaks sliding down her brain, a quivering avalanche of red behind her eyelids, and the words medium rare, beta! said out loud, cheerfully and on repeat in Sameer chacha’s voice.

Everything was ruined. She had to get out.

“Ugh, mosquito!” she squealed and shoved Nida away to get up and scratch her foot, which hadn’t been bitten by a mosquito.

“Hey!” Nida exclaimed.

“I gotta go, it’s late,” Naz said and leapt from the bed to get dressed, her back to Nida again. She ignored the resentful silence emanating from the older woman who followed her out of the apartment and accompanied her downstairs in a final thankless gesture of so-called chivalry. She could feel Nida’s eyes boring holes into her back on the long walk across the parking lot. Naz catapulted herself into the car and turned the key in the ignition, but there was a loud gagging sound before the car lurched forward horribly and shut itself off.

She’d parked in first gear and forgotten to move to neutral before starting it up.

“Goddammit,” she said.

“Wow, babe. You suck at stick.” Nida’s voice dripped with malevolence.

“Oh, like you’re such a pro,” Naz shot back.

Nida smirked. “I don’t recall you complaining.”

“I’M FUCKING GREAT AT STICK!” Naz yelled through her open window, not caring that the guard at the gate had turned around to stare. “AND I look fucking great in a sari! But you’re never gonna see it, you fucking Dilip Kumar-wannabe!”

“Psycho,” Nida muttered, but she looked angry, and possibly a little afraid.

Naz didn’t reply. She stepped on the accelerator much harder than necessary and sped away to Zee’s place to autopsy the past nine hours of her life and rework her dating strategy. This new environment, she saw, definitely posed some challenges. But maybe she’d reply to the Islamic threesome woman anyway and see how that went.


JAWZIYA ZAMAN is a writer and editor in Karachi, Pakistan. Her work has appeared in Inklette Magazine, The Aleph Review, Flash Fiction Online, Himal Southasian, Dissent, Psychopomp Magazine, and others. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @jawziyazaman.


Featured image by Devon Janse Van Rensburg, courtesy of Unsplash.


Author’s Note

There’s an underlying assumption that stories about queer brown people in Muslim countries will feature loss and melancholy, but I wasn’t interested in writing that story. I wanted to write about queer women who are waggish and flippant and make foolish decisions. I didn’t plan “Stick Shift,” or outline my way through the plot or the central characters. The story began as a routine journal entry that quickly slipped out of my control and into a series of fabrications and conversations narrated to me by a chorus of familiar, well-loved voices from my life in Karachi. Instead of returning to the journal entry, I told myself to follow the chatter. I did that for a couple of scenes and didn’t pause to think about plot points or narrative strategies. I didn’t feel compelled to stop and edit after every couple of paragraphs, which is unusual because editing is always my first impulse and I always succumb to it.

After I’d cranked out a few messy scenes, I realized the narrator of the story kept bending toward the main character, Naz. Was that allowed? Would it frustrate a reader not to be able to differentiate Naz’s thoughts from a narrator who was somewhat fused with her? The internal editor shook herself awake and peered at me sternly over her glasses—I needed permission before I could continue in this mode. So I stopped writing and did a bunch of research. I stumbled onto something called free indirect speech and it was a revelation. Naturally, instead of returning to the story with permission slip in hand, I fell down a procrastinatory vortex and emerged many days later equipped with invaluable tips on narrative strategies from two books: How Fiction Works by James Wood, and The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani. I recommend both for all things craft related.

When I’m finally confident about voice, the structure of the story often comes together without too much trouble. In this case, slim pickings lead to decisions that culminate in a hugely appalling realization for Naz. I also wanted there to be an object in the story that symbolized the toxic masculinity at play throughout the interactions between Naz and her date. I drive stick and have been at the receiving end of many predictable but amusing comments about it, so the blowup at the end presented itself in a flash of inevitability and giggles. The effort of writing is always painful for me, but I felt an easy fondness for “Stick Shift” all the way through—probably because the narrative voice of the story, in its cheerful refusal to be taken too seriously, represents one of my favorite things about home.


JAWZIYA ZAMAN is a writer and editor in Karachi, Pakistan. Her work has appeared in Inklette Magazine, The Aleph Review, Flash Fiction Online, Himal Southasian, Dissent, Psychopomp Magazine, and others. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @jawziyazaman.