In Bikram Sharma’s newest work, this week’s New Voices entry, Asif notices a pain in his testicle during a conversation with his wife about her job. Tension and dread lurk beneath this expertly crafted narrative about masculinity.
His uncle had been an electrician. Asif had learnt from him in his childhood during the year he’d come to live with the family. He’d sometimes accompanied his uncle to other people’s houses, hefting his toolbox up flights of stairs or aiming the light of a torch into a fuse box. There was something pleasing about repair work, watching his uncle solve a problem with his rough hands so that devices whirred back to life. People were so grateful when things returned to normal.
Uzma was talking about her upcoming review when Asif noticed the pain. It was the dull kind which has no beginning and could’ve been throbbing away inside his body for a long time. An ordinary ache, except it was in his left testicle.
Are you listening to me? Uzma asked.
She clanged the spatula against the frying pan and used the broad side of the blade to turn the vegetables, which hissed in the heat. Her neck shone. He handed her a kitchen towel and she pushed past him.
How many times do I have to tell you we need a fan in here? Just because you keep the window closed doesn’t mean I should suffer. It’s so stuffy, I can hardly breathe.
I’ll take a look at this soon, promise.
He flipped the switch of the plug point closest to him. It was giving them problems and he’d been meaning to inspect it before purchasing a fan. Summer was approaching. Temperatures were already in the mid-thirties.
Uzma stuck her head inside the freezer and muttered to the boxes of frozen mince, This is my reward.
After dinner she sat down to mark homework. He normally spent this time reading sections on soft skills in business from the textbooks his company produced, ever since Uzma suggested it could improve his employability. But this evening he visited medical websites. He learnt the various terms associated with pain in the testicles, and went to bed thinking about discomfort and tenderness and what they might mean as symptoms.
How’s your confidence? Uzma asked.
He peered into the darkness of their bedroom. Meaning?
Wasn’t that what you were reading? The importance of self-confidence and communication in the workplace?