I hope you’re enjoying my work-in-progress, SEVEN DUDES. It makes me nervous to put my first draft out there for you to read, but at the same time, I know it can all change. This isn’t the final version. Posting my chapters is more about the challenge to “show your work,” as Austin Kleon says. (Fantastic book, by the way.) So, here I go again, showing my work!
A novel by Peg Cheng, Draft 1
Chapter 3: Sahar
Sunlight streamed through the dusty window and onto Sahar’s face. The bus rumbled on and filled the air with a dull, lulling sound. They passed a highway sign that said: Medford 162 miles.
Sahar pushed her sunglasses–large, round ones that covered half of her face–farther up her nose and pulled her floppy hat closer around her face. A diamond ring strung on a necklace bounced against her chest, and she tucked the ring in under her open collar.
Fields and fields of low trees stretched as far as her eyes could see. Almonds? No, pistachios. Definitely pistachios. Her eyes gleamed. As a child in Iran, she had spent hours cracking piles and piles of the delicious nut, getting them ready for cooking into rice, soup, with chicken, and her favorite, into the flaky pastry baklava. There were no pistachios as good as Persian pistachios.
Sahar didn’t need to look at her watch to know that it was lunchtime. Her stomach growled but no one could hear it above the din of chip bags being ripped open and the rustle of paper sacks opening up and revealing all kinds of things both savory and sweet.
Seated in front of her, a teen boy with a face like a minefield, tore open a gigantic bag of Doritos with his teeth. The boy next to him glugged Coke from a liter bottle. They dug their hands into the bag, grabbed mounds of flourescent orange triangles, and popped them in their mouths, crunching loudly. From the corner of her eye, Sahar watched the girl across the aisle pull gummy worms from a bag and dangle them into her mouth, sucking the sweet and sour coating off before chomping down. Behind her shoulder, she caught the smell of tangy dressing wafting from the humongous hoagie the large man behind her was dispatching down his gullet.
Everywhere on the bus, mouths chewed, throats swallowed, and lips smacked. Sahar resisted the overwhelming urge to clap both palms over her ears. She leaned her head against the window and closed her eyes.
“Hey.” A hand nudged her shoulder. She opened her eyes to see a handsome man leaning over the side of her seat. He held out a candy bar, a Snickers. “You want it?”
Sahar’s eyes narrowed behind her sunglasses and she shook her head no.
“I’m not going to eat it.” The man wagged the Snickers bar at her. “C’mon, take it.”
“No, thank you,” Sahar said.
The man tossed the bar at Sahar. It landed in her lap. He headed back down the aisle to his seat near the front of the bus. He glanced back at her and smiled before he sat down.
Sahar waited a good three minutes after the man turned back around. When she was sure he wasn’t going to look back at her, she picked up the bar and tore open the wrapper. Her fingers trembled as she brought the bar up to her face and sniffed it, breathing in the mixture of sweet chocolate and salty peanuts. Finally, she took a little bite and forced herself to chew slowly, like a grandmother with only half her teeth.
Every once in a while, she paused and gazed out the window or looked around the bus. Then she’d take another mouse-like bite.
It takes twenty minutes of chewing to signal to your brain that it’s full. Her husband had told her that and for some reason, she never forgot it. The candy bar didn’t last twenty minutes but it was close.
When she finished, she rolled up the wrapper into a tiny tube shape and put it in her pants pocket. She then pulled her hat a little tighter around her face, and leaned her head against the window, wondering what the stranger would want in return for his kindness.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel centered on the question, can enemies become friends? She is currently writing another novel that is a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1980s Seattle. Peg is also the founder of Prelaw Guru, a law school application consulting company, and the author of The No B.S. Guides for prelaw students.
Photo of Dina Shihabi from IMDb