The sun rose at ten o’ clock in Kashgar¹. Russet red and dusty rose houses with arched windows and brightly colored wooden doors lined the streets. Motorcycles rolled up and down the roads and rumbled lowly and rhythmically, accompanied by dog barks and the cooing of pigeons who batted their frilly plumage against metal cages. A baker kneaded dough in front of his home, while his son stoked a fire in the pit of the tonur, a large clay oven. The first haggling of the day, between an old man and a seller of dried fruits, echoed through the neighborhood.

The streets grew narrower and steeper in the eastern part of the old city. Ruins of clay houses were scattered about, and the tan homes were squeezed together along winding alleyways. A small house stood at the top of a hill, pressed against an earthquake-damaged home that was on the verge of collapse. A family of five lived there: Nur, six years old, and his parents, grandfather, and baby sister. Though the house was rather plain, the thick, wooden front door was intricately carved and painted a rich mahogany color. A large red rug lay across the floor of the main room, and Nur liked to regularly relax by lying on his stomach and tracing the rug’s patterns, feeling the fibers of the rug brush softly against his fingertips.

The house was quiet lately. Nur’s father had not come home in nearly a month. It was an unusually long time, but he worked for Han farmers south of the city and was not always able to come home. Grandpa told Nur and his mother not to worry and to pray for his father’s safe return. Meanwhile, Grandpa carved wooden spoons to sell at the bazaar on Sundays. It was a rare craft, so he was always able to sell a decent amount. The family would walk to the bazaar after sunrise. Grandpa would chat with the other elders while Nur’s mother strolled around with his baby sister wrapped securely against her bosom, and Nur would find other children to run around the plaza with their arms outstretched, pretending to fly like pigeons.

Nur helped his grandfather prepare his goods in the morning. He pulled open a large white canvas sack and placed the spoons inside one by one until the bag swelled, and Grandpa tied a thick rope around the opening to keep the spoons from spilling out of the sack.

On the way out the door, Nur asked his grandfather, “When will my ata come home?”

The old man quickly pulled the boy inside and shut the door. Nur was unsettled when he saw his grandfather’s grave face. “Sometimes . . . ” he paused, then lowered his voice. “People are taken to a special school to be educated. You mustn’t speak of this anymore.”

Grandpa opened the heavy door again, and the sunlight illuminated his sad, gray eyes. Nur’s mother joined them with a little purse and the baby. Despite the baby’s cries and nearby sounds of pigeon coos and motorcycles, the walk felt tensely quiet. Nur began to feel restless and tried to occupy his mind by imagining what his father might be learning in school, hoping it was something fun, like geography. He liked looking at pictures and maps of other countries and imagining life outside of Kashgar.

The bazaar bustled with exciting chaos when they arrived. After Grandpa set out his spoons, Nur’s mother went to examine a basket filled to the brim with sweet, juicy peaches. Nur found one of his friends who frequented the bazaar and followed him around the edge of a fountain.

Opposite the two boys, a van with large speakers blasted a metallic voice that said, “The production and broadcasting of terrorist videos are strictly prohibited. Report terrorist and violent videos to local police.” Nur was not quite sure what it meant, but he always heard the metallic voice repeating the same phrases from speakers and vans all over the bazaar.

He stretched out his arms and rushed away from the fountain, speeding back toward his friend to encourage him to play. They raced each other throughout the plaza in front of the mosque, where they eventually halted to catch their breath. On the far steps of the mosque, a Han policeman interrogated a middle-aged man. The man pleaded, saying something about having a daughter, but the police grabbed him roughly by the arm and shoved him into one of the large vans patrolling the bazaar.

“My ata told me that the police take people to a place for education,” the boy whispered. “But they don’t always come back. Do you know anyone who got taken away?”

Nur gulped and did not say anything as he watched the van drive through the throng of people at the bazaar. He felt his heart drop into his stomach and twist until he felt sick.

“Let’s go look at the pigeons,” his friend suggested.

Nur followed the boy to the bird sellers, and coos and squawks filled their ears. Green, wire cages sat on top of one another, holding seven gray racing pigeons with beady orange eyes. They were packed tightly into one cage at Nur’s eye level and had just enough room to bob their heads up and down. Above them were two large Jacobins, one with silky black plumage and another with spots of white and a brown, ruffled mane. Colorful plastic rings sat around the birds’ feet, partially concealed by flowing feathers. Their pale eyes contracted as they pressed their beaks through the cage wires to warm their heads under a spot of sunlight. Nur tried to reach up to stroke the brown Jacobin, but neither he nor the bird could stretch far enough to reach the other. The bird pulled its head back into the cage and cooed helplessly.

Maya Bacelar’s short story “Where Can I Find You in Kashgar Bazaar” won first prize in the Seventh Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Maya, a New Jersey native, is a freshman in the BFA Design Program. She is of Cuban and Chinese descent. Maya likes experimental music, dosas, and her pet bunny, Ringo.

Judges Merlin Ural Rivera & Simon Van-Booy had this to say about Maya’s prize-winning story:  “‘Where Can I Find You in Kashgar Bazaar?’ is one of the most finely-crafted stories we’ve read in a long time. The story is brought to life with the sort of alchemy used by the great storytellers, where characters inhabit a landscape resurrected from the unresolved conflict of their own hearts. There is very little in this story that doesn’t have more than one meaning–especially the end.  Masterfully done.”