The China Tea Set

By Aisha Ashraf

November 16, 2020

The China Tea Set

The china tea set, wrapped in tissue paper, nestles in its warped cardboard box on the shelf inside my mother’s wardrobe. She draws it down gently, as though not to wake it, places it on the bed, slides the lid off.

“It-th lovely,” I coo, breathy sibilants whistling through the gap she says my adult teeth will fill. I study her face, mirroring its rapt expression while she reveals the dainty pieces one by one, as though sharing something of great import or value.

Scratching absently at a scabbed knee, I'm unsure what’s so special, but much of what I do holds little interest for her, so I contrive to make this thrillingly collusive moment last as long as possible. I reach out to skate a dirty fingernail along the rim of a jug no bigger than an eggcup. Wildflowers rendered in brushstrokes delicate as eyelashes speckle its glossy surface. Light penetrates the bone-thin walls, flooding its interior with the milky purity of a nursing baby’s yawn.

“Can we play with it?”

It’s the wrong thing to say. She hesitates, the susurrus of indrawn breath and tissue paper the only sounds in the room. Then,

“Not yet," she moves to cover the creamy glaze, "they’re for when you’re older.”

With great tenderness, she tucks each piece back into the box and replaces the lid, cocooning her darlings once again in darkness; waiting for the day I won’t damage or disappoint, protecting a perfection she fails to find in me.


An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Her work has featured in The Huffington Post, The Word Weaver, Global Living Magazine, and the UK’s Independent and Daily Telegraph. Contact her at


Photo by Caleb Lucas courtesy of Unsplash

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