By Jordan Naseem
10th grade, Liberty High School, MO

With lines from “Gig Workers Are Being Stabbed, Beaten, and Abused in India” by Varsa Bansal, a Pulitzer Center reporting project

Content warning: This poem contains violence drawn from the news story to which it responds.

Clicks as I turn the keys
Splutters as the engine revs
Coughs as the exhaust in the pipe frees
Purrs as the car longs to be out on the road

A Muslim child in a Hindu country
Most customers are warm and welcoming,
But the ones who are angry
That I am Muslim, I can just see

I consider myself lucky
They have been letting go
They fired many employees
But I am still here, so I am still free

Sure, customers hurtle abuses at me
And I listen to them all, eardrums like steel
As they berate me, or collect their food only after I leave,
For being a Muslim child in a Hindu country

There are those that will just tell me
They don’t want a Muslim delivery
They don’t want someone like me
Not in this Hindu country

Cracks as the glass in the windshield is freed
Splutters as the brick hits my chest
Coughs as the wind is knocked out of me
Causing a detour in my delivery

They were right, I see
My friends who said
Who told me
Not to make 10 PM deliveries

But I need the money to be free
I make a hard right at 10:23
Slamming into a light pole
On the side of the street
And almost knocking the lights out of me

On the side of the road in Delhi
I am pulled from my car
Head throbbing aggressively
And unsure what will happen to me

I listen to what they have to tell me
As they force me to chant a Hindu expression
And berate me
For being a Muslim child in this Hindu country

I tell them I only wish to be free
That they can rob and take
And steal what they want from me
Only if they let me be free

Eyes glazed like pottery
Wondering if ever
I, a Muslim child in a Hindu country,
Was free

Grunt as the knife enters my side
Squelch as it turns like the
Clicks of the key
Cough like the exhaust from the pipe
Wishing to be free
Wanting to be free
Why can’t they see that they’re the same as me?

Jordan is set to be a Sophomore at Liberty High School in Missouri in the fall. A kid with a strong sense of justice, she believes in fighting for what’s right, as well as the power of words. With the right words, anyone can move any heart, for better or for worse. They can stir people to action. Words call attention to those who suffer so that they can be helped to heal. Her favorite poem is “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy, which she fell in love with after picking up a dusty American and British poetry book that was being used as a prop in a show. She aspires to move people like the first few lines moved her back in sixth grade. For, after all, she believes that “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” (O’Shaughnessy, 1-2)

Read more winning entries from the 2023 Fighting Words Poetry Contest.