The Hibiscus Thief


Each week, we pick a short fiction piece from our Fairlight Shorts archives to feature as our story of the week. This week, we’ve chosen a story about family by Erika Banerji.

Erika Banerji was born in Assam and grew up in New Delhi.

As a child Erika learnt to read and write Bengali and Hindi. At school she won prizes for her short stories written in Hindi and then at sixteen she won first prize in a national writing competition in English. She went on to study English Literature at the university of Delhi where, inspired by the study of Dickens and Austen and in particular the Brontës, she first began to dream of becoming a writer. She came to London in her early twenties, drawn by her love of English literature and to research nineteenth century Indian women writers who defied gender barriers and wrote in English for her PhD thesis. She went on to work as a journalist, book critic and newspaper columnist before deciding to write fiction full time. She is an alumnus of ‘The Faber Academy’ Writing a Novel Course and the London Library Emerging Writers Programme.

Erika’s short stories have been published in various journals. She has been listed for the Fish Short Story Prize, Plaza Prize, Lorian Hemingway, V. S Pritchett, Bridport Prize, Bristol PrizeBrick Lane Bookshop, Mslexia, London Short Story Prize and commended in the BBC Short Story Award. Her fiction has appeared in the anthology Same Same But Different published by Everything With Words and various prize anthologies.

‘The Hibiscus Thief’ follows a girl’s new relationship with her mother after her parents separate.



At the beginning of the summer of 1986, my parents separated. My mother and I left the flat on Gurusaday Road where I’d lived all my life, to stay with my grandparents on the opposite bank of the Hooghly River in the district of Shibpur. As we sat in the taxi, Ma told me that at the end of the holidays, I wasn’t going back to my school.

‘You’re only eleven,’ she said. ‘I think a bit of change will be good for you.’

‘So won’t we live here anymore?’

‘I need to figure things out first.’ She offered me a mint from her handbag. I didn’t really feel like it but took it anyway.

Ma hadn’t decided what we were going to do or where we were going to live. ‘Let’s just take a bit of time out.’

She smiled, and her smile was insincere and disquieted me a bit, so I turned away and watched as the city lights slipped past like another smear on the dirty window.

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