A chronicle of festive fervency

I had been sitting behind the steering wheel of my car, head resting on my hand, the front two windows open, since the last 10 minutes. The air around me was thick with excitement and everything, from the traffic on the roads to the confines of my house, was in a state of tumult. Eid was just days away and it seemed, just like it had always been that everyone postponed their shopping till the very last week. Of course, this was nothing unusual in a huge metropolitan city like Karachi. Here, odd was the new even.

It was sometime after 12 p.m. People occasionally threw an antagonized glance up at the sun, and it defiantly glared back, even more ablaze. Everywhere the temperatures were running high and tolerance was consistently decreasing. On the boundaries of the roads were vendors or thailay walay, selling a variety of juices, ice-creams, popcorns, gol gappay and the mouthwatering French fries, which nobody in their right minds would ever pass by without giving a second glance to. Ah yes, if not shopping, more than half of the people were around the stalls, filling up their tummies as if it was their last day on earth.

I had no intention of wasting my day in this heat, hunting for a pair of new sandals, which I didn’t even desire to buy in the first place. It was solely my mother-in-law’s wish that I wear a new pair of sandals on this Eid, as according to her, “This would be your first Eid with us, you should look fantastic and absolute gorgeous from head to toe.” No matter how much I protested that it would be an utter waste of money and I had already bought like 5 pairs of new sandals (against my will, of course) for my wedding, which was 4 months back, the old woman just wouldn’t budge. Alright, I know she cares about me with all her heart, just like a true mother, but these were the kind of arguments I used to have with my own mom, all the time. And this was definitely my fate that I had to spend the rest of my life, hunting for shoes and clothes a week before the occasion, when the old women finally noticed that I wasn’t prepared at all.  My second mom, that’s how I’d like to refer to my mother-in-law from now on, was in no state of getting up from her beloved rocking chair and leaving her knitting needles alone for one hour. Ergo, in the end, with much despair and an irresistible longing for the coolness of my room, I ended up driving – alone – to this huge shopping mall.

I decided to get out of the car and get over with this annoying duty as fast as I could. Finding the perfect sandal size for me is yet another issue. Back in the days when I used to go shopping with my own parents, it was a Cinderella-sort-of-hassle. My feet are… okay, I’ll just say it – small. It is a tragedy that is not a single more dignified term reserved for people who have feet like me! We used to spend hours, running from shop to shop, finding sandals that would fit me perfectly. And then there is another thing: I just wouldn’t set for anything less and therefore, I wouldn’t buy a “flat” sandal. Thus the hunt began again to buy a perfect sized pair of 3 inch platform heels. No wonder, this infrequent but entirely draining search, developed a kind of contempt for footwears inside me. Just for the record, I’m not to be blamed for this hate it is the nature’s fault. And now, I was dreading this trip because of the same reason.

I walked towards the entrance of the mall, at the same time, thinking of some reason to delay or completely cancel this search when my eyes fell on a young girl, aged almost 10. She was dressed in filthy clothes, probably the dirtiest kid on the streets I had ever seen. Her hair was light brown with streaks of golden color and she had green eyes, confirming that she was a Pathan descendent. My eyes saw the yearn dripping from her eyes to her body language, to enter the mall and have a look at the unknown world inside. But of course, the security guards being the toughest and the roughest, kept her almost 20 feet away from the gleaming glass doors. As occupied I was with my current dilemma, my eyes fell on her feet. The shabbiest piece of plastic (or was that rubber?) partitioned the ground beneath her and the soles of her feet.  I was struck with a sudden idea and I approached that young girl with a new spark.

“Hey, would you like a new pair of sandals?” I asked her in Urdu, hoping she’d understand. She didn’t say anything & just looked at me with wide eyes, clearly bewildered by my abrupt boldness. “Listen, I’ll take you inside with me and I’ll buy you a new pair of sandals… as an Eid treat.” I added with a smile. She smiled back. Win.

We entered the mall, the guards looked at me suspiciously but not daring to stop me. You can say, I was resolute that I won’t spend the money on myself when I didn’t need it, period. There won’t be any further arguments about it and who ever stands up against me or opposes me would face my wrath. Okay not exactly my wrath but more like my stubbornness. Anyway, as we made our way inside, I was suddenly aware of all the glances we were attracting. “Oh come on, she is a human too,” I tried to convey this message by means of my eye to a totally burger woman. This was unbearable and disappointing. I looked at the little girl; her eyes were looking at everything but the people. She was beyond awed. This made me smile inside. Human nature is funny; it always gets dazzled and tempted to the things which are beyond its reach.  Just like I get dazzled by bookshops. My husband looked at me the same way then, like I was seeing this little girl right now.

Finally, I found the shop I was looking for. I had learned two things in my life about this shop: Its splendor was not to be taken for granted & that you should’ve extra cash with you just for one pair of footwear. I stepped inside with the little girl after me. Her mouth was open and she was gaping around in a complete trance. Better to just buy her the stuff and not let her get used to it.

After almost one hour – yes, it was completely tedious because I couldn’t decide which sandal suited her best, but in the end, we found her pair of really cute blue colored sandals with multi colored flowers lacing its straps and guess what? The heel was 2 inched! As I paid for it, the little girl had no words to say but her shining eyes expressed what was going on inside her. She was about to burst with happiness. It made my day.

On the way out, I was thinking about my second mother’s reaction if I went empty handed. She would take it as a personal insult of course, that I had not followed her “command” but who cares, right? I had no intention of telling her this little secret of mine. I was happy that the money was used for a useful cause, be it just a pair of sandals, and that it made two people smile with pleasure & satisfaction. In other words, it made the aura of festivities around us more enjoyable.

Journey to “The End”

She stood at the roof ledge, eyes closed, breathing in the air and letting the memories of her life cascade in full flow, for the final time. She wasn’t afraid, not even one bit. All she desired was freedom; freedom from the dark thoughts of the past, blur thoughts of the present and dank thoughts of the future. The wind was blowing in gusts, but she stood firm, rooted to the spot. No strength, not a single one, could move her today, not when she didn’t want to. She now experienced this sense of self control, for the first time, since years, as far as her mind could take her. It was exhilarating, an alien but magnificent feeling.

Moments passed by. Nothing changed except the position of the sun and the clouds, draped all over the sky. She felt the warmth of the sun, slowly travelling from her right cheek to her left. Her legs didn’t ache, she didn’t feel tired at all. Her hair were flying in all directions, a light curtain of black. She fluttered her eyes open, after what seemed like ages, and let the beauty of nature sink in her soul, for the last time. She looked all around her, the sun, the sky-high buildings, the silly shapes of the clouds, the birds singing along the wind, the kids playing on the roads beneath, their laugh shrill & full of elation. Her mind wandered off to her own, rather quiet and cold childhood. She let her mind feel again, the stab of pain that shot across her body every time she was hit. She looked at the dull purple bruises on her body, repeatedly getting hit made the bruises last forever. She didn’t feel the agony now, not anymore. It would all be over soon.

She wanted her last moments to be happy, a feeling she wasn’t very used to. She thought of the moments when she had, however mistakenly, believed he was the one. She had felt truly happy at that time, no matter how short lived it had been. It never really mattered before & it won’t now, ever.

For the last time, she looked beneath her, the rush of the traffic, the kids & the height at which she was standing. She felt numb now, she wanted this to be over. She spread her arms on both her sides, took a deep breath closed her eyes & took a step forward.

She was flying & going to a whole new world.

Final destination

I boarded a train to the world of the Divine. I had no company; not that I cared. Sadly, my journey stopped before starting. That’s when I heard “It isn’t your turn yet. Return.”

And then, all I saw was a dense mist around me. I got lost. I tried to feel my way, like He told me to. I tried to call Him, but He didn’t answer. It grew darker, with every step I took. I found it difficult to walk. There was no one around, not a single soul, to guide me, or to simply take my hand and keep it warm. Everything was cold here. It screamed that I was uninvited. I moved in every direction and then I realized, I couldn’t even see where I had started my journey from. The mist engulfed me, it made my breathing heavier. I cried, I yelled, I screamed till my throat felt sore. I felt around me but my senses didn’t help me. I searched for a light, a ray of hope. It was useless. Tired and helplessly, I fell down on my knees. I curled myself, hugging my legs and wept. I’ve never stopped, since then.

I still wait for His call. I want to board that train again, which would take me away from this dense mist of horror, to my final destination.

Carpe Diem

We sat on our favorite spot at the beach; an old wooden stray log, covered with moss, damp as always, no matter how dry the weather was, big enough to seat four people at once. It was a secluded location, which mostly people never came by.

 

My eyes were on the horizon, where the blues of the sky and the raging water of the sea weaved together. Sometimes, they wandered off to the gray sea gulls, diving in the water empty beaked and coming out with a fish dangling in it. Or sometimes, my eyes found the nature in the sand, the crabs, the sea-shells, the sea-weeds, the jellyfish and what not. Sometimes I looked at the bare footed camel-men and horse-men, asking the people to ride their animals and to make their day by handing them some money to feed their families.

 

To others, it might have seemed like we were drinking in the beauty of the sea. As if we had this once in a lifetime chance, to observe the sea life, before we trudge back to the burdens of the city life. To others, we might have been just another couple, spending their day together, away from the crowded streets and talking about our future plans. Only, if they knew…

 

Her slender fingers were playing along the sand. She was unusually quiet, waiting for me to break the silence. She smelled of flowers, like always, a soft fragrance she carried, where ever she went. She wore a lilac colored dress, blending with the sea environment. She wore a hat to shield her face from sun and sand. At last, which seemed like an eternity, she sighed slowly and looked at me.

 

“Talk to me.” Her melodious voice entered my ears and made me smile, internally.

 

She was waiting for my answer. All this time, I had been processing the words to say to her. How best to say the worst, which would, finally, break her, break me and destroy everything for us. The world we had designed in our imagination, would be shattered to innumerable pieces, which could never ever be glued together, again. I couldn’t find the strength to say it. I couldn’t struggle with the words anymore, not any longer.

 

“We’re leaving.” Eyes, I kept on the horizon, distancing myself from her, from everything. I couldn’t bear to look at her when I said those two words. How would I ever forgive myself?

 

Her hand found my face. Slowly, her fingers started stroking me, tracing a path from my temple to the jaw.  I could feel every pore of my body tingling. She cradled my face and made me face her. I gained the strength, from her touch, to look at her face and finally, into her soulful, deep, umber eyes.

 

No tears, was the first thing I saw, and a heartwarming smile, playing on her lips.

 

“So, my dear,” she began, “do you want to spend these last moments in our about-to-shatter-world, weeping, moaning, cursing and despairingly watching the horizon?” Her hands clutched mine, inducing her usual aura of love and care inside me.

 

“I can’t help it.” I said shortly.

 

“You can.” She was probably unaware of the situation.

 

“I’ll be at the other side of this world, at an other end, unable to see you, unable to talk to you, unable to escape for these short-notice meet-ups, unable to breathe in your fragrance-’’ I caught myself. “It will all be very difficult and I don’t understand how you can be so calm.”

 

“I don’t want to waste my time moping. I knew this would happen the moment you told me a week back that your dad has decided and it was final. I knew you’d fight. I knew you’d argue, but I also knew there would be no change in his decision.” She replied, while caressing the palms of my hands. “I don’t want to you to be dripping with silence, at least not now. I wasn’t us to talk, I want us to make the most of our time. It will be difficult, don’t you think I know? It would be disastrous, it would be agonizing, but why to discuss our despairs now? This is the time to remember our happy moments, the memories we’ll cherish forever. The times of laughter, the times we thought our life was complete. I want you to remember those moments and keep them alive in your thoughts. Carpe diem, is what I believe in.”

 

“They’ll always be alive in my thoughts, you know that. But right now, I feel hollow. I can’t bear this emptiness. You’re here with me right now, and you won’t be, two days later. I can’t stop thinking about it and I don’t know how I’ll survive. After sometime, I’ll get busy; we’ll have to start over. It’d be a whole new life. What if I forget you, your smile, your cheerfulness, your whole existence? I don’t want that to happen.” I felt helpless; I was at a loss for words to express what I was going through.

 

“Remember one thing then,” her voice dripped with forced strength, it had always been her best quality and I adored her for her courage to face the hard times, “if you don’t want to forget me, you won’t forget me. It is as simple as that. What you want is all that matters.”

 

I knew she could tell I wasn’t satisfied. She knew I was troubled. My whole face was a mess. I knew I looked terrible. But what I felt like inside, was no match for this. Inside, was post-war scene. Heart, mind, soul, breathing, sleeping, no matter what it was before, now it was a picture of massive destruction and chaos.

 

“What do you want me to do? I can’t see you like this. I want you to be happy; I want you to be strong. I want us to laugh today and think about our last moments together in the times to come. Let these moments be our light and warmth in the dark & cold times. Let our smiles be the guidance to a new life whenever we feel lost. So then, my dear, tell me what should I do to make you cheer up?”

 

“You could at least quit being strong and stop fighting the immense pain you’re shielding behind your smile, shed a few tears and give me a reason to hug you close and murmur in your ear that it would all be okay.” I ran my fingers through her hair and felt their softness, probably for the last time ever, I thought.

 

At this, she laughed, my favorite laugh. Like many bells tinkling together, breaking a cold silence and warming every soul around it, with their perfect sounds.

 

“The thing is, my sweetheart,” she looked into my eyes, smiling broadly, “I can never cry when I’m with you.”

 

 

***

 

Like she wanted, she made the last moments perfect.

I remember her sweet breath, fanning my face,

I remember her auburn hair, shielding everything else,

I remember her coming closer to me, and closer still,

And I vividly remember, never wanting to let her go.

 

 

 

An evening walk along the beach side

sea

I have always loved a long, solitary, evening walk along the beach side.

That cool feeling of the damp sand, as it crawls around my feet, tickling my skin, when I dig it with my toes as deep as I can.

That fragrance of the sea weeds, the fish, the salt of the water, lingering in the air around me, a rather refreshing change of air from the daily toxic environment.

The sound of the waves, in rhythm to which, I let the elating memories of my life, splash across the rocks of my mind.

The feeling of freedom I sense in the birds soaring high above me, reminding me that the world isn’t as small as it seems, when we’re drowned in the daily tasks binding us to our miserable lives.

The hearty laughter I hear, when the young kids run about, carefree, with high hopes and innocence, which brings out a whole new colorful world in front of my eyes.

The beauty of the anthropods, scuttling here and there, as fast as their appendages could carry them, avoiding the towering humans, open new doors of natural beauty for me.

No words of mine can ever do justice to the beautiful scene at a beach that my eyes see and my mind perceives. You can only truly feel it through your heart.

 ~~~

Image credits: http://www.basbasbas.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/12-09-08-033.jpg

Manacled Childhood

Under the scorching  heat of daylight, he stands dutifully, yet again. It’s a routine to which his childhood is bound mercilessly. In an age, when the only thing on the mind of children at the end of a tiring day is a cool icecream, or a cartoon program to cheer up after a tight scolding, or a game with the neighbourhood chums, to laugh and enjoy the life. But here stands a kid, oblivious to all fantasies of childhood, or rather, trying to be oblivious, searching for a car to be cleaned. There are loads of shimmering cars that need cleaning, but their owners mistake him for a beggar. He is not. In one hand, he clutches a bucket full of muddy water; he can’t afford clean water to even drink, let alone for cleaning cars. The other fingers are wrapped around a towel, which hangs carelessly on his shoulders, it was off-white & now has turn to the same color as his hair. His eyes are blue, full of melancholia, his skin tone rose-white, his cheeks blushed permanently as pink. His hair are mousy brown, with twigs and sand clearly visible, here and there. His lips are red, which is a surprise, as he seems hungry and thirsty to the core. His fingernails and toenails are outlined brown, it seems he hasn’t showered since days. He is watching the cars go by intently, specially a van full of children screaming, shouting & laughing joyously. He smiles himself, by seeing them happy. He imagines himself along with them, rushing home after school, with his buddies, hanging out from the window, feeling as if they’re all flying. As he scratches his hair, messing them up even more, he watches a lady shouting at another boy, of almost his age, who was trying to sell her flowers. A sudden thought crosses his mind as he makes his way to her gleaming car; maybe she wants someone to clean her car. As he reaches her window and is about to knock it, a lot of things happen at once. A loud horn by his side plunge him out of his reverie, he moves his head to glance at it and suddenly the car driven by the lady rushes past him, narrowly missing his small feet. He realizes he is stopping the traffic and bustles off to the other side. No one wants their cars cleaned. No one wants the flowers. No one is there to help the old beggar. So what is going to happen to us, he thinks, as he passes by a shop selling candies. Only one thought keeps running through his mind as he watches the traffic zooming by: He is bound to this bucket and cloth for an eternity. He is shackled to this job till the end of this life. His childhood is manacled for now and he is a prisoner forever.

Yearning for ecstasy (Part 2)

NOTE

Part 2 is here! Feedback means a lot, honestly. I would love to know your views about this story. I am trying my best to sketch the picture of a typical Pakistani family, with my words. Please do read it till the end (the last three paragraphs contain words which I was dying to share in some way). Image credits have been mentioned in the end. Cheers!

***

fam

I walked to where they were all sitting, at a very slow pace. I sat at a lone chair, with the unknown family at my right and my own at the left. So every eye was on me now, naturally. Very comfortable. My mom was the first to break the awkward silence. “This is Maria, my daughter and Maria, they are our new neighbors. This is Arham,” she gestured towards the boy, “and they are Mr. & Mrs. Naveed.” “Hey everyone.” I suck at greetings. “So Mrs. Farhan left?” She was our old neighbor and honestly, she was a nightmare. I posed this question at mom. “Yeah.” She raised her eyebrows. Okay, no more questions, got the hint. “Your mom tells me you’re a…psychologist.” The pause was so pronounced, I actually thought Mrs. Naveed was struggling to say it in the most respectable manner. “Yes.” “It must be a tough job.” Mr. Naveed made an assumption, chewing a biscuit he had just picked up. I noticed my mom had put my favorite ones in front of these unknown guests. God. “Not much, I enjoy it.” I could actually hear what was going through their minds at the moment. It was evident from their expressions that Mr. & Mrs. Naveed were dying to say “WHAT THE HELL?!” “You enjoy being a psychologist?” Okay, I had totally forgotten about Arham. I glanced at him. His eyes were brown, wheatish skin tone and dark brown hair, totally messed up. And there was something else. A playful smile on his lips and curiosity, which he was trying so hard to hide through that smile, shining in his eyes. “Yeah I do.” I stood up. “I’ve got to do some work, so please excuse me now.” I hope I didn’t sound too rude. “And welcome to the neighborhood.” I added with a smile, looking at Mr. & Mrs. Naveed. I presumed that they were actually the ones who needed to be convinced that we were not a freaky family, after all & that their choice was good. Arham, I guess he wouldn’t have any problem in adjusting here. I walked to my room. Unfortunately, it opened to the lounge and whenever I open the door of my room, I always come face to face with whoever was sitting there. Sucks, big time, when you’ve to say hi to dad’s boring friends and there is no way of avoiding it. As I was about to close the door, my eyes, involuntarily (I swear), traced their path to Arham. He was marveling a painting I got ages ago, hanged in the lounge. Thank God, no awkward eye contact. I closed the door as softly as I could. At that very instant, my cell phone rang. It was my brother calling and oh shit, I forgot to call him when I had promised that next time, it would be me who’d call him. Sigh. “Hey Ali.” “Do I even have a sister?” Sarcasm, it runs in our blood. “Unlike you, dear brocteria, I am a busy person. Job all good?” He lives abroad and works in the field of microbiology. So now you know why I called him brocteria. “Yes. I heard Mrs. Farhan left. Is it true?” News move faster than light, in our neighborhood. I wonder who told Ali though. “Yeah. Was it reTina who spread the news? Did she tell you about the new family too?” Tina is our maid. ReTina, well, biology is fun. And my bro has her number, don’t even ask me how he got it. “No, I called mom yesterday. She told me everything. And while we’re talking about mom now, let’s discuss the real reason behind this call. She is worried about you. Why are you working on weekends?” Talk about being a brother who is only a couple of years older. “You know why. I enjoy working there. Why do you guys have to ask me the same question every time?” There was a pause; he wasn’t satisfied. “I like listening to them & you know that.” “I know that alright but this is not good. Take out some time for your own self, Maria. You can’t treat your special ones your whole life. You deserve a break.” I knew it wouldn’t do any good but I had nothing else to say, “I am honestly doing fine Ali, stop worrying yourself about me or anyone here. Mom’s getting carried away with her usual paranoia that I’m over stressing myself, I’ll talk to her.” After talking for a few more minutes, the call ended abruptly. Batter ended. I put my phone on charge, freshened myself up and made it to the kitchen. By now, the other family had gone. “So now you are good chums with her?” I asked my mom at the dinner table. “No, of course not, we don’t know them entirely, but they seem very well-educated and nothing like Mrs. Farhan.” I noticed the edge but let it go. “It was very obvious that they were judging me on the basis of my profession. Well-educated much?” God, this vegetable salad is so good. “Well, it’s a bit unusual. They don’t come across psychologists that often in Pakistan. And you know this yourself. So don’t fret over it. Their views will probably change with time.” Trust dad to be all positive. “Right.” For the rest of the dinner, we were discussing my brother, his work, the food, my mom’s suspicions about my work, etc. As for me, I was contemplating the importance & blessing of having a family. A number of my special ones, never had the chance to know what it’s like to have a good, decent, rules-oriented family. They had siblings to whom they had never even talked to or lost all contacts with them. Parents, who hardly cared about their children, or children, who lived with their parents but only wished them morning and night. Teenagers, who complained constantly of never having anyone in their family to talk to about their general “teenage affairs.” Or families, who had never had a meal together. It was so hard to hear these bitter stories, they literally brought tears to my eyes at times. How can families be torn apart like this? How can people let the usual demands of life get in the way of themselves & their family? How can people stop caring about the people they have a blood relation? How can people just kill these eternal, special and strong bonds? When ever I looked into the eyes of my special ones, I never saw them dreaming about money or riches or wealth or clothes or huge mansions. What I saw in their eyes was something which could be only brought to them by a miracle. Something, for which they would’ve to keep fighting and even then, they couldn’t be sure whether they would earn it or not, in the end. Something, which required patience, not only for a day or two, but sometimes, for their whole lives. They dreamed of happiness. They wanted to experience elation. They yearned for ecstasy. They wanted to feel loved. They wanted to know what it was like to have a life like I had right now. For them, this was the real happiness. For them, this was paradise. This was the miracle they were looking for. This was the miracle they would die for.

***

Thank you for reading! 🙂 Image credits: https://law.marquette.edu/programs-degrees/family-law