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“But then again, the idea isn’t to survive, it’s to thrive.”

I remember that we were wearing similar kurtas that day, mine a deep rouge, his, a paling ivory. A coincidence that made us stop in our tracks and smile. Wryly, I must add. I remember the presence of the tropical sun beating down on my exposed nape, and dust settling between my toes with every step. I’m not sure if we planned to meet that day, if we ever planned anything. Our paths must have crossed and the next thing I remember is walking in the direction of the neighbouring town together. We could have taken the bus, but the hours stretching before us were no reason to hurry.

I have read somewhere that things we read and see and hear have a way of coming together in our minds. And that imagination is a great architect. I can’t remember if we made it to the next town that day. I don’t remember when the sun set and if a river was involved. But I remember struggling with my mind as it refused to give way. I remember it as the day my imagination fell through. Rubble and smoke, singed thoughts turning to ash and the orphaned winds caused by rushed musings.

Think, Zeba. Imagine. His voice lost in the sound of traffic, but not his words. Imagine an apocalypse. The entire world has come to an end except this town. Everything beyond your line of vision has ceased to exist. The world as we know it has ended. It’s just you. And me. And 26000 other students who inhabit this place. Everything we were working towards is now unnecessary. Every truth we grew up with is a lie. All the work we have done till this moment is of no use to us. Can you imagine that?

I tried to keep up with his thoughts as much as his pace. But for a long time I found my mind wrapped around the fleeting horror of a world without my parents. But you must. There is no one left. Parents, family, history, art, all gone. Just this town, even this road we are walking on does not exist anymore. Everything is NOW. All past and all future is erased from everyone’s consciousness. And most importantly, there is no law. We can do what we want, when we want to and in a manner of our choosing. Imagine a world where there is no wrong. Or where there is no one to decide what’s wrong.

He was on a roll by then, dragging the weight of my imagination with much enthusiasm. The conversation followed several tangents but we both agreed that the social structure would be the first to collapse. We could take what we like and who we like. And there would be no repercussion for non-consent. We would cease to be the people we are. But how do we know who we really are anyway? Imagine a world without a buffer between thoughts and actions and the lack of any need to separate between the two. Is the fear of consequences greater than any altruistic thought? Isn’t it? Is this the kind of environment where trust exists?

Does this mean we are all naturally bad? Do we need rules and the fear of God to stay true to the idea of being good? Is there any hope in reforming? Is capital punishment the only solution? But then again, how do we know that the judge who sentences a criminal to death would not do the same if he didn’t fear the consequences created by our society? Does this mean all criminals are just braver people than we are? Will there be any good people left? Are there any good people? Define good. Is it time to stop looking for a ‘good’ person? And most importantly, am I good enough for this person I hope to meet?

I got distracted by an ice-cream cart. And then we stopped by a furniture shop and pretended we had just bought a house together. I got to pick a place for dinner and we brainstormed for a short film I was working on. And that night, I remembered to call my parents before falling asleep.

“The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

My room smells of fresh laundry and injured dreams, barely surviving the shock of reality. Imagine the scent of your favourite fabric softener but with a metallic tinge. I’ve stayed locked up here, awake since six, with my big bowl of watermelon and endless cups of green tea. My back to the window, the curtains drawn shut, cross-legged and on the floor, I’m sitting still, in a hope to calm the restlessness within me.

Lying in bed with my headphones didn’t help. Lying in bed with my head hanging off the edge, feeling the blood rush to my brain only made me dizzy. Standing by the window and watching the wind disrupt the clothesline wasn’t as soothing as it used to be. Talking to myself wasn’t an option because I had nothing interesting left to say. I tried the backyard too, but the sun is out with such vengeance today, I could barely keep my eyes open to read the printed words before me.

I often worry that I’ll forget. That memories will slip through the gaps between my expanding mind, pushed out of my consciousness to make space for new thoughts, more memories, beautiful people and interesting facts. 65 million copies of Catcher in the Rye sold till date, Virginia Woolf’s death, E. M. Forster’s Indian friend, the shape of Snape’s patronus. I fear that I’ll forget who I used to be, in my bid to keep evolving. The shy kid, afraid of new people and positively terrified of summer holidays because they meant sharing a home with people other than my parents and siblings. A higher chance of saying something that would be misunderstood. And the punishment that followed for being ‘rude’.

I remember being labelled a grumpy child. Aloof, unsmiling, unwilling to speak. And I wonder how long it would be before I start making a judgement about the next kid I see, the one who looks away when I try to engage, embarrassing a parent into nudging a response out of them. How long before I stop seeing myself in that child and know enough to not push. How long before my first instinct is to tell myself that this is what bad parenting looks like.

Let’s hope I never forget how it felt to be trapped within my own mind, trying to find words quick enough to frame a coherent defence before being locked up in the toilet or made to sit in the dark, wondering what I did wrong this time. And that overwhelming fear of being forgotten, of being left there for the night, and trying to look away from the moving shadows which somehow seemed to loom larger with each passing moment.

I learned early that staying quiet is the safest, and hiding behind a book the best excuse. And it’s strange, how long it takes to get rid of the armours we wear as children. And how easy it is to slip right into them, when pushed into similar memories, even if never the same situation. Especially considering how encouraging and understanding my family is. But I’m still rough around the edges, unable to make myself fully understood, pained from the effort of trying to explain.

Now I know that I spent too much time explaining. Trying to make people see what I saw. I still struggle to communicate my feelings, but at least I’m no longer paralysed with my need to be understood. Reading helped me realise that it’s okay. I came across a lot of comforting words when I needed them the most, but a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson sticks out in my memory. It’s from his essay Self-Reliance. When I read it now, it feels full of conceit, but when I read it as a child of fourteen, it was only assurance that reflected back at me.

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. It is great to be misunderstood.

“In the German tongue, in the Polish town, scraped flat by the roller of wars.”

I have forgotten all but the vague feeling left behind by my dream from last night. Nostalgic, with a tinge of metallic aftertaste lining the inside of my mouth. I run my tongue over my teeth, trying to wipe out the memory of everything I fail to recollect. A memory of falsehood, an impression of lies. And eccentricities are secrets that have escaped us, quirks we couldn’t contain within our ever expanding lives. Like eight-limbed creatures scrambling to slip through the many prisms of self-consciousness.

And all you have to do is smile, before shuffling to the corner of your tiny bed and lifting the duvet. A silent invitation, letting their fingers slip over your waist and intertwine with yours as you turn away from them, allowing yourself to disappear into deep sleep. It’s the sleep you have been fighting off for too long, afraid of waking up to find yourself alone and abandoned, free but lost, stricken and shivering, your skin glistening with fresh bruises and your eyes tearing up from the lashing winds. The muslin cloth you chose for its lightness didn’t have a chance against the piercing drizzle which has left it translucent, and you naked. Forlorn, tragically exposed.

The clock strikes three and you find yourself awake in the middle of the night, scarred from this beautiful nightmare. But you find solace in the face of this sleeping stranger beside you, the moonlight grazing past, giving you a solemnly rare opportunity to observe unabashedly, as you familiarise yourself with the lines, ridges and the bare cervix. Something you wouldn’t dare when they are awake, subdued by the fear of appearing keen, looking away just before your eyes could meet.

But they are asleep, and you are exhausted from having been dragged through an infinite distance by this unrelenting fear which has you by a noose around your neck, your hands calloused from pushing against your will, your eyes blinded by this anger mingling with self-pity, to form bursts of wild dust around you. You aren’t complaining though, because you would still rather suffer the ordeal of uncertainty than let this stranger know how the thought of them overshadows every vein in your body, staining every trail of your being.

Why, I ask. Why do this to yourself? But you have no answers to my anguish on your behalf. You don’t have words that can cajole me into believing otherwise. You don’t know, and you pretend. I want to grab you by the shoulders and shake till your bones rattle in your body, forcing you to pay attention to my warnings, my words of caution, my love for you which has previously surpassed all madness, even your stubborn angst of self-destruction. But you remain adamant and I give up, sitting down on the concrete, my head in my hands.
And when they wake up, you will yourself to not look away. Instead, you echo verses from a poem you didn’t know you remembered, the words barely making it out of your mouth, as they fall through the space between the two of you, forcing this person to lean in till your nose touches their cheek… If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two / The Vampire who said he was you / And drank my blood for a year / Seven years, if you want to know… the words start to become incoherent and you find yourself slithering into the beguiling comfort of sleep, having already forgotten about the horrors waiting for you on the other side of this fluttering veil, the illusion of which separates me from you. 

We can sympathise, but can’t ever truly empathise with another being.

We can’t feel what another person feels completely but that doesn’t mean we can’t try. That’s from a blog I read earlier today. And in the evening I walked circles through an art gallery that was projecting a 43-minute long documentary about newborns who go through traumatic births and how the process of  ‘cooling’ helps ensure their normal mental and physical development. The treatment was first practiced in 1997 when a woman passed out after giving birth in a toilet. The paramedics, when they finally found the baby floating in the toilet, put it in a plastic bag and had it sent to the hospital to be pronounced dead, before redoubling their efforts to revive the young mother. Luckily for the child, there was a curious pediatric on-call that night who was aware of the theoretical concepts of cooling. This story has a happy ending, I was assured.

The documentary was mostly a collage of hyper-real close-ups of tiny limbs, softened edges, still babies and a timer. 72 hours. That’s the amount of time the newborns are kept in an incubator, the number of hours it takes to determine the fate of each baby. Surrounded by fathers, mothers, carers and siblings who are living their personalised 72 hours of hell. But before I could try to imagine how it might feel – to watch your baby struggling at the brink of life, alive but barely, breathing but still – a mother spoke to the camera, to me. Her voice seemed to quiver at the memory, but she spoke indubitably about how no one can understand what she went through. They could try, but never truly feel the hollowing fear she felt. So I stopped trying, glad to know that her son is now fine, blissfully unaware of his uncertain start.

The images were out-of-focus for effect, some blurred beyond recognition. Faces were dismembered to fit several screens, making me feel as though I was right beside the parents, their calloused hands caressing their child, their perfume settling around me, their muffled voices hiding the raw fear of possible loss. And silence punctured by the continuous bleeps. It reminded me of a film I had seen years ago. And how it has left behind a single colour in my memory. A blue that could be the sky, the ocean or the pupils of a child. A blue that refused to be wiped away. Wet cloths and hard scrubs. A blue that stained through a clear conscience, a reminder of everything that could be but never was. It was the colour which couldn’t be locked in a safe behind a painting and forgotten about.

There are people in my head tonight and they are talking in a language I don’t understand. There is irony that is lost on me and jokes that I don’t find funny. Laughter that is shrill enough to make me cringe and words trying on different voices, like an under prepared understudy put on the spot because of an ill-timed hernia. Find your voice, I instruct myself. In the shower, between meetings, during lunch, while binge watching the new season of GIRLS. Find your voice and choose a vice, why don’t you please write down a sentence that feels right? I throw the question around my mind, hoping that one of its many inhabitants rises to the challenge.

Did I tell you about that time in Kerala when I went looking for toilet paper?
No. When was this?
Late 90s.
Did you find any?
I asked the shopkeeper for some toilet rolls and he said he had tissues. I said: Great! I’ll have some tissues. To which he replied: But they are for women. 

I’m out.

Okay.
Listen to this in the meantime: Cake- I’ll Survive.
Wow, it’s really good.
That’s Cake for you.
I used to visit every 3 months. But this is my first time here in after almost 2 years.
Why is that?
My grandmother passed away.
Oh.
She was the center of my world and I couldn’t imagine Jeddah without her.
So how is Jeddah without her?
I didn’t go to her house.
Doesn’t it get better with time?
Not really. You never stop missing. 
Zebs?
Yes?
Do you want to see the Vagina Monologues? Friday, 14th March.
Sure! I have always been curious about them monologues.
Haha, awesome! I’ve booked us some tickets. Here’s a review.
Oh boy, should have read that before saying yes!
Watch the movie called Submarine. Not many would like it, methinks.
The trailer looks great. I already like it.
What are you reading?
An Examined Life. 
How do you like it? 
Love it. Such a precious insight into the human mind.
You may also like AC Grayling, try Meaning of Things. I’m reading his Ideas That Matter among others.
Psychology claims that if two past lovers can remain just friends, it’s either they are still in love, or never were. There is a thought.
Psychologist, they rarely know what they are on about.
It was merely a general observation. Not a comment on you and I.
I see. 
Why do you like James Franco so much?
Because he is James Franco!

Do you smoke?
No.
Drugs?
No.
Alcohol?
No.
WHAT? And you call yourself a writer? I’m sorry but you need another perspective. 

Light of my life, fire of my loins.
Hah, I love that book!
I had to stop reading. It was getting too weird for me.
Oh my god, you don’t know how Lolita ends?!
Saw terrible accident on the tube today. Girl tried to jump onto train as doors were closing, front coach. Doors closed on wrist, her outside.
Aaaaah. She okay?
Fear not. Train moved off into tunnel, she was slammed into wall.
No.
Terrible terrible screams. Can still hear it. Tragic.
Stop. Please.
I love her.
Oh god, why? She is so anal.
You mean she is so wonderfully anal.
Bah, you guys deserve each other.
Coldplay’s new album is coming out.
When?
19th May. The new single sounds interesting.
Yes. Reminds me of their better days.
Did you know that Virginia Woolf’s husband published E. M. Forster’s books?
Really?
Yeah. And after Virginia’s death the publishing house was bought by a man whose wife was having an affair with Leonard Woolf. The husband approved of the affair. And the woman continued to love both men till her death.
Listen to Angels Walk Among Us. Anathema. It’s for you.
It’s beautiful, thank you.
Don’t do that.
What?
That! When you tell me how awesome it would be to fall in love with a friend.
But it would be! 
You are just trying to get me to ask you to marry me.
No I’m not! 
Yes you are. Stop laughing.
I love Albert Camus.
Why?
Because he once asked, “Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?”, and I get it.
You know you can get help right?
I hate it when you make a joke of everything I say.
No.
Even when I ask you in my gentle German accent? Softly and sweet?
Okay bye.
I’m not pure evil, I’m necessary evil.
You are trying to act evil to hide your true face. I hope.
Whatcha do that for?
Dunno.
Are you okay?
No.
Do you want me to come over?
No.
I’m coming over.
Get food.
Did we ever talk about you helping me run away on my wedding day?
What? No. This isn’t Bollywood, woman.
Then why do I have an image of us driving around Rajasthan in a green roadster. And why am I wearing a wedding dress?
First of all, do you have any idea how hot it is in Rajasthan? I would never take you there. 

“By writing, I’m able to tolerate remembering.”

Time is crawling past me, languidly at first and then with misplaced audacity. Earlier tonight, in an attempt to seek comfort from my ailing heart, I occupied the empty space beside my sleeping mother, hoping that her assured breathing would be enough to drive away the ache. But my proximity to her only worsened it, making me feel alone as I curled up to avoid the blows of reality. I’ve always imagined the pain of longing to be explosive, breaking the heart in tiny fragments and scattering the mind to follow several tangents at once.

But in the silence of tonight, I can confirm that the pain is crushing with its quiescent nature. Instead of being torn to a million pieces, it feels more like a single stab to the heart, the torment lying not only in its intensity but also its surprising consistency. Imagine an assassin getting you good with a ridged knife, making an incision in your skin. But instead of finishing you when he could and pulling out the knife, he chooses instead to leave his weapon of choice inside you. Your eyes meet his, your hands get wet from trying to stopple the wound and you try to ignore the sharp pain that bursts with every breath you take. There is fear exploding through your veins at the thought of what he is capable of and your mind numbs when he asks you if you are happy. And all you can do is splutter some blood, try to shrug your shoulders and provide a weak smile.

My fingers are stained a royal shade of blue, my writing turning from a frantic scribble to a subdued scrawl and then to silence. I’m in the living room, my mind finding solace in being surrounded by the familiarity of home and when it starts to superimpose several memories into one, I have to shut my eyes and turn my back to the room. I will myself to believe that the tears are out of gratitude. That it’s my way of requital for everything I have, everything I lost and everything I’m yet to gain. And when I move to pull my hair away from my face, I’m greeted by the faint scent of a happier day, when I cared enough to dab my wrist with my favourite essence. It’s the scent of the oceans I have yet to cross.

When the calming effect of the words evaporate and my heart threatens to be entombed in despondency, I try to imagine the last time I felt light. The memory of being stretched tall as I dived deep, a moment of complete calm and then the thunderous splash when my coiled body hit the water. But I remember not loosening up in time, and staying underneath a while longer, my sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world. It was the kind of quietness which I wish I could visit tonight, a moment where nothing is real except my struggle to survive. And the only difference between that day and today is that then, I had the choice to pierce through the surface and reclaim my life.

The pain in pretending that I feel no pain.

I often talk about my dispassionate detachment towards physical objects. I lie. The locket sits pretty between my collarbones, unaware of its perfection, quickening my heartbeat when I trace my knuckles along my neck every morning and am unable to find it. Unable to feel its hardened curve between my fingers, disregarding gravity as I lie in bed, groggy from a night of restless sleep. I remember leaning expectantly over the glass counter, my feet on tiptoe, as I peered at it for the first time in my father’s hand. It was a day before we were leaving for India and we hadn’t bought anything for my grandmother. I was struck speechless by its beauty, adamant that this was the perfect gift for her. Three years later, my grandmother put it around my neck, to mark my first graduation. You are a woman now, she had told me in Urdu.

I curl my fingers into a fist and weave my thumb under my index finger till it touches the ring on my middle finger, the cold metal often a source of reassurance. It’s a reminder of darker days and the knowledge that everything is temporary, and we are stronger than we let ourselves believe. The ring too is a gift, from my 16th birthday. I had let myself into the house that day, my uniform giving off a slight scent of a long day. I found it on the mantel in the hallway, just as I was about to toss the house keys in the bowl beside it. It was sitting on a folded piece of paper in which my mom had scribbled a birthday wish, an apology and a promise to make up for this, with a kohl pencil. Or maybe it was a lip liner, the colour of the words has escaped my memory. The ring was that rare piece of jewellery my mom wore everyday and something I was never allowed to touch. I had only the chance to admire it from a distance and remembered vividly the one time I got to touch it, when she had forgotten to put it on after finishing her gardening. 

The house was empty that day and without touching the ring I started to cry as I slowly stripped myself off my clothes and stepped into the shower. I remember the sound of water gushing through the narrow nozzle, and hitting my tired skin, washing over my abandoned soul. I remember letting myself fall to my knees and my body heaving with loud, unbroken sobs.

I don’t know when I put the ring on but I have never taken it off since. It had been exactly ten days since the accident and I was surprised she had remembered the date at all. I wasn’t expecting her to. She spent the nights praying and in the day she continued on, alternating between crying softly and sobbing with anguish, allowing her children to hold her as she fell into our arms, desolate. We didn’t know then that her ordeal would last ten months, with my uncle remaining in a coma after his first surgery. Most of the details are a blur now and even though in the last seven years my uncle has been making a slow recovery, we have accepted the fact that he will forever remain a shadow of his former self. When we talk about those first few months, my mom refers to it as the worst time of her life, as she struggled at the brink of loss, unable to let go. And I am glad she didn’t have to. That she held on till fate itself decided to change under her wilful stubbornness, her strong faith in her God.

And when I feel lost in this big world, letting the walls close in on me, I chant the prayer my mom taught me when I was a child and I hold on to this ring, finding strength from my memories of a woman who refused to give up, understanding full well that being born to her was my good fortune and trying to live up to her ideals is but a difficult journey I call life. Despite, loss has hovered around the edges of my consciousness since I can dare to remember. Thus is the nature of life I suppose, so I live everyday unquestioned.

But everything I have chosen to ignore is rushing back to me. Like water from a dam, it has broken through. The words falling over, tumbling through the mess of my murky conscience, as I turn one page after another of The Lovely Bones. I feel a familiar pain somewhere in my chest as I follow the father through his lonely journey, smiling ruefully when he told his neighbour that a father’s suspicion is as powerful as a mother’s intuition, as though challenging the beautiful woman with grey eyes to disagree. But she just smiles her understanding.

And in turn my heart pierces with the pain that no one should ever have to go through. My voice is soft as I hum to a tune I have always associated with unbearable anguish, deep rooted agony… Agar mile khuda to puchoonga khudaya, jism mujhe deke mitti ka, sheeshay sa dil kyun banaya?

“Homes, places we’ve grown, all of us are done for.”

I can wade Grief, whole pools of it, I’m used to that, Emily Dickinson assures me. But the least push of Joy Breaks up my feet, And I tip – Drunken, she confesses. My neck hurts from the stargazing earlier tonight, when I wasn’t bent over The Secret History. It’s a clear sky, the stars shine bright and if there is a message in their patterns, I can’t read them. But I’m open to the possibility of its meaning anyway, as I am open to life, open to the idea that he went back to her, and I came back to earth. Humbling, not without its despondency and cataclysm. I’m home now, safe within the warmth of familiar walls, but the cold hasn’t left me. I can feel it in my bones, probably even sense it in my dreams, when sleep eventually overtakes my race towards aberration.

I’m hungry, ravenously so. I’ve never been shot, never felt a bullet tear my skin, shatter my bones and muscles, skewing the complex arrangement of veins and the rest, but I’ve always imagined a moment of premonitious numbness before the pain. And today is that numbness. I’m thinking of cheese, soft but not mushy. Thick, full of flavour, yet to be pungent. A loaf of bread sits on the kitchen counter, waiting for me to cut into it, slide a knife without remorse. And will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful? Will you still love me when all I have got is my aching soul? Lana Del Rey is more optimist than me when it comes to intentions, predispositions. All that grace, all that body, all that face, makes me want to party, I try to slur with her, trying to keep up with the choice of tempo tonight, forgetting to breathe in, remembering the days long and far ago.

The book is falling apart, the spine tattered and the pages loosening under my careful grip. When I’m not reading it, I find myself stroking it, absently yearning for everything I can never have. And when I stopped outside my home, under the floating light of a dim street lamp, to finish a sentence, I managed to scare a girl with my still presence, unhinging her enough to drop her groceries. But tonight I only want to get into bed, my skin emanating soft tones of jasmine, the duvet up to my chin. With my back curled and my face sunk deep into my pillow, I would call you up and instead of returning your uncertain hello, I would ask you tell me about Rome. Or Tawang. Or New York. Wherever it was that you saw your life flash in front of your eyes, a sight that took your breath away, had you choking back your tears. I would listen, intently and with a passion. Because this is my way of letting you know that I care. That there might be no love yet, but. Stay, for a while, won’t you?

And the last time I found happiness was on a boat – the rhythm of the river lulling me into semi-consciousness – my chin resting on the edge, my hand trailing in the water. And when I can’t sleep, I try to imagine the river, its rhythm, the sun filtering through the foliage and dancing over my face, my hands, my feet. I imagine lying down in the boat, my face to the sky, my body very still, as though challenging the universe to take another shot. Because, why not?

I want to commit the crime I was imprisoned for.

What if your best friend tried to kill you today? What if one moment you are following the instructions being shouted over the music from the other room, careful not to burn the lentil soup, and the next you are being attacked with a saucepan, the continuous thuds landing fast and hard on the back of your head. And when you fall to the floor on your knees, your palms first stay flat against the tiles before giving way and your cheek ends up squashed against a cracked white tile you once helped pick. 30 large tiles to cover the expanse of the kitchen, each costing dollar six.

Do you think of what a lovely day that was, walking through the many aisles of the hardware store, selecting things to help your friend turn their flat into a home, a place you knew you would be spending most of your time in. And through the pain and confusion, what would your first thought be? That half-read book in your bag you might never get to finish? What’s with the antagonist not making a move 200 pages in anyway? And how DID Sherlock fake his death? Surely it has to be something more elaborate than a squash ball pressed under the armpit. Should have read the books, you tell yourself.

Or maybe not. Maybe your first thought is Fuck. Maybe you do know what you have done to deserve this. But it didn’t mean anything, you want to say. You open your mouth and taste blood. No sound escapes your throat now. You have tried and failed. The blows have stopped. You won’t die today, you tell yourself. Lies, the voice in your head retorts. And what was it that Burroughs once wrote? Oh yes… nobody owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death. You want to laugh. This is almost funny, if it wasn’t happening to you. But instead you close your eyes to block the images of your betrayal, the many things you thought you could get away with, the endless string of lies and heavy burden of deception.

You want to console them, but you also want to save your breath. You want to listen to words, want to watch them form into a beautiful string of explanation. You want to think over the loud music. You want to look at their face and try to recognise the person underneath the sweat and grime, the anger and madness. But the pain. It’s too much. You are left to blink away the blood and tears and stare at the space under the stove instead, watching as a little dust bunny moves towards your face and away as you inhale one jagged breath after another. You can smell the lentils burning slightly, if you move now, you could still salvage some of it.

There is no sound now, just shuffling of feet, scratching of shoes on tiles, movements and the music. You want to relax but you can’t. You want to let your favourite singer convince you that they are in love with Judas but you have just remembered the gun hiding in your friend’s underwear drawer. Now you are not thinking about books, TV or the next day. You are thinking of meeting your saviour and how you are not prepared for this day. And what you taste is no longer blood but fear. It’s an effort but you don’t give up, pushing yourself away from the floor and on your feet, your hands grasping at any surface they can find. You need to talk, explain yourself. Make them see the light of day. Shake some sense into this person you have known all your life. An apology is forming in your mind as you take a deep breath and try not to cry.

But your resolve shatters when you find your friend on the floor in the living room, blood pooled around their face, their eyes open and vacant, their body limp. Maybe that’s when you give up and fall beside them, repeating an apology on loop, for doing what you did, for being who you are, for taking away what was once so important to them. For doubting them in their last moments. And whimpering, when you hear the footsteps in the hallway getting louder. 

Every hand I held, I crushed with my expectations.

Do more, see more, hold my hand and be more. An invitation, a smile, a window into the life of another’s mind. You are not writing anymore, are you? A hint of concern, a bit of chiding. But I refuse to answer, unwilling to share the outpouring of words staining the pages of my moleskine. The journal pressed to my chest, I try to divert the attention from my work. Writers block, I murmur. Lies. And do you remember the first lie you ever spoke and got away with? My memory is hazy today, images floating through layers of inconsistency, resisting control. And the slow realisation that I was a child who told a lot of lies. Of having finished the homework. Of brushing my teeth. Of loving my new born siblings. The list goes on and you regret asking the question. I’ll end you, I laugh, when you try to pull my journal from my possessive grasp. But you know not to take my statement lightly.

A bite of carrot cake melts in my mouth, surprising me with its unfamiliarity. They ran out of blueberry muffins and I ran out of will to fight you with. To hold my hand up and stop you. To pull you towards me, forcing you to look me in the eye, my accusations silent but real. You say you understand me and by saying it, you mock me. By insisting that it isn’t a game you have made us both pawns without an aim. You have lost your charm just as the tea loses its warmth. I fall back in my chair, exhausted by the mere thought of confronting you and instead open my journal and start reading to you. About sweetened voices that sang love songs in a foreign language, of rivers that once flowed through the backyard of my ancestral home, of the stone lining the sidewalk and the sound of soft skin slapping against it.

Crimson lips, wide with horror
A dark night and no one in sight. 
Chill running down your spine
Your life in quite the plight.

It’s late at night and the dark figure walks with hurried steps, slouching against the sharp winds and the cold drizzle. Try to put yourself in her shoes, I insist. Walk beside her and imagine a hand grabbing you by the waist. Feel the touch slip away as you panic. Be fooled into thinking that you have escaped and just as you gather pace, find yourself falling to the ground. Watch as the wet stone rises to meet you. Feel the delicate skin of your cheeks scrape against it as you register the hand tightening around your ankle and then your knee. Think, of the walk back home. The shambles her mind is in. The loss that will haunt you for years, the scars already transforming into a source of lifelong nightmares. Shame, guilt, pain. Watch as she limps her way to what once was home. Stop it. Stop, your hands cover your ears, your elbows digging into your stomach as you lower yourself into the deep armchair. In an unexpected gesture you lean forward and turn the page of my journal, placing your finger at random on a paragraph. Here, you say. Read from here.

You will be surprised what people will tell you when you ask, I read. I have forgotten how the grains look but I have memories of digging my hand into open sacks, pushing my fingers as deep as I could and feeling the grains adjust around the shape of my arm, accommodating, welcoming. The strong scent of husk, as I rested my chin on the edge of a sack almost as tall as me. And as I moved my fingers, feeling the shapes of various grains, my eyes followed my mother as she touched the contents of these sacks, taking a handful, rubbing her thumb lightly over them till they all fell from her hand. I remember her pale skin and the black scarf wrapped around her head, the colours a beautiful contrast. I would notice the shape of her nose and the tiny wrinkle that formed between her eyebrows when she wasn’t happy with the quality of something the eager shopkeeper was trying to sell her. I would wait for her to move forward, before walking over to the sack she had just left behind, trying to imitate her gesture of rubbing the grains before digging my arm into the sack and getting to know them my way.

And I would wait for her to pay the shopkeeper before walking to her, letting her notice the white powder covering my dark sleeves. She would kneel down beside me, annoyed at her child, as she lightly slapped the dust away, talking all the while about how I never listen, always make trouble. But I don’t remember caring because in that moment she was with me, her mind absorbed with my misdeed, her face distraught at having a child who never listens. And I would smile, my face buried in the folds of her scarf, taking a deep breath of her perfume, the one which still sits on her dressing table, the only part of the house I didn’t have access to, something I could only stare at from a distance. You smile when I tell you the name of the perfume, knowing full well that that’s the only one I wear now. More, you say, leaning your head back and watching the other customers leave the cafe. I comply by clearing my throat and turning the page.