Everywhere

Dear you,

Tonight I will write the most genuine lines.

Like most people from small towns, I have always kept to myself— content with my quiet, unassuming life. You must imagine to what degree I must have been unsettled then to overcome my reservedness and that too with you, a person who I consider to be simultaneously intimidating and infinitely fascinating.

One thing I know for sure: it is pointless to hope that I will be able to forge the words to faultlessly describe how I feel for you. Doing so would only be an effort in futility. There are a thousand words and each one is inadequate. All I can say is that it had everything to do with the conversations that had unfolded between us.

I have, since our last meeting, often pondered over the magic of real human conversation. In our society’s growing inability for nuance, to make the acquaintance of your soul— and all of its subtleties— was a welcome change. You were spontaneously eloquent and your words, immediately of deep relevance. I would love for nothing more than to pry open your mind— pick it apart and map it to my satisfaction.

I only hope that the content of our exchanges were worth discussing for you, regardless of how you feel about me. I am an inadequate speaker, you see. I am not physically attractive, either— at least not by conventional standards. Writing to you, in all my besotted earnestness, is wherefore the only strategy left to have any probable success in seeking your favour.

It is worth noting that my feelings for you are of a different order entirely. It is not physical, although I must admit; there was a particular gesture— you looking back at me, your head tilted ever so slightly, and the lights hit you just so— that finally did me over. I cannot explain it, but know that you give me such joy. Time and distance, thus far, have only served to intensify my wonder for you.

I invoke the kind of love, which will illuminate every fibre in my being. A kind of love, unmarred by the trivial concern of its final outcome. And for this, I will eagerly anticipate your reply. I require nothing more than your sincere opinion of me. I understand that you may instead see my plea as more pest than praise, therefore I will harbour no resentment if you were to end this correspondence by means of silence and shall persist in being,

Yours sincerely.

Reconciliation

Across a corner table in the cafe, he sat, one leg over the other. His right hand quickly dipped into his jacket pocket. He handed her a tiny box, wrapped in gold paper. “A start,” he began to say, “for all the birthdays I’ve missed.” A slow smile spread across his face. His features were familiar to hers. They were the same ones staring back at her in her bathroom mirror every morning. The same scraggly, mousy brown hair. The same eyes— wide-set and intense. The same pursed lips and grin.

“Open it.”

A decade of lost time stands in between father and daughter— its presence, jarring and unaddressed. They tiptoed around each other’s feelings. Both waiting for the other to make the first move. She hoped for an apology, while he seeks trust. As if a man— stubborn and prone to drifting off— would find the words to express them. As if she— a fortress of harboured emotion and resentment— would suddenly learn to speak freely.

A meeting, doomed from the start.

Things We Don’t Talk About

When you were younger, we’d dress you up as a boy— in bowl cuts and hand-me-down racetrack pyjamas. The first time we crossed the sea, you cried inconsolably the whole trip here. The passengers in economy didn’t take to a wailing toddler too kindly. I wondered if maybe you could sense that I was afraid too.

When we arrived at the small, dingy hotel room we would call home for the next six months, with nothing but the clothes on our back and a rice cooker, you cried for the country we abandoned. Look, under the dressing table. That’s a bat cave. And over there, see this closet. It’s a castle, and you’re the queen. Come to the window with me. See that, the beach is your entire playground. Look at all that space.

The first time we took you to the beach, you got sand in your eyes. Your first instinct was always to reach for my hands. When you stood proudly on the sofa cushions you stacked in the living room, and lost your balance. When we took out your training wheels and the split second before you feel like falling. The day we first taught you how to swim. Now all I do is wonder when my hands stopped being your anchor.

Is it the day you were crying in the shower and I smashed my hand on the door? Or is it the moment I reached for the car keys when I should’ve stayed? Don’t you know I visit the headstones of conversations we didn’t have and run my fingers over the inscription? Here lie the words left unsaid.

In my dreams, I light my demons on fire and watch them glow. My jaw finally breaks. My tongue untwists to say something lovelier than the past decade, and your hands intertwine quietly into mine— a catalyst for a warmer beginning.

For Ezra

Sometimes I wish we lived before colour was invented so I could always see you like this— black and white and beautiful. Everyone is looking at you, and you wish they wouldn’t and I don’t blame them— I can’t stop looking at you either.

You are always performing, even offstage. Your years of ruthless dance training have rendered your limbs permanently eloquent. To slouch is to commit an unforgivable act. Even on hot, lazy, shirtless afternoons, your posture looks staged. Every gesture perfectly synchronized. Every smile, soft and conscious. You always look slightly embarrassed; there is a constant tinge of rose pink in your cheeks. I bury my head in your chest and your fingers are enmeshed in my unrelenting curls. And this is how we would end up every night— a set of interlocked limbs of russet brown and ivory.

I have always assumed you didn’t mind being different, at least not in the way it would bother anyone else. Whenever the boys in the neighbourhood would call you names, you merely laughed. You never gave me any reason to worry, so I never did. Until one day, I woke up to find you coiled tightly against me. The first thing I saw was the blue stain over your neck. Then, the dried blood on your knees. Your voice, still soft and steady and mine, brittle and quavering. That morning, I wondered about all the things we choose not to reveal about ourselves.

Sometimes I wish we lived before gender roles were invented so I could always see you like this— masculine and feminine and beautiful. Everyone is looking at you, and you wish they wouldn’t. When they see you, you are a broken rhyme, an abstract concept. Your presence is a question mark they do not know the answer to. You are a body to be outlined and a gender to be assigned. And god I like you. I like the way you dress— sometimes extravagant, other times toned-down. I like you in your outrageous leopard fur coat and little black dress. I like you in your white scoop neck t-shirt, with your exposed clavicle. I like you naked— your tapered waist and the gentle arch of your spine. Everyone is looking at you, and you find it amusing. I don’t blame them— I can’t stop looking at you either.

Oblivion

She woke up kissing an airbag; her life knocked out of her lungs. The serenity of the night is shattered by the cacophony of car horns, shrill whistles, sirens atop ambulances, pleading porters and taxi drivers. There was chaos. Everything was new and apocalyptic. But above the staccato of traffic noise, beyond the pitch-black street, her silhouette dreams came alive.

Dreams have a tendency of doing that. They always begin at the end of something.

A tiny figure materialized in the distance— her 15-year-old son in his study. Sometimes, she would catch him holding a book to his nose, and inhale the vanilla scented pages. He is a lexical creature, who breathes words. Often, he would hold a book to his ear, imagining the author narrating the story to him. Like a shell, bearing every spellbound secret of the sea.

That night, her young boy called her into his study. He read to her, as he often did. That night it was a Balti poet, Bowa Johar. No human, nor any living thing, survives long under the eternal sky. The most beautiful women, the most learned men, even Mohammad, who heard Allah’s own voice, all did wither and die. The sky outlives everything. Even suffering, he read. The words hung in the abyss between them, like the scent of dead cigarettes.

The room shrunk, engulfed by a feeble twilight. The scenery panned to the night they went stargazing— accompanied by a medley of soft smiles, warm blankets, and the fragrance of summer grass. In the dark pools of her son’s eyes, she could see a reflection of space, dotted by a constellation of stars.

She followed her son’s distant gaze. As infinity unfolded beyond them, the void between mother and son retreated. He began to hum a lullaby. The words are yearning to release themselves— just at the tip of her tongue.

She woke up into a nightmare. Chips of rain started to fall. The rain made the men look like ghosts— not humans, but shapes, moving beneath dark clouds. Whatever remained of the once white sedan was burned to a black crisp. Her lungs were choked with cinders. The smell, above everything else, is what haunted her the most. You can’t quite shake off the unmistakable scent of human flesh, burning. It haunted her briefly, before she descended into oblivion once more.

Ghost Stories

My father didn’t believe in ghosts.

I was 5 or 6, maybe when my friend, Joy would keep me awake at night with stories of the paranormal. Of monsters under the bed, creatures that lurk in the shadows and spirits with unfinished business that haunt little kids as revenge. “Ghosts aren’t real,” my father told me. What he didn’t say was that he was haunted— by ghosts that do not go away by dawn. He spent most of his time drifting aimlessly, wondering if he should be somewhere else.

He didn’t believe in ghosts so he created them— the creak of wooden floorboards and eerie footsteps upstairs, a dank house with old furniture, shadows and silhouettes dancing upon crumbling stone walls, moonlight streaming through open windows, the hiss of steam in the night.

My father was haunted by everything he failed to be and by voices that come uninvited to whisper lies into his ears. He has tried so many times to bury the dead— to finally lay these voices to rest. Ghosts have no flesh, blood or bones, but they cling to him all the same.

I’m 21 now and I’ve learned that ghost stories are nothing more than fragile remains of yesterday, invisible tales of spirits and headless apparitions, of ghosts that materialize only in nightmares. Unlike my father, I have learned that ghosts are incapable to hurt you. You can’t hope to inflict the same wounds the living can.

Muse

He would like for nothing better, to be a muse to one of her characters— even in the most insignificant detail. Every so often, when her words turn into mirrors, his heart would leap in joy. He wants to tell her how well she penned his feelings. It would take him ages to forge the same sentences. But as much as he loves her now, he knows it is better to admire from afar. He knows he isn’t enough. He is too plain, too lacking in nuance. She would consume him. He would let her use him, carte blanche. A muse, nothing more. Then, she would toss him aside, and move onto another.