2015: In A Little Over A Nutshell

It’s funny how this started off as some satire, but now has elevated to a tradition with myself. To be very frank, I have been subconsciously looking forward to this. Another year has passed, I’m 18 now (been so for half a year, too) and am a few months away from the end of FSc (22 weeks/154 days/3696 hours/221760 minutes/13305600 seconds ONLY.)

It’s scary how next year at this time I’ll either have accomplished my dream or failed in doing so, excuse the pessimism. I might actually be seeing my dreams actualizing into reality by next year’s review, assuming that the world hasn’t ended and I haven’t forgotten my blog’s password as I believe my last post was last year’s review.

It’s unsettling how much can change in a year, honestly. You can fall in and out of love. You become so close to some, and some people you thought you couldn’t live without show you that you can. You discover you like your coffee bitter, you like marshmallows and butterscotch, you like your toast burnt, your favorite color is black, you like yourself better in haphazard hair (reference: Instagram) and that you wouldn’t change anything about your life.

I think I should, for my own convenience, try to arrange this in some order. Or as a matter of fact, now that I think of it, I’m just going to write whatever comes to my mind in whatever order it does.

One of the momentous occasions teetering around the corner is my impending departure from college, a place that I have associated with a nonchalant love and odd refuge. I never had any overpowering loyalty to the institute, as what is expected of you. But then again, I didn’t have any for JT either. My greatest regret will be wasted potential. I could have participated in dramatics or in debates and definitely could have participated much more actively in the literary circles. But if I had done so, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with the sudden onslaught of academic pressure assaulting me on all fronts. In all honesty, I never had to exert myself that much in O’Levels, but FSc required a full sacrifice of hobbies, social life and sleep rolled into a I-could-have-done-better result. Then again, “could have been” is the equivalent of dividing a number by zero or the amount of birthdays in September.

I’ll miss the moments in college, hanging out with Fateh and making fun of people and cracking jokes lamer than the hockey guy. I’ll miss sitting in a circle with the dried grass under my hands (and in my hair), warm sunlight diffracting through my hair into my eyes and stomach hurting from laughing too much. Always having to keep your foot securely in your shoe lest it be lobbed up on some roof (clarification: the shoe, not the foot.)  I’ll miss sleeping in classes, begging teachers for attendance, headphones being a virtual staple of my daily look.

Most of all, I’ll miss that one bench in front of the café. The one where I used to go every morning, scrape it clean with some leaves that were invariably lying on it and then listen to songs until the first rays of the sun broke in through that one spiny tree next to the hostel building. That moment, with the leaves ablaze as the sun shone through them and cast first light upon the grounds, takes my breath away each time I see it.

I’ll miss this place, even after the indifference I’ve tried to maintain against it. I’ll never know why. Maybe I try too hard to convince myself that I don’t care. Or I try to believe that’s the case and I don’t really care at all. Only time will tell.

From a writer’s perspective, I have a lot of ideas lying around my brain waiting for any purchase they can find against my schedule. I’ll need weeks (maybe even months) for each idea which is pretty damn unfortunate since most days I don’t have enough time for lunch.

I don’t want to be pegged as conceited (which I have been…repeatedly) so let’s move on.  Many happenings in the mains: some fell apart and then they didn’t, some together and more so. Squad still persists, as I had no doubts before that it would.

The cold didn’t come in strong this time around. A lot of earthquakes occurring too: there was one as I was writing this sentence.

I realize I have become severely desensitized. My sense of humor has become absolutely grotesque and my conscience is almost as good as dead (cue dark joke.) Oddly, I have never felt better with myself. I recently feel as if I’m trying too hard to feel like I used to. I have to make a conscious effort to feel amused or saddened or offended. I have to force myself into being angry or being interested or having crushes (cue: Khayal 2015) to an extent that I always feel fake. I can still empathize but I can’t find it in me to sympathize. This is oddly unsettling, as I am a person who covets emotion greatly. I can’t understand the reason for this change, and I’m unsure as to if this is a gift or a horrendous curse. Perhaps it is my hectic and robotic schedule. I try to convince myself of that. Maybe this is a phase. I hope so.

The FSc result was really disappointing. Although I scored 88%, which is frankly more than what anyone expected of me, it was lesser than what I expected. I managed to satisfy everyone but myself. Here’s to hoping that this means to an end will pay off and that all’s well that ends well.

To move on to fun stuff- hold on the tube-light in the lounge just short-circuited and now the whole house is smelling of acrid burnt plastic and electricity smoke-this year we had a family trip to Naran Kaghan. This was such a long overdue trip, honestly. So this I intend to recreate as accurately as possible. Let’s begin, as soon as I check if the tube-light stopped smoking (cue picture of tube-light in leather jacket holding a packet of Malboro and leaning against a motorcycle).

To no great surprise, I found out about this trip when A sent me a snap of the 14-seater we had rented. Near my final paper, I was informed that we would leave a few days after my next paper.

We left 9 hours after my final paper.

DAY ONE:

The morning after my last paper, we had to leave early. And that we did. Hassan, the grouchy (and TOXIC spewing driver) we had hired, was late and we left at 7 although we were ready since 4. It was a long trip, considering E was sick. We stopped for crunchy biryani nearing Taxila, during the meal where there was a lizard directly staring down at us. It was still burning hot, and we were all regretting packing sweaters for our trip. This is June, by the way. We got back into the car, where we were 6 people in a 14 seater. We played cards while E slept and then I started to sing Feeling Myself, much to R’s chagrin and horror. It was nearing Naraan that the cold really kicked in, and then we regretted packing only light sweaters. By the time we reached Naraan, the temperature was in the negative. We quickly allowed Ijaz bae to move our suitcases to our rooms, our rooms being one door apart (in which room there were some particularly fat and scantily clad men to whom A took an inexplicable fancy. She tries to deny it but I saw it in her eyes. I saw.) We went out to dinner, where we saw this weird kid in a Salman Khan shirt and a family discussing what seemed to be a ménage e trois at the table next to ours. We got back to our hotel, and went to sleep.

DAY TWO:

The next morning, it was raining slightly. We had to go to Lake Saif-ul-Malook, but had to wait for the rain/sleet to subside. Our jeep driver was a grouchy man named Javed who took relish in scaring us to wit’s end. I was, luckily, on the front seat. Listening to my songs, we started our way towards the lake which is situated near the mountain’s top. The road there is muddy, ledge-less, unmade and bounded on one side by a steep mountain wall and on other by a fall so steep you can’t see the bottom. It was a very beautiful valley around us, with low hanging clouds and snowy peaks but I was too busy praying for my survival to appreciate the aesthetic. When we got to the lake, it was raining there too. R taught me that day that I don’t in fact know how to operate an umbrella. We stopped first for the best tea I have ever tasted, after which we went around the lake. We went to this snow bank where we just waded around in the snow. There was this odd couple of couples, there on a double honeymoon (?) who were haggling with the shoe rental guy to decrease the price of used rubber boots to 10 rupees.  Romantic. Speaking of shoes, E hates pebbles. After hearing the legend of the lake from a local, we returned to the hotel. After that, we took a walk and found an amazing seat at this newly opened restaurant called Punjab Tikka House. Its inauguration was on Friday, the day we were to leave. I wonder how it’s going. We went shopping that night, if I recall accurately. I bought necklaces and bracelets for friends.

DAY THREE:

We left in the morning to go to Lake Lulusar further north. It was north enough that I think we might have reached the Karokarams. There was extensive land-sliding in the way, some where the entire roads were destroyed. There were some avalanches with the snow banking either side of the road, towering overhead. At one point in particular, I remember the car broke down and we had to get an extra wheel from some random car. There were too many goats. We stopped near this river to eat lobia and have tea on the way. At the lake, we just sat and talked for a while. It was amazing, the water was clear and beautiful. On the way to and back, we stopped at a few springs to drink water straight from the ground. I wish I had taken my jar to collect tadpoles. My phone was also at 5 in the morning when we left. We came back for our last night in Naraan. On the way there, we stopped for horse riding on the river bed, where the water had dried in the form of an island in the middle of a river. We also stopped to cross a bridge across to the other side, which was beautiful and we could see the rapids beneath our feet. We went back to Punjab Tikka House, had some jalebis and tea and I consequently threw a bitch fit because no one was being adventurous. We then went across to PTDC’s bridge and crossed it, hiked up the mountain and saw the entire valley and river from up there. We went to PTDC (?) for dinner, before which we sat outside on the grass and played cards. It was followed by a bonfire, late at night. The sky over us was starry and sublime. A million blazing fires overhead against an inky backdrop, unpolluted by any light and us lying underneath, the fire blazing bright and just sitting and talking: it is one memory I might never forget. (A still regrets not charging her phone before we left.)During these few days, I had promised myself no internet to completely disconnect from the world for a few days. Lessons to learn: bitch-fits are good, always charge phone when having an aesthetic event and it’s good to disconnect once in a while.

DAY FOUR:

We bid adieu to the hotel, to Ijaz bae and went back. We hadn’t visited Siripai on our way up so decided to do so on our way down. At this particular stop near Shugran, Hassan vanished. That stop was really cool, with seats over a running spring. Collected lots of pebbles. Siripai was extremely interesting, to say the very least. We went with Nisar bae and the road is the most dangerous road like in any place ever. On the way down, I sat in the back of the jeep and might have contracted permanent brain damage from getting my head slammed around the car 10093434 times. Plus there is just a flimsy cloth keeping you in the jeep and from plummeting to your death many feet below. On top of Siripai, we just sat and watched the entire area from the top of a mountain. We hiked down on foot halfway down too, and met some really cute locals that we bribed with candy to take photos with.

On our way back, we stopped at Isloo to get burgers. We arrived back in Lahore late. Very very tired, homesick and A and I aware of what toxic means.

 

This trip made me realize what a humbling life the people in the mountains live: to live in shacks surrounded by towering mountains that can obliterate you in a blink. It makes man a lot less arrogant. I also started to think about last times.

How do we know if we aren’t doing something for the last time? We all must have had countless last times.

To visit a place for the last time. To talk to a person for the last time. To look at a particular thing, to taste some food, to breathe some air, to sit at some spot.

It astounds me as to how many last things I might have already done without even thinking about it.

 

This year was the year of Honeymoon (which rocked beyond words) and there was this one stretch when Selena, Demi, Justin, 1D and Adele were releasing music at once (2010 flashback.)

This year also marked Manto and Bajirao Mastani, two movies that consumed me with their unexpected aesthetic.

This year was a year of singing at Tenerife, of birthday surprises at Costa, meeting new people at Forest, amazing birthday parties at Hotspot and countless Pak Tea House excursions that never end well but happen anyway. Pretty girls at Khayal, ordering cakes that look and taste heavenly. Also, I feel like Soap Football is iconic enough to warrant a mention.

I feel like a fishbowl or a review can’t do justice to a whole year. A year of breathing and living, laughing and crying, feeling and detaching can’t be summed up, no matter how hard you try. But try I must and so I have. There are countless things I would have forgotten that keep coming back to me like tiny moths bombarding the bulb that is my glorious mind.

Writing for Gazette. Discovering new restaurants. New Internet. Letting go of hopeless things in life. In the end, we all just try.

Here’s to 2016. Arguably the most important year of my life. May this year bring a very full fishbowl, lots of happiness and joy and the tidings of a bright future. Here’s to TOO many good films coming over. Here’s to the last year of teenage life, to the last year of college life, to another year of many firsts and many lasts.

Till next time…

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2014: In A Little Over A Nutshell

Well, just like that. Another year struck off. It seemed like it was just yesterday that I was writing 2013: In A Little Over A Nutshell. I didn’t think I would write another one, but now with Lana Del Rey crooning softly in my ears and my room so cold there is actual mist hanging with every breath I take, my fingers fly over the keyboard in an effort to justify the year I have lived. This would have been a very different article, whiny and cranky, if it weren’t for a horrendous event that took place a few days ago. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week, you will know about the Peshawar Attack (16.12.14) that took place where terrorists brutally murdered 160+ people including 141 students (conservative figure) of a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. This year has been ridden with events that made the humanity in me cringe and weep at the brutality this world inflicts on those within it; from the massacres in Burma, Syria, Gaza and now Pakistan. It seems that as I grow older, the world grows callous and brutal by the minute. Or maybe my ability to notice the cruelty has grown. I was used to the notion that old people died. Children were to live and study and play. This notion has been eviscerated. Now, I have seen that reality is ruthless. It is mirthless and kills those who don’t deserve death. But then again…who does? Now, living seems like a privilege. And that, right there, is how messed up we are. Life seems like blacks and grays woven into a tapestry of bleakness, riddled here and there with a string of bright golden. Instead of how it should conversely be, life is but sadness with a splash of happiness. So, in lieu of the depressing turn this has taken, lets look at the aforementioned golden threads in detail. 1- The Good Things That Happened This Year

  • I have, been blessed in this life, by amazing people. People who make life bearable enjoyable.
  1. My amazingly sarcastic mother
  2. My ridiculously annoying yet amazing sister
  3. My friends (the fat, the short, the excessively tanned, the scarfed, the excessively egoistic, the dimpled, the mathematicians, the ones far away, the musicians, the artists, the music-dealers, the writers and the readers, the gamers, the providers of love and guidance, the ones that make me roll around with laughter, the ones that are just too adorable and all of them who are amazing.)
  4. No one else matters to me *evil laughter*
  • ROCKING GRADES IN O’LEVELS WHATS UP YO
  • I got enrolled in the most prestigious college in Pakistan. Although the significance of this barely registers to me and when it goes I go like huh goddamn I’m in the most prestigious colleges in the country and that is it.
  • I had some amazing times this year. Some days I will never forget, and some that I will despite not wanting to.
  • LANA DEL REY RELEASED HER NEW ALBUM AND IT WAS AMAZING YES IT WAS.
  • If I had a bucket list, I would have crossed out sing randomly on public transport so everyone looks at you funny; get thrown up on by a complete stranger in aforementioned public transport; listen to an entire album in class; get thrown out of class for snoring; bunking college and going to McDonald’s; mistake the campus manager of your academy for a custodian. 

1- The Bad Not Particularly Nice Things That Happened This Year

  • FScENOUGH SAID

Ok no seriously coming into FSc after O-Levels was a HUGE step and something I still haven’t entirely adapted to. I basically oppose the methods of learning in FSc and the English syllabus is painfully easy. The people here are very very different from what I was used to in O-Levels. Now, that can be a bad thing as well as a good thing. If you compare the good against the bad, however, you find one thing. All the flaws in them aren’t their faults but their strengths are to their credits. They aren’t that interested in reading, or in good music (translation: music I like) and they spend too much of their time and energy into the futile endeavor of finding a temporary significant other. However, these people are very hard-working. If only they had utilized their gifts, they would be MUCH MUCH MUCH more successful. Other than that, there is solidarity and humanity in them. They are willing to help. And they genuinely care for other people. However, my tough life schedule has pretty much made me drift away from everyone who didn’t make a conscious effort to stay with me through this time. PLUS MY BACK HURTS SO MUCH ALL THE TIME.

  • We had to endure songs such as Rude by MAGIC!; Happy by Pharell Williams; All About That Bass by that fat girl.
  • O’Levels ended. It was so fun. The people were fun. Life was fun and easy. A simpler time. I miss it tremendously.
  • It’s been so long and YouTube is still banned.
  • NAWAZ SHARIF *narrows eyes* Grrr…

The Advice Before we got to the actual advice, there were a lot more things rushing through my head that I wanted to write down before they tumbled back into some forgotten corner of my consciousness. But I guess that’s the beauty of it. I haven’t forced anything onto the page. Only the things that my fingers wrote appeared here, soul laid bare till next year. What I’ve also learned, something I knew already but what has been set in stone over the past year, is that you don’t need approval from anyone else. Society will never approve of you. They will break you down and pull your body and soul apart and criticize each and every portion of your entity. You cannot appease society if you hope to hold on to your originality. It is futile to conform to society, because society will strip you of your originality and your individuality and turn you into a mindless, opinion-less drone. Whatever you do, they will twist and turn it into something negative. So I have given up trying to fit in. No one can bring you down if you love yourself. If you know your flaws and know your strengths, there is no one that can pull you down. The only person who can control you is yourself. The only one with the power to break you down  is yourself. Everyone is beautiful. Everyone is amazing. Every life is important. Always remember that. I just wanted to request for everyone to live life to its fullest. Live it like there is no tomorrow (this doesn’t mean that you have to be reckless and do heroin and steal a walrus) but it means that you have to find the beauty in life so that all the moments can be beautiful. We can’t wait for happiness to come; we can’t wait for beauty to find us. We have to go to the happiness, find the beauty in life. Love your family. Love your friends. Let your love be true and unapologetic. If you want to talk to someone, send them a message. If you don’t want to talk to someone, don’t. If you want to tell someone something, do it. If you want to read or write or sing, the only one who can stop you is you. Life is short. Too short for hate or regret or what-if’s. You can be here one day, underground the next. Life is too short for waiting or being afraid. Life is too short for doing what you don’t want to do. So…

  • be true
  • be unafraid
  • be thankful for what you have
  • live life to the fullest

Stay safe.

Shadows

I don’t remember it too well. I just remember the running. I did not understand where I was running to. Or why I was running. I just was.

Larks circled overhead, their melodies echoing in the wide expanse. The first rays of sunlight had pierced the night and the sky was bleeding profusely, drenched in a crimson light.

And I just ran.                     

My legs were carrying me, my body soaring and leaping over the rocky terrain of the lakeside with agility that I had no idea I possessed.

Wait. My body skidded to a halt. Lake-side?

Could it be? No it couldn’t possibly be. It was so far.

But it was. Yes it was.

My body had brought me back here. Here, where I hadn’t been in a long time. Here, where I had never been alone. With a gasp, all the memories began crashing back.

 

I remembered the grainy sand. I remembered the tumultuous waves swirling and colliding with each other. I remembered the bundle of trees past which the foliage gave way to the ruins of a dilapidated cottage which was always covered in darkness due to the impregnable canopy of leaves overhead. I remembered going to the cottage everyday with my brother, where we would sit in the cottage, surrounded by nothing but darkness and neglect. The darkness had held a perpetual sense of obscurity encompassed in its tendrils of nothingness. It held a grotesquely beautiful escape in its atramentous filaments, twisting and turning around the world like poison ivy creeping up around the decaying walls of the cottage.

It was the one place I knew where there were never any shadows; where you could truly escape the shade that was always by your side. Whenever I entered that clearing, I used to look behind me and watched my shadow being left in the light. I watched it shrivel into nonexistence and dissipate. I would remain shadow-less till I reentered the light. I used to think it couldn’t reach me here in the dark. I used to think I was safe.

My grandmother used to tell me that all of us had evil and good inside of us; the light and the dark. The two were constantly at war with each other. In the day, the light was stronger and it kicked out the darkness from inside of us, which appeared as our shadow. And at night, the shadow crept back into us.

From that day on, I had always slept with the lights on. My brother used to turn them off as soon as I had fallen asleep.

My brother was nothing like me. He was not afraid of his shadow. He saw the clearing as the place where his shadow was strongest, where he was surrounded by the darkness. I saw it as the one place where I had let the darkness around me destroy the one inside of me.

When our father used to come home at night, smelling of alcohol and fury, I used to cower in my blanket and pretend that I couldn’t hear the screaming. My brother didn’t cower. He just sat there, tears of fury brimming in his eyes and his fists clenched. When the screams ended, I would go to sleep. But if I woke up at night, I would see the moon reflected in his open eyes.

I won’t lie. I was afraid of him. I loved him as all siblings are obligated to, but he terrified me.

Growing up, he was never reprimanded. He was never scolded. I was blamed for everything he did. And I silently bore the brunt of the repercussions of his actions. I was too afraid to say who was really to blame.

I never understood him truly, but he knew the darkest corners of my soul.

Then one day, after school, we went to the cottage again. I lay there against the cold musty wall, relaxing in the solace that the darkness brought.

We sat there in the murky blackness. Silence. Nothingness.

My brother’s voice pierced the stillness.

“I have had enough,” he said in a dead voice. Emotionless. Blank.

I didn’t know what he meant. I was too afraid to ask. We spoke no more that day.

Now I stood here. With the wind ruffling my hair. I felt cold as I started to walk the path that twined through the woods and to my house, my shadow trailing faithfully behind me.

I walked the roads I used to walk every day. I turned left once, and then a right and kept on following the road till I reached the house I grew up in.

The windows were dusty. The once clean lawn was overrun with weeds. I looked to the second window from the right, a pane was still shattered. It had been years. No one had fixed it.

 

The next few days, my brother acted strange.

One fateful night, when the might of the wind shook the panes of the window and howled against the walls, my father came home. He had been fired from his job, and he was angry. I covered myself in the blankets as the wailing of the wind and the screaming from downstairs melded into a cacophony of chaos. It was then when the creaking of my brother’s bed was swallowed by the shrieking, when the slide of the drawer was masked by the shaking panes and when the bombardment of the wind drowned out the creak of the door. Lightning. I don’t remember.

I remember going downstairs and watching my father lying on the floor, a cleaver embedded in his skull and blood seeping out. I remember the blood spiraling out on the floor and my mother shrieking as my brother just stood there. Lightning flashed, throwing the whole room into relief and casting the shadows far away.

That is when I saw it.

My brother had no shadow.

And as my mother screamed in disbelief and the rain crashed down on the window, my brother just stood there. His lip curled into a smile.

I knocked on the door.

Once. Twice.

“Hold your horses I’m coming I’m coming! Who is it at his ungodly hour? I hope you aren’t one of those sales-”

The door swung open as my mother opened it.

Her sentence trailed off as she looked at me. There was a second of silence, utter crushing silence. Then I noticed that her pupils were dilating.

“Mother,” I said. “I’m home.”

She tried to say something but no sound came out as her eyes brimmed with tears. I smiled. My mother was speechless with happiness.

Suddenly, she tried to slam the door and run away.

What.

I didn’t understand.

I grabbed the door just as she tried to slam it and ran in behind her as she tried to run to the kitchen.

“MOTHER!” I bellowed.”What is wrong?”

“S-s-stay away from me,” she stammered. “How did you ret-“

“Mother what are you saying? Are you okay? What has gotten into you? I come back after so much time and is this how you greet your so-“

“I HAVE NO SON!” she yelled.  She was shaking, her muscles taut and her eyes brimming with tears.

I knew I had abandoned her after that night, but I don’t think that warranted such an outburst.

The light above flickered.

She was sobbing now.

“I’ll never forgive you,” she sobbed.

“I’m sorry, mother…”

A whisper. Begging. Imploring. Pleading.

She looked at me with a look full of such unadulterated hatred that I flinched.

“…forgiveness…” she whispered.

“You want forgiveness?” Her voice was building.

“YOU WANT FORGIVENESS FOR KILLING YOUR FATHER!?” Explosion. Fury.

Silence.

“Mother, that wasn’t me. That was him. You know it. You were there. You saw it.”

“WHO?” she screamed.

“…my brother, mom.”

Clearly, my mother had been suppressing memories.

More silence. Then my mother wailed a loud wail of someone who had given up. She clenched her hair and began tugging as streams of tears washed down her face. She buried her head in her hands.

Then she looked at me:

“YOU HAVE NO BROTHER!”

The light flickered again. Throwing the world into shade.

“I thought they were curing you I thought the-“ She broke off, crying.

“Curing?” I asked.

“At the asylum,” she sobbed. Resigned.

I looked down at myself. I saw myself clad in a white robe. A plastic tag on my left hand.

Sr. No. 1583

“No, mother. My brother. I remember him. We went to the cottage.”

“You always went alone,” she said in a dead voice.

The light flickered as I fell to the ground with my head pounding.

Headache. Throbbing. A shrill sound. My brother’s face. The world spinning. Tears.

The light flickered one last time, and as I knelt on the ground, my brother’s shadow stood over me.

‘The darkness never leaves,’ it whispered. ‘You can’t escape your shadow.’

 

Whistle

Disclaimer: The following story is based on true events. However the places and people mentioned are figments of my imagination, the former being only very loosely based on reality. So I apologize for any factual discrepancies. This story is meant to provide some food for thought and I would like to thank Scarface for urging me to write on this topic. This is quite different from other stories I have written in the past so any feedback would be appreciated.


 

House number 16, colony 3, West Bank, Gaza. 

Father 12:34 pm

Fear is a powerful emotion. It is very odd. It cripples you at times, and at times it gives you a feeling of being more alive than you can ever imagine.

It is all in the adrenaline, you see. FIght or fright.

For me, my entire life had been transformed into one endless nightmare. For the past ten years of my life, I had lived with the feeling of impending death looming above me. Then two weeks ago the bombs started to fall.

Now I can smell death in the smoke that spirals to the sky. I hear death in the silence of the streets. I see it in the eyes of everyone around me. Everyday another day in a living hell.

Death doesn’t scare me. Death is better than this life. But I can’t let anything happen to my family. My wife and my two beautiful children. I have to be here for them.

My son is ten and my daughter is six. They have lived all their lives like this: afraid. I don’t know what to do anymore.

I sit in the cramped room. I am thankful we even have this place. Food is scarce but we have enough money to afford it. Water is rare too. But we are alive and I am thankful for that. I have buried too many people as it is. So many friends I will never see again.

I look over to the small alcove that functions as an impromptu kitchen and see my wife kneading dough to cook later. It is almost finished. We will have to go the market again soon.

The children are asleep in the corner of the room, their faces covered with a shiny sheen of sweat in the sweltering heat. We used to sleep outside, but it is too dangerous now.

I just sit and stare at them, their tiny chests moving up and down in tandem with their breathing.

I hope they are having sweet dreams. In the kitchen, my wife begins to whistle as she cooks.


 

Son 02:24 pm

I am running.

I can’t remember from what.

I don’t know where to.

I don’t know where I am. I look around and all I see are flames. I spin around wildly until I hear something familiar: mother’s whistling.

With a start, I jolt upright in bed.

Just a nightmare, I repeat to myself. Just a nightmare. 

I am shaking and mother runs over from the kitchen and wraps me in her embrace. I put my arms around her and sob into her shoulder. She smells of flour and perfume and the scent soothes me.

She runs her fingers through my hair and I lean against her shoulder.

I feel safe.

In the distance, I hear the Azaan ringing through the air.


In a few minutes, all of the mosques nearby are calling out for prayers. The voice carries more in the silence engulfing the city, and the azaans all coalesce into a symphony that reverbrates throughout the city. The streets still remain empty, a few people emerge out of the safeties of their homes to go answer the call to prayer. Most of them are too afraid after the aerial attack on a mosque the previous week.


After we all pray, mother and father ready themselves for a trip to the market. Mother dons her abaya and father extracts some ration coupons from the safe beneath a loose floorboard.

The market is nearby, only a five minute walk from our residence. But father still barrages me with instructions.

Take care of your sister while we are at the market.

Don’t open the door for anyone.

If the phone rings, pick it up as soon as possible.

And whatever happens, don’t go outside.

I nod and watch from the window as they walk hurriedly down the street. They are holding hands.

I take out a rusty toy car from under the sofa and begin to play with it, aimlessly.

03:04 pm

It’s been ten minutes since my parents had gone. They should be back soon.

Just then, there was a huge explosion that shook the windows and made dust fall off the ceiling.

My sister jolted awake and I ran to the window, frantically peering outside to see where the explosion had come from.

My heart stopped in my chest. It felt as if someone had ripped a hole through my chest and was crushing my heart with an iron fist.

I could see a cloud of dust and smoke in the distance, right above where the market was.


Mother 02:48 pm

I remember the market used to be so much more alive the last time I was here.

Ever since the Israel airstrikes had begun, the market looked so lifeless. Only a handful of people were mulling about. It depressed me.

My husband and I quickly made way to the shop and bought some flour, some spices and we headed to buy a few vegetables from the greengrocer outside.

As I haggled with the shopkeeper, my husband spotted a friend of his and walked over to greet him in the centre of the market, by a fountain that had been dry for years.

It all happened at once.

People began to shout and the market erupted in chaos as everybody began to yell and run to cover as an aircraft shot across the sky. Something plummeted from the sky and landed squarely in the middle of the market, right on the fountain beside which her husband stood.

Time stopped.

She saw the fountain explode in a fiery inferno. Her husband stood silhouetted against the billowing flames for a second. Their eyes met for the last time. His hair was billowing in front of him from the blast. He tried to raise his hand as if reaching for her’s. And then he was engulfed in the inferno. 

The shockwave and the blast of heat hit her and she fell backwards. She felt a warmth spreading through her and she looked down to see her chest studded with shrapnel. The pain didn’t even hit her. All she felt was emptiness. Then she felt no more.

The last thing image in her mind was that of her children.

What would they eat at night


Son 03:05 pm

No.

This can’t be.

They are okay.

They will be home any minute and we will laugh about his.

My sister is crying.

The phone is ringing.

THE PHONE!

I run to the phone and pick it up.

My hands are trembling. My throat is choking up and I try to say something but a mechanical voice begins to speak before I can say anything. It speaks in some language I don’t understand.

Please evacuate this area. You have three minutes before we will authorize an airstrike on this area. Please evacuate before that.

My sister is crying louder now. Outside the window, I can see people running.

Stupid people. Father said to stay inside no matter what happens. I go and hug my sister and try to stop her from crying.

I hear a whistling sound. I think it must be mother. But this sound is coming from above us.

Mother is whistling to us, calling us.

The bomb fell next to their window. The blast force killed them instantaneously. They did not suffer. The entire neighborhood was levelled and many people died in the explosion or from the resulting injuries. Many people were left homeless and helpless after the bomb fell. 

When the rescuers removed the rubble later, they discovered two children, charred beyond recognition wrapped in an eternal embrace. They were laid to rest with the others.


Solace

The room was abysmal at best. Torn paper carpeted the rotting floor. A dingy table leaned in the center of the room, next to a couch old enough to have probably been used to furnish caves by the Neanderthals.

A man sat on the couch. His clothes were torn and frayed, splattered with grease and tears. He had the face of someone who could have been at one time a handsome man, but his scraggy face paid no testament to his former attractiveness. He wasn’t an old man by any account, hardly thirty years of age but he looked much older. The scarce hairs on his head were streaked with gray. His steely eyes stared vacantly, traumatic memories swirling in their pensive depths.

From afar, he looked like any common drug-addict. The kind of person kids whisper about and adults scoff at. But his eyes exuded grief.

He used to be an intelligent person, acing all his exams and being the epitome of sensibleness at one time. But with this gift, like with all gifts, came a curse. He was too arrogant and selfish to love. He thought it was beneath him to delve into such basic trivialities, which were nothing more than flaws in our psyche.

And like all gifts, it had an expiration date.

After a constant stream of successes, his downfall began. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

And he fell hard.

He lost his job and his fancy house and his shiny car. And at that moment, when he was lost and helpless, he realized he didn’t have anyone to turn to.

Fast forward one month later, later the same night, he lay draped over this musty couch, his hands lolling around. In front of him, was an empty bottle of whiskey.  Another bottle was on the end table, and he grappled with it, fumbling as it slid out of his drunken grip.

He wanted not to feel as his world crashed around him; as everything he held dear to himself loomed on the brink of being lost forever. He swung the bottle towards him and took a long gulp, the alcohol burning his throat. The burn was good. It distracted him.

He fell back into the couch, silent tears sliding down his cheek. His face was scrunched into a mask of stupor fuelled sorrow.

His hands shaking, he navigated to the pocket of his trousers and extracted a bunched up tissue paper. Slowly unwrapping it, a couple of pills fell into his lap. With trembling hands, he took two of them and put them in his mouth. He then swallowed them down with an abundant sip of whiskey.

Slowly, as they dissolved in his body, he felt his movements becoming sluggish and slow. He felt distant, a rising crescendo of emptiness.

Then all he felt was numbness: a morbid absence of feeling. It should have terrified him, but it did not. He felt himself craving the numbness. It took away the pain and fear. It took away the feeling of helplessness and loneliness. It took away the feeling that he had nothing to turn to.

Slipping into the relief, he allowed himself to drift away into the abyss.

As he drifted away, he felt one last pang of regret. Regret that he had no one to hold him and no shoulder to cry on. No one to tell him that it would be okay. No one to be his anchor.

In his final moments of consciousness, he realized what he had been missing his whole life. The bottle slipped out of his hand and crashed to the floor. He realized something, and a single cry of regret escaped his lips:

There is more solace in the embrace of a best friend or the kiss of a lover or the hug of a parent than any bottle or pill in the world.

He felt the ache of absence inside of him, and he curled up and waited for the reprieve.


This story is in an odd way dedicated to all those people who have been by my side when I needed them to be. Whom I can rely on and depend upon their unconditional and unwavering support and love. Especially my mother and a few of my close friends.

Dear reader, if you read all of that, please read this and try to keep those whom you love close to you. Love them shamelessly. Enjoy unconditionally. Sacrifice your pride for them if you need to, but never lose them. Because nothing hurts more than losing someone.

Except maybe a chainsaw.

 

Curtain Call

She looked at the tiny vial in her hands. The vial brimmed with a transparent liquid that caught the moonlight and sparkled deviously. She absentmindedly twirled the vial between her long slender fingers, savoring the feeling of power it accompanied. Her lips were quivering slightly and she felt slightly hot, despite the flapping wetness of the night air.

She gazed out of her window, out to the oak swaying in the windy night. Her windows struggled to smash shut, barely restrained by the rusty stopper. Swirling black clouds blotted out the moon, casting a twisted silver lining of steely light against a mass of black.

She felt the tears begin to rise as she felt the pressure pounding down on her. All through her life, she had been told what to do. She had been expected to study, and ace all her examinations and be the ideal daughter. Her father had made it no secret that he had wanted a son, and never in her life had she remembered a word or act of kindness from her father.

The only thing that she really liked to do was to act. It was her passion, and she felt it liberated her in a  way little else could. When she was on stage, acting, she didn’t have to be herself. She could delve into the personas of noble ladies and foreign diplomats and queens and strong independent women. When she was up there, she could be free. Whenever it seemed like everything was going downhill, she could turn to the theater.

Until her father had decreed that she had grown too old for acting.

And now, she sat in her room, alone. She sobbed heartily, her body wracking with dry spasms of despair. Her entire life, she had been helpless. She had been little more than a tool for her parents to fill their wishes through her entity. She was just a vessel. She could see her life ahead of her, and it was bleak. She didn’t want to lead such an existence at all.

Today was the day, she had decided, that she would take control for once. For the first time, she would do what she wanted and not care. No one had cared for what she had wanted, why should she?

When she had wanted to enroll in summer camp, her father had refused on the grounds that it was pointless.

She had never gone to a field trip. She wasn’t allowed to make any friends. She was allowed to just…exist.

She had had enough. She was going to rebel. One final act of defiance. One final act to break free.

With a steely resolve and shaking hands, she opened the vial and downed it in one gulp.

It was tasteless. 

For a second, as the rush began to subside, the enormity of her decision hit her. What this would mean.

And she came to the realization that she had nothing to live for. No one to live for. Nothing to grasp onto and clutch onto it for support. She envied everyone who had an anchor: a best friend, a parent, a sibling, a wife, a child, a puppy.

She slowly got up from her bed as she began to feel the contents of the vial coursing through her body. At first it began like a slow heat, slowly ascending till it felt like a blazing inferno trapped inside her veins, scorching her from the inside.

The clouds parted and a single moonbeam burst forth through the inky night and pirouetted into the room, illuminating her. She was surrounded by a diaphanous aureole of light, like a final spotlight. 

Her vision began to blur, her breathing growing shallow and painful. Her head hurt with an excruciating throbbing. As she tried to scream, she discovered her vocal chords would not obey.

A strong gust of wind blew, and the rusty stopper gave into the relentless force of the wind. The windows banged shut, the glass resonating with the force of the impact. As the branches of the oak danced in the wind, they bombarded her window.

The howling of the wind, the branches against the glass, it all sounded like the tumultuous roar
of a happy audience. This wasn’t the cacophony of conflict, this was the symphony of appreciation.

A slight smile curled up against the side of her lips, despite the pain. She began to picture, slightly, the thronging mass of people cheering for her in the theater.

Silhouetted against the moonbeam, she felt her legs buckling under the weight that her body had become. Groaning in pain, she sank to the floor as the pain began to crescendo.

Her back arched with mirthless agony of a body trying to persevere, she looked to be bowing for one last time. Her final curtain call. 

Then, as a single tear rolled down her cheek onto the curve of her smiling cheek, she fell to the ground. The pain began to fade, as did the spotlight. And before she knew it, she faded off into the darkness.

One final act of liberation.

One final bow.

Curtains close.

2013: In A Little Over A Nutshell

And just like that, another year of my life passed in an exceedingly colourful blur. And now here I sit, holed up in my blanket, thinking back on the year that passed. And I find myself writing this, though logic dictates that this is an effort in futility.

This year, as any other, had its vicissitudes. There were the highs and there were the lows. And I wanted to write all this down. I guess to preserve all of this? I don’t even understand why.

So I think I’ll go with a quaint numbering system or something. And although this goes against the pessimistic core of my personality, I’ll start with the good things first.

1- The Good Things That Happened This Year

Well, no one died for one thing. And people have a habit of doing that so that’s a big plus. Except for this old aunty across the street and now I’m thinking about her and now I’m sad. She always used to give us biscuits when we went over and she was so sweet and kind to us and she genuinely loved everyone and now the neighbourhood just seems so cold and desolate. I remember on the day of her funeral, when her body was being taken away, her husband of some 50 or such years looks at her and waves her goodbye for the last time. Yeah. Heart-wrenching.

Other than that, I met some very special people this year. At this time last year, roughly the same I guess, I became friends with one of my best friends who I hope will go the long run. And some eight months ago, I met my best friend so unexpectedly that it eludes belief. And it might astonish you how these people went from being absolute strangers to people I would die for in the span of this year. Guys, I love you and I hope you will be by my side in these years to come. And I met a few other people too. People who came and left but they all left marks. All of them made impacts. Y’all know who you are. And I don’t regret meeting any of you. I’m glad I met all of you. Because you all are important in shaping me. No matter how mediocre you think you are, we are all cogs in a grand machine. Each part has its purpose to serve. You all changed me. For the better, I hope. But you were all vital to my metamorphosis.

Stooping to the superficial, I got a new phone. And I got good grades in my Cambridge exams ._.

2- The Bad Things That Happened This Year
Now this is the part which I won’t particularly like writing. First of all, this year has brought me some horrid scares. I thought I had lost six out of the nine people important to me.

Now although you might find this impeccably petty, but the thought of losing people wrecks me. And this year, I was forced to think about how not having these people would affect me. And this destroyed me. This feeling devastated me and left me with this obsessive paranoia that everyone is going to leave me. Although they say life moves on after you lose someone, it doesn’t. That person remains there always, a shadow just beyond your grasp. And it eradicates you. Knowing that you can never see them again. And to know they are never coming back. I can’t stand losing these people. And if the day ever comes when one of them is taken from me, I don’t know what will become of me. You people might not know what you mean to me. Or you might just know. And I just might not mean the same to you as you do to me. Or maybe I do. But please, just stay by my side. I love all of you.

Other than that, this year brought forth a barrage of problems; one atop the another. You think you have found bliss but then suddenly another problem befalls you. And the onslaught doesn’t stop. You want it to end. You want solace. But that won’t be. So I’m glad for all the people there for me. I know you’ll always be there for me. And I can’t thank you all enough for that. I can’t stress this enough. I love you all.

And now that we are done with the good and the bad, I just want to say that this year could have been a lot better. And it could have been a WHOLE LOT WORSE. I have a few regrets, and I have a few moments that I will always look back and smile at. All in all, 2014 is just around the corner. And I hope that this year will be better than this one. I hope I lose no one. I hope I make my friends and family proud. I hope I achieve what I have been aspiring.

I want all of you, whoever bothered reading these ravings of a bored adolescent, to ponder over the year you have. Think about those close to you. And tell them what they mean to you. You might never know when its too late.

Aspire. Dream. Do it.

Don’t wait out.

Life’s too short.

The years are flying by.

Don’t waste your life.

Think about those whom you have hurt.

Think about the things you wanted to say and say them.

Apologize.

Reconcile.

And step into the new year without any regrets, a heart full of hope, a smile on your face and the people you love next to you.

*raises hypothetical glass*

So here’s to 2013. Here’s to all our friends and families; the people we can’t live without; the people who have stayed with us and who always will.  Here’s to meeting new people. Here’s to love and to friendship. Here’s to memories, both good and bad. Here’s to living without regrets. Here’s to living. Here’s to surviving.

Here’s to 2014, a year of promise.

To everyone out there, Happy New Year.