I can hardly decide whether it is heart or a fireball that is enclosed in my rib cage. I have heard people saying in a sarcastic tone that heart can do nothing but supply blood. I can’t resort to their statement with a denial because of the mighty word science, which supplements their every claim. I have to nod just to avoid any further confrontation because I really am not in a position to engage in yet another war.
I can reply to them. I can say something that would suffice my ends but I always refrain from this counter attack because my answer’s roots are in a ground of a very different logic. I know we would have to face the philosophical problem of descriptions and prescriptions. If it is so what they say, then why does heart emanates nothing but fire when I think of him. If it is just brain which handles the matters of love, memories, and pain, then why does my heart burn like an old cracked stove around which dance the flames of sacred love, smoke of memories and aroma of pain…….
Madiha jotted down whatever came into her mind because she was getting late for her university. She grabbed her bag and left the room.
This room was her world, nay, her universe. This was the room to which she had restricted all her personal affairs. On floor laid an old Iranian carpet which was bought by her grandma in Iran some 50 years ago on their honeymoon trip. She had managed that carpet to her room after the demise of her grandma two years earlier. The windows were draped with gray curtains that seemed like the pulp of wood because of being over-starched. Opposite to the window was her bed, which would creak even with the weight of a shoe placed on it. All the night the room would echo with shrill sounds of the bed, and that never bothered her even though the creaks had more frequency than that of a squealing mature pig. Adjacent to the bed, a book-shelf overloaded with novels and her text books was hammered on the wall, some two feet above the floor. All of the books were covered with a thick layer of dust blown into the room through the broken ventilator, despite her vain attempt of placing an old magazine in place of the shattered glass pane. Without any tinge of distortion, the books masked with dust passively revealed her interest in them-barely touched, let alone reading them. In the corner, beside the door, was an ice- capped mountain which was indeed the bin, filled to the top with crumpled pages. Collectively, the room emitted nothing but cold gestures and wretchedness, yet it was her darling room, or in more sincere terms her Pandora box, which nobody could decipher except her.
As a matter of her usual routine, due to her hastiness, she didn’t properly take the breakfast. Just took the tea that burnt her lips and tossed the boiled egg into her mouth and left the house shouting good-bye to her mother, who was busy in doing the dishes of last night’s supper.
She boarded the bus as soon as she had reached the main road that was some 20 paces away from her home.
After getting seated, she looked around to those who were en route to the same destination. Paradoxically, this was a university bus, which was supposed to be filled by the only students of the university to which it belonged, but the seats were also occupied by students of other colleges of the town and ,more surprisingly, by those who had in no way any relation with their university and its bus. Even though it was not the first time that she saw these “trespassers” , in the pond of her mind swam the withered leaves of discontentment.
“Isn’t this bus, still, too big for us. What on earth makes you have something to it. It’s not your bus. They are not sitting on your seat, there are enough seats for you. For heavens sake look at their faces, look at their get up, they aren’t even wearing uniforms which mean they are not enjoying the luxury of education though they are as young as you. Can’t you see their faces, hands and feet bruised by poverty ” murmured she to placate her inapt and , obviously, out of place contempt, and brusquely sympathy replaced discontentment.
In the lecture-room, she was the first to enter. She would, as a matter of her routine, stick to her chair until the last person would leave the room.
Before the arrival of the professor, who taught them Political science, there would be hue and cry, but as the professor would enter, the class would be as silent as a crashed stock market.
All of the hullabaloos, stillness and lecture had nothing to do with her. She would not look but gawp, her vain attempt to look immersed in the lecture. She heard everything but never processed it. She saw everything but never comprehended it. In mythical disguise, she was a warrior, protected by the deity of “Absentness”, that deflected all the arrows of words set free at her. The arrows pierced her; nevertheless, it would not be keen enough to bring her back to the world of which just two things mattered to her.
The lecture was over. The room was vacant soon. Once again she was hit by the flood of her bile.
” Life is getting to high-flown for me. It is a grandeur, which I no longer can afford. I am living among them but now am seldom noticed by them. Why seldom? Why not never? Ha ha ha, they bear me in their minds just to fuel the humor of their discussion; mindful of me, they laugh at the top of their voices; I am butt of their jokes, and Madiha soon, very soon, you won’t be even worth that. Yes, not even worth their witticism. You are getting alone. You are iso…” she had not even finished when her hand was grabbed by Samina, who dragged her the way an angry mother drags her reluctant child.
Madiha was wrong. She was not alone. She had Samina, the only daughter of a retired bureaucrat, a white elephant of his time. Samina was a tall and slim girl with a tan complexion. She was generous, or may be a spendthrift, lady, whose pleasantness was slightly tarred by her loquaciousness, but in a broader sense, her good behavior with everyone was enough for all to turn a blind eye to her only eyesore.
” We know how miserable you are. We know you are depressed. We know the intensity of your anxiousness, your anxieties, your miseries, and I hereby announce that the award of “the wretched soul ever” goes to Miss- Madiha. So be happy now and let’s go to canteen” said Samina in a very satirical manner.
“How warm is it to be taken care of by someone who has not the speck of interest or hope for any sort of return. This is possibly the true love expressed by a friend” thought she , while walking under her grip.
During the break, the girls of the class would stroll in the lawn with bare feet except Madiha. She never did this lest there might be holes in her socks, even if there were no holes in them, she was never sure of it. To avoid this embarrassment , she would always patronize this with her habits. She would always say “I don’t like the sensation caused by the friction between the skin and grass”.
She reacted as most of the poor did. The faces of the poor alone are enough to tag them as poor, but most of them are obscurantist, they hide the extent of their poverty. How thorny torpor would she be in, whenever she would be the victim of class difference in anyway. Realistically, she was more than sure that these differences could not be avoided.
She would always think “Riches” speak. Without words they often address. They have nothing to do with “Poverty”, nor it attempts to expose it. The cruel part is that the presence of “Riches” involuntarily brings to the light the
“Poverty”. The presence of a rich person shows to us what a poor person is like. Everything of the moneyed is bright, crispy and sharp; their clothes, their notes, their shoes, their A-Z is crispy, bright and sharp. On the contrary, everything of the poor is shabby, soiled and dull”
With mountains on her shoulders, she reached home. Took off her joggers and socks and went to the washroom. Standing in front of the mirror, stained white with the drops of water, she looked at her face, with different angles, trying to find the best look of her face. She splashed her face with water. She loved it because it seemed to her that the water may wash her bitterness down. She fancied that her face was like a rugged land, that has lost fertility since he has left, so the splashed water, like rain, may bring back the fertility.
Lunch was prepared by her mother and was placed on the dining table.
Her mother was a retired headmistress of a local intermediate college, where she taught Civics. At first glance, it was easy and quite justified to call her a cultivated and civilized lady, though her personality was badly ridden by the dearth of fortune. Creases on her face had its own tales to be told. Grey hair was battling with atrociousness against the black, and the rapidness of their progress showed signs of triumph in near future.
Despite these dispiriting traits of her, it was quite obvious to see that she had been a very charming lady till her late 40s.
Madiha joined her on the table and started discussing some trifles. From the very beginning, she was aware of the weather forecasted by her mother’s face and the point that overawed her was that her mother was agitated. The temperature of their temperate discussion was escalating, and Madiha had already anticipated the end of their discussion. The presaged-end was what she wanted to avoid, but it was spiraling towards it, in the face of her vain attempts of changing its course.
” Cruel discrimination is the order of the day. Its roots are as old as Adam’s tale. This evil oriented corruption is sufficing the ends of the few, who are surviving on the blood of the poor. Madiha, we are hosts for these mammoth parasites. Yes we, my dear, we. We, the poor, hardly get anything to eat and they, the rich, can hardly decide what to eat; we are having nothing to wear and they are lost in varieties; we have no money to spend and they have nothing left to spend on; we are malnourished, and they have refrigerators filled to the top with edibles, which are usually thrown away after being rotten; we are under-nourished because they are the hoarders; we are ripped down because they are the manipulators; we beg because they are the accumulators” said her mother, trying to manage all the words in three breaths.
” Mommy, you are the one who believes in destiny and the even distribution of God. Don’t you? They have worked hard. Those who are enjoying today are exploiting the fruits of their grandparents ,or maybe their great grand parents’ labor. You yourself told me that Beta life is a race, then why complain if they are heading? We beg because we want to beg because we feel comfortable with it because we have fancied ourselves in the same reality. Dreams have never been enough, for they are abstract. One has to put his blood, in order to turn them into something concrete. You need it, but you will never get it because you never wanted it. Isn’t it so?”
” Dear, there is a gap between these classes, an unbridgeable gap”
” No Mommy there isn’t any. Ok, for a moment I do assume that there is an abyss between them, but still I can’t entertain your idea of an unbridgeable gap. It can never be so. Its bridgeable. I know it is”
” I know why do you defend them with your shallow reasoning. It is just because of him. Oh you fool, you think one man can represent all of their creeds. This class difference is an abyss, a deep profound fissure and you think you are going to fill it with your abstract emotions. He isn’t going to come for you. You are desecrating the chances God has given you. You have already rejected some five proposals, just because you are counting on him. If you are, then it means you are expecting a scorpion not to sting, poison not to kill, a thorn not to prick. Oh poor Madiha, you are a moth, who attributes its foolishness of self- immolation with sacrifice” replied her mother nearly shouting, but at the same time taking care of the ethics of discussion.
Madiha had nothing to say, but she could not stop her tears, showing that she was hit hard on her only Achilles’ heel.
After this, all Madiha had no more courage and reason to stay and to continue dining with her. She left the table and strode towards her room. On her way to the room, it was very difficult for her to see because the tears in her eyes were blurring and smudging her sight, though she managed to the room without tumbling down. Bangg!!! the door was closed with a wild push and was locked as if she were to obstruct the intrusion of an intruder. She plunged into her bed and started weeping. With this, she felt sinking and slept.
Almost three hours passed while she was sleeping. Her pillow dampened by tears, she felt as if her head rested in the marsh. She ,unwillingly, opened her eyes and looked at the windows that showed signs of dusk. The rays had made its ways through the windows and illuminated her hand by shedding on it. She felt loosing the battle. She sat on the bed. The rays struck her in the face. She absorbed them with closed eyes and with the hope that this potion might heal her, might fill the cracks, and, above all, might outnumber the forces of hope, which she was running out of. With the purpose of looking through the glass pane, she went near the window. Right in front of her window, there was a tree that had shed its leaves due to the fall season. The setting sun was right behind the tree, and it seemed as if the sun was entrapped by the tree.
” This is the fourth time that you have spilled your green gown since he has left,” said Madiha talking to the tree.
” Four years!! Madiha, do you reminisce that a second without him would be an eon of torment for you, and today you are, still, here after spending thousands of light years without him. You thought you will breathe your last……… I have been paying the price every moment. You know his love is like protecting a burning candle in the stormy night. I shield it from being doused, though its nature is to melt and will die out anyway. It is like protecting a waning moon from the invasion of clouds……… Madiha, you are doubting his love, your trust, his promises, your hopes, his honesty, your sacrifices, his commitment and, above all, your dreams. Madiha doesn’t forget that he is your only reason. Will you? After all, it was you who said that his lunar presence rises the tempest within me. Don’t you believe anymore that he has put his blood to have you by him as soon as possible? Don’t you believe anymore that he craves for you the way you crave for him? ………….” said Madiha talking to herself as if she was split into two personalities.
How excruciating mental torpor was it for her. This tug- of- war was indeed a prologue that leads up to regret, compunction and, ultimately, creating a vacuum for withdrawal. Though it had not been her first time of being indulged in such incessant indulgence, she was clear in her mind that she had never been so explicit in views about him. This day, without any sort of censorship, she floated the idea from her subconscious to conscious. Yes, this was the very thing which she had been hiding from herself since he left.
It was dark then. She had been standing for more than 45 minutes there. The brisk air coming through the window, which she closed as soon as she felt the chill, had numbed her cheeks. She turned on the heater and left the room. In another end of veranda was their kitchen. She went there and found her mother preparing tea and some French fries for supper. This retired headmistress manages the best out her menial income to comfort her only daughter. Madiha could sake the warmth of her mother’s affection. To lend her a hand, Madiha started doing the dishes. The water was icy. ” I think we are supplied water of Siberia,” said she in disgust . Not only this. Taking a bath, sweeping the mansion, waking up early in the morning, going to university in such cruel cold weather and Spartan conditions make winter a wrath of God. Done with the affliction of doing the dishes with cold water, she put her index finger in her mouth, and it felt like she was holding a frozen sausage in her mouth.
Sitting in front of the heater, mom and daughter enjoyed the tea with fries, and at the same time, both of them were pretending to have forgotten whatever had taken place among them recently. ” Samina’s birthday is about to come. She is throwing a party on this occasion. She has invited you and me” said Madiha looking towards the heater.
” That is great kiddo. You, people, are getting a chance for a get- together. Have fun darling. Samina is a very kind hearted lassie. I am happy when you are with her”
” Mommy, I am afraid that I might not go”
” Stop kidding. Samina will kill you I know, and this time, I won’t help you both patching up.”
” I hardly have anything to wear, Mommy, let alone giving her a gift”
” Oh come on Dearie, you bought two dresses on Eid. Why don’t you wear anyone of it? They are glamorous.”
” They have seen me wearing that dress Mommy. Don’t you know the cousins of Samina? They are gonna kill me with their snideness. On her last birthday, I can still remember when one of her cousin told Amna that Madiha was wearing the same dress as their Papa’s maid would wear”
” Madiha, you can’t stop anyone from saying something. I am trying the best of my efforts to meet the ends. Right now I am not in a position to buy you a new dress”
“Mommy, I am not pursuing you to buy me a dress, I swear. I just told you that I might not go. That’s it”
Silence prevailed in the room for some moments. Her mother left the room. Madiha jumped into her bed. After sometime, she took her diary out, which was as thick as encyclopedia. She flicked through the pages and randomly stopped on a page. This was one of the first 50 pages, on which was written a paragraph about him.
” You are like a bonfire in a dead cold place. Your absence will freeze me to death, but your embrace will turn me into nothing but ashes………… Why do I long for your embrace, where as I have to vanish anyway………..”
Then she opened one of the last hundred pages.
” Love is a luxury that entails death of comfort, burial of reality and crucifixion of one’s existence……….”
She sensed the change in the mode of her writings, and once again felt her self-entangled with recollections. She didn’t know that how long she had herself strangled by these memories when her mother came into her room and said in very dejecting tone,
” I forgot telling you that while you were dozing, the postman dropped a letter for you. This one is from America”
She left the letter on the book-shelf and left. Madiha snarled towards the letter as soon as she was sure that her mother was gone. Holding the envelope in her hand, Madiha examined it properly to make sure that it was not opened by her mother. She opened it with the same curiosity as always because she was sure of the only person who wrote to her.
I am quite sure that life at your end would be quite miserable without me. So is here ,without you. Things have been changing with time. My life has churned me more than I have expected. I am no more the fragile person I used to be. This journey to the other corner of the world has carved me into something very hard and different. It has changed my priorities. My dreams shattered and are replaced.
Sometimes, we take a course that is against the current of nature in general and society in particular. This is, as far as I have learned, a supreme form of absurdity, because in this way we are propelled by the violent waves of our norms, which are almost irresistible and to a great extent invincible. If we are to move fast, then we have to move in the direction of the flow. This is what I am doing and what I am suggesting you to do. We are in fact too feeble to challenge our monstrous cultures and traditions.
This is a broad forum. I know that before coming here, I had promised to come back for you. I am still sticking to what I have promised, but my dear I have dreams now. I need them to be fulfilled. I know that I am heading towards my goal, and I am clear in my mind that I can do it better if alone. To the best of my knowledge, I know you will happily appreciate my decision because its matter of my success and my success has always been the source of your happiness. I know you had to wait for four years for me, but dear everything happens for the best of us. You are a pretty girl and intelligent too, so you will get a guy more loving and accommodating than me. These four years have made me a different person. It would be very difficult for me to come back and adapt what I left behind. This whole might seem something very shocking and far from plausibility, but my dear it is very easy once you accept the reality.
Life was heaven with you, but we have to move on because in one way we were always meant to be like this. Hope so you will forgive me
The letter was dampened by her tears. She could feel the uproar rising within her. She could feel the clamor of this collapse. She shouted as if she were trying to break the link of breaths. She had been screaming as if this letter was the horrible thing she ever had. She was bawling at the top of her voice. She was sure that blood will spring forth from every pore of her skin. She knew that she had herself suspended in a dark dry well, hoping for him to drag her up, but now it was lucid that the rope was cut and she was condemned to be damned forever.
She felt evaporated, and later it became very hard for her to notice anything.
Her mother came in without saying anything because she had already anticipated this. She sat by her and heard her bellowing for more than an hour. Madiha was out of tears by then. She hugged her mother and was moaning like a wounded person.
” He made me cross the Rubicon. He kept me in the cage for four years; he cut my wings; he made me forget the art of flight; the while, he mastered the skill of flight, he secretly soared the sky and have flown with the fleet of a feather. That heartless creation unlocked me now, mommy, now, when even the ashes, of my burnt boats, had been blown” moaned she, while sobbing as hard as possible, as if she were sobbing to compensate this tragedy.
Hours passed. The alarmed ringed. It was morning. She woke up. Left for the washroom to get ready for university!
Yasir Khan was born in Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan on 17 August 1993. He has studied Political Science and History. Currently, he is doing his M.sc in Linguistics from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.