A girl discovers and loses her roots.Years later she is forced to face her past again.
When the world shines through and tumbles into its own misery, you shall stand, staring at its shadows; the unfortunate remains of an unfortunate time.
When she had first known the land, it had been hot and moist. The scalding sun had turned her skin a darker shade of brown and left her feet slipping and sliding in the plastic slippers. She would fall a lot. Her mother made her wear sandals. They had been quiet back then; the afternoons. You could hear nothing but the soft humming of the fans and the occasional sound of the beds creaking when someone would change position during their afternoon nap. She would walk along the pistachio painted hallway,running her fingers against the cool walls all the way till the end; her tiny footsteps echoing on the chipped floor, until she made it to the screened door. Opening that door quietly was an art she had to learn over a period of time. Her impatience never did her any good in that place; even a slight sound from the door and nani would wake up and come out walking as fast as she could against her wooden walking cane, at the same time yelling for her not to take, even a single step, out. Over time she realized the hinge creaked when the door had reached midpoint, so she opened it only slightly, and kept it ajar by placing a brick between the door frame and the door.
The courtyard ,centered between the old house, was her domain. Under the shade of a guava tree, she would sit and make pots from its mud. Bibi had taught her that. Bibi had taught her so many things, such as, how to read Urdu. And even now, when she picked up an Urdu book, she could almost hear Bibis voice echoing in her head ,
"It is the blend of the most beautiful languages Shireen, be proud that it is your mother tongue."
Shireen had learned to be proud. She had switched from twisting and turning her mouth to a clear cut saw like sound, in no time. She had learned to appreciate the art of speaking a truly historical and cultural language. And when she had come back, it had taken her time to get accustomed to the sound of people talking in English. For so long, it had seemed like rubbish to her ears.
What she remembered the most were mangoes; every day after lunch there were dishes filled with mangoes. Pulpy, yellow, soft ones. It was almost a ritual during the summers. If she closed her eyes, she could still see flashes of nani sitting on the charpoi, with one leg folded up, sliding a knife through the fruit. Every one sliced them and ate them by hand there. She would hold the piece given to her in her hand and bite in to the soft flesh, sliding her teeth along the length of the fruit and letting the sweetness fill her mouth. The juice would drip down her chin and arms and soil her clothes. It would leave her fingers feeling sticky and awkward. Her mother, thus, always made sure she wore worn out, old clothes for lunch. But that did not stop the juice from, somehow, making it to the fall of her skirt. And everytime her mother got angry, Bibi would stop her,
"There's no fun in eating them neatly Baji," she would say.
Her mother always listened to Bibi, no matter what it was. No matter how right or wrong she was. It was a hold the younger sister had on the older one. Some strange bond that Shireen did not always understand. Pondering on it too hard, often, left her in a maze of un surety and almost sorrow. So she had stopped paying attention to the occasional happenings that slipped her mind in to the past. She had buried away, that summer, in the back of her mind, and almost made a fiction out of it. As if it was a book that she had read far back, that played no role in the essence of her life and her being. As if it was a moment that made an impact back then, but was now just a small fragment of an ,other wise, large life.
But lately, everything, had been coming back to her. No night went by without her waking up, in the middle of it, with the image of nanis face in front of her eyes. No day went by when Bibis soft singing voice did not haunt her. No moment passed, without the thought of her mothers pale face, and the feeling of her cold hands in Shireens little fragile ones. She almost felt like holding them. She would enclose her fingers, only to realize that she was grasping chilled air and not solid flesh. And she would cry. They were uncontrollable; the tears that would flood her eyes and roll down her face. Sometimes, she could taste their saltness on the tip of her tongue. Sometimes, they ran all the way down her jaw line and framed her lower face. And lately, they had become a usual occurring.
A light went off over her head and she looked to see the seat belt sign illuminated. Some woman's voice blared through the speakers speaking things she was very well acquainted with and did not bother to listen. Next to her, an old lady with red finger nails and lips, stirred awake from her deep slumber and opened her dulled brown eyes. She frantically started looking around, searching for her seat belt, until finally Shireen handed it to her. She did not bother to say thank you. Instead Shireen watched as she closed her eyes and pushed her head back against the chair and clamped her bony hands on to the side rests, gripped them so hard that the blue of her veins became so clear against her translucent skin. Fear showed on her wrinkled face as the airplane prepared to land. Shireen gently put her own hand over the old ladies. The woman only reacted by opened one eye to look and then closing it again.
Fear is a strange thing. Shireen could feel it too. As the plane dipped down, her stomach fluttered. When the wheels opened, her heart started to beat so hard; she could sense it in her carotid artery in the neck. When it finally stopped moving and came to a halt, she felt herself stiffen. As the old woman relaxed; she found herself clutching the side arms of the chair and closing her eyes. As the people got up from their chairs, she wished she was glued to hers. Fear is a strange thing. It grasps everyone in so many different ways, but eventually it's all the same. Eventually, it's the same adrenaline rush, the same beating of the heart, the same swirls in the stomach. The old woman was afraid of landing, Shireen was afraid of landing 'home'. Home? Could she really call it that? Was it really home? A place she was so disconnected from. A place she had only once seen so long ago. A place that she was only returning too because life tends to do that to you; make you deal with your greatest fears even if you spend years in denial about it. Was it really home?
"Home sweet home", she heard one of the passengers say as they passed by her seat. She wished she could be that excited. Home sweet home. Indeed.
"We're here dear, no more worries", she opened her eyes to see the old woman standing up from her seat and smiling. These were the first words she had spoken to her since the journey started. Her face was relaxed now. Her whole world seemed relaxed now. And Shireen did not know what her world was anymore. She felt so distant from the time when she had boarded the plane twenty four hours ago. She felt as if she knew nothing, and nothing she had known ever existed. She was afraid. No, she was terrified.
She barely noticed when the old lady walked away. She was too lost in her own miseries to realize that the plane was empty, until the steward came to her and told her so. She quickly got up from her seat almost in a daze and the man handed her her hand luggage from the above head compartment.
"Home sweet home", she muttered under her breath as she stepped off the plane and let the warm air of Lahore hit her face. She felt something stir inside of her. Like when you are sitting waiting for your job interview to start and the secretary comes in and says," The boss will see you now". Or when you listen to a song that somehow hits home. It was a whole new world.