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A letter that once came

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One day this happened, what I had never expected. A letter came addressed to me. The addressee was unknown. It was a very familiar smell that I got when I opened the letter. It was the musk of the soil. A soil that was very familiar to me. A musk that I grew up around. I could smell some rain in it too. It felt like someone just came over to visit me from my childhood. I never expected a letter from my childhood. I was surprised to my core and I had no idea how to respond or react my inner emotions. Putting the letter on the table, for a long time I kept looking at it while smoking a cigarette. My wonderments were racing all over the place. I didn’t know how to or what to expect from that letter.

Who could be writing me a letter? Who could it be that doesn’t want to give me a call instead? My dad never wrote a letter to me, let alone a letter he never talked to me when I was there with him. The last conversation that I remember was that he told me that I should leave the house. A wall of pride shattered into pieces that day. That was the first abandonment I felt in my life. When mom died, I didn’t feel so hurt as much as I felt hurt and broken that day. I put the letter aside and went out for a walk as my anxiety was kicking in and I didn’t want that anxiety to get any worse by reading that letter. I walked the streets for a couple of hours and was dreading to go back home. I was haunted by the idea of entering home and that letter on the table would be staring at me. I wish I had someone with me at that time who could read the letter for me and let me know in few words that ‘its alright’.

Could it be one of my sisters? May be, but they had contacted me through Facebook before, I am sure if they wanted to tell me something important, they could have used it again. Was I never close to anyone of them that they couldn’t pick up a phone and make a call to me? But then they probably didn’t have my American number, as I made sure I wouldn’t give it to anyone so they could not reach me whatsoever. But how in the world would they get the address. What could possibly they have to say after all these years. Are they sorry? I highly doubt that. Especially if it is the elder one, she never say sorry. Younger one couldn’t have dared write me a letter without the elder’s permission and if she did they must have vet through it and whatever is there in the letter is not her words, its their’s.

Could it be him? Probably! He is very likely to write letters. His un-confrontational attitude could have made it possible that he wrote me a letter instead of making a phone call. He has written my quite a few letters and notes in the past so I believe he is trying to get my attention again since I haven’t given it to him in a very long time now. Most of his letters/notes had been rhetorical, primarily because of his fears. I don’t know why wouldn’t he want to listen to what I have to say. What I understood was that he was too scared of what I had to say because mostly my words were like mirrors and he used to see something which he didn’t like. I know this for a fact because he has told me that in one of his letters. His exact words were; “I usually don’t agree with what you say and then I get upset because I know what you are saying is true, and then I get repulsed by myself”. I seriously wish this letter was not from him. After all this time he should have grown slightly mature especially after all the rehab and recovery. But you know what; the most important steps of recovery from the twelve of them are eight and nine. Without amends, no one can ever recover. One can run away from people, but one can never run away from his/her own conscience. So is this letter a way to make way into his amends? I don’t know…

Who is left? My mom? A letter coming from somewhere up there might be really weird if that happens, and I really do not believe we have reached to that level of technology where any mail from heaven could come to us. So that was not really a possibility that crossed my mind to be very honest, although it would have been really nice. I haven’t heard from her since November 2004.

But the smell of paper coming from the letter wasn’t suggesting that this letter was sent from within America. To be very honest, as the time was passing I was getting more and more sure that this letter didn’t even come from Pakistan. But this musk was so familiar.

So I decided to go back home and find out for myself. So when I got home, the letter was still laying there. I sat down, and started opening it. My heartbeat was racing as I was opening it. As soon as I opened the letter and read a first few words, my anxiety and surprise went all down the drain. The letter was from me.

Hi Self, I am sure you must be really surprised to see this letter. You must be thinking why would you write yourself a letter. But let me tell you, sometimes the answers that we are looking for already exist in our mind. All that we have to do is just look into ourselves. I noticed that you were not doing that for quite sometime so I thought I will have to write you a letter so you can read this anytime you are getting off the track.

I am not going to give you any advices or a lecture over how to live a life. I am only going to tell you a story. It is not a very long story, nor it is very old. Its your own story just a couple of years ago.

———

It was a sunny afternoon of January. Karachi doesn’t get too cold in the winters. You were sitting on the back seat of a car and going for a client meeting when two guys on a motorbike stopped your car. Instead of coming to the driver or passenger seat of the car where your colleagues were sitting the person with the gun came directly to your window. He wanted to take you out of the car. You didn’t know if he wanted to kill you or kidnap you. It was all happening in fraction of few seconds that it was impossible for you or your colleagues to comprehend what exactly what happening. You were lucky that the traffic cleared up and your colleague got you and other guy out of that situation and rushed you guys to a nearby cop car. By the time you got to the cop car, your mind had already figured out exactly what was happening. In your head and heart you knew those people were not there to get any mobiles/laptops from the car, they were there for you. They either wanted to kill you at the spot, or they wanted to kidnap you, get all the money that you transferred in your account, and then kill you. The money that you got a few weeks ago from selling the property that was given to you by your mom when she was alive.

When you guys were safe, your colleagues started asking you if what just happened. They were still not being able to understand why was this incident that just happened so different from a very usual street crime that happens tens of times a day on the streets of Karachi. Why didn’t they just walk up to the driver, put a gun to his head, and ask for all the mobiles, laptops and wallets in the car? You were too shocked and overwhelmed with the situation, but you still managed to come up with an excuse that “may be because all the laptops were laying next to you on the back seat, that is why, they were focusing on you, and if there was any other agenda that they had, you had no clue about it”. They talked about going to police and filing a report about this incident and you talked them out of it because you knew if this situation went to police, they would investigate, and the people who wanted you dead/kidnaped were influential enough to use police against you and get what they wanted. ‘People’ in this case was your family! You knew they were capable of doing something like this.

That night laying in bed you made yourself a promise, you are getting out of this country. Next thing on your mind was applying for US visa so that you can get out of that country and will never have to look over your shoulder ever again. I cannot stress enough on this how your higher powers intervened in getting a US visa, which is considered one of the most difficult visas to get in that country, but you got in the first attempt. You cannot forget how you spent the next month and a half packing up your whole life in two suitcases and flying out of the country and came to America.

You cannot forget this date, March 19, 2014. It was 3AM when you were sitting outside the Jinnah International Airport with two very close friends of yours who were there to drop you. They were sad and telling you NOT to go in every other statement that they were making. You know very well how much you wanted to NOT go, but what they didn’t know and you know was your life that you had spent. By the time you got through the immigration and was waiting in the CIP lounge, it was almost 6:00AM. It was getting bright outside, it was the dawn of your new life. You remember when the pilot said the words “we are ready to take off” your heart skipped a beat. It was in that moment you told yourself that you were about to take off from the ground of the land where you grew up and spent your entire life, and that you are never touching that ground again.

You being an aviation geek, always take the window seat. As the airplane rose and was approaching the clifton beach, you looked down and tried finding your house as you knew that all the international flights that are leaving Pakistani airspace always fly over your house because you used to live only 5 minute walk away from the beach. You found it, and several tears ran down your eyes. I don’t think you can ever be able to explain this to anyone how you felt in that moment. You cried for a long time, almost until you were about to land at Dubai International Airport.

After a few hours layover in Dubai, almost 20 hours later as your aircraft was making its final approach towards the runway of JFK International Airport. You were sitting on the window seat looking at the ocean which was getting closer and closer. All of the sudden you saw the land. Do you remember the feelings that you had when you looked at the land of free, the soil of United States of America, for the first time? Do you remember that feeling of feeling safe? Being a Pakistani national entering United States for the first time, you had so much anxiety/fear for going through the tedious immigration process. Those three hours of immigration process were rough, but the feeling of being safe and not looking over your shoulder was quite worth it. After being inside the airports and aircrafts for almost 23 hours, you were dying to have a cigarette. That first breath you took in the cold March evening of New York is something that you should never forget. That was not the breath of your freedom, that was the breath resultant of your strength.

Who does that Self? Only a person who is strong enough like you were can do this. A country where you knew no one, a country which might never accept you, you left all your life behind, burned all the bridges/boats and came to the land of free to be free. To live a life the way you wanted it to be. Tell this story to anyone and they will tell you that only a strong person like yourself can do this. Remember when you told this story to your shrink, she told you that “I have never told this to anyone, but you actually are an inspiration”.

But then what happened to that strong person? For something as ridiculous as a disgusting addiction and your mental obsession you were going to kill yourself? That was not the Self, who fought the whole world, gave up so much to be honest to yourself, flew all the way from other side of the globe and came to America to live a life you always wanted to live. I want you to promise me Self, that you are going to wake up every morning, stand in front of your bathroom mirror and tell yourself this story time and again and tell yourself how strong a person you are. This strength is a gift that you have that no super hero that you have known possess. This is the story that you need to tell all those people whom you think are going to give their lives away just because they are under the grip of their addictions/obsessions and are being unable to see that strong person in the mirror.

I cannot say no more, I cannot stress enough on the fact that you need to know how strong you are, and no matter how many times you tell yourself that, it is never going to be enough. I am going to sign out at this note: You have made choices, great choices in your life. Just because some of them were not too great, doesn’t mean you have right to kill that super human that is in you. You have said this many times yourself; “we always have choices, but we should only make the ones, that we can live with”.

———

Have a great life Self.

I put the letter away, looked at the horizon outside the window, and told myself;

I love you Self.

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A Beautiful Day

A Beautiful DayI did not sleep the whole night due to many reason. For starter, I was apprehensive about this day. Got up from the bed where i was watching movies and playing with my gadgets all night. The first beam of sun usually gets into my window. I opened the curtains and stood there for a while looking at the horizon on the city. Street lights are still on and traffic was almost nil. The city has a beautiful blend of concrete and greenery on its horizon. After taking the glimpse of that beautiful city I went out of the room and made myself a cup of tea in the kitchen. My eyes were swollen due to lack of sleep but I wanted to look the best today. It was the big day, it was The Beautiful Day. The day I had been waiting for past 16 years.

Tea smelled intense. Or maybe it was my sleepless night that every sip of the tea was kicking in instantly. Not for single moment I was feeling sleepy. Roaming into various rooms in my PJs i was trying my best not to feel any excited or overwhelmed. I should have been!

I got to know about this day only a week ago. I was not sure if there was enough time for me to prepare. It’s not like I never dressed up in past 16 years. But this day was very important. I was checking the clock again and again. I had never been a big fan of wall clocks, but i had to get one for the kitchen because I usually have to check it while cooking. I opened the fridge and looked for the ingredients of warm bread pudding. Last I remember he used to like it a lot. Especially the one that I made. I decided to add an extra ingredient today as I had been working on this recipe over past 16 years to bring perfection into it. The only problem with this dessert is that you cannot make it before time. It has to be baked right at the spot. Vanilla ice cream on the other hand was nicely frozen in the freezer.

It is 7:21am. The flight lands at 12:45 PM. It was a direct flight so the chances of getting it delayed were minimal. I thought of checking the flight schedule on my phone. This new app that I had recently installed on my phone for this very day. I guess all these things that i had been doing for past one week are a little abnormal of me. I usually do not do all that otherwise. But I have my reasons.

I sat on the balcony looking at the rising sun which was brighter than I thought for a winter day. Signifies a clear sky, another reason for no flight delays. With a cigarette in one hand and a mug of tea (without sugar) in the other I kept repeating my words in my head, analyzing them and re-analyzing them. The words that I am suppose to say today. The words that will answer to all the questions that he will be asking me.

But what about all my Questions? They are not going to be tough to answer as compared to what he will be asking. But these questions that I am going to be asking should be well phrased and well rehearsed as I might not have much time with him and I have to make up for the past lost 16 years.

The usual preview of the big day is normally quite different from what I am portraying. But for me this day has its own festivity, its own guests list, its own preparations and its own longings.

When I was done with my morning tea and a smoke, I walked to my closet and fished the clothes that I had thought about wearing for the day. And yes I did not buy new clothes for the day, nor I pressed them and hanged them in a hanger the night before. These were the things that I had never done in my life and no, I am not going to be doing it on any big day ever. After looking at a few different shirts I decided which one to wear. A denim is what I always wear at any given day. The major reason for not getting new clothes for today was because I wanted to look myself and not someone who is specially altered for the day. I strongly believe in WYSIWYG (Google it if you don’t know what that is).

Shower was nice and warm. I used my favorite shower gel, it has cocoa butter in it and it smells astoundingly heavenly. I was out of the shower by 8:45. My short hair didn’t need drying, not that I didn’t have much time. I spent fairly longer time in front of the mirror today. Most of the time I was just looking at myself. Back of my mind I was probably just rehearsing the words but majorly it was just the empty mind which is racing to comprehend a lot of voices at the same time. I know this all sounds very weird but I was just clueless about what am I going to be doing today at the airport when I will get to see him, touch him after 16 years.

Last time I saw him was also at the airport, he had tears in his eyes. He didn’t want to go, but he had to, I had to let him go. I knew it that day that this day will come when I will get to be with him again, I just wasn’t sure when. Sixteen years are quite a long time, its almost a quarter of an average human life span. I wonder how much he had changed over all this time. We never saw each other in all these years.

By 9:35 I was ready to leave for the airport. I was nervous, I was happy, I was scared and I was hopeful. I was nervous because I don’t know if I will be able to say all that I had been rehearsing for past one week. I was happy I will be seeing him after such a long time. I was scared, what if he will not like what I will say. I was hopeful because hope was the only thing based on which I let him go sixteen years ago.

I entered the freeway at 10:04 AM to be more precise. It is going to take me at least one hour to get to the airport from here. I had all the time to get to airport, so I thought of stopping over some gas station and get some munches, and may be another cup of tea. But I also had planned to stop at some nice place to have coffee or tea with him on our way back from the airport. I am not sure if he likes coffee or tea more. I am hoping tea!

I don’t mind another cup of tea so I stopped over a gas station which has a nice cafe in the service area. I had been to this place many times before. This had always been my route to airport even if I am going by myself or picking someone up. I don’t know but I had never felt tired for going to airport anytime of the day. Whether I have to pick someone up or drop someone off. It always unwinds me. I don’t feel ashamed saying that I had been to airport all alone sitting in the parking lot or on the drop lane for hours looking at the landing and taking off airplanes. The people from my past know that. Some of them have even accompanied me there many times.

By the time I was out of the cafe, it was already 11:10, and I was now 15 to 20 minutes away from the airport. The traffic on this route is usually heavy, some percentage of traffic are the cars which are heading towards airport. Nowadays people have stopped going to airports to pick and drop their friends and families majorly because the airports are built a little too out of the cities and secondly the bus/cab services are very efficient, and costs very cheap as compared to someone coming and picking you from all the way inside the city. These cabs can be even booked from within the flight menu. You are also given a bus schedule inside the flight so you may choose to pick which bus will take you to your destination, depending upon your landing schedule. Sixteen years ago I remember back in days in my motherland, people used to come to airports in caravans and wagons filled with relatives along with garlands or bouquet for the person who is arriving. Especially for those coming back from Umrah/hajj rituals. Also the ones whose only son working in middle east or somewhere in Birmingham are welcomed warmly to show the appreciation that how much we value pounds and dirham that he had been sending to feed the families. I never understood why would there always be a cricket bat on the trolleys that they bring out of the terminal. I always thought we used to export all these things from here, why are they bringing them back? But this was a different country, and a different decade.

I reached airport exactly at 12:33pm and I believe the flight was about to land, if not landed already! I was standing outside the arrivals, along with a few others who were also there to pick their loved ones. When I looked at the arrivals board, there were still five minutes to the landing time. I thought I should take a walk. So I started walking towards the drop ramp. If you walk to the end of it, you can see the runway from there. As I told earlier I used to go sit on these spots sixteen years ago. As I got there, the view from their gave me a déjà vu as I saw a plane making its final approach. Gears down, flaps down. Except that the déjà vu was real. It had happened sixteen years ago. The only difference was that sixteen years ago it was a Boeing 737-200, and now it was an A380. Another significance of that flight in my deja vudéjà vu for him was that it was his first flight. Oh and yeah, this time, the poor thing got a seat of his own 🙂

Touchdown of that big metallic bird has always given me Goosebumps. This time it gave me a skipped heart beat. I wasn’t scared, but my heart was pounding. Even in such a brilliant whether my forehead and hands were sweating. As soon as the aircraft got lost behind the main airport building, I took out a cigarette from my pack and lit it. I wonder if he smokes now or not. I am not sure if what would I favor.

It will still take him at least 45 minutes to come out, so I thought I will have some beer. I went up to a beverage shop in the airport and got myself a bottle of beer. I started walking towards the arrivals gate. Still trying to recollect all those things that I had to say to him. I still didn’t know if I will even be able to utter a single word. I would rather like to look at him for at least next sixteen year, but let’s be realistic, sixteen seconds is not that bad, or is it?

The first person that came out of the gate was an old man with a shoulder bag, and a documents folder in his hands. The passengers with no checked in luggage are usually the ones who come out first, nothing changed this behavior in past sixteen years 🙂

Somehow I knew I will easily recognize him even after all these years. His curls couldn’t have gone anywhere. I am sure he would be as tall as I am. He was a fair guy back then and he would sure as hell be a fair guy now. Plus how many Pakistanis would be coming out of this flight anyway. The door would slide open and a gust of air conditioned air would hit my face and I could see inside for a moment. Every time it opens I try to scan the crowd for him. Maybe I will be able to see him before he sees me. I was sure he wouldn’t have much of a difficulty in recognizing me. Not to forget I was the only desi standing there anyway. The doors were not tinted but during this time of the day when sun outside is stronger than the dimmer fancy lights of the terminal, I could only see my own reflection in the glass doors and windows

I remember those days when people used to stand outside the arrivals lounge with bouquets and garlands. If I ever have to go pick someone up from one of those flights coming from UAE or Saudi Arab I would make sure I reach airport at least an hour earlier. Get a cup of tea and light a cigarette and watch the show; you can witness some real drama. I have witnessed fake tears, fake laughs and even fake passing out by family members. We desis are one hell of a drama queens I tell you.

As more and more people were coming out of the gate my heart was pounding faster and faster. As the heart was accelerating to pound the things in my mind were getting even more blurred. I was completely losing it but that was not what I was worried about. More than being worried I was excited about getting to see him, hear him, and touch him after sixteen years and that too right in front of my eyes. I had been waiting this day for years.

The door opens and came out a guy who was about five feet nine inches tall. He was wearing sunglasses and a backpack. In two seconds I figured that he wasn’t the one. I turned away to see if the sun was actually out there. In this part of the world, seeing the sun is like a blessing.

As I turned back to look at the gate the guy with sun glasses was almost at an arm’s length from me and there it was that moment. The moment I had been visualizing since ever. The glasses guy turned away and I saw him looking at me with a soft smile, walking towards me with those shining bright eyes filled with tears. It might sound cheesy but now I know why they make the movies go in slow motion in such situations. I guess long time back some crazy guy did actually experience what I was experiencing in that moment. It felt like slow motion but the way those three years that we spent together flashed in front of me like a time lapse was something that I can never explain in any words. He was now standing right in front of me.

As he stood there, looking at me while carrying that backpack and a hand holding the baggage cart, I saw so much in his eyes. One thing I was sure about was that it’s not going to be as tough as I thought it would be after all. The sparkle in his eyes was clearly suggesting that he is glad to be there in that moment. Yes he wasn’t as excited as any person who is meeting some loved one after a long time, but plus side of this was that it wasn’t as bad as that when two people are meeting up to decide over something whose either outcome will be bitter for both of them. I wanted to touch him, but my all senses had bailed out on me. The only organ that I felt was running was probably my heart, whose pounding could probably be heard even at a couple of yards away. I think he noticed too. But he wasn’t really paying attention to detail at that very moment like myself. I tried moving my hands to make gesture of demanding a hug but they failed big time. I took a step forward and put my right hand on his left cheek, as a tear rushed down to fall on my shirt.

With a crackling voice I could only utter a word, and that was a “Hi”.

And he said: “Hey….., how are you baba?”

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