Untitled and Such

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
It's about a girl from Pakistan who moves to America. Sort of a love story, but not

Submitted: June 14, 2010

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Submitted: June 14, 2010

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The first line of this story is supposed to be one of those lines you think of right before you’re drifting off to sleep, and you think you should get up and record it or you’ll forget but then suddenly you’re asleep and the next day, it’s gone. It’s one of those lines that sets off the brain into an entire chain of lines and sentences and phrases and thoughts most articulately placed, paragraphs and ideas captured perfectly that you’re sure you’ll be able to recall the next day when you sit down to type but it’s gone. So that the next day, when you actually do sit down to type, you settle for that dull, discouraging feeling that rides your shoulders, always reminding you that whatever you’re trying to say will never be fully able to convey the feeling you’re feeling; there’s always some shapes, symbols, chills, just sensations that are lost in translation form mind to paper.
Well, the opening line I thought of last night was about a girl (me, probably, since I’m only good at first narrative) and of course, a boy. But the story was supposed to capture the entire conflict the girl experienced every single day in this one motif. The culture clash – there it was. Her and Ed. Me and Ed. Me, a girl who never quite liked her own city – nay, country! – but could never find it in her heart to fully fit into America. An immigrant’s story, perhaps, a love story used to show her (my?) troubles and struggles. How she was so in love with him and he was so in love with her – and, as the cliché goes, she just could not let down those walls. Boy-meets-girl: the entire episode summed up in three words. Except, not really.
It was supposed to start with me meeting Ed at some typical student-like setting: what was it now, a classroom, perhaps? A coffee shop? A party, maybe? I think we should just picture a generic setting, somewhere a boy would expect to meet a girl – perhaps they bumped into each other, she dropped her books, he helped her pick them up, their eyes met…no, too much. It was plain and simple – “hey, were you listening to a word the professor said?” “Well, I was just about to ask you; I’ve just been doodling the entire time” “Hey, is that The Flaming Lips on your ipod?” “Yeah, I love them!” “…yeah. Yeah, I do too”. And there was that true-blue bond that I do not understand anymore, but at the time made all the sense in the world.
And that exchange led to a Conversation. And the Conversation carried itself all the way from the classroom to the hallway to across the campus to the building. A lingering goodbye at the front doors, a gaze that lasted just a second longer than it was supposed to, a moment that the universe stopped for: everyone noticed, the other students turned around and chuckled, the professors smiled nostalgically, the birds chirped louder, the fountains burst, the sun came out from behind the clouds. Or so it goes. And suddenly, we were giving each other a peck on the lips before leaving for class, meeting up at the coffee shops for study dates, holding hands and laying outside on the grass to watch the stars at night. Ed. Edward. Scissorhands, I used to joke. “Hey, anything that links me to Tim Burton”. A surge of warmth and familiarity in that moment – “I love Tim Burton too!” Ed, with his dimples and his straight teeth, his always smooth lips and his curly hair that always stood at a strange angle after showering. His slight stubble that used to appear every now and then – “why would you shave it off? I have a strange thing for stubble” – and stay for weeks sometimes. His brown eyes, his slanting eyebrows that always made it seem like he was thinking more about things than the average person. Ed.
Ed with his taste in music and movies that matched mine so perfectly. His love for J.D Salinger, the way he always scoffed at film noir but watched every single Lynch film. We’d sit for hours listening to Phish, Billy Joel, Passion Pit, Ra Ra Riot; we were both equally socially awkward, uncaring yet very caring. Both with our strange sense of humour, our quirks, our sarcasm.
Here is where I have trouble delving further into what it all meant. Because it went as far the pseudo-teenager art-and-music true-blue connection goes, but there was just not more she (I?) could do about it.I’d look around myself, at the rest of the students in this school, other couples canoodling, joking with each other, sitting on each other’s laps, having lunch with all their friends, smoking inside dorm rooms, drinking on Thursday nights, inside jokes, at ease. Laughs all around. Everyone from the same background. With the same infant images and memories. The same high school systems, the same familial issues, the same…skin tone.
Well, there you go. The immigrant issue. There I was, with my brown skin, my Pakistani descent, with Ed falling for me in a quirky teen love interest way. And there I was, trying very hard to go with it. Just go-with-it. Trying to ignore the fact that I was born and bred in twenty years of completely different thoughts and patterns. Of dirty roads, paan-streaked sidewalks and lustful eyes of every male stranger on the road. That I grew up in the less than one percent of the population of all of Karachi that was actually educated. That “summer”, while for all my friends in PA meant passing a bowl amongst their friends at a park, meant suffocating heat, loadshedding thrice a day (two hours each time), still dressing modestly lest we come off too foreign and hence a threat to all the mullahs that roamed the streets. That sometimes, when I’d look at my parents, I’d be struck with a sudden lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, a weakness at my knees; my mom’s old, wrinkled face that told a sad story so unlike mine upon even the slightest inspection, my father’s hardened expression, his ever-present scowl and his dirty clothes that he refused to get rid off for new ones. The sudden flashes of feelings I’d get from them when it was just me and them in the house; the absolute submission to authority, customs, rules they had to face – do as your parents have done, follow the pattern exactly – they had never met before they got married, they were made to keep their marriage together: divorce was taboo, childlessness a curse - the more children, the ‘merrier’. Five daughters, no sons: them trying their best to break the rule that a family without sons is a family doomed. “Uff, I could have never dealt with a son”, they say to each other and us about thirty years into their marriage, shaking their heads a little too hard. Their life in Karachi, with each other, that aged them way before their time: my mother’s sagging eyes, hunched figure, despite her years of yoga, my dad’s limp, bulging stomach, slightly crossed eyes despite his three hour a day excersice routine. How’d I’d get flashes of my mother having to be my father’s wife, my father having to be my mother’s husband. From what I hear, he wasn’t too nice. From what I hear though, neither was she. And they swallowed it all. There was really nothing you can do about it, if you’re from that background.
And, growing up with them, was I. For some reason – their fault entirely – my parents thought the same values would automatically be inferred upon us, like it was a genetic code embedded in us, like no one could ever even think of going against it. Wrong. There’s been many, many, days and nights that I’ve spent trying to figure out why or how I just did not turn out like that. How, in fact, I turned out the opposite. There was never a desi I was attracted to. There was never any point in my life when I was opposed to smoking and/or drinking; they thought of it as the plague. There was never a time when I thought it was wrong to doubt the logic of my elders’ – I do exactly as I please.
Just in limbo between cultures. The Old generation vs. the New, perhaps. Pakistani vs. American, maybe? More like the home environment vs. what’s more mainstream. “We’re a generation that’s been raised by sitcoms and TV”, my friend Shoaib once said to me. “we’re completely lost in this sea of things, left to fend for ourselves – we’re an entire bunch of people so eager to reject an entire part of ourselves”. You’re so wise, Shoaib. TV shows. Small Wonder. The Wonder Years. Sesame Street. Captain Planet. ThunderCats. Tom and Jerry. Full House. Friends. American shows with American values, American things I picked up more than I did Pakistani ones. There was the rest of Karachi growing up on Ainak Wala Jinn, Uncle Sargam, STN, PTV; things I have a foggy memory of, things I always emptily smile at everytime the rest of my family discusses them with nostagia. That out of place feeling.
And there’s Ed, calling his mom a bitch to her face, talking about our relationship openly to her, sharing a glass of wine with his dad, teasing his sister about her boyfriend. In place. Fitting. Comfortable. Conflict-less, American. Everything he had was everything I always saw from behind a pane of glass. How I understood Septimus Warren Smith from a whole other level. How I was so moved after watching Nikhil Gogol move on from Maxine after his father died. How my ears would perk up at a Bollywood song in America like they never, ever did while I was in Karachi. How I’d smile and try and share my excitement at going home for the summer, but bawl my eyes out on the plane ride back. And there were those moments in school. We’d joke around, tease each other, share our music and mock everyone we saw but then there was a point after the first half an hour where that was it – I just couldn’t keep up with the pressure. More and more, I understood, accepted that while I’m not exactly Pakistani, I still kind of am.
The denoument comes in this story right in the middle of the climax; Ed has done something incredibly romantic for me, the whole kiss-me-beneath-the-milky-twilight, silver-moonlight-come-away-with-me scenario one hears of in the movies or in Taylor Swift songs. A month into our relationship and he was telling me he loved me. I was the foreigner, the fascinating out-of-towner that ‘completed’ him. And there we were, right under the moonlight at the edge of a beautiful cliff, me in his arms, a string quartet playing through an ipod, and the wind blowing oh so perfectly. My head on his shoulder, swaying lightly to the music, his hands in the small of my back. Except, I wasn’t all really there. In that moment in time, the girl with the million secrets and stories, in the most perfect moment in the world, felt like she was in another world, but being forced to lean against his chest, say things she didn’t mean, do things she wasn’t meant to. That was the final moment for me, the one after which I could not just-go-with-it any longer. I was there, but I wasn’t. I was really somewhere in a stuffy drawing room decorated with gaudy glass pieces, making forced conversation with an elderly lady while she eyed me up and down, serving chai to guests and watching the females edge away from the males. I was actually on a road somewhere in Zamzama, edging my car between Range Rovers and Suzukis, rickshaws and Altos, obnoxious drivers breaking laws that didn’t even exist, inhaling two cigarette packs’ worth of smoke, kicking the car while pulled over on the side because something in its’ system spontaneously broke down. I was really on my way home from school, in the middle of that once-a-year rainfall Karachi gets, with the streets flooded with muddy water uptil the tires, the only underpass in our city becoming a swimming pool where poor beggar kids, in an effort to stay cool, drowned everyday till it was drained. I was, in my head, lieing about where I would be to my parents, telling them I’d be at a girl’s house watching TV – with an all-girl company – when I was really going to the beach in guys’ cars to drink at beach house patios. I was not, however, in a land where there is uninterrupted electricity, running water (both hot and cold), guys doing nice things for girls like driving up to pretty scenes to tell them they love them. It was an act, Ed. From what I hear, I broke your heart but you knew it was all just a big fascinating act for you. Something you’d never experienced before. You knew it would end, Ed. It would end soon.
And end it did, then. My one-month-long relationship with an American boy; moments I had where I felt incredibly in place when we’d be kissing in place; moments when I felt this was one big joke when we’d be kissing in public. Moments I had when I thought to myself; well, I’m screwed. The only time I ever really liked someone was when he wasn’t from my country, and that was the exact reasoning I had behind ending it.
Ever since then, I’ve been roaming around my life, waiting for the solution to find me. Perhaps a Pakistani that grew up in America? Or a Pakistani that went to a really posh school but came from a really simple family. Or maybe just a regular Karachiite that ended up going to an art school? Film school? Liberal arts, maybe? Just a one plus one equals two solution I’m hopelessly hoping would solve everything.
So she sat there, on the bench overlooking the green at my school. Thinking of Fariha getting married at 18 while watching Addy’s latest one-week fling. Listening to Camera Obscura and passing a few Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan songs on her iTunes. While I’d normally ignore them, today I stopped. I picked the song I grew up listening to. The music changed from indiepop to the strangely in-place urdu lyrics of the qawwali my family used to love. And she sat there, pleasant American sunlight falling on her bare legs, lush green grass growing around her, sorority girls in the distance and shirtless boys soaking in the warmth, girls in bikinis playing Frisbee and a long-haired white dog somewhere in the scene. Bobbing my head to Nusrat. My eye catching Ed rolling one in an obscure corner.


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