Short-story: Playing Jenga for love.

Anna’s intense concentration stopped the habitual quiver in her fingers as she formed a tiny tower of wooden blocks. Tooth-less and teeth-filled smiles of her now,possibly decades old children gawked at Telsa from the surrounding walls of Anna’s room. Telsa nervously shifted in her seat when those infant eyes met her’s. Anna didn’t like that anyone stared at her children’s pictures for long. Telsa quickly averted her glance and checked her watch.

Herma’s usual spot across from Telsa was empty. “Telsa, let’s put baby powder in her pea puree this time,” said Anna with an air of accomplishment. Last time she had put  sugar in her lentils. Telsa never took part but just pretended to agree. Herma never noticed the changed flavours. She also never came on time.

Their favourite block-stacking-and-crashing game, Jenga, began in Anna’s stuffy nursing home room every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning like a sacred ritual; obsolete, staunch and oddly invigorating, much like Anna. Other days were reserved for bingo, exercise and Frank Sinatra sing-a-along programs. These women were wrinkly hamsters living on stolen time in their cages.

Anna punched her table as the door slid open and in limped the curly haired 80 year old Herma who secretly loved that she was the youngest in the room. “Dammit Herma! Get on with it will you!”, Anna shrieked.

Chairs were pulled up, blocks were set and ready to be pulled apart and toppled over.

Anna pulled first. She was the dominant one. It was just a game to Telsa, but she dare not say that out loud. Anna would bite off her lips with straight, ivory tinted teeth. Herma wanted to be the first one, but she was not in the mood for confrontation.

“Watch and learn!” Anna announced right before she grappled the loose block from the tower, akin to a cautious dentist at work.

“How I hate that bastard! Did I tell you two about my ex-husband?” Anna suddenly began her best-loved topic of conversation.

“Hmmm.” Telsa was sympathetic for the hundredth time, possibly even more.  Herma was busy burping.

“The platypus left me for that slutty duck! I am glad I never met her or I’d have been in jail now.” Anna continued.

“Well you certainly ain’t in no Palace right now Anna!” Herma couldn’t help herself.

Anna spat at Herma. Quite literally. The wide honey oak table in between saved the other two from the salivic shower. “You’re in my room, so my rules. Shut the hell up!”

It was Telsa’s turn. She braced herself as the wobbly tile tilted below the block she had just removed.

“I gift-wrapped my soul for him you know. ” Anna’s harsh tone mellowed and she took a pink napkin with white doves. There were no tears. But she wiped her eyes as if rehearsing for the real deal. The smeared crusted maroon lipstick made her look morbid. “I am beautiful aren’t I?” Telsa nodded.  Herma controlled her laughter.

“Then why?” This time her tears gushed. Telsa’s green eyes watered up, as if in a compulsion to join the teary river that gushed in the room. She had eternally damned herself to cry for others.

“I am sure he always loved you, and no other,” came Telsa’s over-rehearsed reply.

“What do you know?!” A raucous crow just replaced the mellow squeak in Anna’s throat. “You’re as wretched of a woman as I am.” Telsa bit her tongue. She could taste the bloody saliva.  The tower gracefully dismembered itself as an army of wooden soldiers rose on each side.

“Why you gotta talk like dat to her?” Herma defended Telsa.

Anna ignored Herma and continued. “He took my children and my dignity. Neither came back.” Telsa leaned forward to console but Anna screamed with blood in her eyes, “Why can’t you just do your turn?”  The game was almost over.

Anna suddenly sprang up as if the chair had developed canines. Her trembling legs dragged her to a wrought-iron night stand. A golden velvet pouch peeked through her pale hands as she took out an envelope, and from it a letter.

“His last words before sucking down those pills.” She stared at her only two friends. “He apologised, you know. Damn well regretted leaving me!” She smiled with hurt and contentment all rolled up in a bitter-sweet strudel. She took a minute to read the letter under her breath and carefully folded it back in its rightful creases.

Knock. Knock.

Someone was at the  half-opened door. Herma quickly called out, “Come on in, nothing to hide here!” It was  the new Nurse Wilma. She had joined just a week ago. A woman in her mid 50’s, with a surly air about her, like someone who’d been rudely stripped off her royalty and could kill for the lost title.

Anna had missed her morning medication for dementia. “Hello ladies,” said Nurse Wilma, uninterested in what was going on in the room. She handed the pills to Anna and waited for her to squeeze them down. Nurse Wilma turned to leave, but paused for a minute to look at the pictures on the wall. Telsa noticed and was about to comment when Nurse Wilma rushed out without another word.

Anna was trapped in a daze. “He gave my grandmother’s precious ruby bracelet to that wretch, you know. He never admitted but I know. That cut me real bad. Real bad.” She was scratching her left hand without looking up.

It was down to the last few moves. Herma complained about being hungry. Telsa scooped her arm over for her turn. Her hands wobbled and the patchy tower finally gave away.

“HA! You gals can never win from me!” Anna was back to her competitive self. She stood up to celebrate with some coffee.

“Anybody got anything to eat around here?” Herma spoke looking at the ceiling. She then leaned across and whispered to Telsa, “Why you gotta take her shit every day? See she never talks to me this way. I know how to set her straight. Why don’t we hide one of those kids’ pictures?!”

***********************************************************************

Nurse Wilma stepped out for a quick smoke. Those children on the wall. She knew those eyes. She’d know them anywhere.

“But how could it be?! He told me that his wife had died in an accident. Who was Anna then? Why did she have those children’s pictures?!” She started to sweat under her wool coat.

She rolled up her sleeves to cool down.Glistening red stones peaked from her wrist.

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National Blog Posting Month - November 2014

I am participating in the National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) – November 2014. This is an awesome venture of Blogher.com. In their own words:

“Every November, thousands of bloggers commit to posting daily. But it’s about much more than getting that post up—it’s about community and connection. It’s also about honing your craft, challenging yourself, and taking your blog to the next level.”

I will write every day of November. This is my fourth post.

#NaBloPoMo – Day 4

 

 

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A love forsaken.. A bond neglected

 

These days, there are many things that you don’t get to see often.  People writing letters. Children playing outdoors.  Someone going out of their way to help another. Children looking after their parents.

Now the last bit I think, is becoming harder to spot, each passing moment of our selfish, valueless lives. When you actually do see something out of the ordinary, it tends to leave an ever lasting impression. There they were, entering a restaurant; A frail, petite, very old lady, walking slowly with the help of, (who I assumed was) her 50-something son. The entire sight was refreshing yet intriguing. Like distorted reflections of life beneath the ocean, as you peer through ripples of water tirelessly circling away. Her wrinkled face, drooping exterior, and bewilderment at her surroundings betrayed her age, which I suppose must have been above eighty. The two spoke another language, but their language of love was enough for me to understand.

He asked her what she wanted to eat. She gave a confused reply. He left and returned with the menu card. That did not help either. This time he spent a good five minutes or so, explaining her options by speaking closely in her right ear. Her expression changed from confused to downright frustrated. The son listened and helped her out with the patience of a mountain. After much discussion, he finally left to place the order. In the meanwhile, she surveyed her surroundings like a child in an unfamiliar place; excited yet fearful. As our eyes met, I smiled and said hi. She passed a scrunched, sweet, satisfied smile back at me. I felt tears well up. I wanted to tell her how lucky she was.

Parents expect a lot of from their children. That’s how it was, is, and always will be. I am a mother myself and I’ll be darned if I don’t end up doing the same! Despite knowing that the love a parent gives can never be reciprocated in the same manner by the child. Essentially, selfless love is the parents’ forte! No son, no daughter can ever repay their parents’ blood and sweat.  But that surely does not give us, the children, a one-way ticket to ‘That’s no longer my problem’ land. That does not mean we can turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to our parents whenever we deem suitable. That certainly does not mean we can’t pluck out a few hours from our so-called busy schedules, for them, and them alone.

Maybe its time to collect all those years of lost time and wrap them up with sheepish little bows of gratitude, just for our parents. That precious heart-to-heart over tea, or that one-on-one shopping spree; that moment of silence shared together, or that casual walk in the park; they just want their babies near by. Sadly, even that is too much to ask for these days.  In countries like Pakistan, countless children like myself, have moved continents away from their parents, in hopes of securing better futures, or whatever that really means. Some are lucky enough to have their parents move too. But many are left to question their own beliefs, values, and priorities when they encounter such taxing situations. In most cases, I see parents at the loosing end. They send off their children, emotions tainted with bitter sweet sorrow, topped with a vicious lump stuck down their throats. And if they decide to move too, then they do so willingly but with an even bigger lump. How easy is it to give up a life you have lived forever? Yet how easy is it to live away from beings you call your life?

So many questions. Hardly any convincing answers.

Like always, I choose to ignore the the so-called facts. I choose to hide my head in the sand and pray. I refuse to accept how ‘normal’ this is in the eyes of many. I refuse to grow up. I dream of days of reunion. I hope for a time when I can bring smiles to their faces again through the little things; because honestly, nothing big can be expected from a selfish child. I yearn for a time when my parents will make everything better again, as they did whenever I shed a tear and cried out their names.

It isn’t enough, but its as true as it can be. I love you mama and baba.

 

 

The Reluctant Immigrant

When it comes to matters of loyalty, immigrants are favored as much as layers of brown scum floating on a hot cup of tea . Patriots stand united in their fight against sinister immigrants. Rest assured, no in-depth research has gone into this statement. I say this mostly out of a sense of self-imposed guilt.

As a child, I was the outdoorsy sort who developed an ulcer if anyone mentioned playing with dolls. This led to a love for playing sports and reading books and of course travelling – within and out of Pakistan. Living in America for a couple of years in the 90’s was a magical time. Disney land, Hollywood, The Rockies, Ice cream sandwiches, free breakfast at school, double dutch  meant only one thing for a 10 year old – BLISS. It was amusing when most Americans had no idea of what and where Pakistan was  (or Paskastand, as many repeated  when I gave them a short geography lesson). Yet when I returned to my home country, I never thought of moving back.

Many years down the lane, my university commenced. Prospects of education abroad soaked the air, leaving me teary-eyed with exasperation. Its not that I did not want to study abroad; the mere thought was exhilarating! However the entire process was long and dreary and ultimately in the end I decided to take the easy road by making peace and studying in Pakistan.

I graduated and eagerly jumped the corporate wagon. It did not come as a complete surprise when I saw my colleagues weighing their chances of post-grad studies, either for brighter job prospects or for an easy ticket out of the country. This was an interesting thought that I too became inclined towards. I applied to a few post-grad programs in a couple of continents. I got accepted, however by this time I had another excuse; excessive complacency.

My stressful years arrived. I had turned twenty-four and talks of marriage were haunting me like a sociopath hunting down his next kill. Now the ‘IN’ thing these days was to marry an ex-pat with a steady career, a good English accent, a six pack (exaggeration intended) and, limited family members (preferably zero). Thankfully my parents and I agreed on the fact that moving away from family was too bleak a thought to even consider. Hence the proposals tilted towards Pakistani settled families and I was rescued.

Now all the while, Pakistan was in dire straits. Ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated (December 2007). Her husband Zardari materialized from ashes and took charge like a greedy wolf waiting for a chance to attack . Pervez Musharaf fled the scene. While at one point modern theaters, malls and restaurants were being developed, many of us Pakistanis had certain other things to look forward too. For instance, whenever there was electricity, we would rejoice, enough to embarrass baboons. On the other side, absence of it for long stretches led to a fit of cursing and cribbing. Numerous other reasons ransacked our minds. Running away from home was not a bad idea anymore.

Pakistanis have always been good at migrating, enough to make birds envious.  Post  subcontinent divide in 1947, many Pakistani migrated to the UK. Then other countries like America, Australia and Canada came into picture. Specifically during the years 2008 and up, anyone who was anyone, was planning to immigrate. Reasons were plenty while their loyalty was as porous as cheese, with many who had genuine reasons too. I must admit; it was also a case of the menacing `latest trend`. Ludicrous ideas about having babies abroad for instant immigration ensued. I was the first to laugh it all off. But not for long, as I too succumbed to the pressure. My loyalty had suffered a gigantic blow. My immigration papers had been filed.
Three years since, I sit here comfortably in my new home in Canada, pinning down thoughts of Pakistan; with  heavenly weather, peaceful surroundings and intoxicating freedom. I feel grateful to be here in Canada when I see the endless stretch of opportunities that await us. Back home I hear unrelenting news of political and economic problems and I shamefully seek refuge in knowing that my family will be safe from these apparent struggles. Yet in a deep corner of my heart, guilt for abandoning my country vexes me like an ill-shapen shoe .

I find wavering solace in knowing that I have a colossal task ahead of me; molding the crucial relationship between my children and Pakistan – a country they were never given the chance to grow up in. Presumably, all the precious memories their parents and grandparents hold on to firmly, will be as difficult for them to comprehend as perhaps rap music by Mozart.

I should not expect the impossible from my children yet my heart will be glad if they grow up to love their country; if their eyes swell up in tears every time they see their country folk in distress and take steps to help them – little or big; if they cling on to this connection like a worker bee set on a mission. Siblings like Samina Baig and Mirza Ali (http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/17382/samina-baig-and-mirza-ali-pakistan-climbs-mount-everest/ ) give me comfort.

I find tranquility in knowing that every morsel of my children’s achievements will be accredited to their native land. But for all of that to happen, I will have to do something useful for Pakistan myself, as opposed to just nostalgic talk. This will be my way of giving back to a country that has given me so much more than I can ever repay.

In the meantime, I childishly hope to return to my land when I am old; to a time of carefree abandon, to a life that will once again embrace me with open arms and a warm hug.