Hello Room-mate

The address on the slip of paper was confusing, so I went around asking people about the place but they looked at me as if I were an idiot. I did get there eventually and liked it, I just hoped that the room-mate would be nice.

When I rang the bell, the door opened and a tall girl in her late-twenties ushered me in with a smile. She asked my name and for my share of the rent so I handed her the cash. She was smart, very smart.

I soon found out her fixed routine and could always tell the exact time she woke up, had her all-organic breakfast, exercised, left for work, got home, watched T.V., had dinner and went to sleep. However, we hardly had a conversation of more than fifty words in two weeks. She talked to other people in our building, had lengthy conversations on the phone, Facebooked for hours, but never interacted with me. It was fine with me because that meant she did not interfere with my business so I stayed out of her way.

However, I found her acting strangely after some time: she tried catching me unaware and every time I turned to look at her, she would walk away in another direction. She started talking to me too much and stared at me continuously, sometimes breaking off conversations without any explanation. Her activities gradually became more suspicious and one day I caught her scribbling in a small black diary, which she immediately thrust into her pocket when she saw me. I started wondering if her job as a psychiatrist was getting too much for her, but soon I realised that she was keeping a secret from me and I decided to uncover it.

I found my chance when I saw her diary stuffed in her coat, lying unattended on the sofa as she came in from work and went for a shower. What I saw in it caught my breath:

‘Talking/arguing to self’

Umm…

‘Constantly looking at the ceiling with a blank expression’

How…?

‘Suicidal notes hidden in places’

This is not good…

‘Cutting arms with razors and mumbling incomprehensibly’

…not good at all…

‘Inference: subject suffering from schizophrenia’

…uh-oh.

*****

No one had ever been able to catch me; I was smart, very smart. Previous room-mates never had any inkling of what I was, but I needed a challenge. This one, being a psychiatrist, gave me that challenge. I did have to spend a week in an institution but Jackie, my old friend, helped me get out of there.

My love for writing freed me because the people at the institution had to take me out of my cell to clean the walls, which sadly were my manuscript for my book, but Jackie says ink is better than blood; I have already become anaemic from writing so much.

Click…click…click…

My new room-mate is nice because she lets me use her old typewriter; I intend to publish a book on my adventures. The old room-mate would definitely be a part of it because we caught each other. It is funny how things go in a circle; I knew she had a secret but her secret was that she knew my secret: I am schizophrenic.

When I’m done writing, I will have to sew back Jackie’s button eye which came off when I ran. I even have to fix the stuffing that is coming out of him, poor thing. But he won’t complain; he’s smart, very smart.

[Note: This short story was written as part of an English Composition course during my 4-year degree program.]

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Almost like a child

Like a child he was

So innocent, so sweet

No person like him

Did I ever meet

But they spared him not

They took him away

So quickly they went,

Not a word he could say

All the hurt they caused him

Its scars were there

They wouldn’t leave him,

A never-ending nightmare

Like a child he howled

Writhing in pain

His blood showered on me

Falling like rain

Like a child he wept

As his shell fell apart

The capture of his freedom

Was a stake through my heart

Like a child he lay,

On my lap was his head

Like a child he cried

Fighting to come back

Like a child he grew

Afraid of death

As the angel of darkness

Silently swept

‘Go away!’ I cried,

‘To the farthest shore,

Go! Let my darling

Sleep some more.’

But his soul, black death,

Wrenched away from me

And his unseeing eyes

Lay for all to see…

The kind of people you encounter in Sunday Bazaar

For those of you not from Karachi, Pakistan and who do not know what Sunday Bazaar is, it is a huge open thrift market in the posh locality of Defence where you find anything and everything, from bolts of luxurious fabrics to original oil paintings to fruits and vegetables to wicker baskets to leather jackets to second-hand books of all genres to used shoes and bags to disposed off toys and electronics among many other things my brain refuses to do an inventory for. Essentially a wholesale-cum-flea market which opens on, you guessed it, Sundays only. And for those of you living in Karachi who don’t know what Sunday Bazaar is, what rock are you living under?

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So considering that Sunday Bazaar is a one-stop shop, it is obvious that it would be frequented by all and sundry, but keeping in mind the strange dynamics of this city, ‘all and sundry’ becomes a lot more entertaining than you would expect, especially the interaction, or lack thereof between those visiting the bazaar. Here is a glimpse into the wide variety of our species I have encountered there.

The Tribal Clan

Karachi is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities, the proverbial ‘greener pasture’ that people from all over the country come to settle in, hence it should come as no surprise when you see flocks of shuttlecock-burka-clad pakhtoon females descend like a blue cloud upon the stalls and begin conversing in rapid-fire Pushto with the mostly Pathan vendors. On the very next stall you might find a small family of fifteen from Hub, Balochistan, who have hired a Bedford truck for their trip to this shoppers’ paradise. They provide a colorful backdrop for the Sindhi clan in their mirrored frocks and scores of children, as they peruse the shiny, gawldun jewellery for the next wedding in the tribe. There is absolutely no shortage of our tribal brethren in this vast space where all of Pakistan seems united for once.

The Celebrities

For the entertainment-starved people here, there might be days when a ray of hope shines upon them in the form of a grimy person covered in the Phase 8 dust, who happens to be famous for some reason or another; well mostly their pretty face since intellectuals don’t really have any mass popularity over here. You might see your favourite TV actor strutting about in Designer sunglasses (which you could find two streets away at a corner stall) and pausing in front of you expectantly waiting for you to ask for their autograph, or you might catch a glimpse of a famous singer haggling with the fruit-wala in a not-so-melodic voice, or you might even see an actress who dared to step outside her house with NO MAKE UP AT ALL! Imagine the horror of seeing her as a NORMAL HUMAN BEING!

The Bookworms

There is a special breed of homo sapiens who have a strange affinity for the written word, and you can easily find them bent over rows upon rows of books at the bookstalls in Sunday Bazaar, studiously ignoring the cacophony of human voices that surrounds them as they withdraw into their book-bound bubble. These people come in all shapes and sizes, belonging to all ages, and chances are that if you saw them in the morning as you entered the bazaar, you will find them in the same shop when you are leaving three hours later, with the only difference now being the presence of a plastic bag full of treasures they unearthed during their long and exhaustive search.

Jbtw I also belong to this category…

The Babyboomers

It is not hard to find this haggard family as the fathers portray Jason Statham-like driving skills, manoeuvring baby strollers through narrow alleys carrying sweaty toddlers dripping ice cream in their wake, while the mothers pacify cranky babies with every form of rattling bling-bling they can gather at the junk corner. More often than not, the babyboomers seem to be on a mission to come, conquer and go as soon as possible, before the baby poops and they have no way to change the diaper in this desert wasteland, so to speak. It is very rare that you see a quiet family of this kind and when you do, you wonder if the zombie apocalypse has arrived because it just seems so unreal.

The Football Fanatics

As you near the footwear area, you find yourself surrounded by complete teams of kitted out teenagers in heated discussions over Nike vs. Adidas, Studs vs. No Studs, Green vs. Black and so on and so forth, extolling the virtues of their favorite player wearing so and so shoes. Sometimes you will find a lone adolescent boy stubbornly pointing at his favorite pair of Nikes while his mother continues to lecture him on the vice of overspending while at the same unsuccessfully tries to convince him to buy a cheap China-made copy which the vendor swears comes from the same Nike factory.

The Scavengers

The early bird gets the worm, and the first to arrive at the bazaar are those who look to sweep the arena clear of the bounties it has to offer. You might not even find the Scavengers after noon because they were the ones who probably helped the sellers unpack their wares during the early hours, while simultaneously setting aside everything they find worth a dime. If you have been wondering why you never find the good stuff, chances are that the good stuff is now the property of these hawks and it will never see the light of the sun again. Ever.

The Misfit Aunties

These are the stereotypical Burger aunties who seemed to have somehow teleported from their drawing rooms straight into the midst of this “Durrty Old Peasant Village” in their expensive lawn suits, sleeveless tops, capris and perfect manicures and blowdries. These ladies also happen to be very active at those stalls that sell *cough* fake *cough* Designer handbags, which they would flaunt at the next kitty party when they explain how difficult it was to obtain this last item from Louis Vitton’s Fall/Winter collection on their recent trip to Italy. They would be conversing in English with the shopkeeper who would answer right back in Urdu and somehow a transaction would take place while you remain lost in translation. If you ask them though, they will most likely look very confused as to how they came to be in this place, telling you in their most earnest voice that it is their very first time coming to Sunday Bazaar only because it is so close to their palace on 26th street and they suddenly found themselves free this unfortunate Sunday.

The Farangi

These are typically the children of the above mentioned aunties, who went abroad for higher studies after A-levels. They turn up at the bazaar in tanktops and shorts and flip-flops and bandanas, and stroll about the bazaar likening it to the flea-markets they visited on their road trip across the States, looking over at the mass of humanity they would hold a social dialogue about among themselves in their most native American accents, on issues plaguing the Third World which the American President’s latest reforms will most definitely solve of course. You might even find them clicking away on their DSLRs capturing the ‘true face of Pakistan’ while they go about telling each other not to touch anything cuz germs bro.

The Foreigners

The ACTUAL farangis who are ACTUALLY seeing this place for the first time perhaps would belong to all races and nationalities, the tanned Americans/Europeans still carrying their backpacks around, the Russians and Ukrainians who sometimes are mistaken for our Pathan brothers, the Africans often wrongly accused of participating in the Lyari warfare and the Orientals who seem to be always in such a hurry to get to the next stall. If they are smart, they will escape the claws of the vendors who heap bags upon bags of “Vairry Chheep” things ‘Made in Pakistan’, turning their stalls into souvenir shops making the foreigners wonder how anybody thought things are affordable here.

The k3wL BwØ!z and Gµ®Lz

If during your journey through the maze of Sunday Bazaar, you come across young men whistling, humming, singing latest Bollywood songs, swaggering in tight jeans in unthinkable eye-popping colors, wearing sunglasses with the stickers still on, and hair gelled back very very carefully, then you behold what we call the ‘kewlbwoiz’. They truly believe they are the perfect substitute of Zayn Malik or Fawad Khan, with the right amount of star quality. Their female counterparts are the heavily made-up, high heeled, blinged-out, fancy dressed ‘kewlgurlz’ who treat the potholed streets as their modelling ramp, throwing Kareena Kapoor inspired hair flips left, right and center. They fully believe they have the filmi husn and hoshruba ada that will score the kewlbwoizez affections and they will promptly break their shiny, little man-child hearts by shifting their attentions to the used spiked and long leather boots which they will pair with their denim-patterned tights and diamante-studded ruffled tops; because really who has a better fashion sense than them, hain jaanu?

The Mazdoors and The Vendors

Last but not the least, the natives of the bazaar itself; the shopkeepers who make their livelihoods based on the whims of the buyers, the vendors whose disposition varies as much as the dwarves that Snow White lived with. Then there are the mazdoors, from toddlers to adults, running after you with their woven baskets, asking if you want a porter to carry all your shopping for you; sometimes you’ll have three boys fighting over who gets to carry your onions and tomatoes. Not quite how you daydreamed eligible bachelors competing for your affections but you snap out of your reverie when you realize they are fighting for a right to the measly wage of perhaps 20 rupees, a small denomination note whose absence you never noticed till it started resembling the 5000 rupee note. They add another depth to the characters you meet in this giant labyrinth you navigate through.

This is of course my own experience in the Sunday Bazaar and I have only listed the most memorable types of people I have seen there, obviously not covering ALL those who visit. Well then, Sunday is upon us and I am off to get myself another stack of novels at a bargain now.

Only A Moment

It only takes a moment

to stop a beating heart

for happiness to leave us

for lovers to part

 

and it only takes a moment

for good times to pass

when memories are erased

and the end comes atlast

 

and it only takes a moment

for joys to turn away

when doom walks in

and life walks away

 

and it only takes a moment

for the men to fall

as the women grieve

for they’ve lost it all

 

and it only takes a moment

for the walls to collapse

as the roof caves in

dust fills in the gaps

 

and it only takes a moment

as blood runs like water

the mother mourns her son

the father, his daughter

 

and it only takes a moment

for a child to pick a gun

when his toys have been destroyed

his heart burns like the sun

 

and it only takes a moment

of sheer insanity

for you to lose control

and your humanity

 

and it only takes a moment

for brothers to be divided

as the protectors face

all enemies united

 

and it only takes a moment

for the first arrow to fly

and so it begins

when innocents die

 

and it only takes a moment

for your city to burn

the roads become deserted

and ghosts haunt every turn

 

and it only takes a moment

when all you knew was gone

all you had, you lost

nothing has been won

 

and it only takes a moment

for evil to reign supreme

when the good has fallen

your soul you can’t redeem

 

and it only takes a moment

for darkness to descend

the spark of life extinguished

we meet the fated end…

 …but it only takes a moment

for a young heart to start beating

the spark of life is ignited

witness a new beginning

(Note: This poem and its Urdu translation were presented at the International Forum of Youth Poetesses, 2013, held in Baku, Azerbaijan by the Great SilkWay International Youth Union.)