One day, just another still, warm day in February, there was you… Sometimes I wonder why there wasn’t something to suggest the birthing pains of this love: a camel-shaped eyelash, a rainbow above my roof, frogs raining, a tree bursting into yellow bloom overnight, a snatch of a song. But there was nothing. Not even a twitching eyelid or a skipped beat of the pulse. And yet, now when I think of the time before you, all I think of is this grey and metallic sheen of the strangled day and the death-like silence of the night.
Last Sunday the neighbours brought me a glass of something tall, cold and sweet. They had a name for it: thandai.
Did I know there was opium in it? I did. Why didn’t I say no? Probably because I wanted to know where it would lead me. Opium. Melded into milk and almonds and chilled so the sweet creaminess could slide down my throat while a foot soldier in black crept through my veins to the silly point of my brain.
The neighbours left and I climbed the stairs to my vault-roofed bedroom. I lay on the rosewood bed I’d had a carpenter carve vines and grapes into so at least in my dreams Dionysus wouldn’t forsake me.
I closed my eyes and thought of you as I do ever since that February day.
Who are you? Just who are you?
Do you ever wonder as I do that I know everything about you and yet know nothing at all? I know you narrow your gaze when you are concentrating; I know the secret vanity that makes you put your glasses away. I know how your lips stretch into a smile that begins in your eyes. But I don’t know the shape of your feet or the taste of your mouth or the arc of your dick when aroused or how it nestles while cocooned in sleep.
I know how caution and recklessness joust within you. I know words enthral you. I even know your favourite colours of blue. But I do not know how the lines striate your palms and if the hair on your chest feels like fur. I do not know if you are a bear or a wolf or a mountain lion.
I lie on my rosewood bed, my palm cradling my cheek, my eyes half-closed… in sleep or in opiate trance and I think but I don’t even know how tall you are.
I see you walk through the airport exit. I see a man emerge.
I see he is you and I see that he is a little man two feet tall. You, my love, are a midget.
I examine my feelings. How do I feel?
I realize I still want to know if you flinch when thunder rolls or if you lick the first snow flake of the year. I want to know if when you hold your child you feel the same runnel of feeling rush down your side and gather in a pool of a joy so intense that tears spring into your eyes. Like it used to in mine, when I nursed mine. I want to know how your tongue would feel in me and if the same song would move us in different ways.
I hold out my arms to you. I raise you from the grand and perch you on my hip. You are the man. I am the woman. I am Calypso. You are the harp.
A wise man, let’s call him a sufi, sat with his disciples. Tell me how tall is a lotus, he asked.
One disciple said, two foot. The sufi said, “How do you know it isn’t three foot or one foot?”
The disciple subsided into confused silence.
Then another said, “A lotus is as tall as the water it is in. It could be one foot or twelve.”
The sufi patted his head in approval.
So you see you are as tall as I want you to be. You are Murad.
And then I began giggling. Peals of mirth or was it relief? It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter at all. You are you, Murad. Magnificent midget. All that I want…
Kull Yawm: Every Day
It is a Sunday. Sabbath for the Christian world; weekly off day for the working class; and pause button for us. On a Sunday our lives do not meet or meld, for even love like God needs to rest.
What is the fabric of your Sunday? What form does your day take? The lover’s greed to know is rapacious; insatiable even.
How do you sleep? How do you eat? Do you shave from left to right? Do you hum under your breath? Do you snore? Do you look at other women? Do you wonder about other men in my life? Do you peer over the newspaper at your wife and smile at her even as you wonder when it will be Monday?
The everyday for the husband and wife is so commonplace. Who counts chicken feathers? But, for me, your everyday is a peacock feather found in the hollow of a tree; a kingfisher feather floating on the surface of a pool; iridescence that I want to treasure.
The world is falling apart – the pictures lament – a man sitting on a bed in his bombed house and smoking a pipe, a lifeless child from a crossfire, dead men dragged out of a manhole, a militant priest wearing the saffron garb of moderation; abandoned footwear outside a bombed shrine… This is the everyday we are allowed to share.
And so I yearn for the details of your commonplace, the humdrum of your ordinary or its knowledge. Murad the midget came to me with a cautionary gleam: I must not raise my expectations. That way lies hurt, that way lies dissipation and the dulling of iridescence.
It’s the same every day, you once said. So I must tell you about the twitter of sparrows in the garden.
In my childhood they were everywhere. Little brown specks chirruping through corridors and verandahs, darting, pecking at grain or bread crumbs on the floor, their wings winnowing the air as they rise abruptly lured by a morsel elsewhere. No one spared the house sparrow a thought really except when you kept something out to dry…. those little bloody nuisances we called them as they fearlessly invaded and seized what was there.
Their music was so part of our everyday that like the ticking of a clock, we grew desensitized to it. Instead our eyes searched, our ears sought, our souls craved a vision of the more exotic of birds.
In a little book I kept I wrote down the birds I saw, their plumage, calls and habitats. The sparrow was a forgotten bird. Perhaps forgotten is a word that gives me the benefit of doubt. Of a lapse in memory. An oversight. The truth being much more brutal. The house sparrow was a neglected bird. Since it was there and around, I hardly gave it a second glance.
Over the years a silence crept in and a blankness. The brown sparrow no longer darted in the periphery of my eye; where their relentless chirrup ruled, other sounds reigned. The blare of a horn, the call of a bell, the bark of a dog, even the caw of a crow. Only the house sparrow no longer sang. Its omnipresence erased in one clean sweep.
Then as I waited in the food court of the airport, amidst the announcements and the swoosh of motorized brushes cleaning the floor, a long forgotten sound came my way. Two short and then one long chirrup.
It occurred to me how perverse the human race is. When we have it within arm’s reach, we seldom value it. As if abundance in some way erodes all that is noble and beautiful about it.
The sparrow might be a little brown bird with neither the song of the lark nor the glory of the paradise fly catcher. But it is our everyday. To relinquish it is to lose our very life.
I scroll through the messages and check my email inbox. It cannot be, you say. A spouse who knows computers and me. There are no passwords that cannot be cracked. A window left open or a light in the narrow slit between door and jamb. By such things are our transgressions unveiled and smoked out.
And so my Sundays seem like an eternity in limbo as I wait for the working week to begin. I look at your pictures. I wonder if you look at mine. But our photographs are not us. Yours do not reveal anything beyond the mask you wear.
On the TV, there is a documentary on the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Little soldiers with little caps. I think of how you once talked about your Chinese soldier. I feel the blood rush to my face. If we could speak, I would tell you this: You mustn’t worry about your Chinese soldier. For when we are together, I will know how to transform the Chinese soldier to become one of Qin Shi Huang’s terracotta horsemen with a pill box hat. The emperor himself.
Who is this woman I have turned into? Once the life sap had stilled; once all emotion had frozen into a cube. But then with the flapping of a wing, a butterfly heart, in a land thousands of miles away you have turned me into a wanton creature har roz, kull yawm, every day.
I am alive. Are you?
Nidaa li-sh-shams: A plea to the sun
The garden is ablaze with red. The sun caresses even what is reluctant to bloom. Early in the day when you are asleep in your distant bed, the sun and I hold hands. He is the lover I imagine you to be.
I seek your face in the politician’s; I seek the timbre of your voice in the carpenter’s and the bureaucrat’s; I seek your touch in the fingertips of the writer I met at a bar.
But for now I sit by the water letting the sun dry my hair. I imagine you sitting on a step above mine. I would lean back into you so your thighs capture me. I would rest my arms on your knees and I would know what it is to be burnt from within by a desire to be owned.
But hush, we do not speak such thoughts, I can hear your thinking. Love like yours and mine cannot be defined by boundaries.
Some days I wonder if you and I are like the sun and the earth. That I come awake only when your fingers trail words across my day.
It occurs to me that we have shifted the norms of cosmic science, my beloved. The earth is stationery, grounded by the weight of its own desires; ocean currents that toss and turn; volcanoes that simmer in quiet rage, unable to explode; the stories of the world are still on the tongues of the tellers and the musician’s notes are frozen even as they emerge. That’s what happens to the earth that has stopped turning on its axis and knows not how to start turning again.
I am resentful; how can I not be? The earth doesn’t play games. I leave that to stars. And you, my sun, are one. Luminous, all fire and heat, drawing me in deeper and deeper, but almost as if you know that I will be burnt, you retreat. So is it that you tell yourself that you have so much to do that the forces of gravity we exert on each other will rob you of all you hold sacred.
Or was it that what I assumed is the force of gravity is merely NRE – do you know that acronym? – new relationship energy?
The sun is a faithless lover, I tell myself; the star who burnt a hole in the layer I surrounded myself with and now is elsewhere. The new is soon old. Even energy fields.
The calendar I once lived by has ceased to exist for me. The day begins and ends. Time tumbles of its own accord. I age; and I don’t age. Our desires keep us young. Our desires keep the sap alive.
But you, my Shams, my catalyst of floods and droughts, are you going to allow yourself to burn from within?
Or is it that behind the sun, you are, there is a blackhole. And it is this you retreat into.
Will you tell me about the blackness? I yearn to know. As I yearn to map every square inch of your body with a lazy trailing of finge tips; with my hair ends and parted lips.
In that secret recess, what goes on, my Shams? Who are your demons and monsters? Will there ever be a day when I introduce you to my mine? And there shall ensue a battle like no one has ever seen or read about. Not in your scriptures or mine. Our demons and monsters will fight with tooth and claw, horn and tail. Our monsters will die and all that there will be is our desire for each other.
Our embrace will know no fear. Your jewel will find its setting in my clasp. My ruby will be yours to crown. Our passion will flood every room of the house. Our sighs will meld so I will arch my back in your ecstasy and your mouth will voice my rapture. Later as we sleep, I will reach for your hand and you will hold my thigh between yours….
But, Shams, for that to happen, we must reverse the laws of cosmos. You mustn’t move and I must be allowed to rotate on my axis so my night is your night. And my day yours.
Desire and the sun cannot be curfew-ed. The black hole is real. It waits for you and me to lose our way into it.
It waits. Do not forsake us.