Just Because I Don’t Write About You

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Mom asked me the other day why I haven’t written about you in a while.  My answer was simple, instant, truthful.

“Because writing about him means I need to think about him.”

Perhaps it sounds callous, but it is candid.  I’ve become so accustomed to not thinking about you that it’s more a default way to function.  Does that mean you no longer matter? Does that mean I’m used to you being no more? Does that mean I no longer wish you were still a part of my life?

The answer to all those questions is a resounding NO.  Just because I don’t write about you much, doesn’t mean you no longer exist.

Next month will mark 4 years since you passed away.  That quantification baffles me.  4 years is seemingly a long time, and it truly amazes me how we’ve adapted to your absence.  We have filled in the gaps you left behind as best we could, and seem to be moving along now at a steady pace.  The hiccups are few and far in between, like when Ayana is at a birthday party and one of the games involves the kids bringing along their daddies, and she quietly sits it out, painfully aware that hers is no longer alive.

But what I said to Mom holds true.  I don’t consciously think about you much. Why? Because it’s still more painful than pleasant, it still inspires more conflict in my mind than any sense of serenity or contentment.  After 4 years, people would assume I have come to accept you’re gone.  But I am not.

It’s not okay that my big brother is no longer alive. It’s not okay that when I have a bad day personally, professionally or just for no reason at all, I have to resort to trying to find calm by listening to something you liked.  I can’t bitch to you about random, nonsensical crap the way I had imagined I’d be doing at 24.  Instead, I have to make do by wondering and assuming what you’d say.  I have to think. I have to think about what you would have done rather than having the luxury to interact with you in the present.  I have to think. I have to go back into the past, because that is all we have of you now. And that’s not okay.

I am not ‘at peace’ with it.  I am not okay.  You are dead and it is still unfair.  That’s the simple truth but that’s not something I can voice aloud to Mom.  Perhaps, she will read this and understand and not ask again.

 

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3 Years: Choosing Happiness

Around this time last year, I’d made a silent resolution.  I had decided that I was going to be happy.  I had made up my mind that I would, as often as I could and for as long as it was possible, choose happiness.

My brother’s life may have been brief but it was never dull.  I don’t think he was ever conscious of it, but everything in his life, every event, incident or occasion, was amplified.  Perhaps it was just his flair for drama that contributed to this, but his emotions ranged in the extreme.  When he was happy, he would be overjoyed.  When he was angry, his wrath would evoke dread.  Whatever mood he’d be in, it was always exaggerated, always infectious to the point where the whole house would be subdued if he ever was. Maybe, without knowing, he was compensating for all the emotions he wouldn’t be able to feel after death; maybe, in living large, he was making up for the short span of his actual physical presence.

He was nowhere near perfect, but one thing he always got right was happiness.  My brother was not the type of man to lull around days on end in a haze of depression or melancholy.  Certainly, he felt despair and anguish but he didn’t cozy up to those sentiments and hold on to them for long the way so many of us, including myself, tend to do.  A free spirit like him, he always turned to his music.  It was through composing, singing, playing the guitar and performing that my brother found the true way back to happiness, every time.  His music was not just his passion or his hobby, it was his north star.

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Last year, I had resolved to follow my north star, wherever it may lead me to.  For a while after my brother died, I clung on to one, simple dictum: life is short.  He died at 30 because his heart suddenly decided to stop beating and that’s all I could think of: that maybe I only have till 30 as well.  I used it as an excuse for many of my actions, and as a basis for decisions both made and avoided.  I’ve refined that approach a bit this past year.  Life is short, certainly, but it must have some meaning. Quality > Quantity.  For me, meaning derives from experience, and I wanted my life to overflow with some top-quality euphoria-inducing instances.

The past 12 months have been full of surprises, mostly good.  In my pursuit of happiness, I have been to more concerts this past year than I have in the 22 years preceding it, I have traveled to brand new places all alone and fallen in love with new cities that feel like home, I have taken risks and forged connections with new names while erasing some old ones from my memory book, I have rediscovered an old hometown and reconnected with faces I hadn’t seen in a decade, I have changed the course of my professional life and plunged head-first into avenues I had never imagined I would ever be interested in.  Through it all, I have had this one constant thought at the back of my mind: just be happy.

It doesn’t take much, I realised.  It can be found sitting on the front steps of a purple house with a perfectly gooey cookie in one hand and a book in another, or in that breathless red-faced moment when you’ve finally beaten your own personal best time in a workout after weeks of training.  It’s when you manage to, after constant scheduling and rescheduling, get around to Skyping with your long-distance best friend and end up talking 2 hours longer than you’d planned.  Sometimes, it’s even when a client ends a long, frustrating thread of slightly passive aggressive emails with a simple ‘thank you :)’.  It happens when you’re lying on the grass in a way you haven’t since you were 6 and all you can see is sunlight speckled with cloud fluff and leaves and you’re bewitched by the simplicity of the scene.  It’s when you’re walking along a sunny street and are suddenly overcome by the impulsive need to hold the hand of the person walking next to you and you give in.  It’s when you realise there is no rush to finish the novel that you’ve been working on and writing under pressure just makes for crappy prose and you can take a short detour into verse and indulge your love for poetry for a while. It happens when you finally get to dance at a live concert to the song you’re used to simply hearing on your headphones and tapping your fingers along to.  It’s that glorious moment when you bite into the softest, flakiest pain au chocolat you’ve ever had and are glad you waited 35 minutes in line to order.  It’s when you see your baby nieces holding hands and calling out to you to come play with them.  It’s in that moment where you’re driving down a highway and waiting for the next song to play but there are too many commercials so you switch stations and Angels by The XX comes on and you grin like a sociopath and roll down all your car windows and pretend you’re driving a convertible because that’s how great it feels then.  It’s when you finally figure out that those beautiful droopy yellow flowers you saw in California actually have a real name and are called Angel’s Trumpets.  It happens when someone who hasn’t seen you in many years looks aghast and exclaims loudly about how much weight you’ve lost and you’re tempted to bust out a few moves to ‘I’m sexy and I know it’ but instead just nod and smile sagely instead.  It happens after you’ve written a few lines of verse and you re-read in amazement that the words turned out just how you wanted in only one go.  It’s when you receive an out-of-the-blue call/text/email/whatsapp/bbm/tweet/inbox message of concern from one of the many people who know and care about you.

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My north star, I have realised, lies in forming connections. I find happiness in shared history, common ground, similar likes and dislikes and the ability to discover something about myself I had no idea existed simply by virtue of seeing myself through another individual’s perspective.  These lead to great stories and, as anyone who knows even the bare minimum about me, I am a sucker for a good story. My happiness experiment has given me some grief this past year, it hasn’t led to permanent contentment, and it was an important part of the process for me to realise that it doesn’t have to.

Going all the way, going after what makes me happy, striving for things that bring a smile to my face – it’s this leap that matters, and I would take it again in a heartbeat.  Because, sometimes, that’s what stops. The heart.  Bhai’s did, and someday mine will too, and when that happens, I don’t want people talking about what I owned or achieved.  I want to be known for the unlikely connections I was able to form, the surprising friendships I pursued and the unexpected yet fantastic stories that emerged out of them.

It’s not easy.  Nothing real is ever easy.  Just writing this post is taking Herculean effort because what I’m typing out is how I think on most days but its conflicting with what I’m thinking RIGHT NOW. Right this second, I realise it’s the 18th of December and I’m suppressing flashbacks of seeing my brother’s body and remembering the touch of his cold fingertips.  At this moment, I’m trying to not recall the weeks and weeks of sleepless nights that ensued that first year and I am now wondering how I can ever get married without having him around to sing at my mehndi or walk me down the aisle.

Happiness is really hard work.  It still requires making tough decisions to eliminate factors in your life that limit your joy, and then communicating and implementing what you have as just airy-fairy ideas into actuality.  Happiness is a process.  It’s taken me 3 years and a dead brother to realise that, and I am nowhere near done.  But I’m trying.

The answer must be in the attempt.

Are you there, big brother? It’s me, your baby sister. Help.

I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.

You’re often loitering at the back of my mind as it is.  Bulk nestled into the grey beanbag, legs sprawled out so long it’s hard for anyone to cross the room, fingers lazily plucking chords on the guitar in your lap, foot tapping against the adjoining table leg to the acoustic rhythm. You seem to be waiting for something.

Usually, I am able to distract myself. I’ll run an extra mile, raise the volume on my headphones, read another dead poet’s verses, watch a half hour of mundane television.  It’s become increasingly difficult to do any of that now.  You’ve shifted from the periphery of my mind and begun to make yourself comfortable at its forefront and I question why.

You’ve set aside your guitar now (against the wall, careful) and are now sitting up.  The anticipation is as palpable as the tufts of hair that fall when I brush my hair each morning.  Light enough to float away into obscurity, but visible enough to stand out starkly against the white linoleum. Tangible. Dead.

I rack my brain for what to do but it seems to have taken flight in your considerable presence.  I’ve been overworking it lately. It’s likely to have left me out of exhaustion, with a sole lingering sentiment of comfort, “Your big brother is here now. Talk to him.”

And I want to.  It’s unbelievable how badly I want to talk to you right now.  I think back on our last interaction, a few hours before you left.  We’d sat across from each other, I on my laptop, you on yours.  I remember the song I’d made you listen to, and it angers me now.  I could have used those 3 minutes to tell you how much I love you instead.  But that was quintessentially us, affection manifested in a shared taste in music and words.

I try hard to remember some of those words now.  Each attempt seems as feeble as measuring a mile with my fallen hair strands.

I want to be 10 again, in the car with you to Dairy Queen, slurping sagely on a Peanut Buster Parfait as you speak about your current heartbreak.   Did I think it odd then that you were already talking in reminiscence of something that was still present in your life? I think the fudge may have been a sufficient distraction.  You didn’t want any, though, you were too preoccupied voicing the obscure notions plaguing your mind: love, life, and companionship.  I did listen, though, I promise.

I want to be 16 again, choosing to sit in your car and no one else’s, as we head to a family lunch.  I want to sink into the passenger seat, head and heart embroiled in the pitfalls of teenage romance, and stare out the window with eyes still swollen from the waterfalls of the night before.  You hadn’t said much on that drive, the need for conversation had eroded when you’d turned on the stereo.  Ronan Keating’s ‘I Hope You Dance.’ “Listen,” you’d said, “just listen to the words.”  I listened then, too.

I want to be 20 again, trundling around the airport parking lot behind you with my too-heavy suitcase.  I want to turn up the AC as soon as you switch on the engine and remark exasperatedly how the weather in Lahore is just so much better than Dubai’s.  You’d bait me into a playful argument, and I’d keep smiling, holding my tongue, as you poked fun at my new found Punjabi-ness and asked whether I ate channay and lobia for dinner every day.  For the record, I didn’t, but I never much had the chance to say so because then you’d move swiftly on to loudly claiming that you were sure I was failing.  You’d made the exact same claim just a few months ago when I’d called home to report that I was on the Dean’s Honor List.  Each drive home from the airport concluded the exact same way, with you asking if I was hungry and wanted something to eat.

But I am not 10, or 16, or 20.

I am 23, and poised at a liminal point in life, my head has abandoned me and my heart is in no mood to co-operate.  Don’t just sit there, help me.  Give me advice, tell me about a song, point me to the right words. All I want is a conversation with you, Bhai.

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The Story of Silences

There is a sound to every kind of silence. This is the story of you learning how to appreciate each one.

When you were younger, silence could be daunting.  It was uncomfortable and uneasy, like a dress that doesn’t sit quite right on the shoulders.  You would want to fill it with gibberish, with talk of the abominable wind chill factor or how choosing ‘C’ as the default option on a multiple-choice test was the way to go.  To get away from silence, you re-played the same Avril Lavigne album until the lyrics were embedded in your mental synapses.  You also figured out how to study aloud.  Even if the only voice you heard was your own, it was still a lot better than no voice at all. You would not even attempt to let silence drop by, let alone linger, because you had not yet grasped the fact that silence could be beautiful.  Back then, you would do all you could to make sure it did not turn up unannounced.  Silence was the visitor you boarded up your doors against.

As you grew older, silence began making cameo appearances.  It took you by surprise, the same way Brad Pitt showed up in that one episode of Friends.  In conversations, silence would creep up and you wouldn’t even realize it because you’d be too busy thinking hard about what to say next.  You began to learn about virtual silences too, the one where you’re chatting on MSN and waiting for the other person to respond and wondering what is taking so long because you can ‘see’ them typing.  It showed up in many a rendezvous as well, perching next to you as your mind frantically wondered, ‘Lean in? Lean back? Quick, do something!’  You soon realized you could use silence to your advantage, practicing it in the car as you looked outside at the city you were about to leave, making the person in the driver’s seat painstakingly wonder what they had done wrong to be deprived of your voice.  Silence even showed up at school, sitting next to your friends on the steps, making its presence known as the five of you daydreamed about the exciting adventures college would bring.  It would linger then, and you began to let it.

Silence took a bit of a backseat when you went to college.  Everything was new, shiny and loud.  Freedom was noisy and you savoured the clamour.  There was a constant buzz the first year, sounds of meeting a new best friend and sharing love’s woes over cold coffee on a sticky table, sounds of new words that you’d only ever heard of but were at last learning about: “Orientalism”, “hegemony”, “post-modernism”, “Foucault”.  You were overwhelmed but exhilarated, and you collected each sound eagerly, using it as fodder for stories you would tell your family on visits back home.  Secretly, you began to crave silence.  There were moments when you knew the sounds but still didn’t understand them, and you would sit on your bed as your roommate slept and you would try to decipher all the new ways you were being taught how to use sin, cos and tan.  The sounds let you down and you failed a couple of courses that year.  You realized then that silence was sometimes necessary.

Life happened with a death and this is when you wholeheartedly embraced silence.  You learnt of new silences: the one that comes with the absence of a familiar voice, the one devoid of thudding footsteps up the stairs, the one that no longer called out “Basmah! Can you please make me some chai?” or “Come listen to my new song!”  You began to seek out silences, blocking out the voices that tut-tutted and solemnly whispered “so young, so tragic.”  You fought against it for a while, the silence of no longer having an older brother, and questioned it endlessly, replacing it with the anguished mental chant of ‘why, why, why’.  This silence did not answer back, and you learned to fill it with distractions.  You went horse-riding at 6 am and took up Zumba.  You developed a love-hate relationship with silence, you both clung to it, and flung it afar.  Sometimes, it was your middle-of-the-night walking companion, and at other times, you would dull your senses enough to not feel it next to you.  You grew accustomed to the silence of waking up out of a nightmare, of struggling to fight away the demons that keep taking you to the same dark place in the past where he is still alive and your joie de vivre is untainted. You learned then that even if someone you love leaves, the void of silence they left would always stay.

A new year brought with it some significant nuances.  You were a senior at college now, a 20-something on the cusp of adulthood.  It was the end of your bildungsroman, and this stunned you into a whole new kind of silence.  You sat with your friends, on rickety chairs in open fields with playful shadows, in a cult-like circle on pavements flecked with twilight, at a communal brunch table laden with not-quite-cooked pasta and pancakes, wedged in a cramped bus on a trip to the mountains, and finally decked in robes and hats on seats specified by majors.  Each time brought with it a bittersweet silence, one in which you would glance at the person on your right and then on your left and pray fervently to a God you didn’t always get along with for remembrance.  There were reassuring silences too, accompanied by embraces so fierce, they left bruises you hoped would not fade.  Hands clasped together in the dark, in cave-like window sills you would later wish you could retreat to.  There was the silence that came with a series of lasts: last walk across campus, last late summer Lahore rain, last trip to Liberty, last night philosophizing at the bleachers, last dawn spent dancing in an unfamiliar living room.  Silence became omnipresent, and on the plane flying out from your home of 4 years to another you would be forced to rediscover, you realized what kind it was.  It was the silence of goodbye.

You are a working professional now, with a full-time job, a bank account and a vague understanding of what ‘savings’ really mean.  These accessories of adulthood come with their own variations of silences; they make you debate the ‘what ifs’ of decisions you have not yet made, they induce guilt trips when you let the on-goings of your daily life reduce the significance of the big picture you have painted for yourself in your mind, they comfort you when the realities of responsibilities overwhelm and cause hair fall.  The silences are a solace now, and you realize there will always be a new one you have yet to learn about.  Right now, for example, you’re figuring out the silence of allowing new people to intersect the trajectory of your life.  You are experiencing the companionable silence that comes in midst of a conversation, as you look away from a screen to trace the patterns on your rug and watch the black thread merge into the grey, and away from the red.  It’s a silence that revolves around dreams of sun-drenched villas on coastal lands that are oceans away from where you are and you both like and dislike the barriers.  It’s a silence that comes with a certain uncertainty, a knowing that even if you may not be where you want to be in a few years, you know that at least you will not be where you were.  Even though this silence is more unsettling than soothing, you are learning to live with it.  It is the silence of moving on.

There are more silences left to explore, of life, loss, and love.  You are now eager and somewhat equipped to experience each one.

2 Years: It’s been long, but not long enough

Let us take a moment
to pause and stare
Pause and stare at the fresh grave.
At the immeasurable spoonfuls of dirt
that will soon fill
it to the brim.

He died on a spectacularly sunny Saturday.  We left Canada almost a decade ago to relocate to the UAE, a country with one season reigning supreme all year long: summer.  Unlike this year, December wasn’t all that different from March or October in 2010.  To me, it had just been a day like any other in Dubai, hot, humid, and treacherously sweaty.

I had returned home for my annual winter break from college a few ago, and spent most of my time writing or playing with Ayana, my one-year-old niece.  Like my father, my brother was a banker and though Saturday is a working half-day for most banks in Dubai, my brother had been home all day.  In fact, he had decided to take his annual leave early and was going to be home every day for the next two weeks, a fact that did not register too well with me since I’d been planning on spending my days careening across the city and roaming the endless malls.  This would not be easy to do, with an older brother at home who had an inclination to call every hour, enquiring of my whereabouts.  Unknown to me, God had his own plans in motion.

Let us go
Let us embark on a journey
of thought, and descend
six feet under
to pause and stare some more.
Pause and stare
at the body that lies
beneath.

 4:30 pm.  I left the house with my sister, anxious to get some shopping done and spend some of the money Bhai had given me the night before.  This was new.  Usually, I’d have to pull my ‘I’m a poor, broke student’ routine to make him cough up some pocket money but this time, he had given me way more than ever before without even needing to be asked.  Perhaps I’d shouted out “Okay, I’m going now!” from my room downstairs or maybe I’d just flounced out of the house without a word.  Either way, there had been no real goodbye.

7:30 pm. My sister and I were browsing for sportswear, and dreaming aloud about all the things we’d do in London next month, a trip we’d been planning for the better half of a year.  At the same time, my brother had left home, bidding his mother, wife and baby daughter farewell for the very last time, to come to the same mall we were in, Mirdif City Center.  He had a weekly cricket match at its indoor play ground. Till date, I feel uneasy going near that area.

8 pm.  I was strapping on my seatbelt, and my sister and I were about to head out of the mall and back home when we received an unnerving phone call from my father.

“Beta, Bhai has collapsed.  Come to Playnation right away.”

My sister and I had been bewildered, but not as shocked as we should have been.  I’d always seen my brother as having a flair for the dramatic, with every little symptom exaggerated to generate the largest amount of sympathy possible.  I saw this as typical behavior, rolled my eyes and actually thought to myself: Well it’s not like he’s dying. But he was.

8:05 pm. As we maneuvered our way back through the parking lot, a series of phone calls followed with the last one falling like a jagged boulder on our souls.

“Beta, Bhai has died.”

How could my father possibly sound so calm?  His voice seemed wooden, jarringly inappropriate to the words he had spoken.  I couldn’t think, couldn’t move but knew we had to reach him.  I ran through the mall, panting and crying simultaneously, face etched into a mixture of disbelief and hysteria.  My sister must have been running with me but I was no longer aware of anything else but how fast my legs could take me to my brother.  I focused my thoughts again on my father’s tone of voice, the inflection in his words, rather than his actual words themselves.

Notice
the freshly cut nails,
the neatly trimmed hair.
One will yellow gradually,
the other will be nothing
but tufts and wisps
of dark brown.

I pride myself on my descriptive prowess, but even after all this time I cannot figure out how to fully convey the impact of what happened that night.  What i’ve realised is this: its not so much the immediate impact of the death that matters as much as it’s long-term effect.  Our swollen eyes, sleepless nights and struggle to put on brave faces were all just temporary afflictions. It’s what we’ve all experienced since then that is vital.

  • We can say your name without being overcome by a wave of tears every time.  When people ask me how many siblings I have, I am able to mention you.  I can say, ‘I had an older brother’ without my voice breaking.
  • We can smile and fondly remember things you liked to do.
  • We can do some of those things on our own.  We had a bbq last weekend, the first since you left.  You weren’t there to do all the work, but just as we were about to eat, it drizzled for a couple of minutes.  Was that you telling us you’re still with us?
  • We can talk to Ayana about you, and try answering her many, many questions about her Baba.  I can tell her that her love for singing and music probably comes from you, as well as her desire to have a pet turtle.
  • We can still go through moments of hysteria while thinking of you, but then we move past it.  Coming back from Karachi last month, I saw a man who looked a lot like you.  Same stature, same face shape, even a similar way of dressing.  I probably unnerved him by how much I was staring, and my heart broke a little when I lost sight of him, but I survived.
  • We can have dreams about you but still wake up to face reality the next day.  For the past few months, I’ve had this recurring dream in which you come back to us.  I don’t know from where or how, all that’s certain about it is the elation we all feel, and the sweet relief that this whole charade is over.  And when my eyes blink open and I see the framed photo of you I have on my bookshelf, I don’t need to lash out.

Notice
the glassy eyes slightly open.
They have witnessed the yellowing, falling leaves
Of only thirty Octobers.
Notice
the ears stuffed with cotton.
They have heard a crowd roaring, an audience clapping,
a baby crying.
These senses thrived for three decades
but now are dormant.
Not seeing, not hearing.

The truth is this: nothing fazes us any more.  Nothing rings truer than the oft-quoted saying: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  The cessation of your heart ended your life, but the end of your life did not kill us.  It made us stronger.  And with each passing year, our strength grows, our resilience grows firmer.  There are still moments of weakness, but that’s okay.  It’s been two years since you died, sometimes it feels like twenty, sometimes it feels like no time at all has passed.  That’s okay too, because though it has been long, perhaps it hasn’t been long enough.

Time has ceased.
Temporality is no longer
an affliction.
This body will lie forever,
Still and silent.

Let us go now
and ascend back into existence.
The moment to stop and stare
has passed.
It is time now
to let the spoonfuls of dirt
do their duty.

A New Year, A New Beginning

Today, millions of people all over the world woke up feeling happy, or at least hopeful. They all started the first day of the new year with a feeling of optimism of what 2011 will bring in the coming months, of the resolutions they have made and sworn to follow, of the old habits they have decided to quit and the new ones they have chosen to adopt. I woke up feeling none of these things, I woke up feeling hollow.

Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that I would be starting ANY year, let alone this specific one, with one less family member. It’s strange, incomplete, freaky, unreal, and many more words, all of which still wouldn’t be enough to describe this feeling. Last night, people were partying or celebrating, I stayed up trying to find quotes and poems that have death as a prevalent theme. I find words easier to relate to than anything else, and the written form is always better than any other. I’d prefer you send me a story or an anecdote instead of calling me up and saying things you think that might console me. Most of the stuff online is all about how you live to your fullest and not let the thought of death daunt you, but thats useless for me, I don’t think Bhai got a chance to live long enough to live it up as much as possible. Nonetheless, I did manage to find a few things that made sense to me.

Madame de Stael:
We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.

I don’t know who this woman was, but her words ring startlingly true. Before this, I had not bothered to think much about death or how it affected people’s lives. I felt awkward and inadequate whenever I had to address someone who had lost a loved one, I preferred to not think about it at all. It is only now that the death of my brother has affected me so profoundly that I understand what it means. When someone we love dies, it changes us so much. I suddenly feel like all my priorities have changed, like my perspective on so many things has altered, and that things which used to matter to me before now just seem petty and trivial. I feel like I’ve obtained some new sort of identity, one that has been touched by death, and what I was before this was just a semblance of who I will go on to be.

Marcel Proust:
People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.

Once again, so painfully true. It’s been 2 weeks since Bhai died, and for me and my family, time has slowed down to a crawl and we can hardly believe that it’s been 14 days. At the same time, it feels like only a very short period of time has passed by, a few days at most perhaps. It feels like Bhai is not dead, but rather gone away somewhere, and it’s liek he’ll be back any instant and just laugh at us and make fun of us. I can almost hear him, “How could you fall for it, Bazi? I thought you were smart!” He’s still so alive in our minds, and in all our thoughts, that most of the time, it’s impossible to believe and accept that he’s really gone forever.

I don’t know what the new year will bring, but I know my life has changed forever. I know that things will be so strangely different from now on, and that I don’t know what to expect. It’s as if our entire house of cards has crumbled to shreds, and all we can do is watch and try to piece it all back together, slowly, painfully, unwillingly.

It’s been 10 days

So it’s been 10 days since Bhai died. That’s right, DIED. Not passed away, or gone on to the other life, or returned to God, or moved into a better place now. Died. There’s really no point dressing it up in pretty bows and satin ribbons, or sugar-coating it all sweet and tasty. The truth is harsh and bitter, but it is what it is. I mean, people are stumbling across my blog not by searching for links about shoes and writing but by Googling ‘jawad sakrani death’. How screwed up is that.

Do I sound angry? I don’t mean to. This is all so strangely new and unfamiliar to me that I am not quite sure how I am supposed to be. Sometimes I simply want to remain firmly sucked into the vortex of pain and anger and grief and frustration, I want to wallow in it and stay curled up in bed, facing the wall, trying not to let my face crumple into a heap of sobs and tears. At other times, I feel almost normal, nearly happy even, and I go about doing the things at home that I usually would at any other trip back, such as working out, writing, playing with Ayana. But this is unlike any other trip home, and I remember that so suddenly and viciously everytime I see his guitars in my room, or his tshirt in my closet, the one I stole from him last time to wear at night because it was so unbelievable loose and comfortable to use as sleepwear.

It’s been 10 days. When it first happened, I counted the hours, as each passed by. 12 hours since he died. 16 hours. 24 hours. After 2 days, I consciously stopped counting the hours. Till then, it had seemed like some weird joke, as if he would come walking back into the house, into our lives, any minute, laughing, eyes twinkling, dimple deepening. After the 2 day phase, it sunk in. I suppose him getting buried into the ground helped to bury the fact of his death deep into our minds and our hearts. Counting days has made it seem more real, more concrete somehow, more final, irreversible. Ten days, 2400 hours, each one seems a day long in itself. It feels like an eternity has passed but at the same time, it feels like just yesterday that we all went for dinner to the new steakhouse at DFC and Bhai waited outside because Mom and Dad and I, being hopeless as we are in mall directions, were having trouble locating the place.

I was fine yesterday, I even felt good, nearly normal, almost like my old self, and not like the-girl-whose-brother-just-died. But I feel like that girl again today. The internet wasn’t working today and this technical stuff has always been something that Bhai used to deal with, he;d fiddle around with teh router and the laptops and get everything working again. But today, I had to call the service providers and stay on hold for god knows how long, and talk to 4 different operators and write down IP addresses and DNS addresses, numbers which I have never understood. Then the operator asks me for the password, which had apparently been changed in May. By Bhai. I said I didn’t know it.

No, Ma’am, without the password we cannot assist you.
I don’t have it, I wasn’t the one who changed it.
Well, Ma’am I cannot help you.
MY BROTHER CHANGED IT IN MAY, HE WAS ALIVE THEN, AND NOW HE’S DEAD, WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO, I NEED THE INTERNET TO WORK, HE’S DEAD OKAY, DEAD!

I was even okay the day before when we were cleaning up his closet and sorting out his clothes to donate or give to people who would actually use them well. It was all done so systematically and properly. Years of buying yourself good clothes and hundreds and hundreds of dirhams spent on the right brands, the ones you love and have been wearing for so long, and where does it all end up? In 7 black garbage bags. One for regular tshirts, one for polos, one for formal dress shirts, and so on and so forth.

I was thinking just a while ago that what if his heart didn’t have to stop completely, what if he just lost his heartbeat for a few seconds as many people do, and then regained it back and we would all have been laughing about it now, about how he’d nearly died, taht too before the cricket game, probably to avoid having to face the pressure of being the one to lead the team to victory like before. But that’s not what happened, his heartbeat didn’t just stop for a few seconds, it didn’t even falter, it just ceased completely. No murmur or tremor, just one, complete, final stop. And noone’s laughing about it.

I suppose this is how it is going to be. There will be good days and bad days, and many days in-between that start off terrifically and end terrifyingly. There will be happy dreams but also nightmares, there will be fondly remembered moments but also heart-wrenching memories. Even while I’m writing this, I feel like I’m just bullshitting myself, fooling all of those people who’ll read it, the majority of whom don’t know what this feels like, and should never find out either. It’s just life. He lost his but we still have ours.