Edge of comfort

August 26

My eyes open. The alarm rings and I roll over in bed.

Ramadan in St Louis is lonely and I battle instinct to get out of bed and make my way to the kitchen, the corridor dark, the AC humming lullabies the rest of the world is still sleeping to. Monsters come to mind, girls with fangs and crazed eyes and I recite tasbeeh.

Wash my hands, look for the frying pan, drink water from the tap and debate over the three options I have for food.

I break an egg open into the pan and my heart drops when the egg yolk spills sideways. I need for the yolk to be perfect and round and just slightly pink so when I touch it with my toast, it spills dark yellow. My mother would make it. And if the first time it wasn’t beautiful, she would put it aside to eat it herself and then just fry me another one.

I eat my broken, imperfect egg and with a smattering of salt and pepper, it tastes just fine.

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St Louis is imperfect. The blocks of granite that make the curb jut up and down, like a stationary model explaining earthquakes. I imagine the roots of trees, old and tired, with brown leaves - not the perfect trimmed artificial shrubbery of Seattle’s suburbs – with their roots pushing up the asphalt, tripping people and I imagine stubbed toes, broken nails, a girl grabbing her foot and yelling, with a hand on her chuckling friend’s shoulder. A cat walking by, with a disdainful glance.

The streets are not very safe, everyone says. Never walk alone after dark, keep your doors locked, be cautious. There is an alarm system in our apartment! It should annoy me, did I really want to leave my dirty, beautiful Karachi for a Western version of it? But it doesn’t. It actually comforts me that when you move around the photographs and bookcases in the big mansion that is America, you see the cracks and the stains and realize you shouldn’t be so hard on your own country and people.

Here too, the poor walk around like ghosts, looking at pretty people sitting on chairs watching a movie on a projector outside a restaurant with their fancy and plain bottles of alcohol. Nobody notices the outstretched hand, a mumble for a couple of dollars. The movie goes on and he moves away. The only difference is that this bum has sneakers on.

In some ways, it is more dangerous here than Karachi. At least back home I could have walked in my street at 9 pm – if I wanted to. But it’s not fair to compare. Ah. How cute. Not fair to compare – it could totally be the tagline of some social work-y thing.

Too often it is too quiet. Even though where I live is far from Seattle’s dreamy little suburb, the nights are silent. Mostly- the sirens ring in the background almost every night and it reminds me of Karachi again. But even then, there are more cars than people. There are no stray dogs, no little children, no guards whistling and talking, the sputter of rickshaws, the honking of cars and the tinkling bells of cycles. Sometimes it feels like I’m on the set of a futuristic movie.

We finally ventured out the other night, walked the brightly-lit streets of Central West End, an area definitely more uppity than the one where we live, with its broken teeth-pavement and weary trees. You could walk up and down and turn the corner to find something new and cute, maybe wine tasting or fairy lights strung above metal chairs or the King and I being screened outside a chocolate and coffee café.

The hands on the clock tick tock a warning. Cinderellas in this town have to turn in by 9:30 and so we walk to a bus stop and wait.

Fifteen minutes later, the metro lurches to a timely stop. “Hello princess! Another princess! Whoa another princess! It’s my lucky night!”

The bus driver’s age and the time of the night is just so that the friendly bantering appeared inappropriate. Not to mention we were the only three on the bus after the one nice black man hopped off at his stop. The bus driver offered his hand in marriage and narrated the many languages he knew, flattering us enough for us to desperately long for our stop. We finally did decide we were close enough to home and got off.

Stay away from the trees at night, is it safe to be walking home? And we’re back in our little sanctuary with the balcony we cannot go out on.

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