The trees are planted at regular intervals and trimmed in near-perfect symmetry, the houses are colour-coordinated and every pink tricycle or oak rocking chair placed in the porch seems to have been arranged as if on the set of a movie. Even the houses where the shoes are not lined in neat rows but scattered near the door, even they seemed to add to the perfection of the neighbourhood.
I sit on a rocking chair, holding a round, warm mug of tea and if this were a painting it would be serene, good enough to hang in the guest bedroom. But I take a sip and the tea is awful. You can never seem to make it right here, is it the water? the absence of the correct milk powder? The silence is overpowering and I cannot concentrate on my book.
Trust a city like Karachi to make peace seem surreal, difficult to feel at home in. Trust distance to make you miss the noise, the sky, the clouds, the wind, the mess.
It's always too easy to scribble a litany of melancholy, nostalgia, things you miss, but the bittersweet sensation of thinking about something you still have and are just far away from is magnetic. And technically, it is not whining or being ungrateful.
"What do you see," he asks, looking out the plane window and down below there is an etch-a-sketch.
Chocolate hills covered with vanilla icing, coffee cream, it is what another planet would look like if I were to direct an alien flick, watch the misty clouds and wonder if Carebears really do live there.
"Permanence is frightening," he says, leaning against her back, hearing the rhythm of her breathing and falling in sync with it like an iPod connected to a computer with iTunes. She hears his voice vibrate through his bones and then hers.
"But changes are terrifying," she replies. "Especially if you walk from one chapter into a totally new one, without anything from the past. You know, like starting college but having two friends with you. Or changing homes but having your family or your favourite bedsheets along. But imagine being dropped into a new city, new life, new people and the only thing you have to hold you down is your blue jacket and old music."
"When I think I will be in this same position forever, this job, this routine, I think I will go mad. Even the good things in life are worn out like jackets you outgrow or jeans that start ripping from the seams because its just been too long since you'e had them," he tips his head back and they are Siamese twins.
"But I like this position," she says, smiling and he catches her smile, reflects it even though they are facing in opposite directions.
Memories can be as powerful as you make them, depends on what light you hold the photograph in. The sun is pale, how can a day be so devoid of colour? The celestial palattes rang empty, the paint ran out, diluted grays, white. Smell the fog, intoxicating, mesmerizing, like you running your fingers through my hair. It streams in through windows, into corridors, and you sniff, and sniff but it is never enough and you are an addict running through a foggy field where you can't see anything but hear the words of a favourite song. High on life and the years stream by.
"It feels like yesterday," my grandmother told my sister, looking at the lines and wrinkles on her face, her hands, her skin. "When I was as old as you." She seems wistful, perhaps a little confused. Do the beads of sand trickle so swiftly, falling all around us, covering our ankles, rising higher and higher and we don't even notice till our arms are stuck to our sides and we can barely move. "Time's almost out?" you look around bewildered and realize you're in a timeglass.
"It feels like yesterday I was 12 years old," the old woman sits on a chair in the terrace and her daughter brushes her gray hair, thin like an old woman's.
Growing old, like gramaphones in an age of mp3 players, and the record is scratched and it keeps getting stuck.
"What is he making for lunch?" my grandmother wears big, round glasses but her eyes look dim and she sits bowed over. "Bhindi," I tell my grandmother for the fourth time and the record spins for a second, no music, just a faint scratching sound and then - "What is he making for lunch?"
Temptations dance all around, like shiny soap bubbles, reflecting brilliant rainbows, but when I put things in (my) perspective, I wonder, what matters to me in the long term and I hope that I can work on everything, hold back mean words, gulp down anger, clean the table without grumbling, feel good enough in the dress I'm wearing. Not to point fingers and to turn many moments in my life worthwhile simply by thinking about it in a particular way. Beautiful flowers, SubhanAllah, I love you mom, prayers, sitting down to drink water and really, it is not your business (nor very important) if red shirts don't look good on him.