It could be a song or perhaps a photograph, or maybe someone else’s story.
But it’s usually out of the blue and it grabs at me like a strong hard tug on my arm. Kind of cool how a thought can have such a physical impact. And so it may be that my eyes glaze over during a Zumba class because that song reminds me of a friend who deleted all Avril Lavigne tracks from my laptop and had a playlist titled ‘Aisha’s playlist’ on her computer, which she would put on for me while I lay on her bed and she sat by her desk, letting me angst out my blues.
Or it could be a random photograph of the university library that some random stranger has posted on Facebook, and it pulls me like a rolling whirling black hole into memories of blue sneakers (that I would sneak out of Mariam’s cupboard and probably wore more than she did – and the gray t-shirt which she just ended up giving to me), and the feel of the concrete sidewalk against the soles of my feet, the sidewalk that I walked 200,563 times at all times of the day and night, in all moods ranging from happy to sad to raving mad.
Sometimes I shake my head and snap out of it, or if I’m honest, I shrug off the reverie most of the time because it’s almost too painful to think of how life was from 2005 to 2009 – friends, love, laughter, adventure, learning and a litany of other things that made me who I am today. I guess it’s painful because it’s so definitely over and it’s never coming back. And so I kind of smack the nostalgia out before it can overwhelm me with its bittersweet mist.
Today, for some reason, I want to just throw caution to the gloomy clouds outside and go for it. A dip in the past. I already spent around 9 to 10 hours watching Netflix yesterday, in bed, of course, is there any other way to watch endless episodes of a TV show?
The first two years our dorm rooms were tiny. But it may have been one half of a small box, it was more mine than any room back in my house in Karachi had ever been. And so, from the bed sheets neatly stretched out to the frames and the way the books were piled on my desk, and the creative freedom I exercised on my wall (it was so definitely mine, even if I paid fines for it at the end of each year), it was liberating.
Starting anew is never easy but when you’re 17, 18, you still have the energy and the optimism and well, mostly the energy, to power through the awkward small talk and so you use the same flashcards of questions which you take out of your pocket every time there’s five minutes with a stranger and read them off one by one. And everyone else is kind of doing the same thing so it makes it easier I guess.
And then of course, there were always the wacky ones. The ones who would tell you a story about how they juggled their goldfish from the sink to a bottle to the floor in the first ten minutes of your meeting, or offer to grab breakfast after Psychology class, or tell you that your eyebrows need a bit of a trim. And I guess those are the ones you remember the most – those and the really ordinary tales of hey do you want a cup of tea so you don’t die studying for your exam? or I really don’t like onions in my paratha roll and of course, do you think there is going to be a quiz in class today? And I guess you remember these because these are the ones you’ll stick to for the rest of your life (hopefully).
What I miss the most? I’m not sure.
Waking up to a quiet Sunday morning in winter when the campus is still asleep, slightly shivering under a blanket of fog and walking around with a cup of tea before settling down on a bench under a sturdy tree. Just sitting on the grass, starting a reading and then stopping every ten minutes because someone walks by and sits down to talk, leaning back with your arms behind you, palms digging into the ground, grass imprints on your hands, legs stretched out, just lounging for hours.
Cryptic messages, too lazy to type the vowels and spell it all out, to meet up for bland Chinese chicken and rice at PDC, sharing the excitement and alerting all your better mates about the crispy potato wedges (what were they called … argh my memory!) that would show up like a special treat every month or so.
Just lounging for hours.
Polishing the morning breakfast routine down to the way we placed butter wedged behind the paper cup of hot tea to melt it so, and taking our trays out to the khopchas, our window ledges of comfort and camaraderie, and yes, sitting there for hours.
The gift of time, the gift of no bills, no job, no grown-up conscience, no constant reminder of mortality, no idea of permanence, no fear of permanence, no wish or anxiety about stability, the gift of invincibility, the gift of loving being in a fast car with the windows down and your hair whipping the person sitting next to you’s face.
Just sitting around on the curbside for hours, making lists and itineraries and plans, or remember the games of Rapid Recall (why did the boys always win when the girls were obviously smarter and better at drawing and remembering things?) or Pictionary (why did Urooj’s lizard look like a leaf? Or was it a leaf that looked like a lizard? And the firework people that Essam made and I think I still have fading away on some piece of paper in some memorabilia box) or when we would lock ourselves up in our rooms singing songs in the dark or watching episodes of FRIENDS or YouTube videos of funny babies?
Just kidding around for hours. Remember the prank calls to the US?
Remember attending guest lectures and crushing on professors and judging others for crushing on professors because obviously, ours was an intellectual love, why else would you pine after a tall bald guy in wrinkled shalwar kameez? Remember idealism and hope and love and passion?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t believe or hope anymore but oh it was just a different kind, just edged in a different kind of glow and intensity.
What do I miss the most?
Remember when it would rain and we would lose our shit? Remember badminton matches in the sports complex and outside on the curb and that one friend who would always show off with dives to the ground and skids on his knees?
Or the one time when we got up from PDC after dinner and decided to explore the under-construction building near the faculty apartments, stumbling in the pitch darkness and almost making it inside when a ghost with a blue light flashed it in our faces and we all kind of just yelled and ran away? Did we leave someone in the front to explain to the guard what we were doing there?
Remember exploring a new city and falling in love with its old mosques and gardens and cute cafes and restaurants and its beautiful range of weather?
Remember eating cold cereal for sehri in a dim dorm room, remember lounging in the common room, remember sitting in the balcony overlooking the faculty apartments? Remember iftaaris where we combined our powers to marry samosas with rolls and Tang? Remember instant noodles and owning three pieces of cutlery?
See, four years is a long time. The ‘remember when’ would go on and on for pages and it would be dark outside and then light again by the time my memory comes up blank about life in LUMS.
And I guess that’s a good thing, because sometimes I get scared that I will forget about all the amazing times I had there, and the thought of forgetting those days is definitely more terrifying than remembering them.
And yeah, we didn’t know back then that some years later we would be sitting on opposite ends of the world and surviving through something called Whatsapp, but then I wonder if we knew that we would be closer and even better friends (maybe even married!)?
So of course. I don’t have hours and hours, weeks and months of hanging out and sitting on gravel sipping tea from paper cups, and yes, the bills will keep coming and I had better continue employment, and figuring out what to cook tomorrow, and yeah, people are growing up and old and sick and there used to be a time when you had a whole generation to look after you and reprimand you and tell you what you should do but now, well. Not quite, and you’re on your own, which is good I guess but sometimes it makes you want to hide under the blankets in the far corner of your bed.
Okay, wait, I lost my train of thought – the string of grays became too long. I guess what I’m saying is I wouldn’t change it for anything. Because if you think about it, those four years of life were full to the brim – there wasn’t space for anything else, anything more. Ad what more can you ask for? It was the transience of that time that made it so special.
So. It’s okay. We’ll be alright, I’m pretty sure.
And I’m going to continue hoping that the sun comes out soon, if not today, then tomorrow for sure.