July 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
An extract from a short story I’m working on:
By now, Naseem had become pretty used to the way people reacted to her name – as if she had made it up as some sort of a joke. “Naseem?” They would ask with a raised eyebrow. “I knew a man called Naseem once…” Once or twice, there was a Naseem next door, dressed in a generic shirt and trousers, who looked even more disgruntled at her name, but pretended not to be.
“So why did your parents name you Naseem?” The question had cropped up once or twice at various events, as had the question “So what does it mean exactly?” She felt the latter to be more polite, to be a more appropriate question to ask someone they had just met. She answered both anyway – she could hardly ignore them. “When I was born, she said, I was so small that they didn’t think I was going to make it,” she would reply in the most deadpan-but-polite tone that she could muster up, “so they named me Naseem, meaning breeze, because they said I was light as a feather, and they were so afraid that I would simply be a passing breeze in their life.”
“Huh, that’s… poetic.” He was the first one to have that response. He was the first one to dwell on that for more than a moment. He said, “it’s a nice name” and it was Naseem’s turn to be taken aback.
“Thanks.” she responded to him with a hint of hesitation in her voice. She would be lying if she said this first exchange of theirs wasn’t one of the reasons that she married him in the end. She would be lying if she said that his words, “poetic,” didn’t make her feel something – though, what exactly, she hadn’t known at that time. She thought it had just been surprise and ignored the growing heat rising up her face.
“You are?” She asked him.
“Raza.” he smiled.
May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment
“There comes a time when the folds of your skin betray your eyes.” There was a crinkle in-between his eyebrows when he spoke and when he smiled the folds of his skin sagged down so that the smile never reached his beetle black eyes.
I sighed as the summer heat pressed onto the back of my neck, sweat trickling from the roots of my hair and down the length of my spine. Shifting in my seat, I tapped the yellow notepad that rested on my knee with a pen, the words “Local History Project” printed in neat, slanted handwriting at the top.
“What do you mean exactly, great grandpa?” the title was lacking in affection, this was the first time I actually remembered meeting the man, despite my dad insisting that we had made many family trips to the old folk’s home when I was younger.
He smiled that lackluster smile again, accentuating the wrinkles on the edges of his eyes.
“There are things you see,” His voice was nimble, barely audible. It felt as breakable as the brittle bones that his sagging skin clung to desperately. “And then your skin turns as rough as sandpaper, the colour of dust, resembling the folds of a crinkled up cloth.” I wiped a drop of sweat from my forehead and looked down at the almost blank paper of my notepad.
“This project…” I began before drifting off. The colour of his eyes reflected mine, as black as the ink that dotted my paper. And the smile, when you forgot about the sagging skin, was too much like my dad’s to forget.
There comes a time when the folds of your skin betray your eyes.
His were far away now and I wondered if he had even registered that I was here.
“Your great grandson,” the nurse had told the man loudly earlier that evening. “Come to visit you…take a seat honey; he’s not used to visitors.”
I wondered what he really remembered, if he remembered, or if this had all been a waste of time.
“If you could just answer a few questions,” I tried again. “First of all…” but I could see his eyelids drooping to cover the black of his irises. The skin around his cheeks hung like cloth sacks that clung to his skull.
“There comes a time when the folds of your skin betray your eyes,” I wrote down the phrase in my slanted handwriting and sighed again.
May 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
By the time the kettle had boiled over for his evening tea, a man had died.
Alan was unaware, too busy pouring boiling hot water into a porcelain mug, imagining the water boiling over onto those he thoroughly despised, the ones that had made his bad day into an unbearable one.
It had started in the morning when he missed his bus to work and had to traipse an hour into town in the cold, wet, rain; mud and water clinging to almost every part of material he wore on his skin and the cold seeping into the core of his bones. Unsurprisingly, his asshole of a boss had been completely unsympathetic to his snivelling self when he trudged into the office an hour late for work.
It spilled over into the evening, when his girlfriend decided that his self-indulgent attitude about simply everything was just not cutting it and had ended things outside the office, rain pouring down on them as he coughed up a fit. She had seemed too busy in her own self-indulgence to really care that he felt like his insides were slipping out of him with every cough that racked his body.
So here he was now, pouring himself tea to ease the virus that was slowly making its way through his body, all the while attempting to calm down his overexcited brain that was already planning out tragic endings for every human being he had come into contact with today. He didn’t even try to exclude the banal ones he barely knew, like the office assistant with black hair who had spoken all of two words to him since starting her job there.
As ready as he was for today to be over, he wasn’t quite ready for tomorrow to come yet. So he had poured himself a mug of tea and, sitting in front of the TV (but never really paying attention to what was actually playing on the screen) waited for his pizza to arrive.
Little did he know that by the time he had worked through his thought process, by the time he had taken his first sip of tea, by the time he had sat himself down in front of his television screen and glanced up to note that a whole twenty minutes had passed since he had picked up the phone and ordered his pizza, a man had died.
Twenty more minutes passed and his brain was actively trying to arrange the pizza delivery guy’s demise too, adding it to the heap of others his mind had conjured up. He set the kettle to boil again, though the last thing he felt like doing was having another mug of tea but he needed a way to pass the time, a way to calm himself down as his anger began to reach boiling point along with the kettle.
But by the time the kettle had boiled over the second time, his bell was going off frantically. He took a brief moment to eye the kettle with distaste as if it had been the cause of all his stress, before making a mental note of taking out his anger on the pizza delivery guy, who was more than an hour late now, in the hopes of getting it for free.
“It’s been an hour and-” There was an odd man blinking up at him from the threshold of his house. He was drenched in the rainwater, but wore no uniform and carried no pizza box.
“Sir, there’s been an accident.” The man muttered.
“What kind of an accident, exactly?” He frowned as his mind ran through all the possible things the idiots at the shop could have messed up.
“There was a train passing… but he didn’t see… and he’s… he’s died.”
He could now hear the faint sound of ambulance sirens in the air. The railway station was only ten minutes up the road and the sirens were becoming louder and louder.
“For fuck’s sake…” He muttered under his breath. “He was… he was the pizza delivery boy?” The man nodded his head and Alan reached up his hand momentarily to rub his temples.
What an end to his all too fantastic day.
“You’re dripping wet, you’re… uh, do you want to…” But he drifted off without finishing off the sentence because the man was simply staring at him with wide eyes, not seeming to register the words he was speaking. “Um…”
“You just don’t expect it, you know? He was just in there… in the shop with me and then he’s dead. He’s dead.” His eyes glazed over and he turned around to face away from the door. The rain was still pelting down hard but the man did not even seem to notice.
“I’m sorry…” He muttered with a frown. “It’s awful, really awful.” He hovered at the doorstep, almost tempted to shut the door against this unexpected occurrence. All he had wanted was some goddamn pizza, not a dead pizza delivery guy or a hysteric man at his doorstep.
“He was just great… great. A great man, great worker. Barely knew him, barely knew him. But heard he was great, you know?”
“He was just there though. He was just there with me, talking, laughing… and now…”
“He’s dead.” He finished off when the man didn’t.
“Dead.” He echoed, as if the word had not been on the tip of his tongue just moments ago.
“They’ll take care of it, you know. The… the hospital, the policemen. You needn’t worry unnecessarily.” At his words, the man turned to gaze at him wide-eyed for a minute longer before slowly nodding his head and backing away from the door.
“Right, right, yes. They’ll… they’ll take care of it. Sorry… sorry about the pizza.”
“That’s alright,” He said, although his stomach grumbled loudly as soon as the words escaped his lips. He had really been looking forward to that pizza. “Don’t worry about it.”
September 9, 2012 § Leave a comment
I remember that summer to be the sweetest, with the sun beating down on us through thick grey clouds. The time that wasn’t spent brooding over the habit of drizzling rain in Ireland was passed at the beach, or the park, where the light breeze put our minds at ease, allowing us to forget of the school days we had only just left behind; the school days that were approaching far too soon.
I spent hours with my feet dipped into the freezing-cold ocean, shaking my head vigorously at my friends, who urged me to jump into the ocean and swim. If it was any other summer I would have joined them in a heartbeat.
But it wasn’t.
It was the summer when, while laughing at my friends’ antics and feeling the sun’s hot breath on my skin, I snuck quick looks out of the corner of my eye at the boy who had captured my heart.
I was sure that I was in love, that he was the one. And that he had no idea I existed.
Sure, he may have recognised me as the meek, bookish girl that sat behind him in his English class. But that wasn’t enough.
I wanted him to desire me like I desired him.
And so, I spent the majority of the first month of June admiring him from afar and wishing, wishing… that he felt what I felt too.
Somehow, it happened.
I don’t remember how or where or even when (those never mattered anyhow). What I do remember was that all of a sudden summer wasn’t about the beach, the park, the sunshine, the rain or even the hours of sheer joy spent with friends. It was about him.
It was about us.
I spent July with my fingers laced through his. For that month, our hearts beat as one; we were inseparable.
Throughout the month it rained heavily, with showers almost every day, during which we would look at each other and shrug our shoulders as if to say “That’s Ireland for you”. But July was never about the showers that dampened our days.
July was about the clear nights. The nights when the clouds disappeared and gave way to the stars, thousands and thousands of them littered everywhere. And us, at the hill tops overlooking Dublin, wasting our nights, our time, just… being.
I used to run my hands over the cool, wet grass, glistening with the remnants of the freshly-fallen rain, as I lay on my back. And sometimes I whispered poetry into the night sky as if I was more profound than the silly schoolgirl that I was.
“nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold…”
He never understood why the tip of my tongue was always brimming with archaic poems.
“Books should be left in school.” He told me when he found me with my nose buried in my gloriously brow-beaten copy of “Gone with the Wind”.
I didn’t mind that he admired Thierry Henry while my idol was Oscar Wilde. Nor that he followed football clubs with the same passion that I possessed for the world of literature.
Nevertheless, by mid-August we were worn out. Oh, we still walked around holding hands and everyone still gushed over how simply “adorable” we were.
But only we knew that I didn’t recite poetry to him anymore, that he no longer attempted to distract me from my books and that our days of admiring the night sky were long over.
We were like two logs in a river, swiftly drifting further and further apart. By the time September came around we were too distant to ever be the same again.
A/N: I actually wrote this one last summer but thought now was probably a pretty appropriate time to be posting it!
June 25, 2012 § 2 Comments
“One day I held a letter in my hand
He signed his name
Ripped it open, and my soul bent as the words began”
Letters from the east did not come very often. Once or twice in every few months you could find a letter wedged into your mailbox, the address on the back barely legible from the unkempt writing. You were lucky if the break between the letters was a month or two. Usually it was more.
It kills you when it’s more. It’s unbearable and you check for his illegible handwriting everyday only to find letters with perfectly printed addresses and your name in block capitals at the top. It is bills and junk mail and letters from people whom you were in contact with all too often. It is almost never him.
He called once, the caller ID reading unknown. You had given him the phone number, never expecting him to use it. He had no phone. He had given you no number. Still, he called you.
He whispered “hello” as if he was afraid. You didn’t recognise him. How could you? You asked him who he was. He replied with his name and you had to stop[ed yourself from screaming loud or dancing around the room or exclaiming with delight. Instead you greeted him back. Gently, calmly.
You talked all night, you fell in love with his voice and the way he spoke so softly, making every single word count. You could hear the smile in his voice, or maybe you just hoped you could because you spent the whole night smiling from ear to ear. You parted with a soft goodbye and nothing more, wishing that it could have been longer, that it could have been different. That was the first and last time you heard his voice.
Now, you wait at the kitchen counter, drinking a mug of tea, as you do every morning, and hoping that letter comes today with his handwriting on the back of the envelope, your name at the top of the letter with an address that you can’t even read. Your daily life is almost eventless, a day-to-day routine you follow without particular benefits to be reaped. The letters are the highlights to your days and weeks and months.
You did not remember when it was that you fell in love with him. You just remember knowing one day that he was special, more special than the little boy whose hand you had held walking home in fifth grade and more special than the man who had kissed you under the stars in your second week of college. What was it about him that you fell in love with? You didn’t know. You had only met him once, many years ago when he had shyly avoided your gaze. You barely even got a look at his face. He spoke very few words.
Yet, here you were, many years later, waiting for a partially legible letter from the shy boy who couldn’t even glance at you, wondering when, how and why you fell in love with him. Was it his words? You couldn’t be sure. He wrote in broken English often. He was not a native speaker and he never attempted to be poetic with the words he wrote. Yet, his letters had the ability to bring you to tears, to cause your hands to shake with grief or excitement or happiness; sometimes they even shook so hard that your fingers could not keep grasp of the paper any longer. You read every letter over and over again, until you could remember each like the back of your hands. You carried a piece of him, the words that he chose to share with you, everywhere you went. You remembered his words on the most random of moments, the words that he wrote on the tip of your tongue. And you never knew when you fell in love with his words.
Maybe it was his voice, you thought, and the way he speaks gently so that every word is crucial. You still treasure that one long phone conversation where you tread on eggshells, unsure of how he felt, what he felt. You were unsure of what you felt too, only aware that hearing his voice made your heart beat too fast and your palms too sweaty.
You never believed in the one, you still don’t, but you know that he is special, that he is different. You have kissed men and held their hands and spent months in their company without ever feeling like you do every time you read one of his letters. Yet, you have barely glanced at his face. You couldn’t say what the colour of his eyes were, nor the colour of his hair. But you know that he made you feel like no one else ever did despite being far, far away. You treasure every one of his words; every letter and that singular phone call.
You are in love and you both hate it and love it because he will never love you back and you will never be together. But that feeling when you grasp his letters close to you and read every word as if your life depends on it; that feeling is worth it.
June 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
She died here?
“Here,” George points to the edge of the roof and walks up to it “I see what she saw.”
“Here,” Jessica sighs, joining George by the edge, her fingers clasping his shoulder gently.
I still can’t believe it.
There was a time, not too far back, when the four of us were inseparable. We were the best of friends and now, as I stand facing the backs of Jess and George, their bodies right beside each other – intimately close – I feel like I barely know who they are, like they are little more than strangers, even to each other.
I walk up to join them, glancing down at the illuminated city below. All the lights and cars and shops and houses – this was what she saw. Jess gently slips her fingers in-between mine. They feel like the fingers of a stranger.
Why, I ask.
Why, I wonder, they wonder, we all wonder as we stand and watch what she had seen in her last moments of life, what she had seen as she took her very last breath.
Was it somehow our fault? But how could it have been? We had barely spoken in years. Maybe that was part of it.
Should we say a few words?
“Yes, let’s,” Jess says.
“For old times’ sake,” George mutters “For good times’ sake.”
I glance at him for a moment, drinking in what he has becomes and what he was. His face is sunken and dull, despite the small smile that plays at his lips. There is stubble on his chin, rough and untamed, and his brown hair hangs low over his face to almost hide his eyes, lacking in any warmth at all.
Back in school, George used to be an embodiment of life and happiness; always full of energy and bursting with enthusiasm. His smile used to be contagious. He could light up any room, cheer up any soul.
“We were best friends once,” George begins to speak, his voice weak and soft, as if all the strength had left him “many years ago – few years ago – and our times together are something that I will never forget. Thank you.”
“Thank you,” Jess mutters “for being there, being a friend, being ours, being amazing, for being.”
She squeezes my hand as if to tell me that it’s my turn. I breathe deeply.
We have all changed, I say, looking down at what she saw and seeing it too, we’re all different people, we’re all strangers now.