Karachi’s smoke and sugar

30 September, 3:30PM
I wanted to throw up.

1st October, 11:00AM
I threw up, holding onto the wall of the restroom inside the train.

Disclaimer: I have acid reflux thus I need excuses to puke.

A week before boarding for Karachi, he asked me if I wanted to join him for a shoot there, reminding me I had not seen the place I call home in 11 years. I said yes instantly, I was very uncertain but I said yes twenty times. He saw the uncertainty on my face. I said I wanted to join him – ten times more.

30 September, 3:30PM
We reached the station and I did not know what to hold on to. My blood pressure was alright and I could breathe but I could not focus on anything, I could not see clearly. My father loves trains. I had never been in one before.
Hours pass by and I could not sit in my place, staring out of the window. I walked the length of my compartment, searching and finding the door that opens to air. Something about the train’s speed lets you breathe easily even when you are holding onto the sides and are hanging out of it. The fields in front of me passed us at speed, warning me not to hang any further. My feet slipped time to time, warning me again. Naturally, I stepped back – untied my hair and stepped out again. I turn around to see my friend watching me, leaning against the wall. “Dhayaan say, Yumna.”
Several more hours pass by, we now have a tray filled with coffee in cups. Please never hog onto five table spoons of white sugar just because you are bored. Neither that, nor let me sit next to a child. A few minutes after bouncing in place, I rushed to the washroom and threw up all the sugar.
Night time fell and I was confined to our cabin of three. It was cold, I was wrapped in a wafer thin blanket as I watched from the window. Although I could not see I cupped my hands and stared through them. It was still quite dark. “Tumhey kia nazar araha hai bahir?” I was embarrassed to admit I could not see anything. Not until I switched off the cabin’s light and that is when the window lit up like fire flies. The sky was ink blue but it was shining. Streetlights that passed us quickly but at a distance also glittered at the bottom of the sky.

1st October, 11:00AM
I do not remember when I dozed off, I did not sleep at all because the cabin was cold for me but I dozed off at some point until I was nudged. “Karachi agaya hai, Yumna. Uth jao.” I heard it the first time he said it but I ignored it because I was not ready to accept it. He repeated again – and again. I rushed to the restroom in the next compartment because I wanted more distance to walk and I threw up, holding onto the wall of the restroom inside the train.
I became jittery once I saw my room in the guest house. I was tired, starved and sleepy, weak and emotionally unstable, overwhelmed and a little nauseous but my first instinct was to jump on the bed.

The buildings there appear to be constructed of cardboard and vehicles are covered in paint. Any direction there looks like it will find a way out. No dead ends of any sort. Buildings there honestly looked like they will crumble and fold under the rain, they looked delicate but harsh. The colors and drugs these buildings have seen must be the reason none of them have folded before. Then again, why would they crumble, they are all constructed in a city with a sea.

A certain cafe sheltered me every night for a few hours. The cafe’s colors began to welcome me from the very first step of a two flight staircase. As much as the place comforted me enough to put me to sleep, I did not shut my eyes because I did not want to miss a single movement, a sigh, a laugh or a pair of open arms coming towards me.

“Should we drop you or will you get home safely?”

If this city had arms, I swear it would wrap them around me and squeeze. The city, however, even without arms, is melting into me otherwise. When I wore my silver shirt, everything I saw looked like my shirt – like a wall at a football club melted into me. When it was night time, I had returned to the same cafe and as I sat in the balcony I sighed with relief for there was nothing around me that looked remotely like my shirt until I raised my head and the most silver clouds I had ever seen were above me, floating gracefully.

To my sight, even the flowers are different there. They are a lot more beautiful – they look like lipstick shades. The flowers are like classical music or maybe if all of them were lined up, you could see the notes to a Hans Zimmer composition.
The closest I could be to the flowers and the sea was to buy the jewelry there and their beauty is overwhelming. Some flowers and a little of the sea had been melted and molded into the bangles I wear on my right arm daily.  I look at them after every paragraph I write.

“Will you be okay? You have my number, come over if you feel like it.”

6 October, 8:50AM
We were boarding a small plane. I was hyperventilating –
Earlier that night I went to see some friends and even though they were all strangers, I hugged everyone as if we grew up together. My uneasy self did not let me sleep that night. Watching three people sit on a rug that was surrounded by fairy lights is planted in my memory for now but I wish I had taken a picture back then. Two lights on an entire roof had a lot of peace to them. If those two lights were to transform into people, I would say they were both sitting with me that night. On my right, he wore a brown shalwaar kameez and on my left, she had the prettiest laugh.
I was hyperventilating – I had cried enough but I had also danced enough.
Paintings in hotels and guest houses make me upset. I feel as if they have heard more than the walls. Before we left, I held onto a painting hung on a wall outside my room. It had been painted so lovingly. Pink metallic flowers with silver outsides.

“Why is she laughing so much? Yumna, how many fingers am I holding up?”
“No! Say the wrong fucking answer. How many?”

I remember absolutely nothing after that. All I know is every flower I saw in bushes those days will always be there, I did not need to pick them this time for I saw those flowers again at night, on a certain roof, in a certain cafe, in a certain room and I will see them again. If the ones in the bushes die out by season, the ones with hopeful eyes and contagious laughter will be there to see me. Most of them even sing.

One of those works of art traveled back with me to Lahore. I know that for a fact because my head was on his shoulder.



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