I miss it so much, all of it, my childhood. Playing cricket with a textbook and tennis ball in Bhai’s blue-walled room. When did we grow up, how did decisions and choices shift our lives with such haste, with such grace? As a bright-eyed 13 year old me, I could have never comprehended what it meant when my brother first left for college in 2001. Landing in NY on September 10, 2001, his absence changed our lives significantly. Waiting by the telephone line, tearing up at the sound of his voice – those little things that mattered, you know? When suddenly Skype came to being, seeing my brother on the other side of the world, it was all so sudden and so exciting and it all lead to learning to accept the distance.
Technology didn’t make the distance go away. It just made it acceptable. Now Mum could comfort herself, that she could sneak a glance at her son, thousands of miles away. What a farce, though. Just because there’s a screen that encapsulates pigments of a photograph in movement certainly does not mean the person is there.
But c’est la vie – I move forward but then and now, I can’t resist glancing back at how simply wonderful youth was. The scrabble and ludo games, endless nights of cards resulting in one of us being the spoilt sport, most likely me, because I would brush off all the cards when I’d realize I was losing. Things that make you a child if you succumb to them now, but they were so pure then. Trips to the northern areas of Pakistan, packed in bundles inside of cars. Hissing like fools when one sibling took too much space in the backseat than the other. Asking Pa every 5 minutes “are we there yet? are we there, now?” and him, patiently, gracefully responding “almost there chanda”. The shrieks of excitement this one time a white kitten summoned itself inside our home and my siblings were too scared to touch it so my brother convinced me to fetch it milk and deemed me ‘brave’! I took so much pride in his compliments that at times I was stupid in my actions – anything to please the promise of a family. The comfortable battles with siblings, the ongoing fights over what dress belonged to me and not my sister. Not wanting to have lunch right after school, but becoming a teenager wanting to watch Baywatch instead! Being compelled by my galiant grandfather to eat together when we got home from school. Pleading with Ami, losing the battle, time and again.
Then one day, my sister flew to Ann Arbor. Another limb went missing. Watching her in her dorm – unable to surpress the countless aspirations she had, trying to provide me solace by saying “it will be your turn next year, Aanya” and I took refuge in that statement, that one day, I will be away from home too, paving my own way, leading the excruciatingly exciting college life. Who knew the year would fly by so fast and that I would be sitting in Virginia in the July of 2007?
For my parents, all of their limbs went numb. Their pride and joy, the noisy household became silent all of a sudden. Meals without the demands of each one of us became quietening. There was such a haste to grow up, to move forward that looking back became a chore. But now, all I can do is look back. I wish there were words to explicate the demise of a part of my soul without my childhood but I suppose sentiments felt within will suffice.
One time my brother attempted to sneak my mum’s car out. In what was supposed to be a successful adventure, turned into a traumatic injury of his hand getting stuck in the middle of the car door and the wall behind it. Bleeding finger, stitches — Instead of anger, all a mother could do was hold her son tight. Forgiving him instantly and yearning for his blood to stop dripping. That’s love, I thought to myself, then. I will find that too one day, I said, then.
Now, so far away in a city that never sleeps and most dream of, struggling to find a me in a corner of New York, I find myself wishing for 7 Fazlia Colony in Lahore: my childhood home, where the grass was ever so green, and the ivy on the tall walls formed a sort of security from the world. Where the swings and baby swimming pools were all I would look forward to. The splashing sound of water in that pool still gives me joyful shivers. Water babies, that’s what everyone called Sudaif, Faarya and I. Made to live in water, forever-moving, flowing, sliding and shifting water.
Who knew that would turn into a metaphor for our lives?