Thursday, May 31, 2012

At the End of the Day

What faces us at the end of each day? Is it the promise of a new day on the morrow, or is it the indictment of a failure following us into the darkness of the night? What have we constructed since last we slept? What do we reconnect to after a short respite of sleep? Will what we build survive the darkness of the twilight ahead of us? Does sleep unravel Penelope's tapestry? Does it repel Sisyphus' rock? Does it suture talon-ripped wounds?  Do we simply survive each day to survive the next? Is it worse to have an answer then find it false, or to never face the future with any certainty or hope?  What if we paint our days on cardboard canvasses, only to find the first downfall of rain rotting and dissolving their substance? And worse, if we endeavor to construct our collage on love, what then when the framework proves to be false and the multitude of gestures and intimacies crumble meaninglessly to the ground? When we look to tomorrow, does it hurt more not to imagine a face out there to cradle in our hands buffeting the angst of our ennui, or having the limited vision that sees only one lone silhouette sliding further back into the velvet darkness forever? What happens when ending this day becomes more salient than starting the next?

*A note - this is just an extrapolation of a moment's anguish, a toe-dip into depression, or just the by product of too many sleep aids and cranberry juice. Don't worry.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

That Which Lies Beneath

I was pleasantly shocked recently (this doesn't happen much these days) while talking to some Americans about a particularly odious person who had done some despicable things. They had a hard time believing the actions of this individual, as I am sure it sounded like something out of a bad TV movie. Somewhere near the end of my detailed account, I let them know this person was from the Middle East. Immediately, one person gasped and the others were astounded. Almost in symphony, two echoed in a curious chorus, "I thought Muslims couldn't do those things." This really startled me, not so much the statement but the earnest look on their faces. Despite what conscious beliefs they had about Muslims, deep down there was an understanding of a pious and mannered Islamic sensibility that made me feel very proud. Not proud of myself, as I am still an infant in my faith, but of the vast numbers of my brothers and sisters who have won this reputation with thousands and thousands of simple, dignified daily gestures. In a time where my faith has been tested a bit, this was a small but wonderful reminder of everything I endeavor to become. This lesson from a nasty story - sometimes the exception does prove the rule. Alhamdulilah

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Acid Reign III

The dream was lingering far too long, but she sensed an dark and ominous alternative lurking so she indulged it for as long as she could. The slumber slurred images slid by in an uneven slide show, and she gave up trying to direct it, simply acquiescing to program. She found herself as a child, even as she felt a muted fretting for her own children, seeing an old world with new eyes - well one anyway. She was nine or ten again, home working most of the day with her mother and sisters. She was back in that feminine world, with distant and stern men drifting through it occasionally, as she occupied herself in dutiful anonymity.
She knew she was moving through memories, although they carried new and more complex connotations than they had before. Looking now, she supposed she might have considered herself happy then, perhaps lacking the relative notions that pain begets. The scope of her world then seemed immense, but now looked very small and limited through her middle-aged, ex-sanguinated  mind. Yes there had been less pain then, she could see that now, but there was also so little promise, a void that almost had to have begged her current pain.
She was waking now, hesitantly forcing herself to face the vestiges of the fleeting nightmare - she knew she was nearly destroyed, and know it was time to see what was left. As she stirred, she found no words as her horror had outstripped her lexicon, and the agony began to ease. It seemed that pain and later pity were constructed and consumed in the limits of her language. As a simple woman, her pain was mercifully brief as would be the self-pity that would attempt to tarry longer. Surely a more subtle soul would not have survived the dolor emancipated in the fluency of its own prose. Words would be of no use to her now, having long since exhausted the sparse vocabulary she owned on smaller, inane trials and ordeals, they had no utility for this new experience. 
She knew by the sweet and sour redolence that she was in a hospital or clinic. The antiseptic at work was mingling treacherously with decay, infection, and urine. It was sickening to her, and for a few minutes distracted her from her mission to wake and sort out what was left of her beautiful and stoic face. She used to love to have her picture taken, then to look at it imaging the woman in another life, with a loving husband, in a safer place. Her pictures were the only source of hope she had possessed, other than her unwavering reverence and respect for God. She knew there would be no more pictures, no new images to evoke a brighter future - and what ever lay beneath the bandages she sensed about her head now would make liars out of the dozen or so favorites still resting in a neat pile near her Koran, the only two things that felt like her property, in a house that yielded no true space of her own - she would destroy the pictures if she ever got home, and she would have her two children read the Koran to her to find a measure of strength to cope with the loss that lay oozing underneath her dressings.
Realizing that she was laying on her stomach, she tried to roll over on her back and to sit up. This proved to be more difficult than planned as she quickly became entwined in a series of tubes, loose clothing, and sheets. She managed to get to her side, bring up her right hand to the left side of her face, and to loosen the abbreviated grasp of a stubborn IV stuck in her arm. Ever so tentatively, she began to softly stroke the outlines of her bandages, caressing them as if to soften the damage beneath. As she started to apply pressure to what was once her cheek, a dark stabbing pain shot through her head. She pulled her hand back and the pain quickly dissipated leaving a short, pulsing ache in its place. The damage survey would have to wait as she had no desire to awaken the torment just yet,  knowing she wasn't going anywhere soon. She collapsed back down into the dank smelling bedding and let her arm go limp against her side in complete surrender to the beast that was not done devouring her face.
Drifting back into consciousness after an indeterminable nap, she heard voices whispering in a language she did not understand - the flow and rhythm was Punjabi, but the words and terms were unfamiliar to her. Intrigued, it was the first time it had occurred to her to try to open her eyes to view the owners of these muted murmurs. She couldn't open her eyes, she only felt an intense tightness on the right side of her face as she struggled to look up. The left eye was open she thought, and she began to wonder if she was blind. The notion startled her and she began to thrash about, trying to reach up and pull the bandages off her face, pleading silently with God that she hadn't lost her eyesight with everything else that had been taken. In retrospect,she might have preferred to have lost both instead of one, as what was left of her would be witnessed by the lone left eye in perpetual grief and revulsion. Mercy might have spared her the scrutiny, but it did not.
Suddenly, the voices became pressure on her body, and she realized that the people in the room had converged on her and were trying to put her back down on the bed. Their language had shifted and she understood them now, as they gently tried to persuade her to relax. They patiently extolled her to rest, and told her she would be better soon, strong enough to face herself in a few days. She relented and slumped back down, exhausted from the few seconds of panic. She soon drifted back to sleep, back towards the echo of her waking nightmare, somehow more manageable in the dark and silent night.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

An Old Friend's Wedding :)

I was so happy to learn of your upcoming wedding. I know, looking back on the past decade of your life things haven’t always been on a path that made you comfortable. You are such a good person, and now your life is coming together perfectly as it should. What a wonderful time for you and your partner, your friends and family, and everyone else who knows and loves you both. It warms me deeply to think of this next stage of your life, and you moving through it happily and content.

I wish you both a loving and kind world, a healthy and beautiful family, and every bit of God’s other blessings.

Good luck!

Your friend,


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Acid Reign II

Each year, we are told, more than one hundred women are victims of acid attacks in Pakistan alone (that is only the reported number), and until recently, there was no legislation punishing the cowards who effectively ended these women's lives without killing them. This particular gesture (throwing very powerful acid in the faces of women and girls) is reserved for wives who no longer intrigue their husbands, girls who refuse the advances or proposals of potential suitors, even in-laws as often other women will will sometimes employ this tactic on a sister or daughter-in-law. It is not unique to Pakistan, and is seen in countries as far away as those in South America. Nor is it a Muslim phenomenon, although that seems to serve the media best as an Islamic practice.  As I listened to the news today, I sat in silence as I heard of another woman here in the USA killing a pregnant woman for her unborn baby. This happens often, and in many cases, the murderer cuts the baby from its dead mother's womb. I hear all the time that we are a Christian nation, but I never hear those same pundits attribute this heinous practice to Christianity. Perhaps that is the benefit of our diversity - we are diluted (or deluded) enough that nothing we don't like sticks to us. But if we were more homogeneous, I would like to see the argument that correlates the brutal murder of a pregnant woman and the subsequent dissection of her body to extract a fetus to our Nation's faith. 

Zakia stumbled forward as she tried to hold her face together with a limb that no longer responded to her. In the second or so it took to collapse, her focus shifted from the incredible heat and pain engulfing her to her children - were they with her now, had they been hurt - she had no idea where she was or what had happened to her. She tried to call their names, but her mouth, like her dead hand, no longer obeyed her. Trying to call out increased her pain, and she compensated by lunging forward in her blindness to shield them from this horror. As she hit the ground, she curled  up instinctively desperately trying to stop the agony that seemed to be growing across her face like a living, hungry thing. She pressed what felt like the stump of her hand to her face, pushing as hard as she could. She heard muted voices and felt pressure on her body that must have been from other hands.  She didn't know if those hands belonged to her children, the monster who did this to her, or bystanders. Still trying to call out to her children, she lost consciousness.
There had been plenty of witnesses, many who saw the nondescript man in flip flops dash across the courtyard to the steps leading down to the street, with a small plain bottle in his hand, a glass bottle one would recall later. He had stopped short of a woman coming out of the court, and after a second of hesitation, he had flung the contents of his container towards her head. No one knew what was happening, no one had the schema for it. The also stood in shock as the woman screamed, clutched wildly at her face, then fell down in a heap making low and garbled noises. They did see the curious bit of smoke rising from her, and as they rushed forward and converged on her, they smelled it too. As they began to claw at her trying to turn her and pull her up, all but one shrank away as they managed to pull her arm up from her face exposing a sick and messy mixture of blood, muscle, bone, mucous, and concrete where her face seemed melded to the step.
These Samaritans did recover, and as they lifted her up from her repose, none noticed the author of this tragedy a dozen meters away, half smiling, watching in wonder at the drama unfolding.  Perhaps he really hadn't thought this through - perhaps he knew he would take away her face, but hadn't imagined the entire process. There would be no way to know what was behind the smirk, maybe just the assurance that he had done what he needed to do, and no power on earth would punish him. He stood there as they carried the remains of his wife, the mother of his children, down to the street to shove her in a taxi. He glanced down at the stain on the step that had once been her face, blinked a few times, and turned to head home without much thought, most likely a hero.
She came to in a rush of noises, smells, and the feeling of being buried. She had no way of knowing she was in the back seat of a cab with three men holding her urging the driver on to the hospital frantically. Her remaining ear was pressed down into the seat, as well as the sole eye she now possessed. She couldn't see or hear clearly, and when she tried to move her numbed arm all she felt was resisting pressure. She muttered a few prayers until she remembered her children and began to trash wildly. The more she fought, the more weight she felt down upon her. Eventually she gave in, trusting that Allah had tended to her children. She became aware agian of the pain in this moment of resignation, and redirected her resolve to manage it. She still did not know where she was, where she had been, or why she could not hear, see, or feel anything. Perhaps she was in hell, she really did not know.
The darkness crept in again, and she felt the beginnings of a dream - she had no word for hallucination in her language, and embraced the familiar escape, no matter where it lead her. She dreamt she was fighting with her husband, or at least, fending him off.  He had grown more violent lately, as she could no longer give him enough money for his habits, and the combination of drug addition and spite had made the beatings more vivid.  At 39, she had learned to absorb his anger but it was taking its toll. On this occasion, he had knocked her to the ground and was beating her savagely in the head. She could feel her face coming apart, could feel the blood spraying everywhere. But it was a dream, and when she woke she would be sore, but whole again - at least what passed for being whole in a living nightmare worse than the cruel imagination of her dreams.
To be continued.....

Friday, May 4, 2012

Acid Reign

It was a bright, clear day as Zakia emerged from the court building on the other side of her new life. The sun was warm on her face as she tried her best not to skip down the steps; she was still far too removed from a normal life to dare to have faith in a divorce to provide one for her. She had taken this first step, literally and figuratively though, and there was no turning back. She took a few more cautious strides down the steps, pausing to raise her chin up to the comforting sun, letting it embrace her coy cheek, an overture to freedom, a gesture to buoy her courage. This primer in emancipation would be short lived however, as she would have very little left of her face by the time she reached the end of the stairs.
When she woke earlier that morning, she wasn't sure if she would be able to go through with it. It wouldn't be easy changing the brutal cycle she had lived with for more than two decades. She did not feel good about her future, simply having gotten to the point where she preferred stepping over a cliff to returning to the misery she had endured so long, even a new hell looked appealing. She paced back and forth, watching the clock, trying desperately to find the strength to leave for the government building, finally settling on the picture of her two children. She would take it with her, for if she did not, she might turn back at any of the hundreds of opportunities in the next few hours. She would face these weaknesses one at at time, would walk toward her freedom even if it felt like it was her death. She no longer could imagine the difference.
She gathered the papers her aunt had helped her with, never having learned to read very well after she was removed from school at the age of eight. She could read many of the words in the Koran though, and drew great comfort from from their soft fluid shapes, their consistent rhythm, their firm but kind admonitions. She loved Allah more than her own life, of this she was certain. And if it was not for her faith in Him, she would not beg for the strength to persist even if only to provide for her son and daughter.  Not once did she ever question Him about her fate, wise enough to know that her resolve, her fortitude were His gifts, not the monster that had erupted into her life twenty years before. God's will, her children's picture, and a growing desire to emerge from her darkness were enough to push her forward this day when every muscle and every bone protested the act.
As she walked purposely to the bus line, she realized for the first time in her life she was going where she wanted, when she wanted, without care or culpability to her father or her husband. Both by the way, knew what she was doing, and she had left one and alienated the other to do so. Allah, the kids, and sunshine provided all the purpose she needed in life now, not two men. Not the man who gave her away to an alcoholic and drug addict, not the man who was more obligated to his friends' sense of his own faith or the man who had no faith until his delinquent pride needed under girding to survive her liberation. No, she loved a different God, not the one that told her father to leave her to her torment rather than face a community that would view her divorce as an affront to his family's dignity and honor. Not the God who granted her husband superiority and impunity even as he violated every decent tenet of the faith. She loved her God, who would see her through these worldly betrayals, the only one who knew her heart.
As she drew closer to the court, she walked faster, easier. She had given herself to this by now, and would leave everything in Allah's hands. Amazingly, she felt no fear as she entered the building, the the whole process, waiting in line, gathering signatures, waiting again for a stamp, lasted a few hours and it felt like minutes. She walked in, and it seemed, straight back out. Out into the sun. The simplicity of the sequence startled her, perhaps threatening to awaken too large of a dose of hope for her to bear just yet. The clerk had given her more papers, had made explanations she could no longer remember, and looked on impatiently as she seemed reluctant to turn and leave as she should have. She was numb or she was alive, she really had no gauge to tell.
The steps confronted her as she left, and she paused at their summit not knowing where the frontier of her fear would give way to her future. She was half way down when she noticed a familiar form darting into her periphery. It did not startle her, nothing this day could. Still, she turned, ducked, and covered the side of her face that was in peril. It was not instinct, it was practice. The dull, brutal thud that would rattle her head never came though, and she peered up under her elbow almost curiously. He had stopped a few feet from her, and was tossing something at her, almost comically. Water she thought as it hit her, warm water. Perhaps in those moments, she was dreaming - the day was unreal, and his aborted attack was beyond her experience. This thin strand of speculation was cut short abruptly as the acid began to dissolve her face.
The wet warmness exploded, as did all thoughts of the day, all notions of a better future. The pain stung right through the left side of her face, though her skin she thought, straight into her skull. She frantically clawed at her cheek, as if she could pull the horror off of her face. As her hand met what was left of the tissue between her eyebrow and chin, the agony threatened her consciousness as dead fingers pried unfeelingly at flesh falling away too readily - cartilage, bone, and sinew tangling in a shock induced silence, as her screams found no voice. Cruelly, just as a new and merciful darkness was washing over her, she realized she lost control of herself and was collapsing in a desperate clutch of blood, urine, scorched flesh, and resignation. She reached into her pocket with a hand she could no longer feel, hoping to connect with the picture of her children.  Nothing else mattered at that moment. Melting she knew, as the remains of her face kissed the concrete, should not be this painful.
To be continued...........