She was reminded of words she had recently read in a book, “The sun had given up any pretense that it would play a part in the day.”Kamila Shamsie, A God in Every Stone – London: Bloomsbury, 2014 Here, the sun shone all day long. What a contrast it was to the gray skies of London, the sun playing hide and seek all day and ultimately disappearing till the Londoners almost demanded it back. London seemed a distant dream now. Almost unattainable. A period of thirteen years had been reduced to a memory. Sometimes, she would set aside a few moments just to relive and cherish the good times she had had there. A trip down memory lane to remember a city she had just started calling her own.
There was a tyranny in the weather here, only made worse by its sheer monotony. Nothing ever changed here, day after day. Winter wardrobe became a distant memory as one struggled to be cool in the hot and humid climate. It was one long Indian summer, all around the year. Faces screened under layers of protection, escaping the sun with UV protection umbrellas as people walked everywhere. There was no end to the amount of walking one could do. Day after day. Gadgets were big in this city. A moving bus would have all heads bent over their machines. This was a funny sight indeed, a series of black objects from the front to the other end of the vehicle. People sitting across each other for coffee or dinner were often seen having a rendezvous with their phones.
Times were such. The gadget attachment rendered this city machine-like as well. Humans racing across pathways in a blizzard-like, mechanical fashion. If there was empathy or humanity in this city, Natasha found it in only two places.
Natasha was an escapist. Or rather, she had become one. Life seemed so much sweeter when it was defined by small pleasures of daily existence. Harmless and momentary, they gave a respite to her otherwise mundane existence in this hot, strange country. She often wondered when was it that her small escapes became the core of her very being when she let them overpower her need to excel and shine amongst the rest? She had always been a winner—from the day her teachers at kindergarten told her she was the best. What had happened with the passage of time, she knew not. She was often so busy fighting to keep her head above water in the pool of everyday life that she had forgotten how to win the race. Did she even want to now? What was the point and would it change anything? It seemed wiser to just enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Life was dull and colorless. Everything tired her; she just wanted to be the master of her own destiny and there were only two places where she could be that.
Serene was the perfect example of the typical Asian woman in this part of the world. She was small-framed and low-toned, but her touch was a balm that healed the most injured and the most broken. Her touch was comforting and her voice a musical note to all those clients who wanted a massage, a hair oil treatment, or a skin rejuvenation service. It is strange how we tend to underestimate the power of touch. It heals like none other especially when the heart is bleeding. To Natasha, she was the solace she sought in her war-torn world of confusion, conflict, and criticism. There would be no trouble here. Only warm words and strokes to take away her aches and pains. Only the aches were not skin-deep. They ran much deeper. To the core of her being.
Why is there an innate need in us to be connected to those around us? God created Eve as Adam’s companion and then punished both of them together for eating the forbidden fruit. It was in pairs that the animals boarded Noah’s ark. The great poet and Sufi Rumi sought the companionship of Shams of Tabriz. The bird that is captured and put in a cage longs to fly off to be with its mates as soon as it is released. Similarly, a human being seeks the love and companionship of another. It could be your nearest one providing that love. If not, you seek it somewhere else. In this land of strangers, Natasha got it from Serene.
Life was dull and colorless.
Stones and color. The therapy of buying and wearing jewelry. Few women would or could challenge the joy of owning a piece of exquisite jewelry. More so if it is accompanied by the escape offered by a jewelry store expedition. The clamor and noise mask the storm inside. Color and the sounds of trinkets adorning her body were joys Natasha had just begun to appreciate. The different hues played on her emotions and made her a much happier person, albeit for a short time. So what if this happiness was temporary? It was a harmless joy, sought in the absence of a bigger one. It made her look and feel beautiful. It made life worth living and if that wasn’t prize enough, what was?
She wanted to live life. A life full of color and zest, music and radiance. Her jewelry exuded just that. The pieces spoke a language that settled the demons inside her with their beauty and shine. It was in Rosie’s shop that Natasha reveled in all their glory. The pearls never answered back. The rubies and sapphires glistened but only so much. She was the showman and the stones danced to her tunes as she tried on piece after piece. She was a little girl again, warm and safe in a childhood that had been secure and sheltered. She had moved her chessmen then and she could move them now. The game was hers to play. The shop was Natasha’s sanctuary as had been her childhood home where she had shone as the brightest star. This oasis quenched her thirst for appreciation, love, and attention. It is funny how we crave the same thing all our lives. The form changes but the underlying need is the same. Over cups of steaming coffee, the women would chatter and laugh. The laughter of wind, a free bird, or an unanchored boat. Ah, the joys of freedom.
Why is there an innate need
in us to be connected to those
She often wondered what Serene and Rosy were to her. In a land where not many were her own, these women were her lifeline. They were family, not related to her by blood but through the undying emotions of love and care. Would her real family step up to fill this void in her life? She wished she could say yes.
She did not know what she would have done had they not been there. Who else talked to her without blaming her, listened to her meaningless chatter for hours, and gave her free advice without judging her? These people were not her relations; she was a mere customer for them. It was a need that had drawn her to them and translated itself into a bond that we, as humans, crave all our lives. The lucky ones get it from an institution that is called marriage. The others keep looking for it.
Why was she in their land? What was she doing here? She did not belong here. The temporary escapism and the endless chatter could not define her life. Surely, there was more to her existence, greater joys reserved for her to uncover. Allah had bigger plans for her, she was a part of his very big universe and she had a bigger feat to conquer. It was time to fly, very, very far, where words were a balm, life was colorful, and the days were cooler…
|↑1||Kamila Shamsie, A God in Every Stone – London: Bloomsbury, 2014|