The Early Days
by Fatima Mohiuddin (Pakistan)
Audio: "The Early Days," read by Aatika Riaz
I have moved four times, been to six different schools. I have jumped between cities, countries, sometimes even continents. I have a neatly labelled file tucked in the back of my mind, with a bullet-pointed list of every possible reason for every single move—reasons that I never fully understood, or that never seemed good enough. I am much too familiar with the eerie late hours in an airport, the early morning calm, the afternoon rush. I have forgotten more names than I remember. I am no refugee, running from men with twisted minds and too much power. Fortune, fate, whatever you call it, has favoured me in that leaving has been a choice; my family's suitcases are always stacked next to mine. But it never gets easier.
The last move (the best move, the worst move, The Move) was almost four years ago, and as the end of winter approaches, my breath comes tighter. We have never stayed in one place longer than four years. Will this be the exception? Or will we remain forever trapped in our spiralling pattern? I do not know which I wished for.
I was used to moving by this time. Each house felt less permanent than the last. I was proud of it, but this was different. Even then, there had been the feeling that this was different. This house was ours, actually ours. There was family, and family meant ties. For my parents, it was a return home, for me it was a return to some developing country I had looked down on for all my life. I was older, more aware of what a move meant. My mother was unhappy, and in part, I was reflecting that. But it was something else too. Change had been my only constant, and I was losing that. Ironically the lack of change was the biggest change of all. It was too much.
It was a Saturday. (This detail I have not forgotten.) Saturday, the third. For months, the anticipation had been building. I’d had this dream, a childish, naive, idiotic dream. I dreamt of farms and gentle animals, brick roads and rainbows. I thought of crowing roosters while doing the laundry, amiable cows instead of paying attention in algebra. I thought of a large family, welcoming me with open arms. I thought of a life lived outdoors, a starry blanket watching over me as I slept.
My first impression of Islamabad was not impressive, especially after leaving the bright, sterile terminal at Heathrow. The airport seemed to have a paucity of doors, and it was hot. Flies buzzed around lazily, circling the heads of too many people crammed in too little space. We cleared security and were belched out into the baking world without ceremony. The sun glared, though glared is too light a word for its rage. An uncle had come to pick us up. Hugs were exchanged, and we were ushered to a car. Black, a little cramped. The canned juice they offered us was too sweet. It made me sick. A four hour drive, if you don't count the half-hour delay by a curious soldier. (The soldiers were scary back then. Now they are an object of contempt.) The drive only encouraged the nausea.
It was late when we arrived, so my confusion over the layout of the house—no, houses—is forgivable. Three of them, identical in every aspect except for their colour. One for us, one for each of the two uncles, flanking us on either side like malformed sentinels. Two-and-a-half floors of white marble (artificial) and faded paint (real). Four bedrooms, counting the office room we would later convert. Two drawing rooms, a lounge. I felt like a princess in an abandoned castle. There was still a tinge of romance to the experience then. We ate on the floor of one of the other houses, out of big pots full of vividly coloured biryani and all kinds of aromatic smells, the dark, spicy scent of saffron, the savoury, slightly charred aroma of grilled meat. We wandered back to our house, a bit dazed. We slept.
I awoke for Fajr before my alarm, and it took a moment to realise it was because of the adhans, the calls to prayer, floating in through my window. At the time, it seemed like there were hundreds. Young voices and old, high and low pitched, melodious and hurried. I relished that moment, the blanket heavy on top of me, the air frigid on my face, and those voices. It had been years since I had heard them called outside of mosques.
Later, I awoke to the less pleasant cacophony of roosters yelling. I do not remember much beyond those first dream-like days as soon after, I fell into a sort of depressed state that lasted months. But I remember that the tea our aunt made us was even sweeter than the juice, that lizards were a problem and my mother was terrified of them, and that having ten different relatives barging into the house without warning was not as pleasant as it had seemed in my daydreams. I also came to the horrifying realisation that our house's exterior was pink, its cupboards were pink and my bathroom was pink. I'm still not sure if my hatred for the colour stemmed from the fact that it was actually a garish shade, or if it was a remnant of my “not like other girls” phase. All I know is that those cupboards were frequently a guest star in my nightmares. It was a relief when they were switched out for more demure brown ones.
I still do not like to think of The Move. Its memory has been painted over so many times, in fury and regret, sorrow and nostalgia, that I no longer know what is fact and what was the imagination of a twelve-year-old. What did I learn from it? Four years ago, I'd have said nothing, with all the bitterness I could muster. Three years ago, I'd tell you I didn't remember it at all. Two years ago, I'd tell you that it gifted me the flame of anger, one that has plagued me ever since. A year ago, I'd snap at you and tell you it taught me I was alone, lonely, lonesome.
But now, I like to think that I know better. It taught me gratitude, if you can call it that. Before, there was always something wrong with where I was, who I was, when I was. The garden was too small, the house was too cold, the neighbourhood too posh. There was too little culture, I didn't understand the language, the city was filthy. I wanted a bigger park, I wanted to live in a flat, I wanted, I wanted, I wanted. Nothing was enough and that fact was too much. This is what The Move taught me: it will never be enough, and it has always been enough. There will always be too little and too much and too small and too big. It didn't mean that the present was my enemy. It didn't mean that I had to rush into the future's arms. There was a balance. If I opened my eyes, I would always be enough.
Fatima Mohiuddin, 15, is an avid reader and sometimes writer. “The Early Days” is her recollection of her move to Pakistan, and the changes it brought.
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11/24/23, 4:42 PM
I'm amazed by your deep perception towards little things of life! Keep glowing dear Taieba.
10/4/23, 10:28 AM
I'll like to see more of your writing
10/4/23, 10:26 AM
Gsk I love it!
10/3/23, 7:58 PM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
Wow..just wow. Ridiculous words I know. I just stumbled across your poem as this is my first time on the website and I landed this masterpiece. As an immigrant myself, I could relate to several aspects of this. Your use of imagery, symbolism, and allusion is outstanding
9/17/23, 8:43 AM
Powerful. Spreading the truth some don't think about, some don't have to worry about. A great and strong piece.
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
8/25/23, 10:35 PM
Excellent and amazing
8/17/23, 7:00 AM
Absolutely beautiful poem! The words were picked meaningfully and used it a descriptive way. Very relatable.