by Adan Fatima
I bet there have been many, many instances of a person on the verge of passing out, walking around a city aimlessly after dark, thinking they’ve discovered the meaning of life but I swear, I really might be onto something.
I got my heart broken a while ago. I can say a thousand things about it, but to put it in the simplest terms: it felt like having someone reach inside you and pull out a piece of you. And sometimes you forget about it for a while and you think you’re okay but then one day, unknowingly, you reach for that same piece just to be met with the realisation that it’s still missing. You’re still a little empty and you might never be whole in the same way again. But it’s not all bad. My heartbreak has returned me back to my own self. It has led me to take many walks where I’ve gone around my apartment complex in circles listening to music, mostly just Taylor Swift, because I didn’t want to go back home and sit, “marinating” in my own thoughts. I’ve walked through the markets of Islamabad alone, headphones in my ears, rediscovering both the city and myself.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt this need to be on foot and wander through places on my own. To smoke a cigarette on a sidewalk though I can’t stand the smell. To drive around after midnight with the windows down, playing my music so loud the whole car vibrates. I know the feeling of desperately longing for small moments of freedom all too well. Longing—for mobility, for liberty, for independence. And life has been kind enough to let me have a taste, even if it’s short-lived and even when it leaves my mouth sour. I still welcome these moments of freedom with my arms wide open.
Whenever I go on these little adventures I’m always on the verge of tears but I am not one to hide my tears away just so I can save strangers from a bit of discomfort. I’m the exact opposite. I sit in public and cry my eyes out as passersby glance at me and quickly look away. “This is me,” I want to say. I’ve loved and I’ve lost. I’ve probably loved more than any of you have and that love has changed my life. And I’d do it again, and again even if I have to pay for it with grief. But there are only so many times that a person can cry in one spot–only a few hundred, in my experience–before they grow extremely tired of themselves and then they do the next best thing—they walk.
As I walk, I notice all kinds of things. I look up at the flowering trees; Islamabad is marvellous when it comes to that. There are trees with flowers of so many colours that bloom throughout the year. Spring brings pink and purple ones on Kachnar trees. Summer? Yellow ones—they hang from the branches like bunches of grapes, and winter brings you the deepest shades of maroon. I look up at the changing flowers and smile through the ache in my heart. Sometimes I meet a stray cat who sees me as a fit companion and stretches her paws out next to me. I watch mynas walking through the grass on their little orange feet. And I watch people.
On a similar walk last night, I saw a woman feed her partner a spoonful of cake. I saw a girl struggling to ride a bike in an empty parking lot; she pressed the accelerator and pushed the bike forward with her foot only to lose her balance, stop, and repeat the whole process. I saw another one giggling as she left a boy’s car. Our eyes met and I smiled. She smiled back. I saw a group of guys sitting on the pavement, drinking lemon malt and just talking.
I let the city envelop me and I let the music playing in my ears carry me away. Lights shine through the darkness, the cool summer breeze tousles my hair, and people and cars move around me. I watch life happen in the simplest and smallest of moments and I fall in love all over again; with strangers, with the world, with being alive to witness it all, with myself, and with God. And that brings me back to the whole point of this, the meaning of life. I think to myself that I’ve found it, again, for the hundredth time, perhaps under a Kachnar tree, and it’s always the same thing: love.
Now everyone owes me several pats on the back here for having a heart that goes back over and over again to the same thing that broke it, but the truth is that love has saved my life once and it continues to do so every day. It has been my anchoring force. At times when everything else in the world felt hazy and unreal my mother’s warm embrace became the one thing that tethered me to reality. And on days when the lumps in my throat wouldn’t let me swallow, a friend would stay on the phone with me till I could eat. When nothing and no one could convince me to get out of bed, I’d get up just to feed my cat.
And love doesn’t leave when the person who showed it to you is gone. Even now as I grieve my loss and it feels like there is no air left in my lungs, the warmth of the kindness that was shown to me stays behind and helps me breathe. Love breaks me down just to build me back up again, only softer, kinder and warmer. Like I’m made of porcelain and I get shattered into a million pieces, and every time they’re glued back together, there are more and more cracks left on the surface so I mourn the smoothness I once had until the sun comes out and its light bleeds through every single crack.
That’s when I see it—how I’ve been lit up on the inside.