Migrating – Aaisha Salman

Last Days are marked by chadars, petals, and leftover mehendi falling from everyone’s hands. We will obviously step on a blob of mehendi and stain the soles of our feet.

Last Days are also marked by the bride’s mother feeding her KFC at the dinner table, and the conversation heavy with lastness, and the bride’s hands heavy with mehendi, so she can’t eat anyway, but it’s a good excuse for intimacy; an excuse for intimacy also looks like a tray of food on a bed or a centre-table, and extending niwalas to at-least two other people other than yourself as you eat, apparently out of the inconvenience of mehendi, but also because “I love you, please be close to me” and “You are leaving.”

Last Days are also marked by noise, because everyone has flown in for the wedding, so often, the children are so exhausting that there is not much time to ruminate on the lastness. But sometimes, the bride and I are laying on the same bed, and we don’t have the language to tell each other that I love you, you are leaving; so we just sing Coldplay to each other, our hair falling in waterfall off the bed on opposite sides.

Last Days, we sing many things, and my eldest sister says the bride shouldn’t sing for herself. So in songs we call her behna, phool kalli, chaand, mehbooba – she is suddenly everything, but also silent. She is sitting with especially garland-ed hands, and jhumkay, and an unbearable beauty, because I love you, you are leaving.

Emptying cupboards. Clamping suitcases shut. Elaborate dresses protected by plastic. Trying on Ammi’s wedding dresses, like ritual, like repetition.

I felt it like a border, and later named it ‘rupture’. A crossing over – my sister crossed over wires and carpet ends on the Last Day to exit home.

She came home the next day, ofcourse, but beyond Last Days, home is an unstable concept. Both for her and for me. Even though I insisted I was okay, I was still glad when Ammi pushed a separate palang against her bed so I wouldn’t have to sleep alone.

Borders accumulate and migrations heighten when the dulha has a job abroad and the visa has come through already. Before her first flight to Canada, we were sitting and joking about chocolates, and neither of us had the courage to refer to the goodbye that we had to deal with fifteen minutes later. At the door, the final tear, I’m standing outside A-12, she’s on the other side of the door, and Ammi, Baba, Shazz and I, we all pool in our grief together, and we don’t manage it. Only for a moment; then we have to leave for another December wedding.

She is sorting out many things – life afterwards, the divisions of time, how and what to call home, how to be in a new place, because someone shouted at her in the street and she was scared so she has to work out her appearance. But she gets to be many new things as well, is thinking of her own cheesecake business, and tells me she has already mapped out how we will travel in buses and trains together when I get here.

June-July, or June-July ki chuttiyan, is when airplanes land, and when one of the first things my sisters say to me is, Now You Take Care Of The Kids, I’m Sleeping and Going To Take a Bath in Peace, and Ammi and I both grin. Vacations are for return, but what a complicated thing return is. The first time she returned, I couldn’t look at her face and ran upstairs because it was too much. The second time she returned, we hugged. At 3 AM of last summer, I woke abruptly and found her by my side and went back to sleep. I wish that could happen more often. Return is a territory of unprecedented newness, now our airs bump into each other in frustration sometimes, but also move seamlessly into each other in other times, like old times.

And home is still an unstable concept.

The timbre of her voice comes back in unexpected moments, like when you’re resting your head against the airplane window, and a song she used to sing fills you up entirely, entirely, and the whole world for three seconds becomes only her voice, a Backstreet Boys song probably, but in her voice. “I miss you everyday.”

Ammi doesn’t name her grief the day before Shazz’s flight back to Canada, so she just says she is not feeling well and we know. So we sit with her, and I spread my arms across her back and hold her hands and we ask, “Ammi, who were you before we came?”

Aaisha Salman is a writer from Pakistan, and a recent graduate of a liberal arts program in the city of Karachi, which she calls home. She bides her time in Karachi, freelancing and carrying out independent research.

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