Dream Baby

“I hear that if you die in your dream you die in real life.”

“I’ve heard that too, but I don’t know. I was shot in my dream once.”

“I think if you have a baby in your dream, you have one in real life.”

“What?!”

“Seriously, what are you smoking?”

“And where can we get some?”

“Real funny you guys.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so. I’ve had plenty of children in my dreams.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I mean not all at once.”

“What’s it like?”

“It’s really intense. It’s so real, it’s kind of scary.”

“When was the last time you had a dream baby?”

“It was like a week ago. I went into labor behind a truck. Not sure why. But the best part? My birthing doctors were these two random guys from high school.”

“Wow, talk about embarrassing.”

“You’re telling me. They were also guys I never even spoke to.”

“Weird.”

“Maybe you really wanted to speak to them.”

“Oh please no Freudian readings.”

“So what happened?”

“I went through labor. It wasn’t painful, but I couldn’t see anything over my gigantic belly. And before I knew it, there was this beautiful baby boy in my arms. God, he was so precious. I remember naming him Mikaīl.”

“And then what happened?”

“And then I woke up. And that feeling was the worst.”

“Why?”

“Because Mikaīl was real for those few moments. He was a part of me. I held him in my arms, felt his heartbeat near my chest, looked at him and got to know him. When I woke up, he just didn’t exist. All of those emotions I went through seemed completely futile. All of it was gone.”

“Would you like more water?”

“Yes. Thanks.”

“Can I get another soda?”

“Sure.”

“Thank God men can’t have children. I wouldn’t want to go through that in my dream or in real life.”

an unwanted meeting

Nosheen takes a seat at the table in the corner with her cappuccino. The coffee shop’s windows provide a generous amount of sunlight as the music blasts in the background. She digs into her bag for her phone and tries to pretend as if she is doing some serious work. She’s playing AngryBirds.

The door opens and a customer walks in. Nosheen looks through the corner of her eyes and doesn’t recognize the woman. Her eyes return to the screen too slow to save the bird from crashing into the ground. She tenses up until she realizes she still has two lives left. After five minutes of being stuck on the same level, Nosheen sets her phone face down on the table and takes out a book instead. She opens the novel and begins to read. Her eyes skim the stanzas, her hand turns the page, and her mind concentrates on the lyrics playing in the background. Was that Bob Dylan? She couldn’t figure it out.

#

The day had started off shaky as Nosheen’s phone vibrated to wake her. It was too early to be up, even the sun had yet to rise. After snoozing her phone five times, she finally jumped out of bed and ran into the bathroom. She cupped her hands to catch the cool water and washed her face. She followed that up with washing her arms up to her elbows, rinsing her hands again and wiping them over her head. She finished by washing the right foot and then the left in the sink. Sometimes her muscles would be a bit sore to get her foot to reach the sink, but today they seemed lax. The hot summer weather was working its magic already. Nosheen walked back into her bedroom and laid out her prayer rug to offer her morning prayers. After she finished, she quickly fell back into bed and fell into a deep, sweet sleep.

#

At a quarter to five, the bell on top of the coffee shop’s door rings again. This time, a familiar face enters.

“Mohsin!” Nosheen calls out in a loud whisper to the man who has just entered. Mohsin turns and sees her sitting at the corner table. Noticing she already has a cappuccino, he orders himself a medium coffee, pays and sits in front of Nosheen as the barista prepares his coffee. This was their very first meeting, called by Mohsin to discuss “something,” as he put it. Nosheen was already thinking about how to let him down easily.

guilty pleasures

“Do you know why women outlive men?” she asks as her granddaughter lays her head on her lap. Her granddaughter shakes her head and looks up at her nani’s face.

Nani smiled.

#

Saturday morning. 11AM. Penn Station. A young woman came and stood right near where I was sitting. She was talking on the phone and looking over at the train schedule at the far end of the room.

It seemed almost all of a sudden. A couple sitting across from us. He was looking at the woman, so was She. She would occasionally turn Her head slightly to Her right, not too much so he wouldn’t notice. Just slightly. She would look at his eyes and She knew where they were. What captivated his eyes so much? Perhaps the way the woman’s straight-ironed brown hair fell and swayed along her shoulders. Or the way her makeup brought out her bold eyes or how the pink blush accented her high cheekbones. Perhaps the way her small wrist bent ever so slightly as she gripped her cellphone near her ear. Was it her voice? Making it’s way across the room in small whispers? Maybe it was the way she stood so straight even in her four-inch stilettos. Or the way her hips and thighs outlined her bootcut jeans. A full hourglass figure. Her coat clung to her waist and wrapped around her ample bosom. Tight.

She sipped on the straw until it struggled to gather every little drop in the empty glass bottle. She got up, calculating each step as She walked in front of him and the captivating woman all the way to the garbage can. She threw her bottle into the can and turned around, just as he turned his eyes to Her. He threw Her a smile as She walked back towards him. The smile was more to satiate himself than for her. She settled once more in the chair next him. She turned Her head up and leaned towards him and he followed Her lead. She claimed his lips for Her own with Her peach-scented chapstick. She turned back with pursed lips to the lady with brown hair. As does her companion, still thinking She has no idea where his eyes have rested for the past fifteen minutes. She stuck out He chin, still wondering what there was to see. She crossed Her legs, left over right, so that Her left foot gently rested near his outstretched legs. This was her territory. Marked.

#

“You see, that’s what it is. Women file away everything inside of them. Especially when they know that he didn’t notice. They file and file and file until they form a barrier all around their insides. An artillery waiting to be used, but it never leaves their core. So it just sits there. Waiting. It protects them well,” she says as she looks down into the face of her granddaughter, “Men, well. Men have no artillery. They just have moments. Moments that seem innocent enough, but build up. As they look away from their moment of pleasure and into the face of the woman they love, the guilt comes to the edge of their skins, wanting to cut them open from the inside out. These moments eat and eat and eat away at their insides. Slowly. Until there is nothing left to eat.”

“But, nani, that can’t be all men,” her granddaughter retorts back.

“No, not all. Most, but not all. There are the Few. Their eyes have a different glow and glisten to them, a different luster. The tints of brown, or green, or grey shine differently. When you look into those eyes, you notice it right away. They lack a certain thirst, a certain hunger. They don’t want to eat you and store you inside of them. And when you look into them, you see yourself reflected back—only in your truest form. It’s those eyes you should look for.”

–––
inspired by nayyirah waheed’s poem:
“eyes that commit.
that is what I am looking for.”

in Roshnpur

Still smiling, Zeshawn enters the masjid of Roshnpur right before the jummah prayer. As soon as his bare foot touches the cool stone floor, he senses trouble. A young man sitting in front of the masjid begins to cough loudly.  After coughing, the man immediately turns his face to the left and spits to let out the extra liquid that accumulated in his mouth. Even before the pouch saliva could reach the stone floor, the imam turns at once to face him.

“What did you just do? Don’t you know it is sinful to spit in a masjid?” asked the imam,  Muhammad Riaz, who leads the congregational prayers and taught the children of Roshnpur the basics of their faith.

The man steps back and looks around for help. His eyes meet those of Zeshawn, whose smile comforts him.

“Is it?” asks Zeshawn, acting dumbfounded. Slowly, he goes to the purification area and fills up a small bucket with water and hands it to the young man. “What if I showed you that the Quran permits spitting in the masjid?”

By now, most of the townsmen had arrived and were watching the young man wash out the spit and push the water towards the exit with a mop made of thick straws wrapped at one end with a strip of cloth. Riaz, glad that this time Zeshawn would be proved wrong, quickly brings the Quran.

“No it doesn’t,” says Riaz, “You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?” asks Zeshawn, “last time I checked, we went to the same school for religious learning.”

“Right, and you were always too busy questioning our beloved teachers to listen to what they actually said,” retorts Riaz, as though accusing Zeshawn of blasphemy.

The statement provoked the townsmen to begin talking in hushed tones. The rumors about Zeshawn’s behavior in madrasah were slowly proving to be true.

“Enlighten us, Zeshawn,” Riaz says loudly before Zeshawn has a chance to respond, “where does it say that you can spit in the masjid?”

Zeshawn takes the Quran and begins to look closely at the curved words. He really didn’t understand the language and everyone knew that, but people were too enchanted to point out that small factor. When Zeshawn turns the page, he realizes that two of the pages are stuck together. Immediately, he sticks his thumb and forefinger into his mouth to moisten them. Slowly, he touches the pages and rubs them between his two wet fingers in an effort to take them apart. The pages peel off from one another to reveal a hidden sea of words. Riaz and the townsmen lean in thinking that surely the proof must be on this page.

“Here it is,” announces Zeshawn.

“Where?” asks the Riaz, clearly familiar with the Quran.

“Well, right here,” says Zeshawn, pointing to the place where his fingers had just touched. Before the imam could speak, Zeshawn continues, “if my saliva is clean enough to touch the pages of the Quran where we can do nothing but let it dry off, why was the same liquid too impure to touch the stones of the masjid from where it can be cleaned off fairly easily?”

The rest of the townsmen begin speaking to each other about Zeshawn’s answer as he quietly moves away from the center of attention to a discreet corner and begins to pray. Following suit, other townsmen also begin to offer the supererogatory prayer right before the sermon.

Riaz resentfully, albeit a bit awestruck, closes the Quran and returns it to the shelf in front of the masjid. He continues to the far Western end of the masjid and takes his place near the minbar from where he will give the Friday Sermon.

As a general gesture, many of the men frequently asked Zeshawn to lead them in prayer or at least to become an imam. His knowledge was equivalent to the knowledge the imam had–they both were the only truly educated people in the village. However, Zeshawn constantly relented that he was in no position to take on such a huge responsibility although everyone knew his relationship with Riaz during their school years was the real reason he did not take on the responsibility. Besides, Zeshawn’s recent dream was to travel.

It was proper etiquette that no one knew Aasiya and Zeshawn were trying to conceive their first child. Three long months had gone by and the couple was beginning to get fidgety; month after month, Aasiya spotted the signs that she was not, in fact, pregnant. Zeshawn had made up his mind, he wanted to retain the happiness in his marriage, he wanted to travel with Aasiya, and eventually find a child that needed a home even if that meant traveling from China to Africa.

Zeshawn looks up as Riaz begins to give his sermon and mentally begins to make preparations for the long journey ahead. He wanted to travel westward, towards the holy cities. Maybe that would help lighten the burden. The sermon ends and the call to prayer commences. After the prayer ends, everyone greets each other once more before heading home.

Right before reaching his home, Zeshawn spots a camel spider crawling up the side of his neighbor’s door. He would normally not think of harming any animals, but Zeshawn recognizes the patterns of poison reaping from the spider’s skin. Looking around for some way to kill it, he spots a knife-like clay brick sticking out of the wall. He quickly pulls it out and jams it into the spider.

“What have you done?!” says a jinn who appears out of thin air in the form of a man, “You have killed one of us!”

“What?” asks Zeshawn, turning to face him as the spider disappears before his eyes.

“You have killed a jinn!”

“No, I haven’t! I killed a poisonous spider!”

“It was a jinn in the form of a spider––don’t you know that jinns can take any form they please?”

“Don’t be silly, everyone knows that, but how was I supposed to know this was a jinn?”

“Oh, you will be tried in our court right now. Follow me.”

Zeshawn reluctantly follows as the rest of the town has gone to sleep, everyone else is catching up on the noon-time nap as the sun begins to decline and the temperatures cool. He wonders if he should just run away, but his curiosity gets the better of him. How many others can say they’ve seen a jinn in person?

 

missed connections, pakistan edition

For my Advanced Creative Writing class, we had an assignment to find an ad on Craigslist and write a short around whatever inspired us. I immediately went to the “Missed Connections” section for inspiration and got very bored very quickly with the repetitive “I saw you on the __ Train. You’re beautiful. YOU know I’m talking about you.”

So I decided to go back to Craigslist’s main homepage and start over. I wanted to see what other parts of the world had to offer. Low and behold, I end up in Pakistan’s main page and they too have a “Missed Connections” section.

Here are some of the remarks:

“i will be travailing to Pakistan Karachi I am trying to find love of my life if you are there please let me know”

“Sweet simple wife is required for ever”

“i am in search of a beautiful, honest, and sincere wife”

“I can sponsor my wife’s family in Canada too. If you have a daughter/sister, please do not hesitate to contact me.”

“in search of materially well-established lady”

“Any kind-hearted,lenient,sacificing lady willing to adopt me as husband”

“Independent (by Pakistani definition)
Have some brains too…:)”

Well, now I know where to send all my single, kind-hearted, materially well-established, ‘independent,’ Pakistani female friends who are seeking husbands.

In any case, I used this opportunity to experiment and I wrote in a script style as opposed writing in prose. I think this was a great way to help me work with dialogue since that is an area of weakness for me.

Searching for A Wife

ZUBAIDA
I hope you like the tea. My daughter made it herself. Here, have some more cookies.

RISHTA AUNTY
Oh, what a lovely daughter. May Allah grant everyone a daughter like yours. How old is she?

ZUBAIDA
She’s still so young. You know, she did her PhD so she is a doctor. She’s only 29. She needs to get settled in her new job. I invited you to speak about my son, the older one, Zaheer. He needs to get married first. Do you have anyone in mind?

RISHTA AUNTY
There are so many single girls and guys that I know of. They are all great. What is the most important thing for you?

ZUBAIDA
She has to have a college degree. I don’t want my son to marry an uneducated woman. You know, like Shaista married her son to a girl who finished high school and that is it! What a shame. No, my bahu needs to have a college degree. But she shouldn’t worry about working after marriage. Zaheer, mashallah, you know, has a well-paying job. She needs to know her place as the bahu of this house.

RISHTA AUNTY
Haan, this sounds right. I was already thinking of someone for Zah––

ZUBAIDA
Kaun? Who?

RISHTA AUNTY
You know her, I think. Aleena, Sameera’s daughter. She––

ZUBAIDA
Arey! Her?! She’s so old. Twenty-six and still single? Bichari. No, no, I want someone who is young and will give me lots of grand-children. Besides, she’s too much into fashion. I mean, women need to look after themselves so their husbands don’t have to go find other wives. Not like that daughter of that woman….oh, what’s her name?…Don’t worry, it will come to me. She doesn’t do one thing! No eyebrows, no nothing! Who does she think will marry her?

RISHTA AUNTY
Laiken, look at it this way, Zubaida, you have a daughter yourself who is single. I can set her up  without a problem. My own son is looking for a wife, you know.

ZUBAIDA
Sarah has no shortage of proposals, Rasheeda. She just wants to focus on getting a job right now. I want my daughter to be independent; not reliant on her husband for money. You remember Reema who got married and her husband left her? Poor soul. I don’t know what she did to make her husband run away, but at least she had money to take care of herself….And she was pregnant! Who is going to marry her now?

RISHTA AUNTY
Listen, Zubaida, Zaheer is old too. He’s 34 and single. Why doesn’t Zaheer marry Reema? She’s a good––

ZUBAIDA
Kya?! You want my son who has never been married to marry a woman who has already been married? Are you insane? What nonsense! I invited you to list a few girls I can show Zaheer so he will stop obsessing over some girl at work. He says he’s in love, like these kids know anything about pyar. First comes shaadi then comes pyar.

RISHTA AUNTY
Who is this girl?

ZUBAIDA
Some Pakistani girl at work. Hmph, I know those types of women. Soon my own son will be out of my own house and off living with her.

RISHTA AUNTY
Suno, I have to go to Ghazala’s house. Maybe we can meet next week to continue discussing Zaheer and maybe Sarah, too. You know it is important we find her a good husband.

ZUBAIDA
Zaroor, but listen, I’m only going to pay you when you find my son a decent Pakistani girl. Then we will talk about Sarah.

 

Tomorrow

“Who are you?!” she yells, peering down to the man sleeping next to her. As she takes in the strange surroundings, her heart begins to beat faster.

“Jane, please calm down,” the man says as he rolls over and holds her hand, still not quite awake. Jane quickly pushes his hand away and gets off from the bed.

“Don’t touch me!” she yells as she searches for her shoes. A million thoughts crossing her mind as to how she awoke in a stranger’s home.

“Jane, please,” the man says as he looks at her scrambling around the room. He finally relents, “Your shoes are under the bed.” Jane quickly reaches for them and puts them on. Before thinking twice, she hurries out of the room and out of the house.

Shaking from what just took place, she runs to relieve her nerves–and so the man doesn’t follow her.

The morning has a cool breeze to it, but her linen PJ’s are way too thin to protect her from the weather’s piercing stings. After running for a mile, she finally rests near a lampost at an intersection: Broadway and Lincoln Avenue. Home. Although out of breath, she automatically feels secure.

She slowly walks to the high-rise building. An elderly guard opens the doors for her.

“Miss Jane, top o’ the morning to yuh,” he says, taking his blue cap into his hands.

“Mornin’, Albert,” she says, “I don’t think I have my keys.”

“Oh, that’s no biggie, Miss. You always leave a spare with me.”

“I do?”

“Why, yessum,” he says, taking out a pair of keys from his pocket. The keychain has a yellow duck hanging from a thin chain.

“Right. I must have forgotten. Sorry about that,” she says, retrieving the keys from his delicate hands, “thanks!”

“Anytime, Miss.”

*

After taking the longest shower of her life, Jane exits her bedroom in a fresh pair of clothes. She reenters the bathroom with an empty garbage bag in hand. Slowly, she lifts each piece of the garments from the night before and throws them in. Tying the bag as tightly as possible, she heads out of her apartment and straight to her friend’s forensic lab.

“Clare!” Jane calls out as she busts into Clare’s lab.

“Jane, are you okay?” Clare asks as she spins around in her office chair.

Jane explains how she woke up in a strange home with absolutely no recollection of what happened the night before.

“Sounds like someone had too many drinks,” laughs Clare.

“Can you be serious for two seconds? Besides, you know I haven’t been to a bar in….in…”

“In five years, I know. So what do you think happened.”

“I don’t know. I just want you to run some tests on my clothes.”

“Jane, you don’t think it was date rape do you? Because I can’t remember the last time you were on a date, either,” Clare tries to hold back her laughter, but her mood changes when she sees Jane lean back in the chair and cross her arms. “Okay, so I’ll see what I find on your clothes and let you know.”

“Thanks. You know I really appreciate this.”

After speaking for a few more minutes, Jane leaves to head to the park. As soon as she is out of the door, Clare picks up her phone and dials an all-too-familiar number.

“Hello,” says a deep voice on the other end.

“Frank, what were you thinking keeping her all night?” Clare yells into her phone.

“Please calm down. She left in the morning and didn’t remember a single thing from las–”

“Except she thinks you raped her. God, Frank, when will you learn to let go?”

“What would you have me do? Drug her and bring her back to her apartment? Or even better, put her on the curb instead?”

“You know that’s not what I mean. Maybe you should be more careful, that’s all,” Clare sighs and hangs up the phone.

*

Jane sits down on the warm wooden bench that overlooks a playground. Her favorite spot to open up a book. Just as her eyes begin to scan the words, a ball drops by her feet. She picks it up with her left hand and looks up to see a young girl running towards her. Jane sticks out her hand to give the girl her ball back.

“Thank you!” the little girl yells, panting.

“You’re welcome,” Jane answers, smiling back at her.

The little girl turns around to go back, but hesitates for a few moments. She turns back around and faces Jane once more.

“My name is Elizabeth,” she says, taking a seat next to Jane.

“That is a beautiful name! If I have a daughter, that’s what I would name her. How old are you, Elizabeth?” Jane asks as she turns her full attention to Elizabeth.

“I’m almost six. In….in…..” she counts on her fingers and then thinks for a while, then counts again, “in three months.”

“That’s lovely! You’re almost a young lady!”

“Yeah, that’s what daddy always says.”

“Where is your daddy?” Jane says looking around at the parents standing on the edge of the playground.

“Oh, he’s in the car. He said it was too hot for him to come out.”

“Doesn’t he play with you?” Jane asks, questioning the father’s parenting skills.

“Sometimes, when mommy isn’t around.”

“And where is your mommy?”

“She’s…..I think daddy said to say she’s busy. Well, I have to go now.”

Elizabeth gets up and runs away before Jane has a chance to respond. Elizabeth plays for a few more minutes, then heads towards a blue car. Jane relaxes as she gets safely inside of the car.

*

Without realizing how much time had passed while she was reading, Jane looks up and sees the sun slowly making his way towards the horizon. She quickly puts her book away and begins to walk home. Her home on Beverly Avenue and Kingston Road.

She reaches the door to the large house. After a few minutes of searching her bag, she realizes that she doesn’t have her own keys. Instead, she finds a pair of keys on a yellow duck keychain. she puts it back into her bag.

Remembering that there is always a spare key on top of the door’s panel, she reaches over until she feels a metal object. She takes it down and unlocks the door.

“Elizabeth!” she yells in excitement. “I missed you all day.”

Elizabeth runs towards her and hugs Jane.

“I’ve missed you too, mommy.”

As soon as their embrace is over, Jane’s husband steps into the doorway between the corridor and the kitchen.

“Frank, why are you looking at me like that?” Jane asks as she goes over and gives him a kiss on the cheek.

“I’ve missed you.”

“Don’t be silly! It’s only been a few hours. Work ran late today,” Jane says, taking out the strange keys from her bag. “I don’t know who’s these are.”

“I’ll take them,” says Frank as he retrieves them from her hand and places them securely in his pocket.

“Will you stop staring at me?” Jane laughs, feeling flattered that her husband has taken such a deep interest in her.

“I wish you would know me all the time,” Frank says as he embraces her and Elizabeth, too afraid to face tomorrow all over again.

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