Hands still damp from the dishes scrubbed against the sponge, legs struggling to support the structure above, the mirror showed an image that was familiar yet so different at the same time. Eyes fixated on the two mirrors at the center of the wardrobe, the glance at the figure on the other side made way for a trip down memory lane. The journey of a month. Thirty days, perhaps the most challenging month, turned Faaiz from a boy to a man.
Like any other student coming from a different country to a prestigious university, the idea of simply being here felt surreal. A dream that finally became a reality after months of hard work, effort, stress, and ranting. Legs were itching to set foot in the city most of us dream of visiting someday. The mind was preoccupied with imposter syndrome, fearing the intelligence of those with whom you would sit soon. Maybe the university made a mistake? How did I even get here? Buying fancy clothes, new suitcases, learning to cook, everything sorted. But if everything was perfectly planned and ready, why did the reflection from the mirror, a month later, not show the gleaming smile everyone associated with you? The glitter in the eyes vanished with seriousness overshadowing the pupil.
There is only one possible explanation for this transformation, and the reason is something that most of us take for granted. The absence of family and friends! Two months ago, when I speculated my first few days in the alienated city, I imagined myself as Dora the Explorer, going through streets, and alleys, mesmerized by the mysteries of the capital that featured in almost every other movie. What if I randomly cross the road and Dua Lipa’s walking from the other side? You are on the tube and suddenly see David De Gea casually walk inside. I could go on and on about my unrealistic imagination, but that’s not the point.
As soon as I stepped inside the premises of Lahore Airport, reaching a point where I could no longer view my family among the crowd outside, a part of my soul stayed behind. A void emerged. My heart ached. That step marked the breakaway from the immediate care and protection of the two pillars who had ably conducted their duty over the last twenty-three years. Now, you were on your own! Ready for your solo flight!
Regardless of how much you mentally prepare yourself, you are never ready for this experience. Not a moment goes by when you do not yearn for the presence of those you leave behind. Your brain tries to console you with fabricated pictures of a rosy future, reminding you why you are here in the first place, but the heart just wants to relive the nights when you all sit together and have dinner at the black dining table. Personally, I lost my hunger in the process. Back home, I was the spoilt kid of my mom (eating-wise), fed at very regular intervals, with quantity never being an issue. Always in excess! Moreover, ate all meals in the company of someone, be it a parent or brother.
Now, without the company or the food cooked by mom, the tastebuds refused to comply. The stomach protested and preferred abstaining from accepting bland British food. Despite the availability of restaurant food, Faaiz embraced a routine where meals were skipped, and eating just for survival became the objective. Never imagined myself going through the whole day with a breakfast of cereals, lunch at the university canteen, and dinner comprising of oreo biscuits and milk. The lad who landed a month ago lost considerable weight, to become the man he is. My mom used to run after me with fruits, as I avoided them, but ironically, now I habitually eat them without any fuss.
The hardships of life have finally made their way toward the young adult, lacking his immediate parental shield due to the distance between them, with him growing years within a month. The lazy lad who considered placing his dirty dishes back in the kitchen after dinner as an achievement now runs his own house, let alone the kitchen.
Nostalgia is a curse! You keep dwelling on the beauty of the past, without cherishing the present. Consistently complained that most of my closest friends lived in different cities while taking the ones I met every other week as able substitutes for those who left. Now, you wish for one close friend to be here, with whom you can laugh, joke, and eat food. You take for granted the everyday life blessings that fuel your happiness. The warmth of a close family. The protection and guidance of your dad, as you casually sit in a Careem cab, knowing he is looking at the tracker. The care of your mom, who made tedious tasks look like child’s play, as her hands had magic! No task is too difficult for her. The company of your little brother. Watched sports with you every time and was your arch-rival in Fifa for more than ten years.
You cannot move back in time. Not to the point where you relive all the privileges you once had. Nor the constant company of everyone. The same circumstances would probably never return either. The most audacious move at this point would be to return during the winter, but then again, visiting your home for three weeks would only make you a guest, rather than just another member. You would be entitled to VIP treatment, but I want to relive being the quiet kid, who spoke less but was present on every occasion. The same person, whose silence and smile conveyed messages that no one outside the boundaries of that house ever understood. I want to be my old regular self. Not the independent, battle-hardened (trust me that living alone is like being at war with new obstacles every other day), mature self, but what I was before.
To conclude this text, I have a question for you all. Did we all grow up too soon? Feels like yesterday when I would firmly grip my mom’s finger, entering through the massive gate at Beaconhouse Karachi, headed for pre-nursery, asking her to buy me Fido Chocolate before she kissed me goodbye.