A Pakistani boy conversing with Grief

Published: January 22, 2015

I am the pain that people feel when their wounds are freshly stitched. I am also the pleasure they feel when the wounds disappear.

“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” – Kahlil Gibran

“Hi! It’s good to finally meet you.”

Grief smiled, a very beautiful smile, actually; not at all broken, as the boy had wanted and imagined. But wait, what was that? Or who was that? There was something. Someone. Inside there. Inside that smile. Or maybe he was just imagining.

“You look so different from how everyone describes you,” the boy remarked.

“How am I described?” Grief asked, pleased by the boy’s honesty.

Grief’s voice was so clear, not at all hoarse, as the boy had expected. But again, in the clear echo he could swear he heard two voices, smoothened perfectly above and around each other.

“Well, you are never described actually. Just mentioned. By every tongue. But, I’m confused…”

Grief looked with curiosity at the curious child,

“I’m confused about where you are and who you are. I thought you were in everyone’s heart, especially these days, and I searched for you in some of their hearts, but you were not there.”

Grief was listening, he saw, with serious intent,

“I know you are wondering, whose hearts did I search?”

He shook his head politely, and again he had to dismiss the feeling of seeing two identical heads,

“Oh! Then you must be wondering what I saw there? Actually, it was very dark.”

The boy broke into a small giggle.

“But I heard this sound that you hear when you put a hollow object against your ear.”

Grief smiled.

“So where were you then?” the boy asked suddenly, with a frown denting his otherwise perfect forehead.

Grief looked closely at the frown, at distinct lines of skin, and after slowly traversing each line, turned his eyes towards his, and began,

“I promise you, I will answer only one question, but I will answer that with all my strength.”

And when he said strength, he noticed, a part of him looked so weak.

“Please decide your question.”

The boy thought, decision. What should I do? Ask about where he lives? Or who he is? And he threw out the question,

Grief smiled because it was the question he still asked himself, and so he thought of sharing fragments of the answer, fragments of himself.

“Firstly, I go by two names. One you know, the second is Happiness.”

The boy laughed at the absurdity and Grief smiled again because a child’s laughter is always so contagious. And as Grief’s eyes widened politely, ever so slightly as they do during a sincere smile, the boy quickly searched them, and saw two other identical eyes staring back, with the same unfamiliar honesty. His laughter quickly turned into a smile before shrivelling into a frown.

“Please don’t frown. It’s not your fault you know us as two separate entities. Only a rare number of people know about how close both of us are. And hardly anyone has heard this from us.”

The frown disappeared, and curiosity returned, though a bit shaken from here and there.

“Now, please do us a favour. Close your eyes, and whatever we say, try to construct the words in a room of your min. Both of us will be speaking at random, you will have to guess who is who, although, you’ll eventually realise it’s a pointless activity.”

The boy closed his eyes and sat down upon a comfortable chair that had appeared, and in an instant, his mind was ready with an Hb 2 pencil standing upright in a room, glowing brilliantly with darkness.

“I give impetus to man to act.”

Seeing the mind’s pencil suspended, Grief remembered how children learned.

“I am the needle and the thread…”

The mind rapidly began drawing a long white thread and a needle, one with a soft but firm tongue.

“… that is used to sew up wounds. I am the pain that people feel when their wounds are freshly stitched. I am also the pleasure they feel when the wounds disappear. People usually associate me with death. And normally, they hardly know about death’s constant companion, life, and how death beautifies and surrounds it.”

Again he thought of the suspended pencil,

“If life is this empty canvas that we fill with the moistness of our tears and the colours of our efforts, then death is the light golden border of that infinite canvas, it is what seemingly constrains it, but in actuality, completes it. So, actually I am the ink that is used on the canvas and also the cloth that absorbs the ink. So, life and death are as closely related as happiness and I are.”

The mind somehow had a pen now, alongside the pencil, and began writing on a dark wall, pairs of opposite words; side by side, side by side. Light and dark, apart and together, answer and question, ancient and modern. Near and far. Loss and union. And finally, Grief and Happiness.

“And when death comes, we are there, every moment. But where? In the hearts of those who refuse to pinpoint the monsters responsible for the countless deaths? In the guts of those who stitch suits, cry elegantly and look forward to funerals? In those who stock their suits with money and pity, which they can shower, in full view, with a sober face? In those who can pen stories about the dead ones so their names could be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, just for a while, just for a very little while.”

The room was riddled with tongues, all carrying a small bobbing head.

“No, we cannot be there. We are in the tears absorbed by a child’s skin who has seen loss for the first time. We are in those hearts that stop in the remembrance of every death, knowing that ‘any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind’. And the media, it has played a big role in our absence. It continuously reports our presence everywhere because of how prevailing and frequent death is. But people here have forgotten to grieve. The hearts have become so cold, and without warmth, all bonds are as fickle as melting snow.”

A row of snow-mountains appeared, a strange sine wave, as if mountains cut with a childish knife, and a huge stern-looking sun exactly in the middle.

“The media appears today, as if they possess us. Politely, though, just by our throats. They drag us elegantly, in their headlines, their articles, their statuses, their tweets, here and there, just like the colonisers used to do in their utmost honesty and with their beautiful cringed noses. And honestly, we don’t mind being thrown or beaten, we cherish that. But not by strange hands, who know nothing of us. Not by those who constantly divide people based upon how much they can boost their fame. Not by those who appear the most sincere on the tragic day and the most indifferent the very next one.” 

The boy’s mind is intently listening, and for all the words spoken by Grief, merely draws a cringed nose with a small drip of blood, and in that drop, hangs a tiny universe.

“And please, this fame, that everyone is geared to strive for in schools and in workplaces, in their dreams and in their waking life, it’s like…”

The boy opened his eyes suddenly, and screamed,

“A firecracker!”

Grief laughed – a perfect smile, without a body

“Like a firecracker, delighting the world before disappearing as if it had never existed. So, we have to shy away from these hearts that seemingly appear full, but ring with such loud emptiness.”

There were pictures of bells, big and small, banging ever so softly into each other and ringing so silently.

(To be continued)

The next part will be published on Wednesday, January 28, 2015. 

Zain Murtaza Maken

Zain Murtaza Maken

A teaching fellow at Teach For Pakistan, he loves to write and read.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.