It’s nine already. You have three and a half hours today – to do anything, be anyone.

You haven’t moved, even when Shahryar walked out, his brows dangerously close. You have been staring at your unmade bed, the soft bum in the middle, where Afaan, your youngest had slept the night before. Caressing your hands over it, you breathe in the memory of him, cherishing his existence in a way you couldn’t at night, when his bony knee nudged at your chest and his scrawny legs kept finding a way on top of you. The door banging, Shahryar storming out, muttering under his breath, the night hadn’t been peaceful, hadn’t been in a long time. 

Your eyes move towards the half opened drawer on your dresser, your daughter’s neon orange barrette sneaking its way out, a deep contrast to the somber, coffee colored dresser, triggering your OCD. Letting out a breath, you finally rise from the bed. But Afaan’s wayward Lego pricks at your foot. Fuck, you gasp, but it’s barely audible. You give out a short wail, to let it out, three hours of letting it all out. You are alone, no one can hear you, time to stop pretending. But you have been pretending for so long, at times you don’t know how not to.

You take refuge under the blanket, too tired to even stand up. Maybe today is the day, you think, but deep down you know it will always remain a dream.  Grow up! Enough of this nonsense, Shahryar’s words ring in your head. You don’t bother to wipe away the tears.

You close your eyes. Afaan’s face, Sania’s eyes stare back at you.  Stop thinking about your kids, you chide yourself.

Pressing your fingers over your moist eyes you try again. Where will you go today? What will you conquer today? Your first book launch. Cameras clicking. Smiles everywhere. Kids by your side. Ahh kids. They have started creeping in your alone time too.

This is my time, you cry out. Your voice rising with each breath, until you are screaming at the walls, your voice trembling through them, chastising them for their apathy. You feel a little better. You bury your head inside your pillow, sinking inside the bed, inside your dreams.

This time you see him gazing back at you, guilt pouring out of his brown eyes. It’s been a while and you thought you had finally erased his existence from your memories. But some memories reside within you, silent, buried deep within, until the strong winds of grief forces them to the top. And then all you can think about is him and the past. You pinch yourself back to the present.

You walk towards your desk and open your laptop.  It’s been fifteen years. When will he stop invading your dreams, you worry. You stalk him on social media. You scroll through the political posts until a post about his dog catches your eyes. You never knew he was a dog person.  You stare at his picture. His forehead seems to have gained a few inches, and his face has more facial hair then you can remember. Time has changed him. You wonder what he will think if he saw you now.

But his eyes have the same spark that lights up as he snuggles with his dog. It’s a golden retriever. You recall how you once had dreamt about having one of your own. Had you shared the dream with him, you wonder.

Your heart sinks when you find a picture of him with another woman. His wife? A scroll through the congratulatory comments confirm it. It’s from two years ago. So he tied the knot, you smile wryly. So much for waiting forever. You snap the laptop shut, grab your keys and head out.

The sun scorches your right cheek. It’s too hot for a drive but you do not trust yourself to be alone in the house, alone with his memories. Even mundane grocery shopping is better. Fill your mind with the humdrum of an ordinary life so that there is no place for him.

You walk through the aisles picking up cereals, coffee, chips until you are forced to stop in the juice aisle.

Country pine. You can’t believe it. It was his favourite.

Try it, he had said. I don’t like sweet drinks, you had replied. It’s the best cure for Lahore heat, he had urged on. He had been right. The moment the sweet coolness had trickled down your trachea, the intense heat dissipated and for the first time you could breathe without the hot air bearing down on you. Lahore summer had become bearable – Country Pine and him.

Extending your index finger, you touch it softly to make sure it’s there, that you are not in a dream, not trusting your eyes. The touch forces you back, as if you are struck by lightning. It’s real, and so is his memory. The one memory you cannot escape, even after so many years. Leaving the grocery cart in the middle of the aisle, your run away from him or towards him?

You’re back home, an ache throbbing inside your chest.

You open old boxes. Throw out the contents, not bothering with the mess. You have time to clean up before Shahryar comes home. Your remove old sheets, cobwebs sliding onto you. Rummaging through old newspapers, disintegrated cardboard boxes, your hands have blackened in the process. One box after another is a disappointment. Did you throw them, out? Your heart sinks, and then you remember.

From behind the old rusty tricycle, hidden beneath layers of old clothes, you drag out the metal box. You flip throw the contents, until you find the one. Your younger self stares back at you, a different you. 

And there he is. In his newly shaven face. How you had teased him about his chicken face, and his face had reddened at you taunts. Your close your eyes, regretting the mean impulse you could be capable of back then. Was that why he had given up waiting, you wonder.

A tear drops and covers his face, blurring his contours. You hadn’t realized you had been crying. You slam shut the old album and lie down on the dusty floor. The stale smell and dirt has made you lightheaded. 

You are sixteen. Ink stain on your fingers and on his white shirt. Your eyes beaming, while his face is set in a grimace. And then he too breaks out laughing, incapable of staying mad at you for long. You want to go back, when all you were responsible for was your happiness. No husband, no kids. Just you, him and your dreams, the future a beacon of endless possibilities.  

Your alarm wakes you up. It’s already one. You need to leave in ten minutes to pick up the kids. You jam the albums back into the box and wrap it with tape, dragging it back to its place behind the old bicycle, lost under the sea of old clothes.

It’s time to snap out of it, back to the present of choking mundanity. 

Pausing besides the mirror in the foyer, you gawk at your puffy eyes. Reaching for your concealer, you dab your eyes with it. Next you spray on the hydrating spray, slap on a bit of pink gloss. Fixing your face with a smile you walk out the door. Time to pretend again. A smile lights up your face.

Artwork by: Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash