I can barely hear it over the squealing in my ears.
But I can see it: a twisted metal snail lurching into the station. It heaves and gives out in front of me, and as the train’s doors open there’s a brief reprieve. I’m clicking my fingers to occupy the silence.
Click. Click. Clic- SCHREAWWL.
It came from behind, and before I know it I’m jumping and yelping. Saeed suddenly grabs my shoulder and tries to whisper me calm.
‘It was just a jeep motor.’
But I’m already dizzy, already spinning and something is already twisting in my chest and I’m trying desperately to unknot it. I’m shaking hard and I need to find a way out of this train station. I need to escape but Saeed is restraining me.
‘Breathe in through the nose, a deep breath. And while you are doing this, count to five in your mind.’
I can’t listen to him.
One. Two. Three.
‘You’re not dying.’
‘Now hold it in your lungs. Then exhale through the mouth. You’re not dying my friend.’
Saeed makes sure I get home safely later. I keep clicking my fingers regardless, a nervous tic but practical in keeping the serpent demons in my ears from hissing. Home was always hopelessly quiet, and I basked in its serenity. Now I’ll do anything to disturb the peace, anything to divert my attention. Music, television. Song singing, pen clicking, table tapping. Anything but that ringing, ringing, ringing.
I retired to bed more restless than usual. I knew it’d be some hours before I got to sleep and even then it’d be fitful. There was a time I could think that putting a blanket over my head would stop most things. Once I could hear the crickets and the night birds, no longer. I’m naked meat now. I’m a reminder.
It was a wedding. Cousin Farah was farewelling some family in her beautiful red gharara. Half of the party under the marquee, others littered around basking in the morning light. The food before me surpassed anything I had seen before. I can just remember that catering, and that red gharara. Where was my sister Nadia? Father? It escapes me. All that’s left is the golden morning and the radiant red, a tinkling of glass and a collective voice of festivity. Then, there was awhistling from beyond. And then there was a ringing.
A thousand thoughts collide and I’m waking to catch the breath in my throat. I thought I heard dozens of voices in the lounge room or perhaps the kitchen. I walk out to find the house empty save for Mother. The rest was the hissing.
‘Saeed is outside.’
We ride our bikes down to the post office to check out the weekly American papers before getting to the station. Calvin & Hobbes always helped me when I was younger to pick up English. I can probably thank them for getting me into Lahore University. Next summer will be pretty daunting, but I heard it’s a beautiful city. I hope it has a night life loud enough.
Saeed finds the New Yorker, last fortnight’s edition.I try and avert my eyes. Later at the station Saeed pulls out the newspaper and I’m hopeless not to see the front page.Taxes and interest rates, Hollywood and internet memes. I feel the knot again, and the ringing. I need him to turn the page, the squealing is getting harder and my chest is making me faint.
‘What else is in there?’
Page 3. Page 5.
‘Turn faster Saeed.’
‘There, stop. Can you read it for me?’
I could not face it myself.
‘One Al Qaeda suspect allegedly killed name of Akram Baloch. Fourteen dead, twenty three wounded.’
‘Do they name any names Saeed?”
‘Well yes, Akram Baloch.’
‘No, Saeed, do they name any names?’
I’m feeling dizzy, I don’t have time to breathe, not this time.
‘I can’t see any, there’s not much here.’
My eyes are burning and I’m hopeless.
‘Can you name any names?’