By Sonya Rehman
Inspired by Craigslists’ Missed Connections, I decided to pen my own. A purely fictitious ‘missed connection’ set in Lahore, Pakistan.
Here it is:
The rickshaw ride is bumpy. And wonderful. And silly. I have my battered Canon pressed close to my belly, my dupatta partially hiding it. I’m in a brightly-coloured metal box, driven by a placid-looking driver, hurtling through space. His driving skills are, questionable. But he is in control he says in an off-hand fashion when I squeak that we’re going a little too fast, sir.
I decide to shut up and make the most out of Sunday. It’s early October and the sky is so pretty, not that I can see it in this contraption, but its wintery haze has touched everything in lovely monsoon-y colours. Gray-blue brings out the green in the trees, the leaves, outlining buildings and homes like they’ve been cut out and pasted back for that 3-D effect.
He has driven so fast and so expertly, and I have run a marathon in my mind with my thoughts, that I balk when we pull up to the busy entrance of the Lahore Fort. I’m here. I make my way, weaving between pockets of young men in groups with sex in their eyes, big families with little ducklings with kohl in their eyes, and past sellers of plastic pretty things, mirrors, chips, channas, baubles…
You’ve begun to walk beside me, but I don’t mind. There’s a strange comfort in being in a stranger’s presence. Thankfully, you don’t look like a freak. I think. You have a camera too. So, score. You’re safe. I haven’t seen your face. But I can make out your outline from the corner of my eyes. You are weathered and kind. A little weary around the edges. That’s a good thing. There is no judgment in your silence. I can’t hear your mind. And I’m glad. I don’t want to know. For once.
We make our way up the steps to the mosque. The steps make me feel small, the mosque looming above, curving into my face, its view touching the tip of my nose.
I remove my khussas and hand them to the guy with a handlebar moustache. He takes them and offers me a damp token. You’re wearing old leather slippers. Your feet look clean. I wait for you at the entrance, not looking at you, away from you, draping my dupatta over my head. And then you’re here and we walk in.
The ground is cool and smooth beneath the feet. It feels nice and feral to be walking about without shoes. I miss a pool of spittle-paan by an inch.
I leave you for a while and start taking pictures. I want something different. Perhaps an angle of frescos, an offbeat frame of the prayer hall, a mood, a moment.
You’re playing by the rules and taking professional shots. I can tell by the way you’re posing, leaning over, bending, and nursing that massive bazooka-camera in your hands. I take a picture of my feet, focusing more on the marble pattern below my toes. This would make a good photo for Instagram I think. And then I feel very stupid all of a sudden and decide to walk to the other end of the hall.
But just then you’ve walked up and asked me for my camera. I can’t look at your face. I just can’t. You tell me to stay where I am and you bound back down the prayer hall’s steps and ask me to look away from the frame. And I do. You take an eternity. Fiddling with my camera, straining your neck. Click, click, click. Pause. Click. Pause. Pause. Pause. Click-click-clickity-click. Click.
I am uncomfortable. I haven’t felt pretty in a very long time. Perhaps because I never allowed myself the luxury of letting a compliment sink into my stomach, blossom and give me the tingles. I only took Abu’s compliments seriously because he’d utter them with such gentle conviction in his eyes that I couldn’t help but believe him. And in turn, believe in me.
You’ve handed me my camera. We walk down a faded maroon carpet, spread out endlessly. A man in a green, plastic prayer cap is rifling through an old copy of the Quran. The sun has peaked out nonchalantly from a pregnant cloud. Today is Sunday, but it could be any day of the week. It doesn’t matter.
We take a few more pictures. I take a few silly selfies of myself with the mosque in the background. For Instagram. Or Twitter. Or bloudy Facebook.
We walk down the steps in silent reverie while the shrieks and squeals of excitable children pepper the air.
Once at the bottom, I say thank you, looking at your feet. Thank you, for what. I’m not certain. But I feel compelled to acknowledge your presence, thank you for it. You laugh. Not very self-assuredly.
I walk away and then instinctively turn around, there you are, you’re still there…I see your face! My heart is racing.
The driver is sleeping in his seat. I clap my hands lightly and say Jee please, uth jaien please.
Many months have passed. Maybe a year. I’m in Abu’s darkroom. I’ve finally mustered up the courage to develop your photos.
My heart is so loud, like a drum. Because I’m looking at your photos.
I don’t think I’ve ever looked prettier.