My Love for a City

White Space (2013)
White Space (2013)

This moonlit night, I made a long journey. A storm was on the horizon; a sadness crept up, the night I wasn’t prepared for. It would rain, I knew it. You see, connections hold us to places, strange and unexpected connections. If I’m lucky, you may wonder what holds me to Basel. I can write you a long story, I can write you a long truth, or I can lie to you. It’s true that the first day I was ever there, it rained. I walked along the Rhine, I seem destined to walk along the riverside. It calls me every time I’m in the city. Its vastness stops me in my tracks. Over the sunlit tops of factory spires, there are always clouds of smoke heading in the same direction. Such is the stability of Basel. It has held me into a solid state of reality and wiped the illusions from my eyes; the eyes in which I viewed the world. I never knew I would return to this city; I never knew I’d be connected to this city; I never knew I’d make my way back here in so many different ways; I wasn’t looking for anything but the openness of being away from my cloistered and suffocating existence; it was a time during which I had forgotten myself and I was only trying to find my way back.

So that first morning, I woke up early; I felt an excitement in my dried blood, an excitement that had left me entirely. You know those times in life when everything you have cared about is lying in a pile of ash in a shoe box you hid under your bed? Perhaps you don’t, I can see that it’s slightly specific. Nevertheless, that first morning, I was making my escape for a few hours. I won’t deny it, I was extremely vulnerable. I was like an open shell, you could reach in and pull out my heart, you could hurt me so easily; that’s the condition I was in; everything was so raw. So I dressed, I had my tea, I had some breakfast and I got in the train to this place, to Basel. My blood was starting to drum slightly; after so long, I had the space to just be myself, vulnerable or not. I remember getting off at SBB, the central station. I remember thinking hard about the direction I had to go in; knowing myself, my sense of direction is absolutely convoluted. I had to find the way, I didn’t want to be late on my first day. After so long, the bright sun was reflecting the mood of my mind; the wind was a little chilly but nothing more. But I made it, several twists and wrong turns, and I was there. In this green and white building, away from my reality back home; living my escape. It felt so good and so simple. That’s when I first met you. I remember, I wanted coffee and I didn’t know this place, and I was determined to be myself; outspoken and loud and free; I could talk to whoever I wanted to; this is one place where what haunted me couldn’t chase me. So I asked you, I recall, if I can find coffee somewhere in this place and you laughed. Out of all the rest, I just remember this first laugh. Was it my undoing? No, I wasn’t undone but I wanted to cry because I could feel life returning to something I thought had died within me. A spark, something, a reaction, some dregs of a lost magic. You see, when you love someone and they betray you, you question many things. But the worst is when you question yourself. These doubts, they circle around you, they echo again and again, they make you believe them, they make you believe in them, the lies, the reflection, the demons and the illusions. My personal thought demons, you see, I had them surrounding me when I first met you. But your laugh, your laugh broke through, just for a few seconds; clearing the mists of self-doubt and vulnerability, it broke through. How could you know? How could you expect to touch somebody this way? You can’t, how can you tell? You can’t. We don’t know how we may or may not influence people’s lives around us. And you certainly didn’t ask to do something like this, you certainly didn’t care, how could you? But you see, you did something.

After that, everyday, I had the courage to leave my bed. After that, every morning, I had the expectation of living my escape. After that, every second, I felt my power returning to me. After that, every moment, I gathered some strength, some remnants of faith I had lost along the way, the ones that were beaten out of me. After that, a new reality began to emerge, a new bravery, a new force. How could you tell you were the undoing of what I wanted to feel so badly? You couldn’t. But this story is about me, it’s about me. Your words, simple, little; your presence, silent but overwhelming; this was what I felt, this wasn’t something you intended, this wasn’t something you even knew. But drowning people grasp at straws… I had to live for something again, I had to live for someone again or I wouldn’t live at all. I wanted to feel strong so I borrowed your strength, I borrowed you for my one escape where monsters couldn’t chase me. There was no connection,there were no links, there were no bridges connecting Basel and my demons. When I was there, those 2 weeks, they were blissful. The clouds were so far away, I knew I was safe, I couldn’t see the demons, I couldn’t see the darkness, I couldn’t smell the fear, I couldn’t despair, I wouldn’t despair, I walked and walked and walked into you every morning. I needed something, I needed your illusion to keep me going; I needed it, and it kept me walking, it kept me going on.

For me, this is Basel. This is the place, these are the moments, this is the eulogy, this is the speech, this is the aftermath, these are the fallen leaves, embedded with memories of a sunlight chasing away my demons and reminding me of laughter. For me, you are Basel.

Freiburg, a montage

The Train to Nowhere (2012)
The Train to Nowhere (2012)

I took the night train to nowhere. And I arrived in Freiburg, the city I came to, the place that lived in my dreams. The first time I set foot in this town in the middle of the Black Forest, I got lost on my way between the University and the Hauptbahnof (central station). They are less than a kilometer away from each other. It was my first landing in Europe, my first day in a new world. From Lahore, where I never walked, where I couldn’t walk; everywhere I went, I drove. Where the heat was too much, the people even more and the world different in its entirety. But now, I was here. Dear old Freiburg… If you were my love, I’d tell you I miss you. They said I would and I didn’t believe them. The last day I was there, the sky gleamed gold like the hilt of a royal sword. It was a clear, gleaming gold; in it reflected every single day I had spent in this place; in it reflected every memory, tiresome, old, lover-like, happy, wicked, sorrowful and joyous- in it reflected every single day of my life so far. For a moment, as I walked on the trails I will now remember forever, for this moment I thought it was a dream. And I was afraid I’d wake up.

That night by the lake, when the fireworks lit up the sky like a thousand fairies; walking in the tall grass, drunk, stumbling and laughing; those days, when summer had started to whisper sweet words of hope; the cool evenings; bulbs illuminating the graveled streets; the footfalls as we ran after the trams before the last ones left. Those were the footsteps of my freedom; it was my dance in the rain; it was the first glimpse into a new world of magic I couldn’t predict would affect me this way. It was the expression of my belonging; it was the start of a life I never thought I’d have.

A smell of coal and fire hangs in the air even now. Summer is approaching in Freiburg; people litter the streets, in their shorts, their caps, their backpacks. Some are casual walkers, some are climbers. The children run, trailing their little wooden boats in the Bächle (canals) behind them. The world is different when I look at it from the top of the Schlossberg; Freiburg shines and glimmers and beckons. The Münster watches over everything; the homes with their wooden windowsills; the shops with their hustle and bustle; the old facade standing proud, right where it belongs, at the center of everything, in the middle, like a throbbing and pulsing heart, giving power to all surrounding it.

An Island (2013)
An Island (2013)

In the morning I leave, like many do. Freiburg’s always been like a train station, the station where you get off only to take the next train. Life takes you places; you arrive in Freiburg and everything is a bit of magic, a bit of luck. You make friends and these friends become your family. You make a home for a couple of years; you learn to live, you learn to love; you work hard and you take your happiness and grief in stride; things change, they always do and time is but one step forward in the steps of life. And the ones who come after me, and the ones who stayed behind, I will tell them all how much I miss it.

of stillness and dreams

Dreamscape (2015)
Dreamscape (2015)

It was a festival of lights, of laughter. It was a celebration of friendship, of love. It was where the lovers met and the crowds cheered. There was smoke and there was fire. There was an onslaught of cold wind but no one gave up. There were echoes in the arena, there were blasts and bangs and booms. The lights popped and flashed. There were drinks and long walks. It was easy to hide among those people. I was nobody, lost in a reality I didn’t wholly own. Behind that laughter, there were tears. Behind the cheering faces, there was truth and the truth was sadness, the truth was loneliness. On the journey on a stolen pathway, there was no one, there was emptiness.

A foreboding sky hung in its entirety, threatening a storm, threatening rain. People began to disappear, one by one, the crowd grew thin. The rides were rolled away, the stalls closed down, lights went out, slow and steady; one, two, three… Then all. A darkness descended. The sounds of the storm grew louder, the lightning glowed from afar, the shadows thickened. It didn’t last but it ended; the laughter only ghostly, only in my memory. Everything stopped. Trapped in time, I stood while everything went still around me. It was yesterday and it was today. No time ruled here, no hours passed. There was stillness as the images flashed and burned; opening and closing; rushing in and rushing out. It was only alive in my dreams, and the rest was gone; time had frozen and the rest was gone.

The Makings of Secrets and Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand Smoke (2015)
Secondhand Smoke (2015)

There are some confessions you just can’t make, not even to people you hide from behind fake names and thousands of miles of land and sea. Neil Gaiman wrote;

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life…You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like ‘maybe we should be just friends’ turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.
The Sandman, Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones

You’d think it was a normal day, right? You wake up, ready to go; the sun is shining, there’s a nice breeze; everything is everyday-like. You don’t know it yet but you walk right into this trap fate has set for you. You’d think it wouldn’t feel this way every single damn time; love is a nasty business. It’s always a nasty business and it never changes, no matter how old you are; there is just never any preparation; you don’t stand a chance. Fate sees to that. There are so many people in this world; so many things they do every day around you; yet this light shines around just one of them. You’re going about your business, doing your thing; and this one thing just keeps intruding into your thoughts. It’s like a gate you just can’t keep barred shut, no matter how hard you try. It’s like the cracks underneath the door that let the light seep in, slowly and surely. It seeps in, seeps in your thoughts, seeps in your day, seeps in your heart; it seeps into the very depths of your soul and it takes over. It binds you and there’s no escaping it; none.

It’s a conversation I’ve had with myself so often. You’d think you asked for it; no, you never did. It’s a series of normal-day events, that take place in such a delusional reality that everything is twisted around you. You listen, touch, hear and feel like normal people but your mind is already enslaved. And through what? You have one conversation; hell, you could even just only talk about the weather and yet, your heart jumps higher in your chest; your breath comes out a little fast; what’s happened? Nothing special; he may just have laughed; he may just have been himself and yet here you are. At his feet. Yes, it’s a nasty business full of a bone deep hurting; full of a longing you know is misplaced; full of feelings that have no place being there; full of the sounds of the day you know you’d never live; full of the darkness that drowns you as you try to reach for that light; it’s full of this smoke; uncertainty; no clarity; a gravity that pulls you in until you’re no longer there.

You see the best in people; you see the best in this paragon you’ve assumed exists. But you really see it, you believe it. It’s what love teaches you every damn time; every damn time. People do not need to be put on pedestals; people are just that, people. And people will always disappoint you, that’s just it; without meaning to, without thinking. It’s inevitable, it just is.