1971. You are born. It is Pakistan, and it is hot. Ceiling fans hum overhead in the small, cramped rooms and small, cramped corridors of a small, cramped hospital. There is a war on. Move, they say, we need storage space for the dead. Spend a week in the home basement while outside planes swoop and weave in the sky. Someone sings you to sleep, an androgynous croon.
1975 is just like 1974.
1979. Riots in the street. At school, a girl tells you a ghost story and you believe it. Gummy worms snake out of stumped arms in your dreams. Next day, refuse to go to school. Lie, say you miss your mother. Realize right away it would have been better to have just told the truth, mama’s boy.
1983. Move, Karachi to Kansas with your father after your mother disappears – supposedly there’s been a plane crash. Your new town is all strip clubs and churches, the geometry of sweaty desire bisected by loud faith. Later, you learn she is still alive and living in Amsterdam under an assumed identity. At school they have a hard time with your name. Your father, of course, is a liar, but your mother is crazy.
1987. First kiss, at dusk, leaning up against the crumbling white brick wall of a café known for loose meat sandwiches. She can’t pronounce your name either. Don’t care. Your father has found religion. Arguments ensue. Your mother shows up. Legalese ensues. You hang out with others displaced, others dispossessed, drift into the second kiss. Then the third. Every time you look into someone’s eyes you feel empty.
1991. Don’t go home for Thanksgiving. Get money wired to you for a root canal and spend it on a flight to Amsterdam. One night, lose your virginity to a prostitute. Like you, she is from someplace via someplace. Your bicuspids, once sturdy, start to hurt.
1995. Get a job.
1999. Go back to Amsterdam. Take money from dad’s wrongful death settlement, invest in a bar called Café Kansas. It is big and made of brick, which reminds you of both a church in Kansas and of your mother. In 2006, all potential immigrants of Pakistani origin will have to demonstrate fluency in Dutch. Lucky for you this is 1999.
2003. They mispronounce your name.
2007. There is a woman. The color of your skin turns her on. The color of her skin turns you on. She has firm breasts and sings unfamiliar songs in unfamiliar languages in bed before the lights go out. A ceiling fan whirs. The woman has a husband with powerful arms. You have an upset stomach. He works construction. You do yoga. Find yourself in an unfinished construction site suspended from a great height, the wind slipping through the hollow cavity of your body in great furious swoops. As you fall, imagine yourself swooping and weaving. When you drop, think nosebleed. Below, concrete closes hungry, like an unexpected lover.
There is no 2011.
Secret Americas features writing about images from the U.S. National Archives.
Image via Flickr – Wonderland Arcade, 1200 Grand Ave. Kansas City, Missouri, 1968, National Archives and Records Administration.
Imad Rahman is the author of I Dream Of Microwaves, a book of connected stories. His stories have appeared in One Story, Gulf Coast, The Fairy Tale Review, Willow Springs and Chelsea, amongst others, and in the anthology xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths. He currently teaches creative writing at Cleveland State University.