The Kiss


By Maniza Naqvi

A puck planted on the right ear a pucch pressed in on the left. The sound still explosive in my head, I close my eyes as the full body search begins.

Arms stretched, legs apart, I assume the first step for the warrior pose. And now there lodged behind my eyes like an invisible stowaway Beyla’s kiss rings like a needling alarm, like a drill which draws a sharpened line, splitting my mind. Beyla’s bangles, white from wrist to shoulder, still jangle in my memory. I remember the sight of her skin cracked by searing sun as though it were ancient parchment covered in scripture and stretched over her bones: x-ray thin.

Stand still I am told. I shield myself inside that memory of bright sunlight, and shades of yellow, indigo, magenta and burnt earth. The kiss in my head undistilled, a discomfiting disturbance still. I think as I drift away: It’s a slim word. Still, a strong word. A good word. Even so. Even now. Quiet. Calm. Serene. Motion less. Breeze less. Yet. And so. Continuing. Continues.

Now, at the scanner machines I watch as the stuff sorter in a private security uniform wearing translucent disposable gloves, fishes out of my large handbag, a travel alarm clock, batteries, earphones tangled in so many keys— car, apartment and to the mailbox full of bills. An earring and a sheaf of papers appear next. A frangipani blossom, still moist, pressed inside a small black notebook flops out. There is a Spanish fan. She opens the fan, with both hands, unfurls it using her thumbs and sets it aside—painted geese against a dark blue sky—like the ones visiting Karachi from the frozen Siberia every winter. On the handle Espana painted in golden letters. A made in China, fan. I reach for the fan to show her how it’s done, the ratatat sudden sound of the unfurling, instant, with just one flick of my wrist—a trick I learned long ago in Manila, inflicts, in her, fear. Startled, she stops me—though I am done, “Don’t touch anything!” All I own—off limits to me, now weapons under her scrutiny and prying fingers—till she has judged them as benign; till her opinion has sterilized them; made them permissible to go on; all my stuff cleansed by a cleared and approved approver, till the next check point. She clucks her disapproval at the blossom—separates it out for disposal in a large trash bin which reminds me of the delete symbol on my email. In all this I give my head a vigorous shake, hoping to discard the ringing but it clings in there, undetected. She plucks up the imam zamin.

“What’s this?’

‘An imam zamin.”

‘A what?’

A talisman, like a good luck charm, you know to keep me safe on my journey.”

She raises her eyebrows, “What’s inside this knot in the center?”

“Small change,” I reply, “Meant to be given to a poor person at my final destination.”

She unrolls the silk ribbon—

I say, That’s not supposed to be opened till I get to where I'm going.”

She undoes the knot. She plucks out the money.

I protest, in my own way, “To open it, here that way. That’s bad luck.”

“For whom?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, “I guess we’ll see.”

She glances at me. Widening my eyes I stare back and shrug. Then I wait for her to say I can and only then I gather the stuff. Scattered on the stainless steel counter now under the bright lights of the airport each item separated and at a safe distance from the other, now changed now transformed now sanitized. Except for the kiss, its stays, unwanted, undetected.

“Please follow us to this room.”

Now made naked by a body scanner though here they say I am not I go through the motions again of arms up, legs apart. I keep my mind on Beyla in the desert in Badin. For whom, consumed with charity I had traveled long distances flown through several time zones, over an ocean, over whole mountain ranges covered in silvery snow, frozen lakes, atrophying rivers, blue gulfs, vast golden deserts, seas and countless wars. All that way and all that cost to come and verify Beyla for myself as a destitute. I meet her outside her mud hut. I step in to check whether in fact she has nothing. Inside her home, two rope beds, charpoys, with patchwork covers in red, black, orange, a clean dirt floor, a tin trunk under one bed, a plank running along the upper edge of the four walls—upon which are displayed shining tin plates, cups and pots. One wall is covered with posters of Benazir. Still. An airless, listless silence defined by the buzzing of flies, the slithering of geckos in the thatched roof overhead and her six children, gather around staring up at me. Five little thin girls, large eyes, two with runny noses, snot dribbling down to their chins, one with an infant brother straddling her boney hip.

My assessment complete, I step outside. Beyla has passed the test. She is indeed poor. I have decided I will approve the check. Do my bit.

The silence is interrupted from the wails of women somewhere nearby. I make polite inquiries about the provenance of the anguish. It is an ongoing funeral for someone killed while trespassing. A foreign oil drilling corporation in the area keeping everyone off and out of territory leased from the Government and shooting trespassers at sight — Natives of Badin are stealing into their own land naturally then, shots will be fired and people will be killed. As I leave, the headman for the village, the Mukhi, comes forward and in deference to my power refers to me as Sir, offers me a gift of sweets. I imagine Beyla spitting in my direction behind my back. I think I hear her swear—Chutiya—The children giggle. Then just as I am about to step into the jeep, my head is grabbed, hands clapped on either side of it and Beyla turns me around to face her. She plants a kiss on this ear and that. A gigantic puck sound on the right pushes in air a thunderous pucch on the other pushes air out. She grins and says, ‘ Go safely.’ And the ringing begins.

Now cleansed now cleared, my departure gate within my sight, I wonder if here there is a difference between Beyla and I. Now returning home from home; now passed the check points; now through the club lounge; now boarded and seated; now, neither here nor there; now up in the air: I am again in that no man’s space of lonely, of revelation, called jetlag. And now the self interrogation begins. The tintinitus growing louder by the hour. Did Beyla swear at me? Or was it directed at the Mukhi? Or at both of us? Who did she think I was there to support?

Now, I watch white sand beaches on a video on the back of a seat on the plane. I check my emails to see if all is well. I sit strapped in; IPOD in hand. The sound from it I’m hoping will drive out the commotion inside my head. I sit watching the water move in and out. The sun shimmers over it. The colors change. This place must be heaven in which I sit at a tilt and just watch. This must be the reward: for doing nothing. This sun; this beach; those perfect skins, those perfect smiles and those perfect teeth. This velocity without my energy. This lack of action at high speed. This must be the place that people leave home in search of.

Quiet. Calm. Serene. Motion less. Breeze less. Yet. And so. Continuing. Continues. Even so. Even now. Ringing in me, still.

More Writing by Maniza Naqvi (here)