Memories from New York City, Chichicastenango and Amsterdam

by Haider Shahbaz

We want someone to whisper to us. But nobody does. And we get scared. There are sounds, faint sounds; they come from upstairs and downstairs, and some from the apartment next to us. And we wait for them to whisper to us. They will whisper, we know. From across the skin, across the wall, across the road, the city, the ocean, the wind and the sun they will whisper. So – we wait.

We do not like New York City. It feels, sometimes, as if it has no humans; only concrete and glass and plastic and fabric. Behind sunglasses and walls and windows and cars and clothes and books and earphones: who knows – who knows, if humans still exist. But it is that rare smile, a lingering stare, the confused question, the error so to say that gives it away. The little interactions we have: performances of our own consciousness.

There was consolation in that consciousness: to know that I can hurl myself in to these windows, blast this concrete to smithereens. I can run in to these brothels of human feelings they call shops and with every last breath in my lungs, shout. I can strip them naked and slap them and caress them and smell them. I can hold their hand, and if they want and if I want, we can go across the earth and see that the grass still grows, and flowers still bloom and dust still settles. I can walk up to someone and whisper in his ears, delicately, patiently: the messiah will not come, but I am here, and I will hold you and love you.


She told me she loved me. She didn’t know I was scared. She didn’t know I was afraid to be alone, always had been. She didn’t know the nightmare I kept having. Maybe, I keep telling myself, she didn’t know I was happy. She told me she loved me – again. There was no reason to say it twice. I would have forgotten the first one.

I and David are in Chichicastenango. We are in Guatemala. Here you can hear the dogs and the churches. Here, you can smell the soil and the rain. But the night itself is silent. It does not speak to me. Standing a top a rooftop, I think, once again, of the possibility of love. For the homeless and the travellers and the kafirs, there is only their own skin. And no one, no one at all, to save them from it. It creeps and tingles and drags. Sometimes, without you ever knowing, it wraps you inside like an air tight jar. It keeps out the words, the seasons, the kisses, the beliefs and the passions. All that is left are the pools of sadness, rotting inside, waiting to be let loose by your skin. Left are no cities to abandon, no parents to hate, no lovers to hurt, no travels to make and no harboured addictions. Just you and your mind and all the cruel memories hiding in its corners: etching away on infinite imaginary pages. Day in, day out. Day in, Day out.


And here, right here, you can smell half an ounce of weed we bought. And the shrooms. We smoke once we have enacted Shakespeare and worked meaningless jobs. We do not think, ever, why we are here in Amsterdam, alone, smoking weed.

In Amsterdam, we lost. Each was broken for his own reasons, for his own past. We smoked to forget. We forgot childhood and first loves and the memory of the womb. We forgot how to sleep; we forgot how to wake up. All that ever existed was a haze and a fluid and in it were time and space and god and other people – in it, were us: smiling and singing and dancing until we saw no else. Smoke was comfort and warmth and oblivion.

All day, we sat in front of a brothel made of red brick. It housed two prostitutes – always wearing the same clothes, urging with the same words, asking the same price. The routine was reassuring; it made us trust. We didn’t have to fear that they will change the next day. We sat there, smiling, never going inside and falling in love with humans that didn’t change. At night, we fucked different girls and thought of different ones. We didn’t talk about this but we knew; there are some things you do not share even with friends.