By Momtaza Mehri
Those days madrassa meant a room above the café. No chairs. Laughter and conspiracy. Sizzled fat to perfume the conversation of men too long in the tooth for niceties. They had no indoor voices. We would impersonate the shoulder pop of the Indian Ocean. A cypher perfected by the baton of the macalin’s stick ruler. Counting down until the break. Our ritual of grape juice boxes and contraband chocolate. We sat on our hind legs like the sun outside the dirty windows. Stained our front teeth with shaani and everything else as imported and pigmented as we were. Doomsday gossip. We swapped the coming signs. How we were taught the world would end. All the major and minor undoings. How the Hour would fall when Bedouins constructed the tallest buildings. We’d been to Dubai that one hot summer and seen this for our young selves. Drew parallels on each other’s palms. Signs like the blinking of years, winters that would feel like summers, the sun’s agonising rise from the west. Our bitten knuckles taut over lips. We wanted a glorious ending. We wanted a movie. We dreamed of a finale to freeze the blood. Each day we’d wake to someone’s world ending. As sure as milk froth and betrayal, we saw our parents and their parents take their cues from the planet and grow indifferent to their own bodies. Too young to understand hooded men balanced on boxes or poverty’s slick-talking jaw, we still knew. The world is a hang-nail. This conclusion drawn from the quantitative analysis of playground spite, imposed bed times and the terror of accidentally walking into our mothers’ silent sobs. Grief sprinkled like rice at a wedding. Born into and out of wandering. Collapse was our way of standing still. Is it selfish to want the world to feel your pain too? To blister the way you do? Forgive the children for their jagged dreams. Forgive those so young and so over it already. They do not mean what they say when they say they will play in the freshly turned soil of a split earth. They will tickle the Beast behind its perky ears. They will ride its back down down down into a land of worms and warmth. Into the only place that will receive them as esteemed guests. As homecoming. As family.
Momtaza Mehri is a poet and essayist based in London, UK.