I remember those trips to the masjid right around the corner from my house. It wasn’t a grand place, but it had what was needed: the holy books, the holy tasbeehs and sajdigaahs, prayer quarters, ablution areas, simpler meditation areas, open verandahs, spacious courtyards, and the moulvi I can never forget. I remember him using his small misvak stick to playfully hit us, whenever we pronounced Arabic not up to his standards; the touch of his hand on my back, patting me and massaging me under the loose scarf, encouraging me to read better?
I also remember the parking right outside the masjid. Nothing huge, just angled cars aong the street.I remember walking up to the masjid gate with my younger brother, dodging the ogling, smelly pathans lined up against the pan ridden masjid wall. Their stare pierced me right through my clothes; with half crooked smiles, scratching their balls and calling out on the ‘bachiyaan’ (urdu for young girls). I remember parking our bicycles by the walls and rushing inside.
I also remember the supermarket on our way to the masjid. It had a very Indian name, some Shankar or Prakaash. It had aisles and hidden aisles of hidden goodies. But it had not just that. I remember that short, plump sales man who always smiled at me when we entered. The rubber of the glass doors gave a shrill sound that echoed across the small store. I realized the immunity to reoccurring sounds at such a small age. The head of the salesman twisted every time the door made a sound. He would eagerly run up to us, shaking hands, giving us tight unnecessary hugs. I let him hold my hand to lead me to the sweet aisle the first few times. Slowly, I developed the habit of clutching a few dirhams in tightly clasped fists, to avoid his uncomfortable brash hands. But didn’t he still come, every time?
I also remember the guard of our apartment building complex. His cubicle was right next to the gates. I remember the air conditioner hitting me on the face every time he ran out to greet me as I passed by.The wisps of smoke from the cigarette in his hand always suffocated me when he came too close to give us sweets. I always wondered why. I was very young, but I remember feeling uncomfortable, so uncomfortable.
I also remember my paternal cousin who was staying in that extra room in our apartment. He had flown in from Pakistan, with hopes and dreams of earning big amounts of money. The only luggage he had was a single bag he carried on his shoulders when he walked out from the ‘Arrivals’ section at the airport. He had difficulty with English, I remember him sitting with me when my mother helped me with my homework, just skimming through my English text books. He repeated everything I said in that wonderful foreign language that made him feel so grand; and he did get better. It took some time, but he did get better. But what I also remember is my feeling of discomfort in his presence. I felt fear and helplessness. I remember him making me sit on his lap where I felt something taut under myself that made me want to cry and run. We had a desktop computer, bigger than anything you would come across now. I don’t know how he did it, but he downloaded videos of nude boys and nude girls making noises and clamped to each other in all possible positions, with the widest array of backdrops, from deserts to washrooms and swimming pools to bedrooms. He rubbed against me, played with me. I didn’t know what was happening, but I only remember trying to avoid him.
I’m just really trying to remember where it was that I had ever felt safe.