Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Real improv

It was 1985 and I was in kindergarten. I was the youngest in my family, much younger than my two elder brothers, so I was usually left to my own devices to entertain myself. One such evening I was dancing about the house to the tune inside my head when I waltzed into my brothers' bedroom where my father and second brother, then 13, were sitting on the large bed, talking to each other. They seemed to be having a real grown-up talk and were laughing.

No one ever included me in real conversations or took me seriously, and I was used to hovering around outside other people's interactions, watching and invisible. So I strolled up to my father and my brother and watched them not notice me as I stood in front of them. They seemed to be taking turns to talk and then laugh together.

Without warning, they noticed me. My father said, "Khadija, now you tell us a joke!"


I was stunned. I did not know how to handle this new feeling of being included in a conversation. I was mostly just talked about or at. Nobody ever really listened to what I had to say. I didn't even know what a joke was. I could talk in Urdu and in English, but what was a joke?

My father and brother, their faces relaxed from laughter and their eyes expectant of a joke (whatever that was) from me, looked at me, waiting. I had been caught unawares. But I was not going to let this chance go. And so I opened my mouth and said whatever came into my head:

"Once upon a time, you know, there was a clown. One day he went to this big building and he climbed up and up all the way to the top. Then he jumped off of the building and fell down and broke into hundreds of pieces."

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