Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Saddest Girl in the World

I recently came across this photo of mine from 2007. I was 26. I don't much remember my 20s, and I don't think about that time of my life too often because there is nothing to think about. I don't even look at any of my photographs from then, not that there are very many. It just seems like a long stretch - 10 years - of nothing. A badly-focussed poorly-exposed photograph that you don't even want to look at because you can't make anything out. A waste of film.

I was going back in time on all the photographs I've been tagged in on Facebook when I came across this one. It made me jump. It made me jerk away from the laptop screen. It made me pull my fingers away from the keyboard. It was the saddest girl I'd ever seen. Her sadness was overpowering. She was looking at me. And she had my face. And my clothes. And my costume jewellery. And my red purse. I liked that red purse. I even remember thinking back then that I looked really nice in this photo. But the first thing I saw now, 5 years later, was the weak smile and confused eyes. Despite the makeup and the hair and the bag.

The photo had been taken on my 2007 trip to New York. On that particular day I had been visiting cousins in Poughkeepsie, and they had taken me to a club in the evening. I hadn't really wanted to go. I had started finding clubs too noisy and too much of a bother. Clubs can be the loneliest places where you can stand there looking like a thousand bucks, surrounded by other beautiful looking people, the music from the loudspeakers making your ribcage vibrate like the glass of water from Jurassic Park or when a dog barks at you, and yet, and yet, and yet, all you are really conscious of is how your clothes just don't seem to fit you right and how your feet hurt in your party shoes and how your smallest toes will once again have no feeling in them for the next couple of days.

My life in those days was materially comfortable. I had a good job with a Big 4 firm, and I was financially independent, living all by myself in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In America. Where everybody wants to be. I had a nice car, a nice apartment, and a green card application on the way. I was supposed to be the picture of the happiest girl in the world.

I had been planning my trip to New York for months. I only got a certain number of holidays in the year, and I had to coordinate it very carefully. I never took any time off even when I was sick because I wanted to keep as many days as possible for my annual trip back home to Oman. I had been able to take off for a full 9 days to New York because of a national holiday + bookend weekends + minimal leave days. It was great! I needed it. I hated being in Tulsa. I had been there by then for 2.5 years, my life still the same as it had been when I had first moved there. It had felt like this was it. This was really it? But it felt so empty. I'd hated being in Tulsa so much that I'd started going to Oklahoma City (an hour-and-a-half away) over the weekend, just to have lunch or dinner. And the Big Apple was supposed to be the biggest meal of them all.

My parents in Oman had been furious about my trip. They had told me at the last minute that they had wanted me to go to Chicago instead where I would be taken to the Islamic Society of North America's convention to be paraded around in front of other single Muslims and their parents. But I had wanted to go to New York. Not only had they told me at the last minute but I didn't think they had the right to tell me how to use my precious holidays when I wanted to use a small portion of them to be with friends somewhere else where I wouldn't feel lonely. And I refused to be paraded around at some religious conference in front of the kind of people I despised. My parents had been furious. They had said a number of things to me over the phone which had hurt. They had asked me if I was chemically unbalanced, if there was some medical problem or physical deformity I was hiding that would be exposed if I got married. I was even asked if I was a lesbian.

No. I had just been living by myself in America for 10 years without any social support and wanted to use a small part of my holidays to visit my best friend from my school days who was the only person around whom I could drop my defenses without fear of attack.

My best friend lived in New York City, and all I ever talked to her about that whole trip was how I felt like I was supposed to be elsewhere, doing something else, helping people, I just didn't know how. A few hours later we had our palms read by a large Romanian woman dressed like a sweaty trucker in a soggy white tanktop and crushed shorts in the basement of a dirty building in a smelly street in the Village. She had charged us 5 dollars for her service. She had told me that I needed to be somewhere else. She had asked me what I did for a living. I had lied and told her that I was a writer. She had looked confused, shaken her head, and said, "well...whatever, you're supposed to be helping people." Two years later I visited another fortune teller on Gerard Street in Toronto, Canada. He'd looked at my palm and then given me a piercing look with one eye that seemed larger than the other. "I've seen hands like these before," he had said, "you have been hurt a lot, but you need to be helping people." What did that mean, why did people say that to me, why did I feel like that all the time too. Why didn't someone tell me. Was I supposed to change my occupation? Was I supposed to become a nun and move to Calcutta? Start med school in my late 20s? Start a non-profit? Start my own religion??

A number of people had remarked to me at various times in my 10 years in America that I had sad eyes. An old White man from Texas who'd lost his wife to Alzheimer's had even written a poem about my eyes. He had said that his wife had had dark hair and eyes like mine because she had had Native American blood in her. He had told me that he had pursued her to marry him for a very long time when they had been young, and that he had almost lost her to someone else, but that she had finally picked him. He had loved her like crazy, he had completely devoted himself to her. Now, after a lifetime, after her illness had made her forget him little by little over a long period of time, he had really lost her. He'd shared some of their old photographs with me. She had looked like a movie star from the 50s.

Khadija's Eyes
Joe Rigsby

The unfathomed depth of those dark, dark eyes,
The Poet would say ebony orbs.
What I see in those bottomless pools
could engulf my soul.
I stare unashamedly.
I see a deep sadness.
She smiles at me,
the sadness remains.
Her whole being smiles.
She makes the room glow.
There are no dark corners.
The glow penetrates
the recesses of my heart and soul.
I feel warm and full.
Peace flows to my innermost parts.
The emptiness is filled
by her presence.
The sweetness of her smile
washes away my bitterness.
I can laugh with her
despite the abyss between us.
She is not ashamed to call me her friend.

I knew I was a sad girl in those days, but I never really understood what people saw in my eyes. A boy I had liked in America had once told me that he hadn't liked looking into my eyes because he could see everything I was ever feeling in them. He had said this as he had turned away from me. I hadn't known what he had meant. I wanted someone to tell me what all these people were talking about. I wanted to shake everyone who said these things to me, tell me what you see, tell me properly, because I don't knowww, because I know I'm sad but I don't know what to doooo!! Tell meee!!


I spent a-year-and-a-half in Delhi recently, and I felt alive and bursting with life for the first time in years. I would feel happy, I would feel angry, I felt naughty, cheeky, outraged, afraid, jealous, delighted, guilty, humiliated, insulted, impish, turn by turn, rinse and repeat, but unable to rinse completely because the water supply was bad there. So many things that I hadn't felt in years. So fast. Like a computer booting up. Like the first time you get high and you think, heyyy, what is this new feeling, let me feel it some more, hand me another shot. A girl I had known there had later told me towards the end of my time in Delhi that something in my eyes had changed, that when I had first arrived in Delhi my eyes had been still and soft and slow and that now they were glinty and bright and twinkly and piercing and quick.

See for yourself.


Anonymous said...

You have pretty eyesssssssssss

Anonymous said...

Quite an evolution..eyes indeed are a window to the soul.

Sana said...

Girl with beautiful eyes, girl with eyes of pain, girl with eyes of hope, girl with eyes of stories untold, girl with eyes of wisdom, girl with eyes of triumph. Girl with a soul of depth.

Its been and is a pleasure knowing you Khadija. Thanks for sharing this. Thanks for your honest eyes that see the world as it is.

Khadija Ejaz said...

Much love, thank you for reading.