When The Air Strikes

By Mariya Nadeem All Rights Reserved ©

Mystery / Adventure

Spoken word performance

2

My parents are journalists. I don’t know why there isn’t a better description of them. Sometimes they’re more journalists than the parents they are, and it’s not a bad thing, at all. They were colleagues before they were partners and I guess that explains their excellent compatibility. My mom is a professional photojournalist and dad is the senior editor of the newspaper they work for.

My last name is Battle, and no you’re not allowed to laugh.

It was going to be my first day performing spoken word poetry with the Somnambulists. I also had a math quiz lined up at school. “Math and poetry- they’re the same thing believe me. You play with words, you play with numbers. Everything’s a game.” my dad fails miserably at upping my game. “Why don’t you get me enrolled at a circus or the Homelessness Association? You play with fire, you play with misery.” I snap.

6:00 AM

Mr. Kevin lets the radio blare at full blast, because, “news is food for the soul,” while Mrs. Brooke brings down the house with her loud humming and I try to fit my left foot in a sock manufactured for the right foot, because it’s raining, and nobody cares what your footwear is like.

6:30 AM

Kevin and Brooke or Mr. and Mrs. Battle or mom and dad wish me luck for the day. Mum packs my sandwich and reassures that they’ll be in time for my spoken word performance. Dad smiles, nods his head a little, bites into his toast, winks at me and reads out loud from the newspaper, “Syria stable now.” Suddenly everybody’s full and nobody needs breakfast because we think of all the lies they feed us about stability. Nothing is stable.

6:56 AM

Mom and Dad drop me at the metro station, where I wait for Hanna and Luke to arrive.

7:01 AM

Mum and Dad have most certainly reached their press office. While Hanna, Luke and I, get into school. Luke presses his poem close to his thigh, I crumble mine in my sweaty palms and Hanna internally laughs at our nervousness.

10:30 AM

We finish answering our math quiz. I skip two proving questions from trigonometry.

1:30 PM

We leave school to get to my flat. There’s a mutual understanding in the silence that floats between us.

2:30 PM

With the same mutual understanding, Hanna finishes our group work. Luke says his poem out loud in front of the bathroom mirror, but I don’t register a single word in my head.

3:05 PM

Hanna and Luke get ready to leave; I don’t try and stop them.

4:00 PM

I’ve got my poem in my brain but it keeps leaking through the pores of my skin as I sweat in anxiety.

4:30 PM

I walk to the metro station, get myself a coffee and try making sense of the words in my head.

5:10 PM

Mom calls to check on me, and I can hear dad tearing through static. He’s saying something about the black shoes. I do not comprehend.

6:00 PM

I’m brushing my hair, when Hanna’s name flashes on my phone. Her message reads: we’re here. we’re going to walk to the place. any problem? i don’t really care cus the car’s down. are you alright? make it fast.

6:30 PM

We reach the end of the dimly lit road, lined on both the sides with posh villas. I manage to look out for a stone at the very last moment and trip over it. There’s a small lane at the end, where we turn to unexpectedly find a huge buzz. People strumming on guitars, people talking, people singing. At the entrance we buy the coupons from the café which turns into a wet proof of my anxiety engraved by the lines of my palm.

6:40 PM

The place is basically a backyard, a very highly upgraded backyard. Once, it must have housed a number of trees, few of which have been uprooted. However the rest are just cut, so that the large ones serve as tables and the smaller one as stools. The stage is lit, and Mathani- the co-founder of the Somnambulists, straightens her dress, and hoots over the mic, “Come on, grab a seat. We’re ready.” We sit at a comfortable distance from the stage- at the last.

7:00 pm

I wave at the photographer sitting near the stage- he’s a beginner, works in my parents’ office. “He is here to provide the local coverage,” Luke whispers breathlessly to us. This makes me even more nervous. I murderously mouth, “Thank you,” to Luke, and in that moment, I could have killed him. Now everyone at school would know about my performance- not that poetry is an uncool thing to be passionate about, or that I care about what’s cool. I run my hands down the cloth of my jeans in an attempt to dry them. My throat is parched and I can feel my alimentary canal closing in.

7:05

Things get just worse, when Mathani begins to speak. She is giving out the ethics of a poetry slam. And I get my hold around some words- click, fingers, respect. Mum and dad walk in, and they don’t want to be noticed- I don’t want them to be noticed. If people get to know of my parentage they will appreciate me for the things I am not, and my parents understand that. Mum and dad seat themselves behind us and sit so motionlessly that when Mathani calls my name at number four, I turn around very violently busting my head against my mom’s. My dad gives me thumbs up and a cheeky smile, and my mom smiles from behind the hair that is all over her face, as she hangs her head and rubs it.

7:15

I get up on the dice and everybody claps, and it makes me feel guilty. Why are you palms against each other? What if I mess up? There’s no redeeming of your energy? There is only one way I can stop the guilt from flowing all over in my blood, and that is by beginning. I don’t have a title for my poem so I just begin very gracelessly, and there is no way I will write down the poem here. Sharing it once was enough exhaustion and embarrassment.

7:20

During the course of the poem, I hear people click their fingers, tap their feet, nod their heads violently and at the end a huge chorus hooting takes over the place. It melts me. I don’t know what to make of my performance, guess I never will.

7:21

When I return back to my seat, I hear whimpers and assume mom is crying, but it’s too dark to tell. My dad is laughing and ruffling my hair when the photographer snaps his camera. The look on Hanna’s face is very tough to read. Her facial muscles are tightened at weird angles but I know it's because it has been hard for her to believe that I didn’t pass out through the whole performance. Luke looks stressed out and it’s not often that we get to see him in this state. It cracks me up.

7:30 PM

I realize that poetry is never good or bad, and not because you’re too modest or shy, to form an opinion about it but because, sometimes it touches your heart and sometimes it doesn’t. It is impossible to rate a poem.

7:40 PM

Luke is up. I’ve seen him perform before but he’s overly nervous today. The guy before Luke recited a poem about Enigmas, and he was comparatively short heighted. So Luke took some time adjusting the mice, his face turning a dark shade of red, every time that he failed. Finally somebody from the far left corner stands up and adjusts the microphone so it dangles right beneath his nose. He unconsciously runs his hand through his hair and begins:

‘DNA is the source information for making proteins in the cell. Each section of the DNA is called the gene. If this little gene decides to bloat or cripple, a new specie takes shape.

So don’t you give the world

the rotten one liners

about being too small to make

a difference.

Cause when you look up at the sky,

you lock the galaxies behind

your eyelids.

Cause when you’re not even anymore,

and the constellations in your eyes are dead,

the stardust that your bones are

find immortal places everywhere.

Each gene is present, not as a single long thread of DNA, but as broken pieces-each called a chromosome.

You’re the high rusted crimson cliff,

near the seashore,

every time life hits you

it takes in its wave, your fragments.

Now you breathe the salts of ocean

as pieces

in shades of blue, green and purples.

You don’t fear breaking.

Women have perfect chromosomes, but men have a mismatched pair. Booyah.

Now people say I

over-analyze and overreact to

the biological simplicity of genders.

(At this point someone from the audience whispers loudly, “It’s because you look like a doctor.” And for a second I zone out and realize how invalid that comment is. Luke looks nothing like a doctor.)

But my senses have been tired of ignoring-

when somewhere in the world,

a girl is robbed of her childhood

because she wasn’t worthy of adulthood;

a mother in a crowd grasps her

daughter before her son,

because after lullabies she whispers-

‘take care’ to the boy, and

‘be careful’ to another;

it is the same mother’s husband

who doesn’t meet the girl’s eyes

when he says, she could be anything,

but stares into the son’s soul

and carves, that

he, is everything;

a girl calls herself fat eleven times a day,

but wishes to shrink at night,

because that way it’ll be easy

to vanish into the air

when she gets off alone from the train.

I’m tired of being inert

so please tell me I’m overreacting

because

33000 child brides

1 million female infanticides

300 million harassed women

and still counting, annually,

have perfect pairs of chromosomes.

Most human chromosomes have a maternal and a paternal copy.

To the boy

whose family tree has photographs

of people he’s never seen;

To the girl,

who hides with her straight As

on the PTA day,

because daddy’s not coming

mom never will.

Ma. Mom. Mum. Mamma.

Pa. Dad. Daddy. Papa.

They’re not around you, maybe,

but they are, within, everywhere.

People say genetics is not poetry.

I say,

anything that can flow in bloods

is. ‘

This poem, for your information, is a result of a successful attempt to annoy Hanna and to make her realize that Biology is not just all the shit she hates. As Luke finishes, he bows his head down, examining his shoes, and for a few dreadful moments, nobody moves. Everything is still. Hanna and I look up, and an impending fear, like smoke, settles around Luke’s nose and ears, then the crowd suddenly begins to thunder, and Luke sighs. The smoke of insecurity locked within his smile.

8:00 PM

We have our dinner at the café after which people flock around mom and dad. Luke, Hanna and I, sheepishly move out, and sit on the footpath, huddled with pebbles. It is moderately cold, and the breeze moves down my spine and up my nose occasionally.

9:10 PM

We drop Luke and Hanna at their place.

10 PM

Mom, Dad and I watch TV. I fall asleep on the couch.

Sometime during the night PM/AM

I dream about doom’s day with malfunctioning gravity.

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