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Ashes Embedded into Flesh

I trudged through the streets; backpack heavy on my shoulders with the weight of the memories it carried inside of it. If I were less human yet showed myself more kindness, I would’ve gotten rid of it ages ago, but here I was, walking about the small, cramped streets of Anarkali. How had it come to this?

It had been years since the last time I’d stepped through the marketplace with all the thrift stores. Bargaining at the stores for a cheaper price was the only way I could afford to fulfill my corporate aesthetic. I’d loved wearing those second hand suits that I would get dry cleaned in 300 rupees at a place in Ichra. The journey between Anarkali and Ichra used to be one filled with excitement. Where, then, among those roads had I lost my way? Why couldn’t I hear my own heartbeat over the ruckus of the rickshaw and the qawwali the rickshaw wala was playing anymore?

I did not look like myself anymore. The years had pressed me deeper into my skin. If I’d thought the dark circles during finals week inside the red brick architecture of my university had looked horrific, I clearly hadn’t counted on growing old all alone. Perhaps, it was loneliness that had killed me more than any philosophy exam ever had. Besides, I was never made for philosophy. I cared less for the metaphysical and more for the current and political. It was this fascination to politicize myself that had resulted in that tragic day.

If I had paid any attention to relieving myself of the burden I shouldered, a burden I’d been told was not mine to carry in the first place, perhaps I wouldn’t look more of a ghost than the people who haunted my daydreams and night terrors. Why was it, that even in death they would not leave me alone?

Maybe I didn’t really want them to.

It was a birthday celebration. We were drunk on our youth, on the vast possibilities that had ben offered to us by life and those that were yet to be explored. Some of us were in love and others in love with the idea of life. In those few moments, we were younger than we had ever been and would be. A few days ago, I became older than all the people who perished in the fire that had been set for us.

It had shattered me all over again, the ripe old age of being 24, older than the eldest of us when we’d met our collective gods. I, the intended target was the sole survivor of the attack. They’d shut us in, smoked us until we’d clasped at the fumes and then at each other. Had we known we would meet our fates that day, we might have held each other a little tighter, laughed a little louder and given each other more love than we ever had before. I had been the first to be rescued, closest to the firefighters.

Paralyzed, I stood in front of the burnt diner. Someone had once told me I would die with the fear of two things; losing the ones I loved and fire. I had been dismissive of the fortune teller. Perhaps, someone had made a cruel joke of my childhood reflections to teach me a lesson. None of it mattered. I was here and they were not.

The air tasted like burnt flesh and wood once again.

I did nothing but die.

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