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Shortness of Breath

October had passed by in the blink of an eye, and I hadn’t lit up a single cigarette. This wasn’t strictly true, but the last time I had willingly inhaled smoke through my lungs was by the help of another’s hand. If you disregard the fact that I had smoked as a ruse to accompany a lonely man by the edge of a bench where nobody cared to sit, you thrust me into the role of a villain bent on my own destruction. The city of culture, art and centuries of history now covered in a thick blanket of smoke.

“Tis the season!” they proclaimed self-importantly nodding their heads with solemn expressions followed by a jab at the government, one or two directly at Imran Khan involving explicit terms that would make my grandmother take aim at me with her velvet indoor shoes, with at least two “facts” that had emerged on their collective WhatsApp statuses last night. They would then plan to leave the city for a conference or at least that is what they tell their wives, which would conveniently last a weekend spent conferring in arms they would publicly consider filthy and beneath them, but privately their only escape from unhappy matrimonies.

Who could blame them?

Men don’t need reasons to be disloyal to women and here they were presented with an excellent one. They would die in this city, like the rest of the dirty men on the streets with their bones jutting out from underneath their rags as they stared longingly at the bright lights of Anarkali with men competing for customers at diners. The atmosphere did not remain unmarred by the poison overhead.

Although they’d never admit it out loud, but who risks the death of their carnal needs when their senses had been dulled long ago, when their minds had succumbed to an early death? I couldn’t remember the last time I had wanted to live either. Stumbling from one day to the other had turned into walking through the days and then right before the final stage, I had reached a stillness, the days passing by like distant music from a long forgotten recurring dream which I’d seen for the first time in years but had recognized instantly.

I wouldn’t call it the end of my journey for there are more days to be lived, but at what cost, I ask myself. I dare not place my hand on the dirty window lest my own hands touch the dust I’d neglected to clean for weeks now.

The trees were probably swinging in the wind, from what I could make of it. The smog enveloped them too, the dark wisps reaching out as far as it could reach, almost like it had come alive by killing everything it touched. Feeling more reckless than I had before, I placed my hands on the glass and slid it aside, stepping out into the darkness.

There was an eerie silence to the roads. A car or two occasionally drove by, but for the most part, the canal remained silent, no shimmery reflection of light on the stagnant water. I couldn’t spot any nests either but as my eyes searched in vain for the birds who were probably dead by now, my lungs took in the horrifying air.

It was not air.

It was death that I breathed, if that is what my poor chest was doing. The instant coughing contributed to my stinging eyes, are tears burned at the corners. I vaguely recalled inhaling a cigarette that burnt my lips and made me cry until I laughed it off with the one person I called friend in that moment.

This was not the death I chose.

I swirled back towards the open entrance and slammed the glass slider shut behind me. Frantically gulping down water from a bottle I’d filled up two days ago, I knelt beside the bed. To my left lay the picture of my deceased mother, smiling unknowingly at the camera with her youngest underneath her arm trying to wrestle her way closer.

At least she hadn’t choked to her death like the rest of us would.

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