Mahrukh Murad

Until a few months ago, if someone had asked me which historic event would I want to witness first-hand I would have said, ‘The fall of the Berlin Wall 1989.’

Why is that you ask?

Sumaira, a childhood friend of mine, became a victim of child marriage at thirteen. I met her after five years of separation. Her familiar face retained its warmth and childish charm. But her smile had changed. It had become careful as if her muscles now have to think before stretching. Memories rushed back with ease. The dolls we played with. The evenings we spent chasing each other around. While talking, we tiptoed around each other’s life, unaware of how to navigate the boundaries that have sprung up. Despite being near, I felt a tangible distance between us. She had changed so much that I could barely recognize her. The change in her dialect.Her malnourished body with signs of poverty showing through. There was an alienation between us that neither was able to mask.

I imagine that such complexities of uprooted relationships must have existed within Berlin in 1989. I wished to observe the tangible descent of fear as the Berlin Wall was demolished and the first embrace between relatives who were separated as children but reunited as adults. I wondered how those divided by the Berlin Wall dealt with the sentiment of familiar strangeness that accompanies knowing the person but not knowing who they had become. I wanted to understand how reuniting relatives reformed bonds after decades of separation. How did they combat the fear of being ripped apart from each other again? Did they simply catapult themselves into a conversation or was it an awkward exercise of small talk?

In my time in Berlin, I would have looked for the presence of cracks left by estrangement from family and friends. And how exactly did the German people fill them? How were awkward silences and unexpected pauses resumed?

But today, my answer is different. I no longer wish to travel to the past. Because I see the frustration of isolated Berliners reflected in each human interaction I have. COVID-19 has made the entire world retreat into their homes. I do not need to look at Berlin or even Kashmir to know what happens when people are restrained. I see my family move around our house, each member in search of a new purpose. However, due to the close and extended proximity of family members, the itch to argue hangs in the air before one of us decides to use our time to fight aimlessness in a more productive way.

Paranoia is taking over even as we wash and sanitize, disinfect, and decontaminate. It is becoming harder to concentrate on intricate movie plots and improving skincare routines. But being resentful over school being cancelled, having time to waste, and clothes to arrange is a luxury. Especially, when living in a third world county where a two-week lockdown has starved the poor, imprisoned victims of domestic violence with their abusers, and forced millions of workers to sit home.

Time stretches in front of me, as morning blends into the evening before giving way to the dark. I am aware of what I should be doing, helping in the ways I can, and yet all I think about is how I am homesick even while I sit at home. I am homesick for a time when hugging friends was easy, using sanitizers was encouraged but not enforced, when supermarkets were stocked and people were not panic buying.

I hope, we too like the Berliners, can once again flock the streets without fear, greet our friends and family with hugs and handshakes, and claim back our stolen time.

- The writer is a student of A-Levels at Lahore Grammar School.