I, of the Beholder
Murky Seattle Sun.
A few minutes later, towel in hand, watch someone run past me shouting, “A plane has crashed into the Twin Towers!”
An image of a small private plane, like a one-man Cessna with a single propeller losing control and accidentally flying into one of the buildings comes to mind.
As I stand there, looking at the television screen, I grimly realize that it is not a small private plane, like a one-man Cessna with a single propeller that has flown into one of the buildings. And then another plane – a commercial Boeing 767 – crashes into the second building.
My hair is still wet.
I am eating lunch when I see the second tower collapse on several television screens in the diner.
At night, as I am cutting across the park in the dark, I notice that the same people I used to be afraid of are afraid of me now, saying to me things like, “Hey man, I hope you don’t blow us up. You guys be dangerous. Stay away, man!”
These are strange days.
“Who are you?” “Where are you from?” “Are you a practising Muslim?” “Does the Koran tell you guys to kill anyone who is not a Muslim?” “Do you know any terrorists?” “Are you sorry for what happened?”
It’s November and I am sitting at a bar, a pint of Guinness in front of me, a pack of blue American Spirits and a black lighter. A white dude sits next to me and orders the same drink, pulls out the same pack of smokes, and the exact same lighter.
“You see?” he tells me and to anyone around us who would listen. “We are not so different!”
I wear my jacket and get out of my basement apartment. It is 3:15 AM. The cold air seeps in somehow and makes me shiver – it always does. I start my daily uphill climb, reaching the bakery at 4 AM. I open up the shop and start mixing and preparing different types of dough. The head baker will be here in an hour to start baking breakfast buns, croissants, bagels, doughnuts, and bread.
At 9 AM, my manager walks into the shop. He calls me to his office.
“I am really sorry, but we have to let you go.”
“Why? Did I mess up the dough? Do I take too many cigarette breaks?”
“No, nothing like that. I am afraid I can’t let you work here anymore because I’ve received several complaints from the regular customers. They are suspicious of you and think that having a br… err someone like you working in the kitchen means you can easily mix anthrax in the flour.”
“I am really sorry but we have to let you go.”
“Why? Did I mess up the orders? Was I rude to anyone? Is it because I drink too much beer from the tap?”
“No, nothing like that. I am afraid I can’t let you work here anymore because I’ve received several complaints from the regular customers. They are suspicious of you and think that your br… err someone like you is going to fly a plane into the Space Needle.
It’s June and I can hear the announcement over the public address system but I don’t know what she is saying. All airport announcements sound the same. I look down and see it says ‘Karachi’ on the boarding pass. I swallow. It leaves a sour taste, even after all the sugar and clarified butter.
I am 11 and it is the first time that I have travelled alone, all the way from Karachi to Fort Pierce – a small coastal town – in the state of Florida. My uncle – who married an American woman when he moved here in the 1970s – has just thrown me into the deep end of the pool and my 11-year old half-white, half-brown cousin is helping me learn how to swim.
I am 17 and sitting in a room somewhere in Florida, boys and girls pass a 5-foot bong around while Primus blares on the speakers. Just an hour ago I had put a blotter paper under my tongue and the lysergic acid diethylamide starts to kick in, in tune with Chris Cornell crooning on the stereo. I take a swig from the bottle of Corona Extra, as Tool blasts in the background.
“Can you light it?” a girl says, as she stands over the mouth of the bong. I light the lighter and hold the flame over the bowl. I hear gurgling sounds as the herbs pull the flame towards them. The girl inhales and bends over in a fit of coughs. She sits down next to me.
“Where are you from? You look exotic. Do you have monkeys and elephants in your backyard back home? Can you play the sitar? What’s the name of your country’s princess?”
I am 37 and not much has changed.
“Hey, how y’all doing?” the waitress asks my mom, my dad, and myself.
Everyone is all smiles.
I am sitting alone at a local brewery in Lakeland and having an IPA that has been brewed behind that wall in front of me. I can see the large drums that they brewed it in.
“What are you, yes specifically you, doing to stop this menace of radical Islamic terrorism?” “Do you sympathise with these beardies?” “Are you going to report if you see any suspicious activities in your community?” “You should do more.”
I am still 37 and I enter a bar in San Francisco.
“I’ll have the amber,” I say to the young girl behind the bar. She looks at me, lips pursed, eyes empty.
“Can I see your ID?”
“Sure,” I pull out my Ontario driver’s license. It makes me happy that she thinks I might still be younger than 21.
“I’m sorry but I can’t accept that,” she tosses my license on the counter. “You need to either have a California state ID or a passport.”
“But I am 37!” I laugh. “Surely you don’t need to see my ID to serve me.”
“I am sorry but rules are rules,” she dismisses me.
I walk out of the bar without a beer.
“Your parents are fine, as they have their green cards,” the security officer at the border tells me. “But we have a problem with you.”
I am standing inside a building at the US-Canadian border, my car parked filled with suitcases outside. I am going to the US to get married. My parents will stay with my sister in Virginia and then fly to Florida. I am going to drive down with my soon-to-be-wife after our wedding and we will drive back up to Canada in two weeks.
But none of this makes any sense to him.
“I am sorry but I can’t let you go through,” the man’s words don’t make any sense to me.
“Trump,” my mamoo says an hour later when I am back in Canada and sitting in his house. “All because of Trump.”
“It would have been nice to spend Thanksgiving with my sister,” I had said to the officer, as he led me back to my car.
“You know we do not celebrate that,” the officer had said. “We only have two holidays. Eid and…” He had made a knife gesture across his Moroccan throat… “Eid-ul-Adha.”
I am 38 and sitting alone at a bar near my home in Vaughan, Ontario, in Canada, playing with my wedding ring.
“Hello,” the lady behind the counter looks at me and smiles. “What will it be today?”