There are certain instances when life seems to hit the pause button: all that is significant becomes background noise and all else that would not generally catch our attention in normal circumstances becomes the focus of our attention. We wonder how and why we had never noticed this before.
Sometimes such visuals shake us up and stick to our minds for a long time. I have been struggling with one. It comes and goes. There is a beggar on Lahore’s Mall Road — a girl not more than 8 years of age, with the most beautiful eyes. I could never tell exactly what colour they were but they would shine like crystals in the sunlight. She would often stop by my car window and look at me without saying a word and I would mostly look away and drive off. Once, I gave her some change that I had and we exchanged a smile but neither one of us said anything.
For a few days, for some reason that I cannot remember exactly, I changed my route to work and did not see her. When finally I took the same route again, someone caught my eye. It was a boy, about her age, in a dirty grey shalwar kurta, stopping by cars to beg for money. I went back to tuning the car radio when suddenly I felt like I was being looked at. I looked up to see who it was. It was her. I remembered those eyes but they were dull this time. I could not look away. Not only was she wearing a grey shalwar kurta intended to be worn by a boy but her hair was short enough to make her look like one.
She looked at me questioningly, as if asking me whether I still recognised who she was. I did not have the courage to ask her what had happened to her. So I pretended I didn’t notice anything and shoved the disturbing visual as far back into my mind as I could, driving off to get back to my life.
But it’s been haunting me ever since, and surfaces periodically. My mind can only come up with frightening explanations as to what might have happened. I’ve kept an eye out for her since, but haven’t been able to spot her yet.
There’s another one — a boy that I have seen growing up. He has been selling newspapers at the main entrance of DHA. I’ve seen the sparkle in his eyes dull over time. I still remember him from the time when he was that girl’s age — a dark, chubby boy with hair parted in the centre. He would excitedly run up to my car and show me all the newspapers he was carrying, smiling all the while, waiting for me to make a purchase.
I still see him very often; he’s a lot older now, fatter than before, his eyes devoid of any emotion. He rarely makes an effort to come to potential customers and if he does, he moves very slowly towards the car as if saving you the embarrassment of not making a purchase.
But he recognises me. And, he pauses there and then. It is an acknowledgment in a way of the different trajectories that we have taken growing up: I, in my car, driving off first to school and then to my workplace, and him, on the road to God knows where.
Perhaps, partially on purpose, I forget these things when I get back to ‘real’ life and tuck them away in a corner of my mind where they won’t trouble me until something reminds me of these visuals again — something seemingly insignificant that I had failed to notice before.