“I’m coming home. There’s too much noise here.”
That was it. Short and concise. He didn’t wait for a reply. He had lived outside of Pakistan for 7 years now in one of the Gulf states. He’d been around his home town in Karachi, but the nature of his job – that of a human drug mule – had made him quite desirable to the police and other aspiring gangsters of the region. He was extremely sought after, like a guaranteed stock in an increasingly volatile stock market. And if you were from the part of Karachi he was from, you’d know how valuable a good stock is in the market.
His loyalties, however, stood with Amjad bhai. Amjad bhai had taken care of him ever since his school days, since his first hit of the local chars, supplied by the local school dealer – Amjad bhai – at the age of 12, he was hooked for good. Fast forward to the age of 16 and Amjad bhai and he himself were the suppliers of his whole district.
Amjad bhai had big plans; a true entrepreneur of the mohajir nature, Amjad bhai wanted to take his chars business global, to the place where most of the Pakistanis who now lived there called home: the Gulf. Who better to trust his global business to than the little boy whom he had raised since the age of 12?
“I’m sending you to the Gulf. You’ll run the business from there. I’ll take care of things back home. I don’t want to be far away from the supply. These madarchods can’t be trusted. There isn’t a faithful bone in even one of them. Where is the deen and iman of the faithful muslim nowadays?” Amjad bhai asked.
“What difference does it make to you? It’s over there and there and there” Amjad bhai pointed aimlessly. “It’s everywhere. The Gulf is just a place where we go to have a better life. That’s all you need to know. And I’m sending you there because you are like a son to me” he said.
Like a son to me, he giggled at the irony. For some reason this wasn’t very reassuring. Amjad bhai had an abundance of progeny that he didn’t care much for. If he was just like the others, it wasn’t very reassuring. It didn’t matter to him personally. He had been orphaned at an early age, survived by no siblings and introverted so that the only friend he ever made was Bashir, one of Amjad bhai’s sons.
The only reason he accompanied Amjad bhai was because he had nothing of worth in this world. The drug dealing job made him friends, although he knew their loyalties lay in the price and quality that he provided. But it was better than nothing. He wasn’t one to complain.
The first few months were tough. People had warned him about the cultural differences, the language barriers and the inhospitable nature of the Sheikh’s of the Gulf. These warnings, he would come to the conclusion after a few months, were by those who had never actually visited the Gulf and had only heard stories. In reality, the Gulf was full of desi people trying to make a living, to the point that sighting and interacting with a local was a rarity, not accorded to an expat daily.
What did form the rumors of the incipient stages of living in the Gulf was the weather and the loneliness. The summers got upto 50 degrees centigrade and the people, although majority from South Asia, were all busy in their own lives, finding side-hustles to support their families back home. Some of them dealt cheap alcohol, others arranged prostitutes for paying customers, however, he had the monopoly of selling chars.
Although he came in with the popular stereotype of the pathans and their predilection to naswar, he found the working-class in general needed something to chew on or be inebriated by constantly to get by daily. He soon made friends with those living in the same labor camp as he did, but steadily branched out. It was only after he dealt with the Baloch population in the police that he was able to move more freely in the Gulf state. He came to be known as Amjad bhai in the Gulf.
People stopped buying from him and massive paranoia prevailed in his city. The streets emptied, the malls closed down, curfews were put into place and gatherings were banned. All of this was reminiscent of the mid 2000’s of Pakistan where almost everything was on high alert.
Although the virus itself wasn’t fatal, the consequences of being tested positive for it were troublesome. Because of a lack of a vaccine, individuals tested positive were quarantined for an ‘indefinite’ period. This, he figured, was the government’s way of saying that you were going to be locked up for however long it took for a vaccine to be made. Which, by similar reasoning meant that if you were too sick to be taken care of in the Gulf, you would be erased from existence, essentially leaving no record of you ever visiting the Gulf. Monarchies and dictatorships specialized in erasing people from existence, as he recalled the people that went missing during Zia’s regime.
There were rumors that the locals did not catch the virus, however, Amjad bhai knew these were false. His frequent buyer, the son of a Sheikh who owned a couple of petrol stations and investments in Chelsea hadn’t contacted him for days. And if he knew this boy well, he knew that chars was part of his daily diet, something that he had made a part of his Self.
Amjad bhai walked around the district for the first time with the intentions of an observer and not a drug dealer in the streets. The streets were something like you would expect to see maybe in a more posh area in Karachi like defence. Nothing out of a story book, and nothing that his imagination could not reproduce for those back home.
He had a mask on and so did the four other people he saw in his hour long walk. Two Pakistanis – he assumed because they’d adorned their heads with a prayer cap and were wearing peshawari chappals – met each other without shaking each other’s hands. Instead, they bumped their feet each other, stood at a distance and talked to one another. They did well to prevent bodily contact.
He had heard of rumors, of neighbors calling the police with false news of their other neighbors carrying the virus, to have them taken away. There were also reports of brothers fighting one another over property rights by falsifying medical documents and quarantining the other. The one, however, that made him lose hope in people was a mother deliberately giving her baby the virus so that the government would provide her with rations, and take her son away to quarantine, where she heard that he might be able to live a better life. He didn’t know if this was a noble thing to do or not, but poverty seldom accorded happenstances with nobility.
His walk back home was overwhelming. No cars in the street, no animals in view. He couldn’t hear a single car horn or a crow’s crow. Even the wind was blowing a subdued breeze, as if it was being careful not to accommodate the spread of the virus. His daily dealings with people had fed his introverted soul. Although he preferred to stay away from people, he couldn’t live that way indefinitely; he had to fuel his introversion with a sparse dose of interaction, however unwanted and unwarranted. There was an emotional burden of loneliness that his existence could not carry. He had to distract himself, but these streets complemented his insecurities perfectly. The white noise was driving him crazy. He thought he must be crazy, the silence was deafening.
He went home, the sweat dripping from his forehead, not from the heat outside, but from his lonely Self that he had kept occupied for so long through his daily dealings, and penned the letter to Amjad bhai, “I’m coming home. There’s too much noise here.”
The effect of the virus was even more alarming back home. The streets that he grew up in were abandoned. He could see people peering out of their windows but no one dared walking out on the street. He finally reached Amjad bhai’s place and knocked on the door, the only person that was closest to what he could call family.
The police opened the door and he heard a voice from the back, “See, I told you he would come. Take him in officer, he has the virus. A drug smuggler and a carrier of the virus in one package, I hope that I am repaid with the assurances the superintendent guaranteed,” he said with a smile on his face. No remorse, he thought to himself. He really was an entrepreneur.
The last thought he remembered from that day is that you come in the world alone, you fuck someone and you have a family of your own, but fundamentally, you are alone in this world.
Read more from Wu Doo on ProperGaanda: No Rest For the Weary