Growing Pains

I saw my old house once again as we made the familiar turn—so sharp, that I was pressed to the side of the door, clinging to the seat in front of me, terrified that the car door would open from the force of six people pushed against it. It had before during similar sharp turns, and I had learned from that experience. 

The rain came down heavy, and it was a familiar musky scent. Everything seemed so well-known, yet different. It was hard not to notice the gum trees scattered everywhere, the black and yellow sidewalks and the roundabouts that went on forever. After 10 years of being in Canada, it was a welcome change to be in Pakistan.

We parked in front of a large black gate, the details I had once memorized from coming home to it every day when I was younger. My uncle shortly beeped the horn twice and my siblings and I waited patiently for it to open; to grab glimpses of our childhood once again, and we were desperate. 

The gatekeeper, or the chowkidar, ran across the yard, attempting to open the door and stifling yawns in between—it being 4 a.m. one of the reasons. The early flight here left us all feeling jet lagged and exhausted. We slowly drove in, and we were met with much-remembered nostalgia. The house itself was huge, passed down from generation to generation, and was currently filled to the rim with all four generations of my family. From my great-grandfather to my grandfather, to his brother and each of their sons and grandchildren. 

Though it was dark, I could make out the large mango tree that could never grow mangos, but instead dropped them when they were green and unripe. Nevertheless, this didn’t stop us from eating the beloved ambiyaa, their sour taste a familiar feeling of home. The tree grew a nook where I used to sit and read. It didn’t provide shelter for free though; the grass underneath had long since shriveled up, revealing the dirt underneath. My cousins and I used this as an opportunity to dig holes, make mud pies, and conduct science experiments. There was now talk of taking down those trees. A beautiful lawn was a cause worth committing to. 

The house was quiet as we entered, but we had people waiting for us awake at the early hour. It is an inexplicable feeling—a time jump when I saw the people I grew up with after so long. Though for them, it doesn’t hold much meaning. I captured the grey hairs in my grandfather’s beard, the wrinkles around my aunt’s eyes, the baby who I last saw that is no longer a baby, but now sitting straight curiously peering at me and my family. I truly understood then how the years blend in. It felt like I never left, and the time hadn’t passed at all.

~ ~ ~

Time goes by fast in Pakistan and eventually, I lose track. It’s much different than being in Canada. Each day is spent to its fullest. Evenings with family, sometimes getting together in one room. People chat for hours about everything and anything. The children sit and listen on obscure items wherever there is space, from step stools to sofa arms, to the rug on the floor. Sometimes the grownups talk about their lives, offering vague words of wisdom we didn’t ask for, but appreciate anyway despite how inapplicable they are. 

We talked about my grandmother who had recently passed away due to a tumor in her brain.

“She was a wonderful woman,” my youngest uncle said, talking about his mother. “But man, you couldn’t hide anything from her.”

My dad shot him a look, advising him to stop talking, but he continued anyway.

“If you’re looking to hide something from your mother, don’t allow her to clean your room. She will clean places you didn’t know could be cleaned.”

The children giggled, finding this information hilarious.

He paused a moment solemnly, and continued, “I wish I had spent more time with her while I could. Appreciate these moments you have. You’d be surprised at how fast they go.”

~ ~ ~

The mornings in Pakistan were busy with children playing outside, families going for breakfast, and plans being changed at a moment’s notice.

On one of the quieter days, early one morning, when the whole house was asleep, I passed a bedroom that belonged to my cousins. It used to be mine, a long time ago. 

The window was still there, the same one I had looked out of each morning. I did till I was nine years old when we moved away. I could still see the tall mango trees at the front, never changing with each new season. They were still there.

I had grown up in this room. It was constant each time; when I got ready for my first day of school, when I received my first report card, and when I brought my first friend over. In this room, I had heard thunder rumble, counting the seconds between each clap of lightning. I watched rainfall during the monsoon season, and I climbed to the top of the balcony on a dare. The room had watched me grow, and it had changed with it. 

In the room, there was an old, rusty swing set. I had loved it when I was younger, and so had my friend. We had used it to do our homework, take naps, and talk for hours.

I still remember her a little bit. Her haughty side eye when I said something I shouldn’t have, how she always kept her hair in a braid that would come undone in an instant, and her short laugh.

We called each other late at night, made matching friendship bracelets, and cooked food that was completely inedible. We once made pasta that was both raw and burnt, and with so many spices, we felt our tongues go numb at the first bite. We had grown up together, and we planned to grow old together.

We were sitting on a swing, rocking lazily, when I told her that I’d be moving to Canada. The sun was setting as we watched it, and the wind was soft, blowing our hair around our faces. She had come to see me for what we both didn’t know was the last time. My room, my books, and my house—everything was packed and ready to go.

“When will you be back?” She asked.

“Oh, soon,” I promised. “It’s like a vacation, to see if we like it or not.”

“Okay,” she answered brightly. “When you come back, tell me everything. You’ll have so much fun, I’m excited.”

I look at the swing now and it’s a skeleton of what it once was. The pillows have been moved, and it has rusted to the top. The grass, the sky, it all seems now in greyscale. I remember it being so bright once. I wonder if I knew it would come to this. Did I imagine 19-year-old me coming back, and this room ever not being mine?

There was a mirror built into the room, attached to the wall by rosy wooden panels, and I remembered barely being able to peek into it. I could directly stare into it now. Underneath was what I proudly used to call my headband drawer, filled to the brim with every sort of hairpiece imaginable. From claw clips to hair bands to bobby pins. I used to imagine they made me look amazing. 

I remember our housekeeper, Sufya Baji, brushing my hair before school, allowing me to choose my own headband and hijab before getting ready.

The drawer was now filled with my cousin’s belongings and labelled as their “souvenir drawer.” It included keychains, phone cases, magnets, hats and an old, chopped blonde wig. I tried it on. It didn’t look half bad.

I wondered how much I had changed. If my priorities had changed.

It was different now because I knew what I wanted to achieve, and what I would give up accomplishing it. But the longer I stayed here, everything that I held up to the highest degree—that I gave up so much to attain—felt as if it had such little value. I had realized the possibility that life is finite. We search to find whatever meaning we can. We take pleasure from trivial things, but we put so much pressure on the future. I wonder what I had been putting off, waiting for tomorrow. I looked forward to a future that hadn’t arrived ever since I started searching for it. 

I wondered then where we lose our younger selves. I wondered when it happens, and why it happens so quietly we don’t even notice. Time creeps up so swiftly, I didn’t care until it was too late to go back.

The wig started to itch, and I took it off, placing it back in the drawer where I had found it.

~ ~ ~

Growth is change, and change is uncomfortable.

You can try to savour each moment and live life to the fullest, or you can tiptoe around the present, waiting for the future, waiting for it to pass. Either way, you will find yourself where you are. We wrestle with the in-between, but I realized it happens in the quiet moments. The subtle shifts in perspective, the shared silences, and the constant days.

I never expected myself to end up where I did, or to be where I am. I didn’t know what moving would entail. What I thought was a fun trip to Canada vitally determined my future. I didn’t quite let go of who I was, my childhood dreams, expectations, or personal promises. A sliver of the past was still a part of me, but it was different now. It is bittersweet, the way things change. You learn eventually that it is to be embraced. I knew that still in my faith, I had found my defiance, my strength, and my moral obligation to do right. I knew that who I was would be proud of who I am.

The girl this bedroom once belonged to would be proud to know who she is now: a scientist, a researcher, and a teacher. Each adversity, each hardship, experiencing the growing pains has made her who she is for the better and she embraces it.


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