Saturday, 14 January 2017

Ten Years

Today, January 14th 2017, marks ten years since I first felt the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.
It was an ordinary Sunday. I had planned to attend some quasi-religious function I’d helped organise. Because of my typical lateness, I put on whatever clothes and socks I found and rushed off to the mosque where the event was being held.
Throughout the day, I felt unusual tingling, concentrated in my feet but felt all the way up to my chest. It must be the socks, I thought, having discovered later on that they were in fact ladies’ socks, silky and almost transparent. The sensation in my feet was irritating and strange.
Over the following few days, the tingling didn’t subside, and clothes brushing against my skin had become painful.
I consulted a medically minded friend who advised me to be wary of my diet, and to consider visiting a doctor. My sister-in-law, who was living with us at the time, urged me to make an appointment as a matter of urgency, seeing as her socks -for they were hers- couldn’t possibly have such bizarre and unsavoury effects.
By mid-March, I had made the appointment to visit my local GP. Upon arriving, I had no clue as to what I would say, and what he or she would deduce from my strange symptoms.
The doctor who saw me was a lady, whose Arabic-sounding surname suggested her potentially being Iraqi. Dr al-Tamimi was welcoming and softly spoken. She listened to my story and laughed when I shared my suspicion of being afflicted by some rogue feminine footwear.
“I need to do some tests on your legs, so please lie down on the couch, with your trousers off.”
Thank fuck, I thought, having remembered that I was wearing new boxer shorts.
A few pinches and pinpricks later, the doctor said I could put my trousers back on. Slowly, and like a little boy who had just been spanked, I obliged.
“It looks like it’s something neurological, but I can’t be sure. So I’m referring you to a neurologist at the hospital.”
At last, a small thread emerged which would hopefully lead to an explanation.
The next few weeks were all about my impending A-Level exams. I was dreading the occasion, and feeling increasingly tired and overwhelmed. I couldn’t explain what was wrong with me, but I knew I was snowballing down a slope of sadness and academic failure. The last thing on my mind was a potentially life-changing medical appointment with a thus-far unnamed neurologist.
When the day came, I agonised to remember exactly what I’d said to Dr al-Tamimi, to ensure my version of events and symptoms corresponded with the information he had about me. To my surprise, he seemed rather nonchalant about the papers in front of him. Instead, he was quick to get me on the examination couch. A few pinches and pinpricks later, he instructed me to sit up.
“It looks like Multiple Sclerosis, but I can’t be certain after a two-minute examination. I’ll refer you to another neurologist whose word will be final, as he’ll carry out further, more thorough tests.”
An involuntary laugh made its way out of my stunned mouth. The doctor looked up from his desk, glancing at me with unease.
“What’s so funny?”
I cleared my throat and proceeded:
“I’ve only ever heard of Multiple Sclerosis once before. My uncle told me about a delay in obtaining his PhD because his thesis supervisor was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and he died two months later.”
What on earth was I blathering on about? My uncle’s thesis supervisor? Death? What the hell is happening?
The doctor was unfazed, and explained to me that MS affects people differently, and that I shouldn’t assume I’d be meeting my uncle’s late supervisor anytime soon. He gave me a follow-up appointment slip, and wrote down the name and telephone number of Nerologist Number Two, Doctor Number Three
After weeks of blood tests, endless pinches and pinpricks, and a godawful lumbar puncture (or spinal tap), Dr Farmer announced, with not a hint of uncertainty, that I was suffering from Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis.
My exam results were a few days away, and I couldn’t think of anything more catastrophic than the contents of the results envelope. MS? Whatever.
When Dr Farmer read out my sentence, my good friend and namesake, who sat next to me in the clinic, turned to me and said:
“Congratulations, Mehdi. You have been officially diagnosed with a proper disease.”
We both laughed heartily, and shook hands like a football manager and his latest acquisition, faces beaming in front of the cameras. I admit to there being no lense, though, except Dr Farmer’s oval spectacles, and his quietly scolding eyes behind them.
When he asked me if I knew anything about MS, I hesitated to involve my uncle and his ill-fated professor.
“I googled it and found all sorts of horrors. Paralysis, blindness, death.”
Dr Farmer quickly assured me of the improbability of such extreme scenarios.
“Don’t believe everything you read about MS on the Internet. You’re Relapsing-Remitting, and it’s statistically unlikely that your condition would escalate so drastically.”

Ten years later, I write these words knowing full well that my exam results were meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and that my diagnosis, whilst unceremonious, ranks amongst the more life-altering, but not life-defining, moments I’ve been through.
I am grateful for every card I’ve been dealt, and thankful from the bottom of my heart to every person who’s helped me stand firmly on my stumble-prone and tingly feet.
It’s been real.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


The Allure of Death
Fear of the Unknown is, in my opinion, at the forefront of reasons why most people are so uneasy about their inevitable demise. They have no clue as to what lies in wait for them once their fragile hearts give way.
Perhaps this is more common in places where life is cherished and enjoyed to such an extent that death isn’t in itself the tragedy as much as it is the loss of what life offers: personal fulfilment, health, children, love, material possessions, etc.
For many others, however, life has become such a traumatic, horrifying experience that death is a welcome reprieve, a much needed end to their individual or collective ordeals.
An arbitrary case in point I am hesitant to offer is the glaring contrast between the life I enjoy and the unspeakable conditions which set the scene for millions of people around the world: Whilst I am lulled to sleep by Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast through the iPhone on which I’m writing these words, the workers who tirelessly and painstakingly assembled this device have to rest their ailing bodies to the sound of their own grumbling stomachs and those of their children. Whilst my over-stimulated mind submits to the elements and falls into a deep, undisturbed slumber, there are countless others who are too afraid to close their eyes lest they are jolted awake by the the sound of gunfire or a car bomb nearby, for their pristine souls had been blotted by the indelible blackness of death. The sporadic serenity I revel in is but a distant dream for so many others whose ears are constantly pierced by the drums of death, and whose hearts are ceaselessly scythed by fellow humans.
Death, although one and the same, cannot be understood through a universal definition, for its comprehension and subsequent acknowledgment are relative and almost entirely dependent on our instinct for self-preservation.
Immortality is a dilettantish goal. No-one with a sound mind would wish to stick around for longer than necessary and bear witness to our flagrant disregard of our true selves, our unquenchable thirst for each other’s blood, and our unrestrained eagerness to annihilate those who are weaker than us, have less than we do, or, more commonly, those whose eyes see the world in a different hue to that which we believe to be the Truth.
Although we concede that our time is finite, and that our days, months or years are numbered, what many of us fear most is the unravelling of the thread we had delicately spun during every second of our ill-spent lives.. We dread the abrupt eviction from the cocoons inside which we had been foolishly and ignorantly entrenched. For the others, Death is Mother Nature’s soft embrace after a life of unabated suffering, unrelenting torment and torture. For them, life is a painful and protracted death, whilst Death itself is a bestowal of a new lease of Life.
Whichever of the two sides our coin is tossed, the fact is, we’re going to die. Death makes us equal. Death is the overarching reality that trumps all the illusions we accept, and confirms the truth we spend our lives subconsciously denying. That, in a nutshell, is what gives Death its unparalleled allure.

The title is numerical as this is the 10th entry in a series of daily writings I began just over a week ago. The plan is to write and publish something everyday, no matter how big or small the piece of writing is. Previous entries are on my Tumblr account, and I may publish them here, too.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


It says a great deal about the importance of beginnings and endings that so much significance is attached to the details under which these beginnings and endings occur. Birth and death, wedding days and signing-divorce-papers days, even enrolling in school/college/university and getting a piece of paper to mark the end of that educational chapter.
Without beginnings and/or endings, our view of the world is shapeless, formless, with no clearly signposted cut-off points to separate one state of mind from the other.

My beginning has always been a moot point amongst my family. Whilst my eldest brother swears by everything holy that he remembers the day I was born being August 6th, my father, who really ought to know, says I was born on August 8th. A few years ago, I unearthed my crumpled Indian birth certificate hoping to put an end to the dispute, but the biro scribble made matters worse; It read: August 7.

I resolved to give up on searching for an exact date which made no real difference to who I was. The important thing is that I made it. Besides, contested though it may be, I wasn’t prepared to relinquish an enviable and celestially favourable birthday such as mine: 8-8-88.

Perhaps 8 wasn't a particularly lucky number. Eight days after my ninth birthday, my mother passed away.

My mind fogs whenever I recall the days that followed. Everything seemed to happen very quickly, and I didn’t have a chance to establish, with any degree of certainty, how she died. All I knew was that an ambulance had been called, and that she had died of respiratory problems. I wasn’t told whether she was pronounced dead at home or in hospital.

Eighteen years later, I still don’t know.

My siblings and I remember her all the time, but hardly ever bring up the timeline of that day. Despite the countless questions swirling in our heads, we don’t broach the subject for a number of reasons. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I suspect my siblings share my view on this.

We do not ask because we have no language to articulate the unimaginable loss we continue to feel. We do not ask because we are scared of being plunged into a whirlwind of renewed mourning.

I do not ask because I don’t want to see my siblings’ adult faces, now steadfast and resilient, overtaken by familiar expressions of fear and abandonment.

Her eighteenth anniversary will be a chance to look into myself and grieve once more. My arrival to this life and my mother’s departure from it are both events that will, for a while at least, be veiled with ambiguity.. A veil I’m adamant on lifting so I can offer my repressed inner child the chance to understand why and how he was orphaned.

The gaps in my mind must be filled, even if those in my heart are not.

The title is numerical as this is the seventh entry in a series of daily writings I began a week ago. The plan is to write and publish something everyday, no matter how big or small the piece of writing is. Previous entries are on my Tumblr account, and I may publish them here, too.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Random Date, Special Day

Exactly fourteen years ago, I sat my very last exam of Year 7.

The excitement of having finished the year drowned out all the distress that had been simmering within me for the duration of the exam. I didn’t know most of the answers, so I resorted to making sure what little I could write about world geography was written in a neat and orderly manner. As I had done in previous examinations, and with no real expectation to curry favour with the marker, I drew a small birthday cake on the top of the paper and adorned it with several candles and a “good luck” scribbled across the biro-bordered doodle.

I had arranged with Homeidan and Fouad to celebrate our last day of school by going ‘out out’, as Mickey Flanagan so eloquently put it. Homeidan and Fouad, with whom I shared a three-man wooden desk near the back of the classroom, had been desperate to do something out of the ordinary - this most unlikely group of friends ought to end the year on a high, we thought.

The night before, I asked my sister for some money to fund my x-rated excursion, though I didn’t disclose the precise itinerary of our jaunt: we had planned to go to a seedy cinema in an infamous part of Damascus, and follow it up by visiting an apartment block rumoured to house a few love-sellers. It’s of utmost importance to note that we didn’t entertain the idea of purchasing any affection; we merely wanted to see what a wanton woman looked like, especially one whose vocation it was to give pleasure, even if only to the chaste eyes of a party of pubescent man-maidens.

Naturally, I had to exercise a little truth-bending in order to be allowed to do something other than come home right after school.

“There’s a Quran competition in the afterschool club, so we’ll grab a bite and then go to take part in it.”

Despite my not being entirely truthful, I’m consoled by the fact that I used the considerable remainder of what she had given me to buy her a birthday present and gave the rest to my elder brother whose escapades were far more risqué than mine.

We waited till the three of us had handed in our papers, and walked out of school feeling buoyant with elation. Within minutes, a street-vendor decided to find out why we were out of school so early, as it had barely been past midday. His eyes widened, and he looked at his wrist. He couldn't quite believe that we were out to celebrate the beginning of our summer holidays.

“Really? It’s only May 17th!" he said as he pointed towards his time/date silver Cassio watch.

"Ok. Don’t get up to anything bad.”

Although we hadn't planned on doing anything bad, we were taken by surprise at this stranger’s impromptu cautioning.

We casually walked around the area whose old alleyways smelled of roasted and baked nuts and seeds that nearby shops specialised in. Everyday, shortly after lunchtime, the classrooms were filled with an aroma that opened my nostrils and made me feel like Jerry when the waft of Swiss cheese surreptitiously crept up on him, eliciting his inner-spirit to float to the source of the delicious smell.

During our walk, we fancied a little detour, and wandered into an empty building with a long, dimly-lit lobby. On either side were closed doors and placards that seemed to belong to offices and shops which had once filled this corridor with the bustle of life. We soon realised that a potential trespassing conviction loomed large, so we ran towards the other side of the building and laughed and screamed with nervous joy. Years later, I stumbled across a cinematic re-enactment that alluded to another movie moment in which a trio of trailblazers ran wildly in a place where contemplative quietude reigned. Bande à Part, The Dreamers, The School Leavers, I thought to myself.

Fouad suggested we stop at his father’s juice shop on our way to Byblos Cinema. We happily took him up on his offer knowing that we had some time to waste before the first ‘mature’ film started.

Fouad’s father didn’t seem overly excited to meet his son’s schoolmates. He gave us three plastic cups of lemon slush and went back behind his till as we slurped outside the marble-flood shop. I was suddenly taken by a juvenile urge to flaunt the meagre wad of cash in my pocket.

“Fouad, could you ask your father how much these will cost? It’s on me. I insist!”

With an air of empty boasting, I extracted three crumpled 100 Syrian Liras and laughed at my silly gesture. Of course, we didn’t have to pay, and Fouad was slightly offended at my wanting to steal the limelight. It was his father’s shop, it was his treat to us.

After an hour or so of aimlessly meandering the streets between our school and al-Marja, where Cinema Byblos and various other adult-oriented institutions were located, we found ourselves in front of a nondescript building with yellowing bricks and a large, fading-gold letters at the front. BYBLOS. We were standing outside a brave, almost-bronzing new world. The entrance was flanked by two posters: one was unmistakably for a Bollywood blockbuster, and another that I can't remember anything about except its having a voluptuous lady with a twinkle in her eye and the eye-watering tilt of her exposed waist.

The three of us paid 25 Liras each and were told we could stay for as long as we wanted to. The cinema wasn’t completely quiet, and it was no-where near full. The handful of audience members was all grown men who were scattered across the large, darkened hall, and whose faces were partly illuminated by the cinema projector’s flickering reflections.

After we settled down and evaded eye-contact lest we’re found out, I turned to Homedian and said:

“This guy is called Amitabh Bachchan.”

The Indian film was badly subtitled, and the audio-yellow text were out of sync even to the jaundiced eye of a hormonal cinemagoer who cared no more about technical precision than he did for the plot of a movie in a language he didn’t understand.

Audience members grew restless and a few disgruntled voices sporadically broke the reverential silence with which I observed the unfolding Bollywoodian spectacle. No sooner had the Indian flick finished before another film started. This, time, it was an old Syrian production, dating back to the sixties or seventies judging by the grainy quality and the surprisingly youthful features of actors who I’d known to play grandfathers in the children's programmes I grew up watching.

The second film’s raunchiest scene included a disco-lit house party, and an actor -a distant relative of Homeidan- salaciously placing his palm on a naked thigh, barely visible underneath a long, baggy skirt. In another eye-popping moment, the actor is shown to be a peeping Tom who watches his young neighbour hanging up some laundry.

“The perving bastard! I’m going to tell on him next time I see him at a family gathering,” railed Homeidan under his breath.

I was fairly incredulous towards his hushed threat.

“How will you explain where you saw him doing this?”

We watched with amazement and excitement, but we were aware of the pendulum of time quietly swinging over our heads.  Five or six in the evening was late in the world of a twelve year-old - and we still hadn't been round to the den of debauchery Homeidan had told us about.

"I was in the area a few days ago, and a stranger -I bet he's a pimp- walked up to me and told me that if I paid him 100 Liras he'd get me laid, and he took me to the top floor of this building where I actually saw a topless woman!"

My heart raced as we walked up the stairs, until we reached the third floor. The stairs to the fourth floor and beyond were locked off. A white metal door with frosted-glass panes blocked our access, and we were secretly relieved not to be able to go any further.

"Wallahi I'm not lying!"

Homeidan's attempt at reassuring us of the truth of his tall tale seemed sacrilegious given where we were and what was being promised in the name of God Himself.

"It's OK. At least we tried," I told him, in vain hope of retaining some dignity. Afterall, we were merely chasing the figure of lust, knowing full well that we weren't going to do anything beyond that.

We hailed a taxi that took us to the mikro depot where we boarded minibuses heading towards our respective home destinations.

On my way home, I rehearsed my alibi and embossed it with feigned disappointment at having missed out on first place in the Quran competition. My sister showed little doubt in my story, and consoled me by saying that my sincere intentions were more important than standing on an imaginary podium. That may have made me feel a little guilty, but I quickly brushed it under my mental carpet and revelled in my secret, low-key adventure.

The fourteen years that followed were far more adrenaline-fuelled and life-changing than that afternoon nearly a decade and a half ago, so I’m not sure why that day and that date stuck in my mind. Perhaps it was the street vendor’s startled expression and unbelieving tone that earmarked the day as one of significance to me; it could have been the fact that it was my first foray into the world of near-teenage wilderness. Whatever the reason, every May, I count down the days till the seventeenth so I could recount that afternoon to myself or to whoever is interested in listening to the the story of my first out-outing.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Longing for belonging

I drank water, flowing fresh down my throat
And it was like I tasted nothing but sewage;
Suffering beyond comparison,
Like that of a boat amongst raging ocean waves.

Elia Abu Madhi, the revered Lebanese poet, perfectly described what it feels like to be away from where you belong. Where you ‘belong’ is by no means exclusive to where you were born or the country from which your parent(s) hail; rather, it’s the place where you feel alive. Once you emigrate, the sense of loss becomes too great to comprehend, too irrational to justify. Your life away may be safer, more financially rewarding, but you’re starved of tranquility and spiritual fervour.

Having lived in India, Syria and England, and being of Iraqi origin, I've always been reluctant to put my finger on a map and wholeheartedly say “Here’s where I’m from,” as I've never felt as though I truly belonged anywhere I’ve lived in thus far. For that reason, as well as their artistic depth, Abu Madhi's words strike several, tangled chords within me.

My intergenerational and consecutive migrations have amplified the fogginess with which my unyielding heart tries –and fails- to adjust to its surroundings. It is filled with longing for company I hadn’t enjoyed, relishing a reunion of hearts with lovers I hadn’t encountered, objects of adoration whose hazy countenances were weaved together by my starry-eyed mind. And yet I dream of being there, and yearn to be with them. The precise geographical location of the place, and the identifying features of the people - aren't necessarily a relevant detail, for the heart needs no bearings once it's in a place it warms to, and in company it finds soothing and sensual in equal measure.

Not only am I burdened with a wild and wayward emotional constitution, I confess to feeling disarmed of my creative faculties, like a pelican in a pigsty, bedraggled and bereft of life. The light of my mind flickers and flashes sporadically and painstakingly, having previously assured my child-self that it would illuminate my yet-to-be-lived days.

I often wish I were able to visit Iraq as freely and frequently as my contemporaries and fellow second-generation exiles do. More than Iraq, though, I dream of setting foot in Syria once again. The dusty, overcrowded streets of Sayyeda Zaineb, the epicentre of my childhood on the outskirts of Damascus – are where I made sense of the world: in the ear-piercing cacophony of tirteras, cattle and shopkeepers. A celestial soundtrack of an otherwise mundane life.

London may have cleaner streets and a wider selection of international cuisines, but it has yet to convince me that it could stir me the way Damascene alleyways did.

Whimsical romance aside, I’ve realised that cannot afford to spend my days envisaging a parallel existence. My converse-clad feet are firmly rooted in a lively part of London, and I must work towards rekindling the flame of life within my shrinking frame. Otherwise, what’s left of my dwindling spirit will vanish into thin air, leaving in its wake a mediocre nothingness, much like the indistinguishable sound of a tirtera – forgettable in its absence as it is salient in its presence.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


In the early summer of 2004, and during the preliminary stages of London's bid to host the 2012 Olympics, my school was visited by a group of sporting dignitaries; amongst them were members of Iraq's newly reformed boxing team, as well as a couple of representatives from the London 2012 Olympics Organisation Committee.

The assembly hall was packed with tired-looking children counting the minutes till hometime, and their chaperone-teachers who stood idly by, watching the spectacle unfold. Before anything happened or anyone spoke, the visiting men in sporting outfits handed out London 2012 flags that were attached to black, meek, plastic sticks. Freebies couldn't yank us out of our humidity-induced lethargy, so I hoped the athletes themselves would.

I quickly turned to my then-BFF and spoke to him in a hushed tone.

"Whoever wins the bid to host the 2012 games, I promise to be speaking to you as they light up the Olympic flame, whether we're on the phone or speaking face-to-face. We'll be speaking as the flame is lit in 2012."

He smiled and agreed with an element of surprise and appreciation. In my mind, our friendship and devotion towards eachother made us as inextricably-bound together as the Olympic rings themselves; except, they were five, whilst my heart, then, was tied to one.

The "special" assembly's proceedings began with a brief talk by the boxing team's American coach. He spoke loftily of the team's potential and its newly-found zeal for sporting success: Iraq was reborn, and Olympic medals gleamed on the horizon - it was merely a matter of time before they could be added to the team's long-forgotten trophy cabinet.

After the talk, the middle-aged gentleman opened the floor for any questions. Naturally, I put my hand up and waited my turn. My question wasn't quite audible and I was asked to repeat it. I duly obliged, albeit with an added degree of forced confidence and innate self-consciousness.

"Now that the whole country is looking forward to a brighter future, have the team's aspirations changed, too?"

I heard one of my teachers remarking how it was very typical that I would ask such a silly, long-worded question.

"Aspirations.. pft!"

The coach gave a swift, diplomatic reply, and assured the half-yawning, half-gawping crowd that the team was going to make it big.

"Some of our athletes are preparing to take part in the upcoming Summer Olympics in Athens. Keep an eye out for them!"

Just before the assembly came to its inevitable, chaotic end, the teachers informed us that the athletes had a surprise for us. The two boxers stepped back and stood widely apart. An air of expectancy filled the mostly wood-paneled hall, and the boxers, dressed in white and green tracksuits with an Iraqi flag emblazoned on the right side of their chests, slowly began to skip in a circle. The silence was broken by the screeching sound that the boxers' footwear made as it grazed against the wooden floor, and their chanting:

"Iraq. Is Back. Iraq is back! Iraq. Is back. Iraq is Back!"

Their pace quickened, and the chanting that began disjointedly was now in full-throttled unison.

I glanced around me and saw the Maths' teacher's disdainful face changing in colour and complexion.

The assembly ended with some of the Iraqi students rushing to the boxers to introduce themselves, making sure their family name was pronounced clearly to ostensibly solicit the boxers' respect and reverence.

As we made our way back to the classroom, I plucked up the courage to ask Miss Ameen as to why she seemed so irrevocably cross.

"This is a joke. How disrespectful! An American making our boys dance like clowns to the tune of 'With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for you' .. and saying this is our country's bright future!"

Her frustration was clear, and her sentiment sincere. I found myself agreeing with her point of view, though my blood didn't paint my face pink as hers did. The chant she was referring to was a popular jingoistic pledge of allegiance synonymous with pro-regime political rallies in countries with a Ba'thist inclination. It carries particular poignancy for Iraqis because of its evocation of pro-Saddam circles, state security agents, gulags, etc - the chant was an oral artefact of a blood-soaked and forgettable past that Iraqis like Miss Ameen had hoped to have seen the back of.  This, I'm told, could have been the catalyst for her profound dismay.

Eight years later, and weeks before the London 2012 Olympic Games commenced, I was torn as to whether I should fulfill my juvenile promise to a dear friend to whom I no longer spoke in the same capacity as I had done so many years before. Our meetings had become sparse and were imbued with an aura of respect and reserve brought on by age, experience and a newly-acquired adult responsibility, namely the birth of my daughter. He could easily have forgotten, and my calling him out of the blue to meet my fifteen year-old promise may creep him out more than any of my gushing compliments might have done all those years ago.

On the day of the opening ceremony, and having sought advice from my nearest and dearest, I decided I would call. I would put my self-conscious demons at bay for a day, and call. A promise is a promise, no matter what, I told myself. The ceremony began. Countless sportsmen and women waved their respective countries' flags. My heart was racing, my mind going into meltdown. It was almost midnight and the flame hadn't been yet lit. I didn't even know whether he was in town or abroad. At long last, and after hours of circular deliberations with myself and others, the flame was lit, and my poise was reduced to ashes. I rushed outside the house and pressed the green call button. His name and number were on my screen for hours, and my mind for days. It rang, rang, rang. My heart was beating very quickly, until I hung up. I looked at the time and it was well past midnight.

I broke the news to my family, and felt a weight fall off my shoulders. At least I tried, I consoled myself.

"He's not picking up."

Almost two years later, Providence pulled some strings and I saw him at a friend's house. I was thrilled and filled with familiar warmth. I had really, really missed seeing him and speaking to him. After the customary pleasantries were exchanged, I confessed to him my Olympic debacle and expected him to furrow his brows in deep suspicion and mild scorn.

"I was thinking about that, too, but thought you might have forgotten and it would be a bit gay to actually do it."

I didn't mind that he deemed it gay, and felt even prouder of myself that I had at least made a genuine attempt to stick to my oath of bygone years.

My friends and I laughed it off, and moved on. I told myself that I have more days to come, more friends to cherish, and more promises to keep.

The Olympic flame has long gone out, but the fire for life and love kindled within me by kindred spirits I've met over the years will burn until I, and they, turn into mere dust. Even then, my love, respect and gratitude will be etched into immortality somewhere hidden and obscure such as this meager blog, or, if I'm lucky, in a book.

Friday, 25 July 2014

On Ageing..

There are certain things in life that reveal themselves to you gradually, like realising that your shoes have got too small for you, or that your choice of words has become almost identical to that of people you work with. Another example of this is your character: your likes, dislikes, habits and hobbies – are carved out of your experiences after years of trying things which were novelties at first, but which then became familiar, and were lumped together to form your personality. Age is also one such thing. Despite birthdays being the conventional mark by which you measure your time on this forlorn planet, they are mere numbers, statistics that don’t show a fraction of what lies behind them. Besides the annual reminder of how old/young you ought to consider yourself, age manifests itself in a number of curious ways.

If you’re a man, hair is usually a good indicator of where you’re at in your long, desolate journey towards your chequered flag. What I find funny is how upset people get when they see their hair change in volume or colour. It has almost become a rite of passage to lament a solitary grey strand you discover whilst examining your youthful yet diminishing features against a faithful, four-cornered friend. Worse still, when you pat your head only to realise that a thick mop no longer cushions it. Rather, your scalp is nearly visible underneath a faint, rapidly-thinning clump. Either way, your heart sinks with dread as you convince yourself that you’re not that old yet.

Another common signpost you should look out for is people you once considered to be children. It’s both heartening and horrifying when you bump into lower classes from your school, only to be dwarfed by their height and shocked by their age. The ten year-olds are now double that age, and, more unnervingly, you’re a good five years ahead of them. Life, it seems, doesn’t stop. As you grow older, so does everybody else. It may sound like a pretty lame realisation, but for me it is a constant surprise when I see former children who have become ‘grown-ups’.

A less universally acknowledged sign of the ageing process is when football players you idolised during your teens become mere studio spectators and pundits, or actually evolve into coaches and managers. For me, watching Ryan Giggs take temporary charge of Manchester United, counselled by other members of the Reds’ famous class of ’92 – was exciting from a purely footballing viewpoint, but a sobering reminder that more than twenty years had passed since he made his debut for the club. The Lion King was released two decades ago, too. If footballing history doesn't stir you, perhaps Simba's birth will.

Though I didn’t follow the World Cup as avidly as I may have done in the past, I was slightly relieved every time a commentator said the name of a player who I knew from yesteryear. These included Messi, Van Persie and the Portuguese Ronaldo. His now-rotund Brazilian namesake, meanwhile, watched from the commentators’ box as his countrymen were obliterated by a German team I barely recognised.

As for today, well, I’m two weeks short of turning twenty six years old. It’s about time I stopped wallowing about my years of self-perpetuating wilderness. Instead, each day is to be taken as a gift, each breath a blessing, and a chance to do well.