A seemingly innocuous word. Yet, like all utterances, it depends on how it’s said.
When men bellow it across the street, it’s not so welcoming. When they whisper it at you in a dark street or corridor, it’s the verbal equivalent of an opportunistic grope.
As a foreign female, the word is thrown at you like a javelin. It tells you that you have been seen, your otherness will not go unnoticed, unremarked here. It slices through the air at you, dragging the attention of everyone around with it. It punctures any daydream you may have been having, any illusion that you can have a normal life here, be an ordinary person.
Then there’s the mothers/grandmothers who point their toddler at you and tell it over and over: “Say ‘Hello’”. Teaching the child from a young age that people with different skin colours are something to stare at, to point out, to treat as exotic spectacles. So the concept will prevail for yet another generation that people of other ethnicities are tourist attractions, so it’s okay to gawp slack jawed at them and discuss their appearance like you would an exhibit in a museum. That a photograph of them is a prize to show off on social media. Or a sneaky selfie beside them on a plane or in the metro. Ignore their discomfort, their annoyance; sure, it’s not like they’re human beings like yourself, is it?
We got lucky. The rush hour crowds were ebbing away as we reached Beijing’s metro Line 1. The platform was half-empty. There was no panicked crush to pour into the carriages when the train arrived, and inside our car, we could choose where we stood.
I slid into the corner beside the linking door to the next carriage, My Man beside me leaning against the overhead bar. In the other corner was a young couple, in their private fascination oblivious to the rest of the passengers, if not the world. Holding onto the central vertical pole directly in front of the doors were two teenage female BFFs, intensely aware of every male on board and every female worth competing against. Their style and confidence labelled them as privileged; whether the other members of their families were as pampered is another matter. Between ourselves and the door was an office worker in his early thirties, short, stocky and anonymous. He was also hunched protectively over the object of his absorption; this time a smartphone.
The train pulled into the notoriously-overcrowded Guomao station smack in the middle of the city’s Central Business District. People flowed out and flowed in. As they did so, we noticed a see-through plastic beverage cup in a plastic bag on the ground where the smartphone man had been standing. Whether it was his or not, I can’t say. I never saw him holding anything. My Man said, “Oh look, someone forgot their cup.” At that precise moment, a woman who had just entered also saw the cup. Her reaction was to throw her own rubbish — the core of an apple or pear in a plastic bag — down beside the cup, nudging it with her foot until they rested side-by-side.
What’s it like to strangle your own sister to death? Did you feel your honour grow as her strength ebbed away? How long were you planning it for? Was the idea geminating in your head even before she became ‘Qandeel’? What were her last words to you? Can you still hear them? Did you watch her face swell and discolour as she smother? Or did you have to turn her face away from you to be able to go through with it? Did you get second thoughts half-way through?
Was this the only way you could compete with her fame? Are you pissed off that you are still only known around the world as ‘the brother of Qandeel’?
Where did you learn that you were entitled to do this? Who else in the family supported you? Was she a bad sister? Eat the last mango perhaps? Where did her courage to be different come from? Why don’t you have it? What do you see when you look into your mother’s eyes now? Your father’s?
Will you put it on your CV? Have you any friends? Genuine friends? A wife?
Were you confident of being excused by your family? Would you have had to guts to do it otherwise? What reward are you expecting in the afterlife for committing murder?
Do you remember anything in the Koran about love? Respect? Tolerance? The sanctity of human life? Are you sure you were reading the right book? Why couldn’t you have just let her leave the country?
Are you aware you have brought shame on your entire country, your culture? That the global media are now churning out figures of how many women are murdered every year in Pakistan? That you helped make your culture look mediaeval, backward, pathetic?
So who do you think should strangle you for bringing shame on your country?
RIP Qandeel Baloch
The bus-stop was just a yellow pole on the side of the pavement – no shelter, no real-time feed on bus arrivals, not even a printed timetable. It was already raining as I walked up to it, but as I reached it, the rain settled into a heavy downpour, with a nice helping of hail mixed in.
There are 7,000,000,000 human beings on this planet.
Each single individual is 0.0000000142857% of the total.
Our average lifespan of 50-80 years does not even register on the timescale of the universe.
We are made of dust.
Our bodies are weak and vulnerable. They need external protection from the heat and the cold, they break and sprain easily. Our intestines and neck are always exposed to a potential attack when we stand. Our young are completely helpless when born, and remain so afterwards for far longer than most other species.
We destroy our own environment.
And there’s more of us coming: in ten years’, the population will be 8m; in 30 years’, 9m; in 50 years’, 10m.
So get over yourself. Realise you are a speck on the surface of the planet. Move aside for others walking down the path. Your bag does not need a bus seat when others are standing. Stop taking your bad mood out on your colleagues. Because you are not important. Your colleagues are not important. Your little ego struggle with your boyfriend/parent/friend/flatmate is not important. If you disappear tomorrow, the world will keep turning and everybody that knew you will probably also be dust before Halley’s Comet comes around again.
Just enjoy the ride while it lasts.
If men were as sexualized as women, the only shorts available for them in shops would also be short shorts, cut to let buttcheeks hang out instead of covering them up. Anything knee-length or three-quarter length would be skin-tight. If men were as sexualized as women, they would not feel ‘sexy’ enough to go out in public unless their penis and ball sack were bulging to a degree dictated by the media’s current favourite celebrity. If their man bumps weren’t big enough, there would be plenty of underpants designed with padding to emphasis and enhance their assets. If this underwear was uncomfortable and even suspected of being responsible for causing scrotal cysts, men would just put up with it because they know that they are only valuable if their crotch bulges enough. That is, if they were as sexualized as women.