And maybe they’re right.
I just keep thinking: will she ever see Pakistan?
When I was a year old I had already spent months of my life there, half of my first words being spoken in Punjabi, eating daal and channe and being given tastes of milky malai, being taken down into the street by my grandmother to get my head shaved by a man at the side of the gulley; my baby hair falling in light clumps into the damp earth. My mother had no idea where I had gone to, but took it in stride when I was returned into her arms, bald as could be.
And then, when I was a bit older, spending my days weaving in and out of narrow streets, unsupervised by any adults, jumping from roof to roof and chasing chickens, discovering freedom, and on the third night of my auntie’s wedding, locking myself in the bathroom and eating a rose to discover its taste.
And then, even older than that, visiting by myself. Having distant relatives remark on my appearance, “but she looks so Pakistani!” and my saying, quietly, to no one at all, “but I am Pakistani,” knowing they were expecting a half-white American teenager wearing jeans and a t-shirt, listening to a discman and scowling at them from beneath a baseball cap. I spent that summer almost alone, wandering rice paddies in the countryside, writing stories at daybreak, and attempting – unsuccessfully – to befriend the local 11-year-old shepherd.
Every time I returned home from traveling to Pakistan, something was different. The old longing returned with a new fire, the ache in my bones deepened, I would wake up in the middle of the night smelling dirt being tamped down by monsoon rains before realizing, with palms sweating, that it was just a dream. The missing, the longing – it never goes away.
And now all I can think is: will my daughter ever see it? Will she ever understand the magic of hundreds of kites flying above her head, or the pleasure of standing on a rooftop as it rains, or the taste of a glass bottle of Coca Cola when it’s 115 degrees and her shalwar is stuck with sweat to the back of her legs?
Will she ever know that there is another home for her?
There is an immeasurable distance to travel between here and there, now. A distance laden with extremists and threats and bombs and blood and bone and more than anything: fear. A distance that was once felt only by my heart has been replaced with a chasm rooted in pragmatism: “it’s just not safe.” And her daddy is white, and her mama is only half-Pakistani, of course. “Well, you can pass, but the rest of your family could be a target,” people tell me.
And yet how I yearn to take that long, long flight back. To travel back to where the missing piece of my heart resides; to see my daughter’s face as she takes it all in, not understanding what it means for me to share it with her; to take her hand and say, quietly, to no one at all, “this, this is not a vacation. This, this is a homecoming.”