Pretending to Breathe – By Minahil Mahmud

Pretending to Breathe - By Minahil Mahmud | pakistantribe.com

After the failure of yet another seemingly futile attempt, following a string of successive others, to lull myself to a much-needed sleep, I resigned to my fate and rolled back the duvet. Despite turning all the lights out and drawing up the bedclothes like a shroud on a corpse, an unfailing flood of florescent city lights spilled into the room uninvited, illuminating the austere, parchment coloured walls, seeping through the sheets and eventually the translucency of my eye lids.

 

As a result I did lose all hope of sleep. But that night something other than my debilitated brain was aroused: a very deep aversion to the vexatious and feigned city life that I had endured with a suppressed reluctance throughout my salvageable memory.

 

Letting loose the bottled up annoyance of the moment in a stifled groan, I made to close the sizeable gap between the curtains, which themselves served as a negligible barrier from the unsleeping city. Standing by the window, I squinted my eyes as they adjusted to the stupefying view; which someone alien to would have taken to be anything but the middle of the night.

 

Skyscrapers of every fathomable geometrical shape and size were illuminated with blinding yellows, blaring blues and piercing greens, utterly outshining the moon, which, despite being the true heir to the night skies seemed pitiable by comparison. Seated on their rooftops and suspended from beams concealed to the eye, were neon signs and billboards that flashed the latest movies playing at the cinemas with overhanging floodlights of their own, as if the surrounding luminosities were insufficient to flaunt the magnified displays of glinting-eyed actresses with smiles as artificial as the world that worshipped them. The buildings were eternally alive, blinking incessantly as their window lights fluctuated and flashed.

 

Down below the roads were no less than a dizzying crisscross of blurred white and arresting yellow that signified the ghostly presence of the cars and buses that journeyed the same tarmac with the monotony and repetitiousness that characterized the city where I live – or rather, function – with nothing setting me apart from the vehicles that run on oiled engines and the lights that expend electric power until they are exhausted and replaced with something new. That was when the epiphany came: a commodity I’d become, like everything else that belonged here. 

 

“Is this all there is to the world?” I thought, the question at gnawing at my mind like the sharp surface of the windowsill did to the small of my back, as I had now seated myself upon it to get a better view of the spectacle that had imprisoned me for so long. “Are these the wonders people travel from so far to see?” I said aloud this time just as an enormous television screen built into a building opposite my apartment window flashed into life with intensity such that it blistered my eyes momentarily. Commercials without sound came and went, prancing across the screen and severing the natural darkness of the night sky.

 

How far we’ve gotten ever since we stepped over the threshold of the twenty first century is applaudable, remarkable really. A decade back, no one could have anticipated that people would be awakened from their sleep by a giant television screen outside their window that outshined the sun itself. A decade down the road, I mused, sleep would become a figment of the past, vain and superfluous. Maybe humans would too. We’re not far from becoming machines ourselves. Being forcefully and unconsciously diverged from the essence of life, with its real skies like azure canvases of infinity in the day and blankets of velvet in the night; the sun dipping down and melting over the horizon like butter at sunset and the sunrise a painting of magenta and gold; forests with canopies like emerald cushions and oceans of the deepest lapis. Without tasting the crisp, salty seaside breeze on our tongues, or inflating our lungs with the smell of earth after rain; without feeling blades of grass wet with dew underneath our feet and devouring the silence of nature’s melodies, what are are but machines?

 

I opened the window and breathed deep, pretending it was real.

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