In transit.

Zainab Mubashir
6 min readOct 15, 2020
The early hours of January 1, 2020 / Lahore

I first learned of liminal spaces in an introduction to anthropology class in my first semester of college. I do not fully recall what was being discussed — something about sacred spaces and thresholds in cultural rituals — but I have visceral memories of being in the front row, second seat, second half of class. The memory of that class is a distinct marker of a singular part of my life. Sometimes I think of it as a beginning, but I have many beginnings to account for.

The space I held in that class — or the space that held me — felt far from sacred. The room was carpeted and tube-lit and smelled like first-year fears caught within swirls of 8 am elaichi chai. Sweet, putrid, cold. I think the essence of in-betweenness rested within the haze of the setting. I was too new to recognize any faces, the faces too new to be recognized. Now-friends who claim to have been there do not register as part of the crowd of my mind. Then, I was too nervous to peer over my shoulder in a manner too obvious. I couldn’t hold a gaze long enough to retain a memory. My one rebellious act was to often walk in late, but that too unwittingly, and at my own expense. Many mornings were spent rooted outside. I bore holes into the wood with my eyes, and coaxed courage into my feet until my body ran cold. The power of an invisible threshold held tight, the weight of my impending decision hanging over it tighter still, until I committed the act of opening the door and crossing over. Some days the moment teetered backwards and I simply walked away.

By the time I entered my third year of college, the room was bulldozed in favour of a courtyard. I wonder if the stench of my fear still suspends there, in the space between two realities superimposed. Maybe it holds them together, like glue.

Anyway, since then, I have stalled in anguish outside other doors, and in turn I have welcomed the tension that always tugs inside me. With time, I have learned to view most moments through a lens aware of its own transience. Every second I spend thinking of absolutely anything at all constantly slips away into the next, each thought gliding into another like never ending rolls of hills dissolving into a distant horizon. Each breath — anxious, enraged, exhilarated — cascades through time itself in shimmers of sunlit waves; each blink awakens me to a world existing differently from a second before. The thought is daunting, but momentarily. I have realized that there is comfort in recognizing even the mundane as liminal — the profane as sacred. And in one of life’s greater ironies, I have decided to anchor my ever-wavering sense of self within the promise of perpetual change. I can never quite call myself homeless if I choose peace within transit.

Tumhare alfaaz main ek ajeeb sa thehrao hai, I was once told. There is a strange stillness within your words.

The thing about transit is that it offers a space and time of rest without forgoing acknowledgement of before and after. Too often my words falter because I care far too much about what exists beyond a given moment. The act of writing is hindered by regret of the context, or fear of the outcome. I cannot afford anything but thehrao, I tell myself. I cannot think far too much or far too long of what lies outside this moment — this threshold. I tell myself that my moments of pause serve to exist as nothing more; they are moments of deserved rest. It is alright to hook my abode onto this patch of impermanence and latch onto every doorframe for a heartbeat too long. It is okay to let the tension uncoil, and then learn to tame it. I need to be gentle, I say. I mustn’t disturb the stillness. My words are indebted to it.

But my words are heavy.

They are weighed down with the watery remnants of each attempt I have ever made to be okay, to be at peace with where I am. My words also fail me. My mouth stutters at every syllable; my heart lurches before every lyric. Writing emerges as the last resort. I do not know if it is a superior form of expression for its greater control, or a dangerous one for its tendency to revise. Writing is retrospective, and sometimes reveals more than we wish to know. It is burdensome in much the same way as living. More often that I would like, I stop writing because it is the easier burden to let go of.

It is expected of me to write about myself. I remind myself that everything I write is about me. Of me, from me. I attempt it, but I can never quite shed off my identity from what I create. All my experiences and their retellings are soaked under the weight of all I am or am thought to be, and so I tread between varying versions of many truths to save myself the consequences of saying too little, or too much. I learned from Audre Lorde that writing is essential if I am to recognize my feelings and truths. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought, she said. The question I then ask is: how? In writing this, I am afraid to pen down precise occurrences because I must pretend my reader is not kind. For when I leave this page, I return to realities and gazes not my own. I can shroud my anxieties within flowery prose but I cannot extract the roots of my pain and wrap them within verse that is anything but static. So instead of writing of sorrow, of struggle, of rage, and — god forbid — of desire, I carve out in-between spaces and nestle within the comfort of their ambiguities. It is easier to find myself in the words of others and use them to echo my stories, no heed to context or outcome, than to voice out intimacies of my person. This is a space of solace, of liminality, and the words I am allowed are docile. There is safety in their softness. I admit that I worry about the invisibility I must wear — and sometimes I do unsheathe my rage — but eventually I usher in the quietness for it is the one thing I get to fall back on. Quietness as constant, as unitary, as always. Divinity domesticized.

I know women braver than myself who translate their traumas into words of wonder and anguish, and I know others, braver still, who live without looking for salves in poetic retellings. And so I hold onto the idea of beauty in transit for it lets me reclaim parts of my life I have little say over. Any moment of my life is not simply mine to account for, and nor is my future. I want to tell myself that there is bravery within me, too. That passivity is not my failure, and thehrao is not my undoing. There are places I come from, and there are places I must go — perhaps I will write about them, and, likelier still, I will not. I will count on my words where I must, and on my silences where I falter, and I will live through experiences I have tasted, and through feelings still foreign. Until then, let it be written that I have known anger, and pain, and fear, and joy, and desire. I have tumbled through doorways I never meant to cross, and I have measured up meanings to words I didn’t say. I have known happiness, I have known grief, I have known love. I have known myself, as I am here — as I have been, as I will be.

I am on my way somewhere, I am sure. I am on my way. But that is not to say I am not here. I am tired. Please let me stay a while.

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