I want simply to soak my skin in the warmth of the setting sun, to let its peaceful rays wash over me. I want the oud's melodic whispers to relax my bones but, it's aching tune is no match for the grotesque masquerade ball taking place in my mind. It's taunting twists and turns of death mock the serenity of the dinner table in front of me.
As alertly and honestly as I can, I inhale deeply. Inhaling the music and the light smoke from the shisha pipe rising above the table next to me, I inhale the quiet grace of the evening. I inhale, pleading this new breath to tire the dancing ghosts behind my eyelids. I inhale slowly, squeezing my eyes shut as I exhale the dusty rubble that has been building a home in my chest over the last year. Turning to look at the sunset behind me, I ask the setting sun to pull the plug from the soles of my feet, to drain the grief from my body like it's draining the sky of its light.
Exchanging only silent forkfuls of food, the man who has brought me to this desert restaurant seems perturbed by my trance. His kind eyes narrow as they watch me stare intensely at the musician in front of us. As if trying to locate me on an old, tattered map, he seems to calculate the distance between us with his eyes, smiling only when I look in his direction.
Grease from the warm lamb kofta drips between my fingers, racing down my palms. My mind is saturated with memories. With each blink, my mind flashes backwards. Blink. I am sitting in my favourite small kebab shop wedged in between the crowded streets of the citadel in Erbil, eating kofta from a plastic plate. Blink. I am laughing in a cafe in Hebron, being served kofta by a boy with the widest, most innocent smile I have ever seen. Blink. I am in a restaurant in the Marghallas with salty grease dripping down my chin as I overlook the tired beauty of Islamabad. Blink. I am sitting cross legged on the living room floor, in the home of a student, a feast of barbequed meats spread in front of me. Blink. If nostalgia is built on repetitive memory, the grease now lining my hands is the Holy Land of nostalgia.
I inhale and exhale slowly, distinctly aware of the familiar lightness washing over my body, pricking welcomed goosebumps into my skin. Overwhelmed with relief and gratitude, I smile to myself as the ghosts begin to slow their sway, quieting their disruption of my mind. Inhaling once more, I raise my hand to the world and whisper: I am ready to move on.