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After Luc Sante’s The Unknown Soldier                                                                                                                                  


The first time I saw her, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t mind dying and coming back as her hair. The first time I saw her, she was wearing a furry green coat and I was tripping so hard I thought she was a tree gnome. The first time I saw her, it was the opening night of the school play and she’d replaced me as the king’s daughter, because I’d caught laryngitis the night before. The first time I saw her, she was going by Kazim. The first time I saw her was a river-rush of recognition, like the beginning of a concert when the first notes of your favorite song take shape. The first time I saw her, she saw me right back. The first time I saw her, I said, “I hope they haven’t lost my luggage.” The first time I saw her, she was shuffling through the box labeled “Brain Games for the Elderly” and then my nurse came along, bless her, and made us do a jigsaw puzzle together. The first time I saw her, it was a spiteful winter morning and she was hot chocolate.

            I stuck my hand out stupidly and said, “Have we met? I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Taz. Have we met?” I skipped in the snow to the bus stop after dinner and felt the city’s pulse thrum silver under my feet for the first time in years. I drove west towards the mountains to rid my thoughts of her, but that goddamn Tegan and Sara song came on, and the exuberant anticipation of it made me howl like an abandoned dog. I caught her eye from across the classroom and kicked hope in the teeth as it crept out from under a rock to survey the new landscape. I forgot to switch the timer on and the banana bread turned to charcoal in the oven as I stared out the kitchen window, reevaluating my previous conclusions on coincidence and destiny. I groaned out loud because the sushi place where I was meeting a friend bore her name. I sat on the steps outside the library, waiting, and when I looked up the sky was so achingly blue, it bled the color right out of me. 

            She strummed her guitar while staring at me the whole time and language promptly took the rest of the night off. She glanced at her watch as the hours slipped by but she stayed anyway. She taught me how to click my heels in midair and spin a pencil between my fingers. She named my umbrella Chester and the bump on my knee Boris. She drew me a map of her town with a bright orange crayon when I told her I was curious about where she grew up. She went home for the holidays and when she came back she said, “I missed you.” She took off her big red woolen cap and tucked me under it when it started to snow. She chased me down three blocks when I said I needed exercise. She reached over and took my hand when I least expected it, and I saw my future unfurl before me like a sleepy flower. 

            They slapped me on the back, told me to go for it, and went back to doing whatever it was they were doing. They laughed at me. They refused to give me advice because they knew I wouldn’t listen anyway. They made rude playlists on my computer. They asked if I was sure, because they didn’t want to see me get hurt. They said I was too old. They said I was too young. They read out horoscope compatibility tests to me during coffee breaks and told me to find a Libra or a Cancer or better yet, one of each. They let me be. They distracted me at night with raves and glow sticks. They promised me there would be others. They were quick to apologize when I told them they understood nothing but waited until later to laugh at my florid declarations. They told me to forget and move on because they forgot and moved on—but I didn’t.         

            So, write me into the books all the way back to the first word. Find me in the poet’s pen, the cadence of every song you’ve ever heard, and that picture from another time in another place when you were someone else. Renounce your family, cross the ocean with your last penny in your pocket, and break all your promises. Make your way to the underworld and trick a God into releasing me to the light. Suffer the loss of things that were never yours, raise your arms to the heavens, and whirl circles into the blue. Needle my name into your flesh between the three-leaf clover and the sailor’s knot. Build me a white palace made of marble and inscribe your longing in the architecture. Lie to yourself and say it’s done but remember me here, always, in the skin of it. 

Jawziya F. Zaman is a lawyer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She tweets at @reracinated."

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