On Living Alone

It has been three months since I moved into my little flat, perched on top of a closed beauty salon, a flat I fell in love with from the moment I first stepped into it and saw the way the light dappled the wooden flooring in the living room, and the way the spaces of its rooms seemed to open up welcomingly from the narrow corridors. It was tiny, and it creaked a lot, and in winter it would be unbearably cold, but I adored it at first sight. The viewing was on a Saturday, and by 8.45 am on Monday morning I had already called the letting agent three times to ensure my application got processed.

In the first few weeks of being here, I didn’t read a single book. Every evening after I arrived home from work, I would either put music on, or I would watch netflix ceaselessly. It confused me why I was doing this, until I realised that I was upset by the silence that would linger in the air when I turned everything off to read. The quiet that came from being utterly alone was difficult to bear- it would intrude on my consciousness, upset my concentration. It wouldn’t let me read.

I was afraid of many things when I first moved in. I was scared of tripping and breaking my neck, and being unable to get to a phone. I was scared of someone breaking in, or of my leaving the door unlocked by accident and getting burgled. I was scared of falling sick and not having enough food in the house, or enough energy to get some. But most of all I was afraid that when the minutes of solitude turned into hours, and I was left to my own thoughts for too long, I would slowly rot with sadness in this little wooden basket of a flat, like fruit going bad.

But. It has been three months.

I won’t say that they have gone smoothly. But of the things that carried me through, I can list four. One is that my friends and family have never, ever been beyond reach. I have called my dad sometimes twice a day to speak to him, whenever I display the slightest hint of depression my cousin and best friends will jump to be with me over video and voice calls, and my partner has tried very hard to support me whenever needed. When the quiet got too bad, when the emptiness of my life seemed too much to bear, everyone I loved reminded me that though I was alone, I wasn’t really.

The second has been my work. It has been busy not only in the sense of how many hours it consumed but also in the sense of how much it has consumed me – as a person, even I don’t realise but I have developed so much in the time I’ve spent at this post that I can’t even recognise myself anymore at times. The experience and exposure of working at a big hospital, with so many other trainees, seniors, juniors, colleagues, has been immensely liberating, time-consuming, and soul-consuming. NMGH has swallowed me whole and spat out a whole new individual. It’s been so difficult, it continues to be difficult, but I love it.

The third thing that’s kept me going is the flat itself. Much as it feels like a betrayal to my flat in Karachi, a betrayal to the life I had with my mother, but I still enjoyed having this space of my very own for the first time in my life, to decorate just as I saw fit (mostly with books, bookshelves, elephants, and mirrors). The fact that I loved the pokey old hole from the moment I saw it helped. I have sometimes felt bad at the idea of going home to an empty flat, but I’ve also known that it was my beloved empty flat I was going home to, with the flowerpots on the windowsill and the psychiatry books scattered across the corner desk and the pictures of my loved ones on the wall. It was mine, and part of a life utterly of my own choosing. I had made my bed (in the morning, quite literally) and thus I would lie in it.

The fourth thing is a continuation of the third – somewhere in between running around my job, phoning up Karachi every other day, arguing with my partner, hoovering the ugly brown carpet, and listening to the minutes pass – I realise I have made friends with the silence. It no longer terrifies me so much that I have to push it away with music or media. And though a part of me still wishes that instead of the quiet I was listening to the routine hum and swish of her ventilator or the whistling of fans filtering humid Karachi air, I know that this is my reality now and this is how I have to go on.

So I have come to endure the silence, and even enjoy it. It welcomes me at the end of a long day spent full of words, documentation, thoughts, analysis, conversation. It greets me after a tiring drive of signals, radio music, road signs, engine hums. It embraces me as I fall asleep and another day passes quickly, mounting and gathering and pushing me towards the end of this long, long year.

So it goes.

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