One night I dreamt I was a lone passenger in a car that was cruising along a smoothly winding road in Pakistan. I didn’t know who was driving the car, or why I was there, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind because we were following the bank of a very calm shallow river, or perhaps a narrow lake, much like the ones that I have so often followed on my own self-driven road trips across Quebec and New Brunswick. Lac-Long, Témiscouata, Matapédia, lakes and rivers that I love. And in my dream, in Pakistan, the sunshine was reflecting on these calm waters alongside me, and my window was open, it felt like a warm spring day, the car was comfortable and I could just relax with no worries, didn’t have to drive, just look out the window feel the breeze and feel good.
And what really made me feel good was all the people I could see out on the water. Men and women, old people and children, whole families and communities had come out from their villages to go onto the reflecting blue water, floating on the water, standing and sailing on these remarkable improvised little boats and rafts. The boats and rafts were put together from odd bits of timber, bike tires, bed frames, lamp shades and stands, plastic milk jugs, doors, buckets; all of these things, even kitchen cabinets, all of these things and more, all this detritus of daily life had been collected, taken apart, broken and reassembled by the people and turned into watercraft and instruments of joy. There were greens, yellows, blues, reds, there were white sails and white kites and pink kites, and people in white shalwar kameez. Such looks of happiness on people’s faces. Such creativity and joy in colour.
I have never been to Pakistan. In my dream, I thought to myself, Wow, I never expected this to be such a sublimely beautiful place. I really, really admire these people. And the car kept moving, swiftly cruising along the gently winding road. I didn’t know who was driving me, where to and why, and it didn’t matter. And the scene outside my window went on and on. There was always more water, and there were always more people on it, sailing these wonderful bricolages built from their country lives. On and on, like it would never end. Until I woke with the sun in my eyes.
I have never been to Pakistan. But I once had a girlfriend from Pakistan. She was my first girlfriend. She’s the reason I know the words shalwar kameez, and a few others too. A few, not many. Tere pyar, although I no longer know what that means. Tere bina. There was a song with those words in it. I can remember the tune of that song now. I remember, the first night in her apartment in Montreal, it was quiet, I was nervous. She had left the bedroom and I noticed a collection of small marble animals on her windowsill. Pale green. I went to pick one up, a horse, and at my touch it toppled and fell to pieces. She came back, saw the shattered look on my face, my hand frozen at the fallen pieces, and she smiled. It was already broken, she said. Relax, don’t worry, it was already broken. And she laughed. And as she put the pieces back together in a fine balance, she said the figurine was only a little bit valuable whereas the look on my face had been priceless.
She went home for the summer. When she returned, she brought a small turtle to give me, made of the same marble. I imagine I still have it somewhere.
That was a long time ago. Different life, one that I rarely have reason to recall.
One day, I was watching the BBC and the news was about a cabinet minister in Pakistan who had just been murdered by Islamic militants. The BBC said he had been campaigning for Christian and other minority rights, challenging the blasphemy laws, and that’s why the militants killed him. He had made a video to be released in the event of his death. In the video he said, “I am living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights.” He was shot to death in his chauffeur-driven car a few blocks from his mother’s house in Islamabad.
The BBC showed the badly shot-up car on a quiet residential street. It was overcast. I could see puddles on the street and raindrops on the car, and I was struck by the abundance of tall, old trees. I felt the tree branches sagging, the grey damp and stillness of the scene. I had never pictured Pakistan like this.
Then the camera moved up close to the car and directed our gaze through the smashed door window into the back seat. The body was gone. There was blood on the seat, and some broken glass. I imagined that I could hear water dripping from the trees.
I remembered my dream.
And it’s just a coincidence, it doesn’t mean anything, but I thought, that’s interesting. He was a passenger, like me.