Now when she watches Nadira dance
Now when she watches Nadira dance, Naima imagines how cold Nadira’s bones must feel in the dirt. She looks up from her laptop and through clouded vision sees a pink lizard glued to the ceiling of the room she is renting from an artist-friend. Jetlagged and dehydrated, she had been warned plenty about Lahore’s summers—“Your American nature won’t tolerate it,” her father had said—but bought a ticket anyway. She had never told anyone about her real interest: Nadira. Now she drips and bakes on a hard bed with no reprieve from the heat. “I’ll get to you later,” she snaps at her unpacked suitcases, and deliriously shifts her gaze back to the old YouTube video.
Nadira glitches before she drifts, wrapped in a white sari. Gardenias hold her wrists, gold weighs down her ears and ankles. An arm swoops, a neck cranes away only to curve back, a body trembles with the rhythm of the tabla that beats off-screen.Then, the fog of the 1990s jars the Pakistani dancer’s last performance into black and white static. The distortion reminds Naima of foam that tugs icy waves to the shore and back.
Morbid curiosity fills Naima’s body with a different kind of heat as she switches tabs to an article covering Nadira’s murder in 1999. The article is the only one of its kind and Naima has read it dozens of times before, as if it were written for her eyes only. It reveals just enough information to stoke obsession—Nadira was shot three times—A suspect was taken into custody but remains anonymous—There was no known motive.
The morning call to prayer finally lulls Naima to sleep. In her dreams, a pink lizard ventures into the earth and makes a home out of a beautiful skull’s eye-socket. By mid-afternoon, her artist-friend comes in to check on her, but she is still asleep.
Now when she watches Nadira dance, Naima has been in Lahore for three months. She only sometimes misses home. The city continues to tantalize her with its blend of the dead and the living, of tradition and the emergent. Every day, she tries to write about all this in an attempt to find herself.
One evening, Naima watches another apocalyptic sunset. Hooded crows caw madly into the red sky. Hundreds of bats soar out of a palm tree to feed, like ashes blowing in the wind. It’s like they’re all screeching Nadira Nadira Nadira, she thinks.
Every time Naima tries to write about Nadira, a malaise takes over her fingers. Nadira’s expression is above language and hovers between the restraint and generosity of flesh—of dance. Naima, meanwhile, has two left feet and a stuck mind. She attends a few performances, but the dancers fall flat in comparison to Nadira. Impossible, she thinks.
To clear her head, Naima drifts through crowded streets. She buys incense, fresh juice, books, pirated DVDs she’ll never watch. She avoids her relatives, just as she avoids wayward motorcycles and rickshaws. She meets all kinds of men, sometimes only in their gazes. She’s pleased by how her presence throws a curve in their lives. But in a city of men, Naima always returns to Nadira. Maybe desire is a form of dance, she thinks. In it one dwells but can’t be made to stay put.
Now when she watches Nadira dance, Naima reads that Lahore has become the most polluted city in the world. She sits on her friend’s patio alone with the smog. It makes her chest heavy but doesn’t stop her from lighting another cigarette. This is a new habit she’s picked up. When she ashes her Dunhill in a painted tray she sees what appears to be an airplane drifting overhead. She can only make out faint, blinking lights as it descends towards the nearby airport. Her time here is up and she has realized that there still remains a chasm of difference between her and this city. It’s not an issue of blood, she tells herself. Lahore is confused.
A couple of weeks ago, she had finally mentioned Nadira to an older, stoned writer-friend who said, “Oh, that one. She was murdered by a musician’s manager—but he wasn’t really a manager, he was just a shoemaker who the musician hired because he was his only literate, cellphone-carrying friend at the time—anyways, she wanted to collaborate with the musician and the manager thought she was stealing his one client from him so he knocked on her door and when she answered he shot her dead.”
“That’s it?” Naima had said.
“Everyone knows this,” the writer-friend shrugged.
Naima then tried to find the musician, a flutist, at the shrine he performed at every Wednesday. For hours, she stood among men who stared at her through hash smoke. The flutist never showed up. So much for tradition, Naima thought.
When her artist-friend comes out onto the patio to ask her if she’s all packed, Naima looks at her as though she were a stranger and silently goes to her room. The electricity is out again so she lights a candle and uses her hotspot to play Nadira’s video, like a ritual. She keeps replaying it without finishing it. She types, “The glitches hold her in place before releasing her into possibility without resolve.” Resolution in non-resolution.
It’s time to go, the artist-friend says. Naima shuts her laptop and blows out the flame while the one inside her has already turned to ash.
Noor Asif is a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has appeared in The Juggernaut, Peripheries, Entropy Magazine, and Juked.