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External Memory

Zunaira Nadeem

The other day, someone asked you what day of the week it was, and you didn’t even remember the month. You thought March? But it was April. Oh April, you cruel… you and your cruelty woe betide, you do remember T.S. Elliot. Then you thought, it’s only because you’d been at home for so long: everyone’s days and nights are gliding into each other’s ribcages and making distinguishing one from the other impossible. But you do remember other things, the drive to work, the colours of the splotchy sky right before you know it’s going to rain—and the ruin for the city that comes with. One night your acid reflux flares up and you know all the possible meds that can help as you hit up the pharmacy located in the city’s biggest hospital. Tough time tough weather, the pharmacist says. Yeah, you thank him while you pat the pepper spray you have stashed in your purse pocket. You know the names of the medications and their ingredients inside out. It’s a compound medicine unavailable anywhere else. Omeprazole, your returning friend. You don’t remember the time though. It was night. You should have looked at your phone. When you climb back into your unmade bed, you sleep, but you wish you knew when and for how long. You wake up to the sounds of thunder.

Your button plops off your favourite pastel kurta, the one that makes you look professional and effortlessly put together, and you try to stitch it back. Then you remember the last time you stitched anything was 2009, so you pull out your tablet and three tutorials later figure out how to successfully stitch it back on. It’s a shoddy job but it works. The next day in the office, someone from HR asks your home number, the landline one, and you have to pull out ‘My Contacts’ and locate it saved under ‘Home Landline’. You figure why should you bother remembering these details, you have all this external memory.

But later, when you remember he asked you if you hated thunderstorms, you blank. And when he asked you if you enjoyed going out and attending the Sunday socials, before he asked you to marry you. And you blank. Because you can’t remember ever having said or thought that. And then you pull out years’ worth of text conversations and wonder who you were. You must have said it; the proof is in the screen. But you spend the next few days wondering if all this outsourcing memory is really for you.

Art by Nashmia Haroon from the private collection of Mehvash Amin

Your mother rings you up for a chocolate milk cake recipe you made a few months ago. You can’t remember it, so you spend 20 minutes fishing it out of your search history. You find it and send her the link but don’t think you’ll make it yourself again at least, you can’t be bothered to try and outdo yourself. She asks how you are doing. And you realize you are utterly exhausted. She wants you to come home, your father does too, but you politely say, “This is my home”, and hang up.

You do remember your husband died. You seem to forget everything else: nothing remains worthy of keeping around for long, thoughts clank around your head empty, like an attic that has too much dust and too little furniture. Then you remember there are no attics in Karachi, but there are basements filled up with sewage, rainwater, and stinking pipes. It is in your head, so it is alright. In the dark, you feel around in the attic, find a chair lined with his jokes and fall into it.


Zunaira Nadeem is an educator, writer and poet based in Karachi. She has been teaching at the university level for the past several years. Having spent her childhood in the U.S., her literary interests gravitate towards diasporic writing, memory and the role of desire in our lives. She is currently working on her first novella. Her short story Into the Light was selected as a finalist for The Salam Award for Imaginative Fiction 2020.

About the artist: Nashmia Haroon is a Lahore-based multi-disciplinary artist, with origins in painting and photography. Her work was featured on the cover of The Aleph Review, Vol. 3 (2019).


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