Spotlight: Akif Rashid

Updated: Jun 24

A Match Made in Heaven


Well, hello there.


Yes, I imagine that you have some questions for me. Well, let me be simple.


You’re quite emphatically dead now.


Relax, friend. It’s not the end of the world. You certainly weren’t important enough for that. Oh, now, don’t throw a fit about it.


My bedside manner needs work? Well, perhaps. I might need to ask you to extend some patience. After enough aeons, I can’t say I have a lot left to give. Honestly, I quite envy your youth.


Ah, right, enough of the pitter-patter. You’re dead. I’m sure you’re wondering what happens next. It’s a trait that the living are quite obsessed with. You lot have condensed the entirety of your existences into the idea of ‘next’. There is no peace in your moments. Only the spaces wherein you seek the next one.


Who am I?


How on Eden is that important?


You’re in the afterlife, and the good side of it at that. Why waste time analyzing it?


Here’s the only thing you need to understand: the weather is nice here.


*


You have to understand, I didn’t really plan on dying this quickly or this undramatically. I was hoping for a bang, not a whimper. I was hoping to at least have spent a week on a bed, being visited by those who half-love me, and saying cryptic wisdom that meant nothing. Perhaps there’s grace in dying young, but really, it’s so mundane now. All these diseases, school shootings, and drunk drivers have really taken the tragedy out of the act. Where is the meaningfulness of it all? We spend all our lives searching for some sign of direction and value; is it really so bad to want worth in death?


But here we are, and there is no need to dwell on it too long. At least that’s what I’ve been told. It’s funny. I didn’t think I had earned heaven. It might be a clerical error. I won’t question it, though. After all, it seems like none of the rules and limitations that applied to worship apply here. I have a nice home now. Never thought I’d own one, but hey, the economy is better in the Silver City. One of the bathroom taps pours out whiskey. I can’t drink the tap water, but there’s that. Oh, and the thermostat seems to be broken, rather cold in here.


Steve Jobs is up here, and he makes a new phone each day. And he just gives it to everyone. Nice enough guy, really, but now I’m just using it to balance a wobbly table

I’m not entirely sure what to do now, I have to be honest. It’s funny. As much as we like to think that we’re wasting time, we are better than we think. Danger is the flavour of life. We enjoy the risk; driving fast, mountain climbing, drunkenly walking home at 3AM, unprotected sex, heartbreak, fistfights, anger and passion. Fear is such a powerful, useful thing. We live fuller in the hopes of living longer. Oh, not physically, that’s not up to us, but to be remembered is victory. I once asked if I could check in on the living, see how people reacted to my untimely time’s-up. I did not get the reply I was hoping for.


*


Oh, no, no. We don’t do that anymore. It was more trouble than it was worth. Would you have liked it if you could see your kids—not that you had any, but if you had been given the chance—to see your kids sell your treasured record collection so they can buy a spoiler for their car? And then there’s all those folks who thought their kids were straight until they had the ability to be omniscient helicopter parents.


You’d be surprised at how many reunions in the Kingdom started as fistfights.


Besides, even if the parents weren’t too mad, they did become a bit obsessive. They’d binge watch their kids’ lives. Would you have liked to be your mom’s favorite Netflix show? Oh, right, your mom is still alive. Let me see here. She’s got a good 30 years left in her. Yes, yes, your passing didn’t really break her that much. What can I say? The woman has become much stronger since she started seeing that mailman fellow.


Oh, you didn’t know that, did you? Well, my point is proven.


*

Now, what can I even do? I’ve been on a few nice walks. The paths are made of whimsy. Shimmering yellow roads with deeply green grass, and the constant sound of running rivers. The sights can adapt. You could get from Eiffel Tower to the artic in a short, brisk-paced walk if you want. It was fun in the start, seeing all those places I never got to, but then in time, you realize how much of a facsimile it all is. We might try to spend all our lives trying to gain a sense of control, but it’s once you have it that you realize how detrimental to the human spirit it is. Take it from me, I’m a ghost. Right now, I can will any thought into existence, and as such, they’re all incredibly boring. I was never the most imaginative sort, but the fact that now my daydreams are slow and sludgy is empty and cold has rather depressed me. I mean, think about it. The people around you are literally figments now. Delusions. Everyone’s schizophrenic in heaven.


Oh, and then there’s the thing about stuff. See, we love stuff. Getting it and showing it off and feeling good for the five minutes after we bought it. Now? Dang. Blink and it’s there. Where’s the struggle? Steve Jobs is up here, and he makes a new phone each day. And he just gives it to everyone. Nice enough guy, really, but now I’m just using it to balance a wobbly table. And yes, I made the table wobbly on purpose. I used to really like learning about music, and I spent a couple of hours a week practicing. It was a rush to get a piece down just the way you wanted, or to struggle to create the right flow. But music isn’t about fingers anymore. Those harps are just for show. I could pinch one nostril closed and blow Beethoven’s 9th out the other. That being said, people here really hate whistling.


The Lovely Bones (2020) by Noormah Jamal (gouache and pigment on wasli)

Ah, there was a time when, in the wild rush and pulsating drums of the every day, there were simple ways to find joy. Listen to one good song, write a page of earnest thought, and talk, at least for a few moments, to a good friend. That was happiness. I didn’t think of it as such, of course, when I was alive. My joys were merely coping mechanisms, escapes, flights of fancy that meant far more than I could know. It makes sense when you think about it. I used to believe that these are the only things keeping me from committing suicide, and now it I have an eternity without them. Peachy.


Oh, I guess you’re wondering why these simple pleasures aren’t in heaven. Well, the fact of the matter is that happiness is a relative term. A comparative betterment. That sucked, but this doesn’t, so I guess I’m happy in the moment. When each fleeting thought is possible, there’s no anticipation. Want it, got it, and don’t really want it anymore. Don’t like something? It’s immediately gone. A state of nonstop ease, a pandemonium of pleasure. How dreadfully boring.


I need to figure something out.


*


What’s the matter? The land of milk and honey not living up to your expectations? Don’t tell me you’re lactose intolerant.


Yes, yes, I hear you. I’ve heard it many times before. I can’t quite remember what I said, but I know of a soul that doe—what? Oh, no, it’s not a quest. Well, perhaps. I suppose you saw through that one. Huh. If only you’d have seen that car coming.


I wouldn’t call it a low blow. I’m incapable of those. It’s… divine horseplay.


Okay, well, if you’re bored, then why don’t you go and meet some people?


All your friends are alive? Then just wish for them.

What? No, no. That won’t kill them. Probably. Actually, I’ve never checked. Do you think someone wished for you?


Listen, just because I can know everything, does not mean that I want to. Do you have any idea how much of a headache that is?


Right, I’ll check. Sure, I’ll make time. Until then… oh! Your ex-girlfriend is here.


Calm down, please. If you’re going to throw a fit every time someone you love dies, then these are going to be very long eternities.


Yes, there are long forevers and short forevers. It’s all about your approach. Try hot yoga.


Oh, the girl. Let me see here. It’s that one you had in college.


You didn’t know? Huh. Two years ago. Painkillers and vodka.


Yeah, well, I guess when someone says they never want to see you again because you slept with their sister, you tend not to stay in touch.


You’re wondering why you’re not in hell right now, aren’t you?


One of the great mysteries of the afterlife. Keeps the mind sharp.


*


Well, it’s quite the news to be told that the one that got away is just a thought away. It feels like I could cross the ocean in a single moment, or simply will her to me. Wait, will? That’s a pesky question. If I wish to talk to her, would I be forcing her to listen? I mean, I can’t quite say I’ve played around with these magic genie powers with another person involved. Look, let me give you an example. I want the door handles of my house to be made of lava, and there they go, melting and boiling into an angry orange rock. Now, if I wanted them to be covered in gold, then that’s no issue either. The lava freezes, and fine metal spreads over the rapidly cooling rock. So shiny. It’s nice, I guess. Hard to tell the value of a thing everyone has or can have. Maybe our capitalistic overlords were good for us. At least these empty status symbols were something to fight for. Now they’re just cold and colorful.


But when it comes to another person, would that be all right? Would they know that my thoughts are flickering something wishful into their hearts? It seems like a dirty game. And it’s been a few years. I don’t really need to see her, do I? Perhaps the lesson here is simply to go and find a friend to talk to, one where I could never feel the want to direct them. It’s strange, it’s so strange. From powerless, searching for the illusion of control, I can now blow out my mind’s weirdest wants to gain them. Unlimited, infinite, and for eternity. You get the hyperbole. Everything is bigger. Perhaps a bit of overcompensating, if I’m being honest, but hey, what can I say? The first thing I did when I got here was create Ferrari monster trucks.


So, if I take the same focus used in those crushing axles and three-foot-thick wheels going at 220mph, would I be able to make myself a friend? More than that, a lost friend? I’m kind of scared to do it. Is Heaven supposed to feel so…tactful? Maybe this is way they tell you to practice moderation. Helps you learn how to deal with the headaches of absolute power.


To make this even more tedious, a quick check-in reveals that anyone I might actually care about is alive and well. How disappointing. I could resist the temptation to contact her, and really, I should, but I’m already here, so what’s the worst that can happen? Heaven isn’t a club; a bouncer isn’t going to kick you out for getting rowdy. It’s eternity. Live a little, break the rules.


So, I suppose the first step is finding her. I could simply blink her into my vast expanse, but she’s been here a couple of years. She’s probably spruced up her side. I could learn a thing or two. Hey, she found ways to decorate an 11-foot-square student dorm. I’m sure the unlimited budget and lack of laws of physics has resulted in a gorgeous home. Or at least better scented candles. God, I hope it’s not oak and cherries again.


No, no, I didn’t call you! Yes, I get it. Don’t take your name in vain. Bad habits, okay?


*


The land of milk and honey not living up to your expectations? Don’t tell me you’re lactose intolerant

You’re back rather early. Didn’t you find her? I thought I gave you the celestial phonebook. Oh, you found her? Then why are you moping about? Your face looks like the prototype for a giraffe’s neck.


Ah, you found out that her then-boyfriend couldn’t deal with her passing and joined her in these cloudy cities. Yes, well, of course they were going to try and spend time together.


All right, all right, calm down. Wrath is only acceptable when it’s divine. Actually, I can’t really call your feelings mortal or human anymore. Oh, don’t think about it too much. I don’t like a philosopher. Did you know that every great thinker you’ve had is basically just one person? I’m not into reincarnation, but I do send that one annoying bugger down again and again.


Camus is just Kant going through a depressive episode. Santa Claus is Socrates tripping on MDMA.

Oh, right, your point. Well, I don’t see the big deal. You just need to will a second copy of Hope into existence. It’s not hard.


What do you mean that’s wrong? Why, it makes complete sense.


If I recall, it was actually one of your lot that came up with it. You’re so creative sometimes.


The man who cloned himself really just wanted to spend time with his wife, kids, and parents equally, and it was too much trouble to do the Math.


Free will?

*


I can’t wrap my head around the fact that the best solution is to make a Xerox of the person you want to spend time with. This is ridiculous, and I don’t even want to consider it, but the seed has been planted and now I can’t help but wonder. I found some stone tablets, and I suppose I might as well draw up a list of pros and cons. It’s just a thought exercise. Time does pass better when you think you’re getting something done, and since I’ve spent so much time thinking about it, I might as well do something with it. What’s the point of a great idea that doesn’t become a terrible plan?


Still, this requires patience. If I might dare to create a new person, then I have to know the facts. Like I said, I’m not very imaginative. My mental struggles far outlast my moral ones. There is research to be done, and like the man who invented Frankenstein, I begin. Oh, perhaps that’s too dark. I know she’s my ex, but she’s not a monster. I just have to craft a combination from her current state of being and the ideal of her that lives in my memories. And really, isn’t it nice to have someone who lives up to the pedestal? Time creates longing. It shifts reality to the colours of sweet memory. Oh, this tangy and sweet concoction. There is no reason for this illusion to break. I have the unique pleasure of making a dream into a tangible, a truth written in the words I want to weave, but I am too unsure of myself. Pride goeth before the fall, and doubt comes before the rise. How can I land in the middle? Smack dab, adapt.


I start planning, of course, because there is no harm in that. At least, there is no harm to anyone else. I’m giving myself a migraine. Of course, this is hard. I don’t know how she thinks now. I can stare at her from afar, and hide myself in the glorious light, or the shade of a fig tree all I want, but all I really gather is the fact that she prefers tomatoes over onions, and that her sundresses flow against the wind. Not only is her current state an enigma to me, but it makes me wonder if I ever did know her. Oh, loved her when we were both 20, but that’s easy love. You just need to sit under the stars, talk about the biggest dreams while sipping the cheapest beer, and tell yourself you’re invincible. Your skin feels like it’s made of granite, and touch feels like the only fire that can slip through it. You can change yourself to get more of it. You can learn who you are in the guiding arms of another lost soul, spinning in an unstudied black. Everything is soft to the touch. Sweet. Sensual. Shallow.


The fact of the matter is that most people are complex, self-misunderstood beings. We love books and music because they can carry the weight of being human for us. The depth is within everyone, but the ability to explain is trapped in the pen strokes and piano keys of a blessed few. Those smart bastards tend to kill themselves off too often, though. The meek shall inherit the earth, because the strong ones snap off much quicker. Process of elimination until it’s your turn to shine. I say all this, because even with no concept of time, I seem to procrastinate. Perhaps I ought to talk to her, get a better idea of how her mind works. Would she like to see me?


*


I can tell you that she would not. Oh, you’re shocked? Yes, I know I directed you here, but I didn’t think you’d try to talk to the original. She has too much going on for her. True, literally everyone on this plane of existence is on the up-and-up but hear me out.


Her death was not an easy one. Those kinds rarely are. When people come here by their own hand, they tend to hold on to a lot of the past. What we do, or at least how we guide them, is to teach them to fill their time with newness, with that fulfillment they never felt.


You see, heaven is not about the endless gold, the silver skyline, the singing angels, or the—did he just leave?


*


No offense, but I think I can afford to make a mistake or two if I really want to. It’s not like I can live to regret it. Oh, goodness, as I draw closer, I can’t help but think she looks beautiful. Wait, can I have a dirty thought here? Yes, yes I can! Why did I just assume I couldn’t? Oh, never mind. I shouldn’t spend too many brain cells on fantasy. It might pop out of thin air, as things tend to do. But here it comes, my chance to actually talk to someone, to reconnect, to sit and reminisce. An end of the ennui, a final cry of the boredom. This is magical. Why, we don’t even have to talk about the good old days. We can literally stroll down memory lane. Our springy selves can arrive from behind falling autumn leaves, and we can laugh, can’t we? There’s no better person to laugh at than oneself.


The more I wander, the more I wonder, and these thoughts fill me, truly, with great feeling, but little purpose. Why is it that I can experience all this within me and no action gushes forth? I busy myself, which is new. I watch her. There is some peace in this. I watch her yellow sandals over the matted grass and loose sand; I flutter like the white scarf around her neck; I fasten myself deeply to a rock, as she does the same to the oversized buttons of her dress. I impose my desire, not on her, but on myself. I do not see the man with his arm around her waist. When she plays music, one instrument is enough. When she reads, her head floats on an invisible pillow. When she paints, it is the imagination, not a model or muse. Actually, when did she get so good at all of these hobbies? Is this what reasonable people do with their time?


I’m learning a lot about her, and I want a deeper understanding. She always had a bit of a bulbu- uh, bubbly nose. It seems like she hasn’t bothered to shrink it down. It’s not unusual for people to change their look, but now that I think about it, it’s usually the teenagers that do so. You know the kind. Those fifteen-year-olds that you see sitting around cafes, talking about the broken iPhone screens, and which girl wears the best jeggings. American Pie is a surprisingly common source of inspiration to quite a few. If you’re wondering why so many young people are dead, then you better invest in some self-driving cars.


I watch her for a few weeks, and to keep myself from getting distracted, I start taking notes. She covers her mouth with her left hand when she laughs. The girl has an iced pumpkin spice latte every morning, as she listens to talking books. No, not audio books. I mean the book flaps its pages like a jaw. Wonderful acoustics, really. The girl was once in pre-med, and in the afternoon, she seems to will forth these loose limbs, slice them open, and fix up some issue which I imagine she put there. It’s not a pretty sight, and I tend to focus on the fact her hair dances with life during this time, like a dog’s tail. Another thing she adored were racing movies. Oh, there were ridiculous, hyper-masculine, short-sighted, thoughtless, and flashy. Nothing at all like her in real life, and yet, she couldn’t get enough of them. We were bound to the buses and one generous cab driver back then. I don’t know if she ever learned how to drive, but she likes to dress her little friend in logo-riddled spandex and kiss his helmet. I couldn’t really shift focus on that one.


I have to wonder if I never noticed these things before, if the memories simply faded over time, or if they grew in later. Actually, there’s a thought. I don’t know myself very well; only that I am a fool, and it would take too long to explain why. After this brief stint of empirical study, I can say more certainly that I never knew her well either. What do I have to lose if there is another one of her on this endless plane? True, she would be incomplete, but there is a secret pleasure in that. I am not the person I was yesterday, and it should be sinful to ask anyone to commit to themselves. There are two things I would never expect of a person. For them to be constant, and for them to be sane. The rest can be learned.


I want to give it more thought. I am all but convinced, but that counts for very little. I sit above the sky, and watch films on the clouds. They convey an idea. A life in reverse. Waken from this creaking vessel of woody death, grow stronger and faster every day. You’ll meet a girl, un-break her heart, and grow happier and more excited, until the day she forgets you completely. Walk backwards a little more, and you’ll get younger, thoughts will disappear slowly (as they did in old age) until you end in a glorious orgasm. Now that, that is a life. It makes no difference, really. Endings and beginnings are the only things that are truly infinite. Beyond death, is there love still?


There is enough planning. Or perhaps more could be done, but it won’t. I have waited, and wondered, and now, I want. I want badly. There will be a cost, but desire blinds me. Give me, now. If you look at my notes, the writing becomes larger and less succinct. The splaying, swooping letters of a child, who writes, DO YOU LIKE ME? WOULD YOU BE MY VALENTINE? I HAVE COOKIES. Enough, please. Give me her, in my arms, and a piece of land to call our own. The demand is made.


*


Oh, this won’t end well. I tried to explain to him, but people seem too impatient to really grasp my method. Perhaps it would be better if I take over at this point and guide the story to a close. At the end of the day, I am an author, and there is always going to be intentional and affective fallacy. Oh, right, I’m supposed to be infallible, but it’s not like I exist in a vacuum. I am heard, I am read, I am interpreted. And, to be honest with you, I am a little tongue-twisted at times. Being a polyglot will do that to you. I speak in more than one form, each language weighted down with its rules, with its histories, with its expressionistic mistakes and nuances. The complexity of thought exists outside of all this, and the attempt to sieve out these coherent ideas often results in layers and layers of secrets. You can’t know, but you can trust.


It’s funny how far the idea of punishment goes to inspire critical thinking. While man is burdened with fear, while he is riddled with doubt, he will search and search for meaning, and one way or the other, he will find something to sate his mind. When he is free, floating, flying, then he tends to let the most wanton and wonder-less wisdoms act as his wishes. They just don’t listen unless they think it’s a nasty negotiation. Really, though, you have to be rather impatient to think that I meant cloning, don’t you? And with how much art that girl makes now, you’d think he’d have at least gotten the lesson that a bad original is far more valuable than a praiseworthy imitation. Oxymorons and morons.


I’m not mad or disappointed. There’s something about life that makes people rash and ravenous, trapped in a state between hurting and healing, between longing and laziness. That’s by design, of course. Each article of beauty stands in front of its own tragedy. He’s so caught up in the old fires, he can’t imagine fresh wood. He did it, didn’t he? He tried to outright duplicate her form. I shudder at the thought of how much it must hurt a soul to be pulled by two gravities, un-nicely asked to take a shape and dance to a vague beat. People are such delicate things, like pretty glass marbles. A careless word, a strong-headed act, a misguided want, and they shatter. Care for people, you’re one of them.


No, she didn’t split into two. She screamed to the—ah, I seem to be picking up too many earthy turns of phrase. Well, it’s one of those old fire and brimstone moments. Big ouch.


I witnessed it, because it’s quite rare for someone to do something so incredibly stupid up here. Ol’ boy scrunched his face up in concentration, twisted and turned his nose, and spoke his wish. There’s a more power in the spoken desire, don’t you know? She got yanked, like a big Vaudeville hook stabbed her in the bum and pulled. But then her lover, of course, didn’t want her to be pulled away like that, so he willed her back. Some strange tug-o-war with a human spirit, both of them too caught up in the moment to read the warning signs. She was not doing well. I tried to gain insight into this, as I was rather curious myself.


You see, it’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? Both of the men know, from lore and from experience, that this place fulfills every little wish they can have, nothing is forbidden or out of reach or impossible. Meanwhile, she’s become an object, riddled to the brim with every feeling of indecision and doubt that ever consumed her. She doesn’t know, because the wills of others are imposed on her and attempt to redefine her. She inherits the lack of choice. She aches. She cries. They finally notice what they have done. They try to approach her, but she doesn’t want that. Now it’s a three-way of discontent and disregard. I think it’s been about a year, they’ve all been trying to win out, get close to each other whilst bound in this deadlock.


Oh, yes, I’m well aware that this all sounds terrible.


What would you have me do about it? Take away their free will? I couldn’t even if I wanted to. That’s not how it works here.


This is what I was trying to tell him about earlier. Heaven, this plain, is not about the pretty little features or the promises. It’s not about what is, it’s about what could be. This is a place where you have nothing in the way of your truest wants, save for your own sense of being. Just as it is your choice to create gold and diamonds, and how value-less they have become now, it is your choice for how much this urge to want consumes you. You can have everything, and perhaps nothing will satisfy you. Heaven, that’s just a nice little name. It’s the afterlife, and there’s only one. Whether you make it paradise or despair is based on your actions.


I tried to warn him. I try to warn all of them.


People just can’t stop themselves from ruining their own lives.



Akif Rashid is the author of the short story collection, Encounters, and the scriptwriter for the independent film, Parchayee.


















About the featured artist: Noormah Jamal is a Peshawar-based visual artist. She graduated with honours from the National College of Arts in 2016, majoring in Mughal miniature painting and minoring in printmaking.

Having grown up in many cities in Pakistan, her experiences of each are reflected in her practice. Her self-identity is deeply rooted in her Pukhtoon heritage.

Since graduating, she has had numerous shows in Pakistan, Dubai, China and Switzerland. Tarhun The Beautiful the Bizarre at O Art Space, Lahore; Teller of Tales at Taseer Art Gallery, Lahore; Ustaad Shahgird exhibited at PNCA Islamabad and XIANG Polytechnic University, China and Space in Time at Reitberg Museum, Switzerland/Canvas Gallery Karachi. Her work has also appeared in various magazines and publications. She was an artist in residence at VASL Karachi, for the Taaza Tareen 2019 cycle and was awarded the Imran Mir art prize for the most promising artist 2019.

She recently had her first solo show titled Drun: the insider, the outsider at Sanat Initiative Karachi.


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