THE UNFINISHED PILOT
It started in the bathroom. You’d think nothing good would come out of being in the bathroom - at least, that’s what I’d come to believe, growing up Muslim and all. They tell you that the jinn - not quite demons, not quite humans, and not quite of this world - gather in there, waiting for some poor unfortunate soul to stare in the mirror for too long, and then-!
I digress. Staring into the mirror was exactly how you found me. You patted my head before stepping beside me to stare at me through the mirror. Your face had never looked more beautiful. Your skin glowed like the sun was shining just underneath your lovely bones. You always had that lit-from-within look when you were with me.
I should have known then.
We spent some more time staring at each other in the mirror, a quiet joy bubbling in my chest. Then, you gently coaxed me out of there and convinced me to follow you outside. I agreed, but I was insistent on returning to my dorm room and preparing myself for the 300-foot trip. I packed too much - two mats for us to sit on, my laptop, some fruit snacks, my love for you, and a book. I shoved them all away into my battered black backpack - except my love. I carried it in my hand like a lantern.
You laughed at me - you were planning to show me the hammocks and to sway beside me lovingly. Yet, you took the backpack from me and slotted your hand into my free one. We took the walk behind the dorm and into the empty field. I could feel my heart singing. I kept talking, kept bounding with joy and you kept teasing me. All this energy, you said, when you should be relaxing…
Obviously, I took a playful affront with that. I told you then, that I wasn’t like the rest of you, that I had so much more to get through before I could relax. Besides, I was so happy to be with you, so hopelessly in love that nothing you could say would make me frown.
The hammocks felt quite distant from one another, and you decided to fix that. You dragged the further one closer to us and then aligned them so that we could hold hands. This was when I had to tell you I’d never sat in a hammock before. You were so patient; you told me, again and again, to hold it tight as I placed my weight against it. Every time, I’d lean back and the hammock would gently dump me on the ground.
I began to talk about nothing, but a theme kept returning. This felt like the beginning. It felt somewhere between re-experiencing childhood and the pilot episode of a new season. The bottom of the billowing hammock would brush against my head making me feel cocooned. For once, I felt safe.
When I managed to flip onto the hammock, you cheered for me, and after we bantered, we fell into a comfortable, earned silence. I stared at the moon for some time, thinking about how beautiful she was. That’s when I brought up god.
Do you believe in an afterlife? I asked, gazing at you.
After a beat, you answered my question with a question, Why do you bring up death?
Did you know, that in Islam, they say that Malak-ul-Mowt, the Angel of Death, sits on the moon? I responded.
Oh yeah, I said. He sits there and with his long hand, he plucks the souls of mortals like we were all ants. Anyways, I’m always thinking about the end… and with it, I think about god.
What is God to you? You asked this without pretension or heat, for all you wanted was to know my answer.
God is love. God is death. God is change. God is the end.
Damn, you said.Who is god to you?
My god is a desert god, I said contentedly, staring up at the clear blue sky. A god for travelers, nomads, and believers. I believe in a creator as beautiful as a desert rose and as exacting as the desert wind…
My god is a desert god too, you said. But really, as long as you believe and repent, the afterlife should be okay.
You turned to me and smiled. That’s when the sky split open.
Later, we stumbled back into the dorm and hurried to my tiny room. It never felt as claustrophobic as it did that night. I think I was already beginning the recursive loop then. Tomorrow, I would have a list of metaphors to describe the experience. At that moment, I just wanted to survive.
You knew then that something was wrong, and you were trying to help. You touched my bare back and I felt sucked into your palm, smaller than the eye of a needle. My neon-orange dress felt plastered to my skin, maybe from sweat, but you kept telling me that I was cold. You tucked me lovingly under a throw blanket, and over my duvet. I asked you to turn something soothing on, but you started to play Regular Show, and it made me even more distressed. There was something about the events of each episode that worsened my existential state.
I murmured things under my breath - later, you’d tell me that I’d kept saying I feel trapped. You asked me why I wouldn’t stop saying that. I still wish I could describe to you what was going on because these loops I was in were so intense. I was facing the wall, yet I could see images flashing in front of me. Every anxious moment of my life, every crossroads I’d doubted, every terrifying threshold I’d ever crossed became clear to me. I was re-experiencing them, specters brought forth into the present. Of course, I felt trapped. I felt trapped like an immortal who was seeking death but kept on discovering how truly invincible they were. I felt trapped in a million strange metaphors, each more dizzying than the next.
I could only describe the feeling in relation to others - because how compelling is the image of some small, cowering person hidden just barely under their covers? How much would you (not You, baby) care to hear about me?
Can you see that? I cried out, pointing to the sky. I could see, or maybe I just sensed this mystic being. It filled the tear in the sky ominously, a massive being with a black hole for a head. Upon its hole-for-head sat this crown made of orange rotating triangles. Its hands were missing a middle finger, with the pinky and thumb curling outwards. My heart beat so fast that I worried it would fall out of my chest.
I’d never felt more alone. I stared back at the sky and kept looking for some words, a name to describe the terror I saw. It will later come to me in a dream, threshold spirit. One that waits by the door and watches all that enter. One that determines who is worthy and who is not, one who passes judgment, one who decides.
Around the edges of the tear, there were little tessellations of color, mandalas in rainbow shades, swirling eternally around the being. They made me seasick. I felt like I was swaying alongside them. Quickly, I turned to you and began telling you another story.
Do you want to hear the Muslim explanation for shooting stars?
You laughed and nodded. You were a little concerned, but you accepted the diversion. It must have been soothing.
Yeah, what do you want me to call it? But, the jinn- I’ve told you about them- try to intercept these divine messages that need to be passed from the seven skies to the Earth. They stack themselves upon one another to eavesdrop and the angels pelt them with balls of fire, also known as…
Meteors. That’s interesting… do the jinn ever manage to intercept the information?
Sometimes, I said. Then they’ll mix it with lies and whisper it around the world. For a few beats, we gazed into each other's eyes.
Hey love, you said.What did you see earlier?
Against my own will, I turned my head. The threshold spirit was still there.
Nothing, I lied. Then the spirit turned its head and stared directly at me. Its eyes were rimmed with blazing flames and it had no discernible iris, just massive black pupils.
I screamed and rolled off my hammock, falling painfully into the grass below.
It ended in a bathroom. When you flicked the overhead light on in my room, reality splintered. I felt like I was in the hospital, and my head was spinning. I thought I was seeing double until I realized this Other You was dressed differently. I thought the worst, but then I heard them. I was aware of another version of myself and it terrified me so much that I hurtled into the gender-neutral restroom. I locked myself in there.
Against the walls, in the cubbies, and on the sink were nine different containers. Some of them were mason jars, some of them were mugs with silly logos, and one was a very large vase. When you lived with a Muslim person, you’d find that they had a similar collection of cups, watering cans, mugs, or, if they were fancy enough, bidets. I was sure I needed the bathroom, so I filled up a glass mason jar and plucked it out of the sink when it was full. Then, I made the mistake of looking at myself in the mirror again...
This time, it was awful. I could see myself, but I felt this link to another reality. In this one, I stood in the bathroom, wearing a black shirt and some jeans, but I was stuck staring at myself. Then, two became four and four became eight until I was aware of a vertiginous number of realities. And in every single one of them, I was reacting differently. It was like hearing a million voices screaming at you, and every single one was distressed. I was the loudest voice of them all, and I was distressed too.
Underneath it all, it was the same pain. I was looking at myself with despair, disgust, and confusion and asking loudly, is this all there is to me?’ In every reality, I was just as stuck, just as tortured, just as miserable. It didn’t get better anywhere. It didn’t change, as much as my environment did.
I’m not sure, my love, if I’ve spoken to you about psychosis in our time together. For me, I’ve always felt like I’ve seen life through this thin screen - glass, metal, a mirror - and I’m interacting with the world through and beyond with this screen. When something awful or terrifying happens, something that disrupts my worldview, it’s like the screen shatters and I’m staring into this glitched-out abomination, cowering in fear at what may come out of the hole.
Whatever slips between the frayed edges of my reality is terrifying, but what’s worse is the dark realizations that are bound to come with it.
The mason jar slipped out of my hand and I watched it fall in slow motion, reaching out slowly to stop it, but I didn’t reach it in time. It shattered on the ground, splashing water on my ankles. My knees buckled and I fell onto the ground, right into the glass shards.
You heard the thump and you came running, knocking on the door frantically.
After I scrambled from underneath the hammock, the rift in the sky was gone. That was the last moment of bliss I had that night. It was starting to get dark, though, and I wondered where all the time had gone.
You asked me if I wanted to head back in, and I nodded furiously. I stood up and nudged my filled bag with my foot. To make things lighter, I began to joke about how I overpacked, about how I brought so many things I didn’t even use, and then I realized something.
There’s a metaphor in this, I said.
Yeah, isn’t it a metaphor for the afterlife? you asked, slipping my bag over your shoulders.
What do you mean?
Well, we have all these things that we think are important, you said. But after death, while you’re traversing those lands, you can’t take anything with you.
Everything must go, I agreed. Everything must be left behind.
With your free hand, you took mine and you squeezed tight.
Meet Munira (any/all); a recent college grad, dreamer-writer-producer, and a distant cosmological object. Munira wants to tell stories starring characters that linger in your mind after you leave them behind. In their free time, you can find Munira practicing the bass, reading webcomics, and writing ferociously. This is Munira's first time being published.