Now that I’ve reached the land of dreams, let me tell you what it took to get there. Time, for one thing. I’m into my mid-fifties now, and it scares me. Bold posturing in the face of death is one thing when you’re nineteen – I lost the taste for it decades ago. Here I am, far older than the mental images I keep of my parents, both dead before I was out of primary school. Khalsa and Anas … I’m old enough to be their parent. Were they good people, good Muslims, salt of the earth? I frankly can’t remember.
Unlike so many of my ‘people’, I am not steeped in family, culture, religion, a past. While everyone I knew growing up was wrapping themselves in what was expected of them, like naked souls dressing up against the cold, I was cutting myself free. I thought of myself as a man hacking his way through the jungle towards a clearing. I wanted to be naked, to feel the cold bracing my soul. Those others, swathed in layer upon layer of custom, duty, belief … they struck me as mummies, doomed to suffocation by their own consent. I saw myself as relatively free, relatively fortunate, relatively courageous. I was too young to recognise that I was every bit as smug, conformist and blind as I held those living mummies to be, maybe more so. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that a soul might die of exposure, or that I might merely be wrapping myself up in a different set of bandages.