How To: Find Home (Corona Edition)
By Laiba Fatima, Prose Editor
When school ended prematurely in early March, my boyfriend and I decided to stay through the end of the semester until he bought himself a flight back to South Korea three weeks later. In all fairness, it was a decision we had made together after I had inspired in him a panic I had myself borrowed from another friend. The world is going to absolute shit, she had said. If we don’t leave America now, we’ll be stuck for a while, I had repeated. Consumed, he had called Delta Airlines and changed his seat to the end of the month while I had done the same for mine for Lahore with Qatar Airways.
The next morning I woke up to the news of the world going to absolute shit. Pakistan had shut its borders for all international flights, incoming and outgoing, in an attempt to limit the introduction of foreign cases. Our own cases we had no issues with, they were home team, of course. Every single fluorescent lamp at every single bazaar shone bright enough for me to see it reflected in the Nashville night sky. I was furious and defeated and in no order. The ban was announced for a month and my seven hundred dollar ticket was exchanged for a travel voucher I wouldn’t get for another three weeks. I purchased a new ticket for the second week of April, bid au revoir to my boyfriend on the 31st of March, and moved in with a generous post-grad friend off-campus to battle the loneliness that came with an empty floor and an emptier bank account.
In the two weeks at my friend’s, I lost two internship opportunities, my on-campus job at the library, my SSN to a PayPal scam, my second flight due to a week-long extension in the ban, and a chapstick. I gained one (1) travel voucher. Realizing that the restrictions weren’t going anywhere and that perhaps I had outstayed my welcome on her mid-century modern TV lounge couch, I decided to upgrade to my cousin’s sectional TV lounge couch in Johnson City, Tennessee. She graciously offered to make the 5-hour drive to pick me up and let me treat her one-bedroom apartment like my own.
It became clear to me soon that the apartment was going to be very much like my own and only my own. My cousin’s busy schedule as a resident didn’t allow her much time away from the hospital and I only ever saw her for dinner. I kept myself busy by obsessively following the unsurprising yet still upsetting updates in the Barred From The Nation Debacle like you would a trashy tabloid reporting on a stale on-again, off-again Hollywood couple. My cheating scandal was the government offering special repatriation flights for a fortune apiece that I could not afford for an airline that had just witnessed one of the biggest crashes of this blessed year. Classes ended with May, my cooking adventures a week after that, my perfect quarantine body fitness routine another after that, and that was it.
The rest of the two months I ended up spending at my cousin’s went by sitting with the idea that privilege — and the awareness of it — is quite bittersweet. I was lonelier than I had ever been despite my cousin coming home every night or taking me to hang out with her friends, my boyfriend Zoom calling me twice a day, my family and friends keeping in touch for hours on end. The prospect of this being my life, waking up to nothing of my own and falling asleep to even less, made the quiet of the house deafening against the noise in my head. Was the initial decision to stay until the end of the term worse than the anxiety-driven choice to abandon it halfway and send my boyfriend away? Did I want to go home or was I simply looking for something to look forward to? Our brave new world was delicately hand-embroidered with terrible tragedies, and yet I still had shelter, my health, and a great support system. Where was I to take My Sadness then?
But before I could even begin picking at the hems of the fabric that my moral dilemma was fashioned out of, almost like a response to a prayer I hadn’t made, Pakistan allowed the resumption of international flights to and from the country. Around the same time, Qatar Airways issued me my two refunds, and I flew back to my city, my love, Lahore, on my hundredth attempt on June 13. I put My Sadness in the front pocket of my ukulele gig bag and carried it on my shoulders all the way over into my mother’s arms.