I walk out of the plane and I’m hit with humidity, heat, and a smell that I can’t even describe with words. This is home.

The airport is packed as I trudge my way to get my overweight, large suitcases. My eyes are watering, my hair is in a state, and my clothes that seemed so loose back in Rome are suddenly sticking to me as the gaze of almost every male present follows me in a carnal manner. 

This is home.

I try and relax as I look at the out-dated conveyor belt slowly moving bag after bag until I finally see my own. I push my way through around 30 males, clad in a mundane-grey uniform, to grab my bag as they all scream,

“Baji, baji” to catch my attention.

One of them reaches for my bag but I reject his offer as I can carry my own luggage. As I try to grab my suitcase, I realise that the 37 kilos are heavier than they were back in Rome. But still, I was not going to embarrass myself so I muster up all my strength and get it down. I can do this on my own, I tell myself.

Soon my other bag comes, another army of grey clad males try and stop me—again I resist. Finally I’m out. The heat hits my face and I can’t remember ever feeling this hot before. My family is screaming off in the distance, I recognise their voices; their faces are blurry because my eyes are hurting. I see the glistening tip of the M of McDonald’s as I am engulfed by a hug of multiple arms.

This is home, I remind myself.

It’s been two months since I’ve moved back to Karachi – two months of gradually falling back into the life I was so comfortable with for 18 years. Everything I depended on for comfort and familiarity is no longer comfortable, and no longer familiar. Some days I tell myself that today, I’ll do it. Today I won’t care what anyone says or thinks, but then the other night while I was blindly scrolling through Facebook I came across an article about a 13-year-old girl that was gang raped. How can we exist freely in a place where a girl is lured into rape with the promise of candy? I thought of Sabeen Mahmud and how vital a haven like T2F is in a society like ours. But they got rid of her; clearly unconventionality is not our friend.

How can we live in a place where innovation is synonymous with fear? I thought of Amjad Sabri and the joy he brought with every Qawwali he sang – but society failed him. How can we live in a place like this?

What can I say, this is home.

I stand in the driveway longing to walk to the nearest cafe, or anywhere at all – but the only way to go is by car and I can’t sit any more. I am sitting at work, sitting at home binge watching Netflix, sitting in the car only to go to another place where I’ll sit. What happened to standing? What happened to long walks? Now, my clothes are measured, the tone of my voice in public is measured. My whole life is measured by customs and rules that I no longer believe in.

I look up and stare at the grey sky from my courtyard. I am chained within four walls constantly. The walls of my house, the walls of my gender, the walls of the ever dominating patriarchy that keep growing taller and taller as I grow smaller to fit into my self-made box. I cannot breathe because I am larger than the box, my thoughts do not fit within it, and my actions do not either.

There, there were no borders, no lines—there was freedom in a way that I hadn’t known before. It tempted me with the ability to express myself in a way that I hadn’t previously been allowed to. And now that I’m home, the freedom I believed I once had has caged me. Every day I try to expand my box slowly and gradually, hoping that one day it won’t be a box anymore. But I know that this is my reality, this is home.

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