Cracking

By Maniza Naqvi A-cracking-shot-bob-kemp

“Have I over egged the pudding?”

The room had become so silent that she thought she heard her thumb nail chip as she rubbed it anxiously against the lectern.

“No, really, have I?” A faint apology in her disarming tone as she searched the vast auditorium and tossed her freshly tinted red mane towards one shoulder and with her forefinger brushed aside a stray bang of wispy curls from her forehead and out of her eyes. She had taken extra care of her makeup this morning—a more golden glow a thicker mascara.

It would, to a sentence have been a cliché, if she had been asked to write how she felt about being here. The runners at dawn, the vast landscape, all golden elephant grass and table top mountains—that one acacia tree on the horizon—the constant summarizing of what it was like—well—like, like, that film of course with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep—-isn’t it, and oh the macchiatos, the finding oneself-and of course finding the proverbial soul mate—rugged, the face of a lion—yes but of course—and always never black—the realization that this was the source of the beginning of time—-and of religion.

She would have written the speech, of course she would’ve had she known that she was to deliver one. But instead she had been asked at the last moment to give the closing statement for the conference, to fill in for the Chair, who was sick this morning. Food was blamed as always, though it was probably drink from the party last night, as always.

Was it the quote from Slavoj Zizek and the mention of the leather and zip masks in Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibit at the Met? It was meant to be an icebreaker to help her with her extreme anxiety for public speaking.

Her mind was crowded with her own thoughts she hadn’t had time to disguise them into a speech. There was the book she was reading and an exhibit she had seen earlier. “Have we been thinking here? Really, thinking. Or is it that we know but we chose not to admit we know. I mean we all know that we all know. Yet we go on, don’t we in the same way wearing our masks of searching for answers? We do have to wear masks to really be seen don’t we? To fit in–to integrate–to be equal? It’s a fashion statement on a mannequin in the Met—and heroism on Spiderman or Batman–and yet terrorism if a Muslim woman covers her face? But what is a mask if not the ultimate rebellion a way to counter racism, violence—a mask is a necessity?—But um—what I wanted to really say here perhaps just to get us going even though we are now at the end of our discussions here, I mean just as a provocation perhaps– Slavoj Zizek, um—something like um— “When we—see—scenes of children from here—ah—-starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like this: Don’t think—ah—don’t think at all—don’t discuss why— don’t politicize, forget about the true causes of poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!”

She had been thinking about the bloodiness of selling bullets and blossoms: Had all the roses of sympathy and sadness heaped with all the tears shed for all those victims of all those bullets—had those blossoms arrived just hours after they had bloodied the hands of Kenyan, Ethiopian, Tanzanian or Ugandan women handling them lovingly who had breathed in the pesticides and chemicals used to preserve these precious cargo and keep them fresh for their flight to shops in Europe?

As she surveyed the room, the afternoon rays came through the stained glass windows of the hotel ball room. What had he called her: a sparkle of sun light? Now here she was sparkling in it just as a sparrow had somehow made its way in—and had sailed and dipped over the heads of her listening audience right across the room under the large chandeliers which appeared like upside down red umbrellas. Had anyone noticed this décor—red umbrellas were symbols of funerals here, weren’t they? He was leaning against a pillar towards the side of the hall, hands in his pockets—she had gotten over that. She wandered who this stance was for today—she followed the arch of his gaze—ah yes—the pretty young executive from Sudan. Why not? The one, who had reverentially, and with the zeal of the overly ambitious young, called her posh at the closing dinner.

She had gone on for past the allotted ten minutes—In a voice—excited and sing song–about how energized she was now that she had attended this vital most important and timely conference. An affirmation of her belief in the good they did every single day. Yes—we must, we must ensure that everyone is included—everyone benefits from the region’s economic growth.

But this morning listening to the news while getting dressed—as she looked around her room at the tools of her trade—the laptop, the IPAD, the black berry, the travel clock plugged in, tickets for thousands of miles mores to go— the tea kettle, the blow dryer—the travel iron. For a moment before confidence took over again–she thought she would say something else—about the leaking radiation—now it was in the food—beef, rice— the Tsunami— she would say: “the planet can’t take it anymore —this relentless, strident focus on economic growth—our planet can’t take it anymore. We must think of a different system. I mean for heaven’s sake how ridiculous—for us to have traveled this distance—spent what we have to get here—to attend this conference—stayed in lavish hotels—then piled into air-conditioned luxury buses to go see villagers digging channels with tools at wages we’ve tossed their way– to save their fields from the destruction that we cause every day because we will not change our spending ways. We go to gawk at them as though they were inmates caught and confined in our creation of reality. Our creation of reality of food shortages so that we can ship out to them costly and unnecessary food aid grown by our farmers receiving huge subsidies instead of making it possible for poor farmers here to compete and own their own farmland-and grow food without our interference in their growing, buying and selling of their grain.” But then confidence had set in.

Silence. What should she have said? What did she say? What did she not say? The room was quiet. What did they expect? Was she to have said something more? Was even less than what she had said expected of her? She had said, hadn’t she that she was energized—and so should they be? She said something about how lucky they were that there had been no rain through-out the week and lovely weather had prevailed for the delegates to enjoy. She had wished them well—a safe trip back—back to the places from where they planned such places.

Also by Maniza Naqvi here

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