The Screen Which Mirrors Us - Shaza Tehseen

Anecdotal tales of bullying, narcissism and vanity

Hadi looks at the notification bell icon. There are 31 stories which he must tap through to show his friends that he has ‘seen’ them. His ‘mutuals’ don’t know the pain of his esteem which, ironically, no one can see. He is unable to share his story. His ego and his family’s last name overshadow his depression and nausea.

Does anyone sense his burnt feelings? How can he share the hidden onslaught of random text messages he receives on his messenger services? What of the sickening images he doesn't download on his What's pp from unknown contacts, whose blurry outlines make him refuse the fresh, hot, cumin-laden aroma of his mother’s ‘pakoras’? Should he block them or add them to his contact list in order to reveal their display pics? Would it benefit him to know who the perpetrators of his peace are? Would he be exorcised for posting his hurtful rage online through grammatically incorrect self-help quotes and memes? Does he want to come into the limelight after what he endured near the canteen’s back store shadows in the after-school sports club? Why would his friends (or so-called friends) watch him get humiliated with the ‘we told you so’ blank stares? He doesn't want to be on any social media radar. He wished he had the audacity to delete all his accounts, especially the ones titled as ‘priv.’ so no one can see him through this screen. He doesn't want to see his own face in the mirror which is peeking through his bathroom door. His silhouette is dreadful and in shambles as he passes by the hallway. He tries not to meet the prying eyes of his younger sister as she encounters him and gestures to let her use his phone to quickly send a streak. She had been grounded by her parents due to a deteriorating report card. He did not want her to have access to his phone in case she goes through any message due to the screen being so quick in response to any touch. Why doesn't anyone understand his silence? Quiet and polite guys are sensitive as well. It does not mean that they are less manly. They aren't less of an adolescent nearing manhood.

He did not really care anymore about himself, but he could not let his little sister bother him at this moment. He had bigger issues to deal with. He touched his screen as its blue glow mixed with the warm light of the lamps on the console. He breathed heavily as 43 unread messages popped up. He did not want to be the one who was chosen by the cool gang of boys. How could they be so brazen and ruthless? How could they make him strip and take his pictures?

Tabish Sikander. Better known as Tony Alexander. The image of Zeus on the health and nutritional supplement products famous in over 40 countries. A Herculean form, muscled with a thick-lock gelled crown and tightly pumped body with odd dimples in his smile accompanied by a thick Desi-Anglo accent learnt through countless sessions from equally terrible accented instructors. He was the icon of fitness who did not need to talk much. His smoldering eyes and the pout on his stubbled face was enough to get him more than one hundred thousand followers. ‘The young man from a remote village who found his way to the dark hearted brightly-lit city’.

He knows he's a beautiful monster, but it's not his fault. His mother was spineless as she continued to be a smiling wife to his abusive father. Tabish never understood why his mother’s resentment seared towards his every move and utterance after an abusive tirade with his father. Even the expected behavior from a 9 year old child was scrutinized and belittled. The never-ending humiliation of how he was ‘just like his father’, even though he never thought so. He smirks at fate for making him a self-made man who has had to stomp on many friends, peers and the so-called well wishers to get to the top of his game, the game which he will always win. He had been the victim of lower-economic childhood and teenage years surrounded by regressive cultural norms. He wanted to break away from his memories which were connected to the womb. He did not want to be his original self- it was ugly, poor and emotionally damaged. He could never have a real wife, nor a girlfriend. That would be too much of an honor for a female. The whooping fans who hovered around him had smelly armpits, the ones who eyed him were low-esteemed female folk figuring out their own body shapes. No, these common women were out of his league, he had to have a pure girl-untainted by social media and the hype of celebrity statuses. No way is he going to strut around town for ripped jeans and crop top girls, nor is he ever going to be seen with a long-haired beautiful girl with tights hugging and shaping her hips under a high-cut ‘kameez’. She had to be ordinary-looking, unphotographable till she became his. By comparison she will look like a beast, and he shall look like a beauty. She should be occupied in a world of distraction which he will create to limit her indulgence in his lifestyle. She has to be enthralled by his fame, interviews and billboards. She should be looking at life with his lens, and when he demands, she should close her eyes, mute her tongue and slowly become immune to his passive-aggressive manipulation. He did not need a mirror to validate his presence, his phone reflected his ego. The media prostrated before his grandiosity.. He was a wolf in branded clothing, his victims cannot be survivors.

Sonya Amrez Khan, known as @iamtherealSAK. But is she real? 'Who is she? She seems too tall and lanky for a model, no?' The assumptions still echo in her ears from when she auditioned for the national model of the year show for a famous lawn brand. Oh, how the clicks of those cameras and the sustained heat of the huge lamps roasted her fellow competitors and rocketed her ambition to prove her beauty and push her boundaries.

And she was still at it.

Only, she did not feel like a 24 year-old. She felt tired, fog-minded and emotionally exhausted by the drama rooted from her beau of 5 years, her childhood best friend, the PR manager who was struggling with an auto-immune disorder and an alcoholic sibling.

Sonya's thumb aches while scrolling through her feed and reading the comments on her posts.

How can this nation be so thankless? Why do they give religious sermons in their comments and that too in broken English? Here she is, painfully upright in her high-heeled sandals, glossy painted toes brushing the hot dirt on the ground, with balmy armpits and a translucent sleeveless lawn attire under a gaudy yellow and green striped umbrella with the sponsors’ horrendous logos blurrily printed in the hope to protect her ‘goree’ skin. All this to minimize the melting of her branded make-up painted on by the famous ‘Dilawar Baloch’, or lovingly called Dilly Darling. Sonya curses with strong but low sounds of the cuss words in her mix of Urdu and English rant to the bystanders who just longingly admire her lithe body shape and wish to have her for sometime to satisfy their urge. They would instantly look away when she would look up occasionally from her phone, knowing what their thoughts were, but avoided any eye-contact.

Her feed couldn’t get refreshed, she did not feel refreshed. She wanted to go back to her parent’s congested house in the suburbs with flying plastic shopping bags and the stench of open man-holes. She missed her little room with the cheap sky blue wallpaper and a creaky wooden bed varnished in a horrible reddish-maroon. She missed the Sunday bazaar rug in her room and the cheap plastic faux roses her mother matched with her baby pink sheets. She snapped herself out of thinking of the loud argument with her father. The hot slap on her face, her mother silently moving away from the doorway to block her own view of her daughter’s chubby cheeks and kohl-smudged wide-eyes. No, that was below her standards. Being beautiful, admired and always keenly ogled by the neighborhood junkies was not her destiny. She wanted accolades, likes, hearts, views and more. Yes, she wanted everyone to view the glory she was gifted with, which was rare for most of the socially malnourished portion of the population. Here she was, laden with gifts from corporate executives eyeing her as a mistress, a frenzy of television anchors who liked to hang around her along with upcoming handsome actors who blazed in her aura in various tele-drama series. All these men only praised her opulently to get a quick jump to the social pages of a magazine with her arm wrapped around their bicep. She always felt she was someone of value. Her identity was not her home, family or school friends. Fame and photographs were her allies while relations, traditions and cultural nuances were her envious enemies. She stayed far away from them.

She wanted to fly close to the sun, and let her wings burn. What a befitting and glamorous fall that would be.

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