I like Fridays because of the prayers – Jumu’ah, that is, not the prayers but the distraction of the prayers. I wake up, not to fret about where my life is going but to stoically and sanctimoniously get ready for prayers. In reality, this means to follow the same routine as every morning, without the guilt of not having regular employment. Prayers are at 1.30pm, so ‘preparing’ takes up half the day and after returning home, eating lunch, the day is all but over. The air grows thicker as evening approaches until the guilt is all but gone, for evenings are not for work. Another day will have passed – and wasted.
I needed to go to the pharmacy today because I think I have a throat infection. It feels bunged. The problem is, I feel anxious talking to people and the pharmacy is small. Inevitably, I will have to talk to the person at the till. It’s stupid to be scared of people, I think, walking to the mosque, for half the day has already gone somehow. It’s stupid but social anxiety is not rational.
I try to examine my anxiety, as I lope, hands in pockets. I’m dressed in a hoodie, walking the barren streets, like a bum. People will think, there goes the unemployed guy. This is social anxiety speaking – it turfs your mind out and looks in, imagining what other people see. Your mind becomes a crazy hall of mirrors, reflecting yourself in a grotesque, incessant parade. Your thoughts can’t go anywhere else but swarm over your own body and your own being like gunk.
Acceptance is the way out, I know. Those thoughts are like a radio leaking sound; it doesn’t have to control you. If you acknowledge the emotion as it emerges and question it before it takes control, it can be disarmed, without furore. Trust your instincts. If you feel fear or despair or envy, it is for a valid reason. But, it does not mean that the consequent emotion need dictate your behaviour. That valid instinctive sensation is a knot that can be gently untied, before it creates a pile-up. The emotion is your self asking for help from your rationality. Let fear into the light and then question, why do I feel fear?
Why am I going to the mosque? Is the mosque a knot? I’m not going there through faith. I feel nothing. I go because Abu and Ma expect me to go – and because, it gives me a purpose, a reason to leave the house and be a real human being. But what purpose? To walk the parade of mirrors pretending that all is well? To follow the ritual of prostrations in the sea of worshippers in the mosque without thought. To be an automaton presenting himself as a conscious person. To hide from my fears.
Abu’s car pulls up in the street. I am conscious of being a bum, hands in pockets, with my hoodie. He waves me to the car and I shake my head. I’m not going with him. The car reluctantly dribbles away, as I curse. I know Abu is scoffing at me in his mind, as he drives a way. A failure of a son – a bum. I hate him for it. I hate him for making me socially anxious. For a moment, I consider questioning this knot of hatred but, it is too late, it has entered the machinery with violent clutters.
When I reach the end of the road, I turn around. I decide not to go to the mosque and be an automaton. When I pray, I don’t even recite the koranic verses. I just follow the motions thoughtlessly. I have no faith in Allah at this moment. It is an act of posturing and denial. Abu would be enraged, Ma appalled – but they will not know. So I turn back towards the pharmacy, on the other side of the town.
I like walking. It’s like the mosque, it gives me a false sense of purpose, obliterating the hours spent at home inert and indolent in the computer screen. But, unfortunately, walking takes you, eventually, to people. I walk past the pharmacy, seeing they have no customers. Most people are at work. I’m trying to question my fears; they are valid, I coax to myself. They are valid but not necessary. But, the fears slip through and take over as I walk past the pharmacy, too scared to go in and face the staff.
I walk around the block, sometimes avoiding the eyes of the elderly people passing by, sometimes looking at them and smiling faintly – always posturing. The fear has taken over, the rational thoughts have been washed away. I move through the knots of emotion, pulled by self-loathing and fear. The policy of self-acceptance and analysis had failed and now was the simple, predictable, painful tug-of-war between fear and self-hatred. I have to go in the pharmacy having walked all this way, otherwise, the day would be a complete waste and I would hate myself deeply.
So, I go in. There are two Asian staff. A woman at the till and a tall pharmacist man, talking quickly and lifelessly from behind a block of shelves. The shop is tiny, with only one aisle and it is here that I go, scanning the shelf, conscious of my bum clothing. The staff carry on talking. The man is asking about a till discrepancy, “did you sort it out?”. He repeats the phrase, even as the woman is answering. He is cold but the woman is not put off. She answers quietly but without fear. I know about till discrepancies from working in a shop. In her position, with the cold man, I would be in a paralysis of fear and suffocation. I would be in a mental fugue in his shadow, in his voice.
But she is calm. “Don’t worry about it,” the man says to her, finally. She’s not worrying, she’s calm. I can’t see the throat medicine – I can barely see anything, even though I am scouring the shelves. I feel their minds like overwhelming rays, or hooks tugging at my mind. My thoughts are with them and I can’t concentrate on the simple task of looking at the shelves and reading the boxes.
Finally, I give up and turn to the woman at the till. Her eyes widen slightly. “Do you have Nystatin – Neestatin?” I ask, weakly, doubtfully. She goes behind the shelves and asks the man. “You need a prescription for it.” The phone starts ringing at the till. I need something for my throat, so, for a pregnant second, I imagine myself asking for anything similar available over the counter. But, the air outside is calling, where I can breathe.
“Oh – okay, thanks.” And with that, I leave the shop. I am gleeful of my escape but thinking about the medicine. I imagine going to the doctors – a trial far more arduous than merely going to the pharmacy. I decide I must do without. The glee drains as I walk back home. I have a strange despondency – my mind is pleading for something. I need help – but, I ignore this voice, because it is easier to avoid problems.