If I could meet myself again one day

Childhood is the most fleeting state of pure romance in a person's life. But when do you grow up? What is the distinction between a child and a no-longer-child? When I close my eyes and think about the time when I was a girl, and I have been doing that a lot lately, I think of days that should have no significance, but they keep resurfacing in my memories like plain paper boats bobbing up and down on the calm waves of a quiet lake. 

- Returning from our farmhouse on the outskirts of Lahore and asking Papa to stop somewhere for barbecue. Papa tying a scarf over my eyes. "You'll be so surprised when you see where we go." The car stopping. My sisters chattering away. My mother telling them to be quiet. Papa carrying me in his arms and depositing me on a table. "Are you ready to see your surprise?" Someone untying the scarf. I am sitting on our dining table at home. Glee and disappointment impossibly swirled together. 

- Walking down the long winding path from the school gate to kindergarten assembly. I am in class 3C. I am holding my middle sister's pudgy hand on her first day of school. She is wearing the red woolen pants of our school uniform just like me. "These pants are itchy," she says. "I will come find you at break time," I say. We never used to say "I love you." It was always just...understood.

- We are vacationing in Murree. It's summer, so I have only packed skirts and shorts. Murree is too cold for these clothes at night. Every evening, I order cream of chicken soup from The Cecil's room service menu. "Uncle can you send cream of chicken soup to our room, please," I say into the phone. It's a simpler time. Every adult is "Uncle" or "Auntie." "Jee, beta," he says. One night I walk with Papa and my sisters down the hill to buy more films for the camera and to drop off the finished rolls for development. A stranger starts talking to Papa. "Why don't you make a film like Sholay?" he asks. "We must watch Sholay," I tell my sister. "Remember that name." I would watch Sholay years later and dub it an epic. I wonder if my sisters have seen it. 

- I am sixteen or seventeen. Am I still a child? We are all at the farmhouse, our last holiday as a family, but we don't know this yet. Blissful oblivion. My sisters and brother are in the tube-well, floating, throwing water at each other. I am reading a book at the edge of the well with my feet making lazy circles in the water. I am too old for this silliness. "Get in there," says Papa clicking his camera. "I am reading," I say. "I don't want to." At a distance, Mama is cooking something with a village woman on a hearth dug up in the ground. "Go on," she yells at me. I just ignore her. Papa comes behind me under the pretense of taking pictures from that angle and pushes me in. Cold water seeps through my clothes and I take huge gulps of air. Everyone laughs. Even me. Those pictures are irreplaceable.  

Those days...they just flew past me so quickly. I am surprised I even remember them. Have I changed? Maybe. Would I still hold my sister's hand when she is embarking on a new adventure? Yes. Would I still pretend to be too old for silly things and have my nose in a book instead? Yes. Would I still beg for barbecue on the way home from anywhere? Of course! But there is something fundamentally different in me. Maybe it's age, maybe it's distance, maybe it's time, or maybe I have just forgotten something I used to know.