It is the last week of December and I find myself sitting by my cell window looking distantly at the stars late at night. I see my regular companions through the misty dark sky. Twinkling, playing that never pending game of hide and seek. A game, I still enjoy playing. Even at the age of 43, I still smile like that young 8 years old Tariq who would sneak to the roof of our house late at night in Lahore, Pakistan, playing that very same game with his very same celestial companions.

Our Prison’s second COVID-19 related restrictions started on December 3rd and since then our movements have been curtailed to almost nothing. The recently resumed limited visits have been called off once again. And the yard schedule has been curtailed as well, and we are back to 25 prisoners per yard movement, with only two housing units allowed at one time in separate yards. Moreover, the law library schedules have been slashed to limited numbers in the library.

People outside are screaming about cabin fever, and in here, well, I guess we are just barely holding on to our sanity. That is why I am spending more time than usual, staring at the outer-space, searching for some solace.

I always try to look at the bright side of things, but I must admit the last 10 days have been very hard. COVID-19 has reached my house. My mother, brother, and sister-in-law are all sick. And hearing their labored voices over the phone left me with a feeling that I can’t explain in words. I felt desperate. My little nephew and niece also had symptoms but with the Grace of GOD, they recovered and rebounded in a few days. My father too, who is almost 80 years old, with multiple strokes and other serious health issues, has been spared. As of now, he is isolated in a room by himself so that he can stay clear of everyone else in the house.

“I am imprisoned too,” my father stated awkwardly over the phone. “Your brother is like a jailer.”

“He is only looking out for you, Dad,” I attempted to defend my brother. “You know he is sick too.”

My father just laughed that uneasy laugh, leaving me wondering whether he understood or was under the impression that I didn’t take his side and have turned on him as well. To me, it is a losing proposition. I feel hapless, and helpless – like a floating spaceman.

Indeed, it has been a very tough year in every possible way. And, in reality, I can’t wait for 2020 to be over. Sitting by my window, looking beyond the stars, I can see a quiet darkness. I wonder if out there anyone has any idea what is taking place in our planet. Space is so very spooky, and scary, yet, inviting too. I am amazed by its magnetism.

In my thoughts while looking out my window, I often transpose and see myself in space. With a lifetime worth of Sci-Fi books and TV shows about space exploration in mind, my trance like state is so vivid that I can almost feel weightless. Flying about in the heavens, seeing nature’s light-show, it is liberating. Yet, in theory, I am also aware of its hazards and pitfalls. Because losing control up there, well, in can be extremely total and can lead to a very uncertain end.

In a way, our lives on earth are quite similar and losing control can lead to a tragedy. Life here also has its own gravitational pull, dangers and dark-holes. I for one can speak to the validity of that notion. As a prisoner, I lost control a long time ago. Now with every passing year, I am like an astronaut who lost his tether and broke off from the space station. I too find myself flying through the cosmos, unable to do anything or control anything. I can’t change my trajectory, my directions, velocity, or vector. I am in control of only my body and mind, and nothing else. Years, months, weeks, days and hours pass. And farther away I get, bleaker it seems. Like that lost soul in the space, with every New Year, I find myself too far removed. And the probability of a return seems exponentially improbable.

Yet, hope is a science of possibilities. And the gravity of discovery has its own invisible pull, one full of blind optimism. So, until my time runs out, I shall buckle down and enjoy the ride. Till the next log entry, Spaceman out!

Happy New Year!

By Tariq MaQbool

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