My name is Tariq. In Arabic it means the Night-Comer, and in Urdu and Persian it means the North Star. My aunt Naseem gave me that name, and my aunt Shamim nicknamed me ‘Taarey”; a play on my name that also literally means “Stars”, as in her star.

Perhaps, the connection to the celestial bodies was always in the nomenclature of my gene pool, as my ancestors worshipped planets and stars prior to converting to Islam some thousand years ago. But, I do know when and where my infatuation actually began. As if a plot from a fantasy novel, the events of that day have imprinted on my soul, forever.

My star-date began on February 2, 1980, when I was 3 years old. As I was young, I only remember that day like a collage of still photographs.

Earlier that day, I had left my mothers in a hospital room with a drip in her arm. Seemingly, my whole family was there, yet, with the usual hospital ambiance aside, everyone was in a happy mood. I remember my aunt Naseem softly grabbing my hand as my mother reached to give me a kiss. The tall nurse patted my cheek, and I remember recoiling behind my aunt feeling shy.

Later that night, even after hearing a half a dozen stories of warplanes from my aunt, I couldn’t go to sleep. When she slept I slipped out of her bedroom and walked across the large veranda of our house that overlooked a garden, enclosed with a wrought iron door. Beyond it, adjacent to an old Banyan tree, was the parking lot that ran into the ckay-brick courtyard that encircled our neighborhood up to a slightly elevated “foot-path”, that further divided the walking area from the main road further away.

In the dark of night, standing on the veranda’s overlooking wall, I felt sad as I missed my mother because it was the first time we were separated. I wanted to cry but before I could do so her long fingers collapsed in front of my eyes blocking my vision. She came out of nowhere without making a sound, and I instantly knew it was my aunt Naseem. I recognized her scent, as she loved wearing garlands made out of Jasmine flowers.

“Khaala,” I called her aunt in Urdu as a smile developed on my lips.

She shushed me softly and whispered, “Tariq, you have to be very quiet now. We are playing hide and seek. If you speak too loud, they will know where we are hiding.”

My heartbeat quickened, “but, Khaala, who is playing? I mumbled.

“The stars, my love, they are all playing. When they find you, they smile. Look ….” And with that, she carefully removed her right hand ever so slightly so I could see the brilliantly lit sky of Lahore.

And then it happened, a star twinkled, and my heart skipped a beat!

“Khaala,” I screamed a child’s ecstasy filled screech.

“Oh, Tariq, you got us caught,” she said as much and lifted me in her arms throwing her head back to laugh gracefully, “look they are all laughing at us.”

As she twirled me around, I giggled and opened my arms wide to find a million stars twinkling, laughing, and smiling down.

“You are going to have a brother, Tariq.”

I joined my aunt and new friends above to laugh harder and feeling joyful, not knowing at all that my life will never be the same again.

From that day on, I developed an unbreakable bond with the stars. Over the years, my nightly companions have helped me in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

Time stops for no one, and it advances on its own pace and direction. We ride that rollercoaster willingly or unwillingly, but ride we must. I am almost 44 years old now, and sitting next to a narrow Plexiglass window on a bunk in a cell of the notorious New Jersey State Prison, my long journey has been arduous indeed. Yet, even now, being condemned by the society at large, I find myself being consoled by the night comers. They cheer me up when I am sad, and that is quite often nowadays. They hear me out when I want to vent and sooth my soul when no one else can.

They also cried with me when my aunt Naseem passed away, and prayed with me when I invoked The Almighty’s Mercy for her.

And till this day, my little brother, a grown married man with children of his own, doesn’t know that when I see him, my heart skips a beat and I see a twinkling horizon.

My stars are my muse, and my solace. Their presence provides me with hope, as they are the signs of GOD’S Mercy. Even in this prison, my life is brighter as they let me imagine beyond words. At times, on cloudy nights, I feel as if angels are hovering on the horizon holding my friends as if they were heavenly candles, smiling and hiding them behind their wings they beckon at me with words of comfort.

Even after all these years, I am still enchanted by the night my aunt twirled with me under the starlight, I don’t ever want that whimsical spell to end.

If you doubt the power of my companions of the night, and that magical realm that I speak of then enter that kingdom of real fancy, and see for yourself.

I implore you to go to a quiet place at night where you can see the open sky. Lie down under that radiant starlight, and tuck your arms under your head, and enjoy the nature’s light show, and congratulations, as it is your first star date.

Originally posted by SLANT’D Magazine

6 comments on “STARLIGHT”

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  • Anonymous
    April 29, 2023 3:30 pm
    This is a brilliant piece of writing.  Your words are musically 🎼 crafted.  And yes, after reading your interviews, you ARE

    writing your own brave narrative. Only You can tell your story.  I wonder if down the line, someone would come upon your writings and pay you your due grace. For now & for me, let me be the first, Tariq MaQbool you are a literary genius!

  • Anonymous
    August 12, 2023 10:25 am
    Wow, what an essay. Love your fluid way of telling your story. And thanks for the brilliant end. Just had my own first Star date!
  • Anonymous
    October 14, 2023 7:54 pm
    Nice essay. I wanted to know with all these issues in the Middle East, does Tariq still feels at home in the United States. I would love to read about it from his pov.

    But, excellent essay. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me as a Pakistani American girl in a NYC college. Amazing!



    • Eddie MaQbool
      October 14, 2023 10:13 pm

      Thanks for your comment. We’ll be sure to let Tariq know so he can reply back.