It is amazing that the tiniest decision or action can change the entire direction of your life. I still identify many of the pebbles that sent ripples — shockwaves — increasing in breadth, across my soul, changing my life completely.
One such pebble was my naive answer to a question I had completely misunderstood on a geography field trip in 1990. Most would ask, “Why didn’t you just explain yourself?” But I was shy and quiet, and rarely able to get a word in edgeways, and so just left it to fester, as rumours were spread about me all over. I was completely ostracised then and dropped by all of my friends.
A couple of years don’t mean much to you when you reach middle-age, but as a kid every minute is an epoch. For me, three years of misery. By the time I reached my GCSE year I had long decided that I would leave school at the end of that year. And so that’s what I did. I sat my final exam, said goodbye to no one, left for the final time and never looked back. “Up yours,” I said in my heart, turning my back on the lot of them for good.
I started at college the following term, but of course I knew no one there. So I just made friends with whoever was nice to me. I soon struck up a rapport with a Bengali lad; I have no idea why, because his culture was nothing like mine. By that, I don’t mean he had a strong religious or family culture: I mean he was the outgoing one, always chatting up the girls, going clubbing, having the time of his life. In fact, I was the one with the traditional religious backdrop, which made the rumours that followed me around all the more ironic.
Suffice to say, college wasn’t the panacea I had believed it to be. Although the people around me were different, their reaction to me seemed to be exactly the same. I was still the weirdo — which admittedly I confirmed early on with the most cringeworthy of behaviour — both extremely immature and naive. I had the blues and a particular look, which would not be diagnosed for another decade. People would say to my friend, “We know he’s your mate, but we don’t like him.” That was when another pebble dropped in my soul. That was the year of my broken heart.
First, a close Pakistani friend announced that he had never meant for us to have become friends at all and declared that he never wanted to speak to me again. I never learnt why, though I gave him his seventy excuses (he had been the victim of racism; he thought I was gay; Hizb ut-Tahrir had been in town preaching; I smelt very bad; I was too weird to be seen with; the dirty gora narrative was completely plausible).
Literally within five minutes of my friend’s announcement, another student crushed my heart in their hands, mocking me amongst their friends. A couple of weeks later, my Bengali friend disappeared, sent away by his parents due to his latest relationship. And then came that threat: my back would be smashed into one hundred pieces if I didn’t clear off. Naturally, I completely flipped. I didn’t apply for university then. I just dropped out of life. I hit rock-bottom. Yep, that pebble sank like a rock, disrupting everything.
Another pebble about a year later. After six months working away in Cambridge, I’d finally come around to the idea of applying for university after all. I had my heart set on graphic design. I had identified a vocational course in Manchester that would take me, despite not having an A-Level in art or graphics. I was all set to apply, but then came my father: you need to get a “proper” degree from a “proper” university. Of course, that was nonsense, for all around me my superiors have vocational degrees from supposedly lesser universities, but I did as I was told. Thus did I end up in London.
It was there that I mixed with all the world. There that I was exposed to new ideas. There that more conflict led me to lead the life of a recluse. There that I began searching for faith. There that I began wandering and wondering, seeking direction. In 1998, I took up the path I have walked ever since, ostracised once more: by those who had known me before; by my new companions due to the weird sectarianism that dominated their lives; by my family. So strange.
A lot of people ask me why I am such an anti-social git. All of the above probably has a lot to do with it. I have resigned to what I am. I can’t be bothered seeking popularity anymore. I have found my tribe. My beloved embraced me just the way I am, for which I will forever be grateful. She, my small circle of friends and our family are all that matter to me really. I have grown indifferent to the clamour of community. I have no interest in chasing after likes or followings. All I seek is the pleasure of the One.
Pebbles, pebbles. Forever informing directions. Those who knew me long ago could never have imagined where I would end up. Neither could I. Though painful at one time, I’m now grateful for all of those moments. They led me to a life I would not change for the world. I suppose that’s why I find it so easy to forgive, and to blame myself instead of them. My world has been enriched by all of these experiences, beyond my dreams.
Thank God for the mistakes that make us.