The grave is our sanctuary,
Moving within us,
A reassertion of an exile
Pushing beyond itself.
I am at school,
An almost presence,
In the surrendered distance.
I cannot say,
The spaces only count us when we are gone.
It is just laughter,
Compromised and complicit.
This is how it starts.
Every time they call my name it unravels,
Losing itself as it is spoken,
Before it can reveal its metaphors.
It is a term of interrogation.
They call again.
My name is where they draw their hate from.
Today a man is killed.
Those who saw him say he was beautiful. His beard was faint, like the half-rubbed off chalk on a blackboard.
I am still at school.
There is a why to my being,
With its own distinct history.
A when and how and where my family come from.
The words are too thin and forbidden.
The silence folds into itself.
A girl is dead. Two girls. Now a woman.
People need to say it is a crime and not look for causes.
But they have a story too,
And all the words to tell it.
I have left school,
I am unmade,
A gaping hole in the visible.
Blankets of patchwork identities are handed out for free.
I am told to take one.
To redraft my composition.
I refuse to move,
The stillness splits the air.
I am tired,
Somewhere a woman has been made a widow.
It is night.
The phone rings.
I will have to leave work early tomorrow.
The years pass. I have learned to inhabit the places in between.
There are landmarks on my face,
Cropped out of the frame.
A doctor has been shot at his private clinic.
He dies before the paramedics arrive. We fill the anguish with ourselves.
In the end, we have no choice,
The grave is our sanctuary.
Usman Ahmad is a British freelance writer and photographer based in Pakistan, focusing on culture and human rights. Ahmad belongs to the Ahmadi community and while working in Pakistan has attended numerous funerals for people killed in sectarian attacks. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Vice, The Huffington Post and other publications.