You could say I have a fire in my belly.
Of course you could say it. You can say whatever you like. I don’t care. I will not raise a finger to stop you.
Besides, it’s true.
A Kindling, they call me. With a long “I”. Kīndling. I am not aware of whether it is the name of the thing itself – the genetic affliction, that is – or the name of all those who suffer from the affliction or something specific only to my instance of it.
But it is all the same, in the end. My name is Nasreen. I am a Kindling and I have a fire in my belly.
This has greatly affected the course of my life. Hardly had I been born when the doctors said – to my mother, not to me – “There is a problem. Not with Farzana. With Nasreen.” They spoke of such things as enzymes and metabolism. Of how my body could not convert food to energy.
Then they stuffed some bits of paper and twigs down my throat and lit them up like a campfire. This allows the proper chemical processes to occur somehow. Without it, the food just sits there.
Like a banana on a shelf.
I try and keep the fire from extinguishing. Always. It is hell, relighting it, let me tell you.
I was known as “Dragon Girl” back in grammar school. This was owing to my notoriously smoky belches at the most inopportune times. And do not get me started on flatulence. Not that. This is a proper blog.
Children can be merciless.
Recently, I found myself in an airport. Sitting. It must have been Lahore.
I was swallowing matches and bits of dried leaves and I was thinking I was the only Kindling on Earth.
That’s when I spotted him. The boy, I mean. Fourteen, perhaps. Dark, for sure. Blowing smoke rings and no cigarette nor vaping pen to be seen anywhere. He would pop his lips for another smoke ring, giggle, and then look all around, checking for if anyone had seen him.
I saw him.
I swallowed air to produce the most unladylike of burps. The resulting smoke ring was perfect and it was seen by the boy.
He smiled and popped his lips for another.
We sat there, thirty feet apart from each other in that crowd, alternating clandestine smoke rings and smiles.
I was not alone.