Staring out the opening in the wall, Ayesha watched the Pakistani soldiers pour into her hometown. With all national separation between Pakistan and Balochistan effectively dissolved, the soldiers had nothing to stand in their way of occupying the small, young province.
The air was hot and dry, and though the sound of assault vehicles was present, it was more like a vague white noise filling the background of the scene. Overall, there was no other noise to fill the air, and were it not for the persistent though resentfully quiet vehicles, the scene may have been one of utter silence. The men standing at the sides of the streets, against the sandstone buildings, watching with firm and chiseled expressions as the soldiers walked by; the women hiding in the buildings, risking peaks outside now and again; and children who ventured the same, though far less frequently, not against the threat of violence from the soldiers but from their mothers.
Watching from the second story of her own home, Ayesha breathed in the sight, a historic one, to say the least. Not since the war between Pakistan and India had her family really feared such a turn of events for Balochistan, not even when the Paks had poisoned their water, not even when they had dropped a dirty bomb on one of their cities. This was still an impossibility, a full military seizure of the province and surrounding territory. Yet here they were. Balochistan had edged to the brink of impossibility, only to be shoved by two hands over the precipice and into the unknown of the chasm below—and those hands that pushed them belonged to Pakistan, while the eyes that watched them fall belonged to a spineless India.
A soldier stopped briefly in the street below, finding his post to remain and guard this portion of the town. And for half a second, Ayesha thought he had caught her watching, and perhaps at a sharply-angled sidelong view, held her gaze for a second of tension and uncertainty. Neither she nor he must have known what to make of the other; Ayesha herself was obviously not hostile, just a woman with her head properly covered, well clothed though not enough to hid a weapon, and he was the man who had come to take her home away by force. An odd mix, to say the least, Ayesha knew—perhaps she and the soldier both sensed that.
Stepping away from the windowsill from which she was watching, Ayesha retreated to the innermost areas of her home, where no one else awaited her. Her father and younger brother were both out to work—factory workers, heavy lifting, and with the way things were going, she didn't expect them home for some time. That meant she could wait to prepare their evening meal. It meant she could take a moment to truly sort herself out, to grasp what was happening.
The tension seeped into her soon enough, and what had previously felt like nothing more than some abstract strangeness quickly became something to be feared. The soldier outside was no longer some mere oddity, but a threatening uncertainty, an unpredictable danger who could derail what security Ayesha knew.
Retreating further into her home, Ayesha found a book her family kept on a short table toward the center of their home. It was worn with age, though it had not been opened for most of its time in existence anyway; however, Ayesha thought it may be of some help, something that might restore some semblance of security to her. Though her father had given her an Arabic name, at their heart, just as at the heart of their home, India and the Hindu way were hidden. No matter what they smeared on top, that same base and core would remain.
Opening the book, the scriptures of her people—the Upanishads, the sentiment of Brahman, of God, to the beating heart—Ayesha mouthed the words with bated breath. Not loud enough for even she herself to hear them, she rather let the words themselves fade as they tumbled from her lips, literary bodies dying and decomposing and freeing a thousand uncontainable souls to pass through her. And soon she reached the strange revelation, that Atman and Brahman were one and the same—that the very transcendent God and her very true Self were synonymous, equal, indistinguishable. They were two words for the same thing. And yet that seemed to offer Ayesha no comfort. Knowing that she herself was God could not calm her, and she wondered aloud if this seemingly impotent thought was precisely why the book had collected so much dust in the first place.
Shutting the book's cover, setting it back on the table, Ayesha took a half-moment more to sit in thought. Thereafter, however, she arose from her seat and proceeded back the way she came. Back through the house. Back to the main hall, to the stairs, up the steps, to the top. Back to her room. Back to the window to the sill. To the view.
That same soldier was there when she returned, right where she had left him—right where God had left him. And yet that made no difference to her. The fear did not evaporate, the anxious itch beneath her skin did not numb.
What a pitiful God, she petulantly thought to herself, blaspheming her own name. Pitiful to place my own tormentor right outside my own home. Pitiful to have a tormentor at all! Pitiful God I am! Yet as she spun curses against herself, her eyes on the soldier, as if to share the sacrilege with him, she thought in some frenzied way to invite him into the debauchery. Come, she thought to him, come sully God with me! Come laugh in her face! Come, come, for God will do nothing. God burned me, and cannot burn you, for I am God. God chose to put the tormentor you are right here, and to be tormented by you in the first place. So come, surely this God deservers our mockery!
And in the swirl of it all, in the emotion and attacks against her divine self, Ayesha found herself calling for the very camaraderie of the man she feared before. She found herself inviting him into the temple of her own fears, no longer as a tormentor, but as a fellow priest in her own priesthood. And, laughing at the thought, an audible giggle leapt from her throat, out the window, and into the street. Into his ears. This time the soldier looked up, distinctly, unequivocally, and met Ayesha's eyes with his own. And they stared into one another, neither hiding from the other, neither breaking away—neither companion fearing the other.
And the truth set into her like rainwater into the arid sand. That she was no lonely God, no singular divinity. Atman was Brahman, she was reminded, her Atman as well as the Atman of the soldier below. She was God; and so was he. Or rather, they were not God, but God was each of them. Looking into the dark, uncertain eyes of the young man below, their mutual gaze unbroken by more vehicles pouring in, uninterrupted by the men glaring daggers from a safe distance, Ayesha encountered the soldier—God encountered God's own Self.
Their gaze disintegrated gracefully, like sand off the edge of a rocky surface; the soldier returned to his watch, and Ayesha leaned peaceably against the frame of her window. Something had changed, she came to realize, though it was nothing outside. The soldier had not moved, his weapon was no less loaded, and her body was no less immune to artillery than moments ago. And yet everything had changed. The threat of death still loomed, yet now it didn't feel like a foreign tormentor. Somehow, in some inexplicable way, the strange revelation was true: she did not fear this anymore than she feared herself.
Whether she fled into the house, watched from the sill, or joined the men in the streets—she was encountering God. She was encountering Brahman. And no matter where she went, there Brahman and Atman, would always already and inescapably be.