Like many people, I was raised in a conservative community rooted in culture and religion. There were many issues that were never discussed, one of them being mental health. We grew up in a time when emotions like sadness or loneliness were the direct consequence of some action, usually caused by oneself. Your sense of self-worth was tied to a spiritual connection. If you did not feel the desire to pray, to fast or learn religious knowledge, then something was wrong with you.
Between the alarming number of mass shootings, the government shift in recreational drug use and rising rate of suicides among millennials, mental health awareness has become a much more pressing matter. In the past decade, authors such as John Green in Turtles All the Way Down, Tamara Stone in Every Last Word, and Rachel Wilson in Don’t Touch have embraced the challenge of addressing mental health issues in young adults through their writing.
For years, I grappled with my own desire to write a fictional novel. As I walked the halls of my kids’ high school as a substitute teacher, and later as an IB Coordinator, I saw the way that students interacted with each other. I watched and listened to conversations that were both heart-breaking and uplifting. Finally, it took a pandemic to allow me the time and energy to sit down and articulate those moments in my book, titled Show Yourself.
One of my main characters, Aliya, is a fiercely passionate young woman. An only child who lives with her father, she is full of sarcasm and says exactly what is on her mind. However, there is a layer of vulnerability concealed in her personality, one that she keeps hidden from even her closest friends. Below is an excerpt from the novella in Show Yourself, written from Aliya’s POV.
I was fortunate enough to pair this excerpt with a watercolor portrait by Sumaira Aamer, a Qatar based visual artist. Sumaira employs a calculated composition style, yet she is experimental with her conceptual pieces, dedicating perfectionist approach to her work. Her color pallet stays exclusive for each body of work.
For Sumaira the inspiration and thought process not only comes from cultures, identities, values and beliefs but she also finds her expression to convey social and political issues of the times. Her most admired art pieces are from Miniature Painting technique and Oil paints alike.
She has exhibited her artworks at various galleries in Pakistan as well as internationally. Currently her paintings are in exhibitions in Qatar under the themes of COVID-19 and FIFA World Cup 2022. You can find her on Instagram at this link.
The stench was practically unbearable, wafting from the interior of the house down the brick-lined pathway that led to the front door. It reeked of leftovers not stored away and garbage that not had been emptied in days. As ten-year-old Aliya drew nearer to the house, rummaging through her overnight shoulder bag, she glanced over to the flower bed; the purple geraniums that her mother had so carefully planted a few days prior had wilted and the leaves had taken on a yellowish tint. By the time she found her house key, tucked between her pajamas and pillow, Aliya felt like she was about to pass out. She opened the door and nearly gagged.
“Mama?” Aliya called out.
She called again, louder. “Mama?”
Again, no response.
She made her way through every room, clutching on to her bag for some sort of anchor. As she traveled from room to room, her voice became louder and louder until she found herself screaming, as though the pitch of her voice could summon her mother from whatever depths of depression she had sunk into this time.
The note lay folded upright on the bed. She read the letter, finally dropping her bag to the floor, and cried.