In our series of letters from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Karishma Vaswani looks at what it is like to be separated from the world


It is an odd idea that I have been separated from the world. There must be
an explanation, but it’s difficult to remember what it is. My body and mind
seem to have been separated from my physical self and placed in the same

Why is it that I remember my own flesh and blood, but not my
intellectual self, who can be written about for more than just fleeting minutes?

My eyes begin to grow heavy in the steamy bathroom. My head lolls to the side
and my tongue is coated with dry mucus as I watch the blood drain from my
nose. My skin feels heavy and I can’t resist brushing my teeth. A few
minutes before falling asleep, I take a final glance at my reflection in the
mirror, and I see my face contorted, but my eyes are calm, as if I am looking
at a painting. Perhaps my face resembles a painting. Perhaps it is a portrait.

How can this be? My life is lived in black and white, and I know there is more
to my existence than the physical. The world and the people in it are
different from the thoughts that inhabit my mind, for thoughts can be changed
but the essence of them cannot.

Why do I struggle with the idea that I am not of this world, and yet have
further to go in my search of understanding? Why do I spend hours of
unproductive time looking at my reflection on the wall, when I should be
focusing on my mind and my life? I will never be me again. I will never
look as I do now.

A scream is the first thing to be heard by everyone.
I can tell it’s a woman’s scream but I can’t identify who it is. The
woman’s voice is frantic but it doesn’t sound like she is in pain. She is
gasping for breath and the sound is muffled because her mouth is open and
the sound is coming from somewhere behind her head.

Why is she screaming? What is wrong? I stand and run across the room. My
bare feet are wet and I am chilled to the bone by the steam.

“Bethany” someone shouts, but the voice is not familiar. A hand grips my
arm and I feel the warmth. Someone is with me?

“Bethany! Bethany,” another person shouts, but I can’t hear what they are
saying. I turn around to see what it is. I can’t see anyone, but I can
sense that it is someone who was here before, only not here.

“Bethany!” A hand grabs me from behind and the world seems to reverse.
There is a sharp pain as I slam into the wall and my vision goes black.

A soft voice whispers in my ear. “You are better than this.”

A hand is placed on my shoulder and I open my eyes. Who is lying on top of me?
Where is my body? I cannot move. I am unable to breathe as the world moves
in front of me, not me, but the world and I am in it.

“Let me help you to your feet.”

Someone pulls me off the floor and someone else helps another to pull me
to my feet. I look to my left and see a person, but I cannot see his face.
The world around me is blurry as I walk toward the door. I turn to my
right and look at a man standing at the door. He looks familiar, but he is
not with me.

He is dressed in a blue jacket and gray slacks, his hair is combed and his
eyes are a warm blue. He looks like the boy from my dreams, and I begin to
wonder if I am dreaming again.

I walk away from the door and out of the building, but I can’t stop walking.
I am walking into the street, but I can feel the city as if I am walking into
a brick wall. I walk through the streets until I come to a car. I run out
of the car and up the steps. I cannot see any people, but I can feel them
watching me.

“Who was she?” I ask the boy who stands at the top of the stairs.

“A woman.”

“Who was she?”

“You don’t want to know,” he says quietly. He looks to the floor. His
clothes are damp and he smells of cigarettes.

“Do you know her?”


“Were you with her?”

“Yes.” He doesn’t seem surprised by my question.

“Were you driving?”

“Yes. There was a accident.”

“What happened?”

He swallows hard, and another gust of cold air whips into my face. I stand
in place and wait, for what I don’t know, but I know he will tell me.

After several minutes, I hear someone talking to him from the bottom of the
stairs. I put on my shoes and the boy takes me down into the street. The
cold air is not as sharp, and he doesn’t seem to mind the cold.

“Will you please stop walking?” I ask. He looks at the ground.

“I can’t.”

“Don’t walk like that.”

“I can’t walk like this in the streets.”

“Who is she?” I ask.

“There is no point in going into the details.”

“No, because she wasn’t someone I know.”

“There is no harm in knowing someone in this city.”

“Why is she screaming?”

“I don’t know, but I know I am not someone she has ever seen before.”

I nod, trying to accept the information.

“Bethany,” I hear one of the people from the apartment call out from the
building. “We need to go now.”

“I need to find a place to sleep.”

“You can sleep here in my apartment,” one of the people offers. “We have
a spare bed.”

“No.” I shake my head, and he says, “It is not necessary.”

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