By Amsel Saleem ’21. Art by Maheen Syed ’19.

Freedom /ˈfriːdəm/:
1: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.
2: the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.


When I was six, I:

thought freedom meant sitting on a plane without a seatbelt.
I sat with you on flight 404
and swore I would romanticize my journey beyond the clasps of
thick rubbery straps.
I let ego cloud my judgement
and clouds cloud my sight
I raced to pluck the buckle from the chains
that clasped my obedience
into two silver hooks.

imagined a jungle of seats to choose from,
instead I met with one assigned chair, two cushions,
one table and 12 hours
confined into the hugging air and artificial everything.
I rebelled again and again in the undisturbed realm of my mind yet
remained seated.

wished the airplane become my kingdom.
I kicked the blanket down and threw the free
teddy bear and refused to eat a single bite
until the straps of confinement loosened.
I thirsted after the clouds ahead my window and
whispered my glossy rebellion to the skies.

held my left hand to my face
and counted the years of my life.
I ran out of fingers at 5 and
raised my new calendar disguised as a right hand and
counted one more finger.
Six years of life spat on from the high
altitude of freedom.

When I was six, my fragmented definition of freedom mocked me as I flew wingless, on wings.


I am now 18 and I:

am about to run out of fingers two times over.
I sit alone in a new plane, a new seat,
and strap on my seatbelt even before
the sign glows red and tells me to.
I am now flying with wings on a wing machine
yet look to earth and not the clouds.
and beg this seat belt
to hug me forever.

am desperately clinging to
the cushioning behind the belt,
the crimson of the safety sign, the comfort of familiarity, the stories of home.
(As overbearingly clichè as this sounds:)
I fear the upcoming walk unrestrained,
I fear I may forget the seat belt hugging my lungs,
Karachi’s skies embracing my breath
and the smell of my friends when I hug them.
I guess clichès are clichès for a reason.

reach for my phone
& text message you ‘Taking off, love you’
and form another fragmented definition of freedom: a sort of freedom I fear.
Four hours into the flight I become free enough to roam inside the plane and yet
remain glued to my seat.
Enter: four years of terrifying freedom
Exit: nothing
I am now 18 and crying.

10 hours
eleven, twelve

fifteen: two and a half pairs of hands.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts. It’s time for landing.”