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Late Night Radio

by Sachal Aqeel 3 months ago in trauma

Bringing you explosive hits, deep into the night.

Late Night Radio
Photo by Fringer Cat on Unsplash

“FOUR minutes past two – good evening to all the lovely people who can’t sleep or are travelling at this ungodly time of the night. I sympathize with each and every one of you – but not enough to ask you to tune out. You know who I am by now, I’m sure. The show’s intro screams everything you need to know. Today’s show is going to be a little bit different than most. I understand that I – and most other RJs say this every time – but hopefully I’ll be able to follow through on this particular occasion. Kicking it off with Kris Jamie; here’s Still Unable; I’ve been playing this unashamedly for days now – and I’m not going to stop.”

He looked around the studio – everything seemed exactly like it had been since day one. Day one; 24th December 2017 – exactly one thousand days ago. It sounded cooler saying one thousand days. But actually, it wasn’t even three years.

People do this their entire lives. Radio jockeys are a lot like actors – they can’t do anything else. He had always wondered why the boss had said that early on. Did he think the overwhelming majority of the world’s population did not enjoy their professions?

Had RJs been given some sort of golden ticket to job – and hence life – satisfaction? If so, where was his?

“Man, when he says, And the heart realized it would never stick anywhere without putting up a fight, I swear to God, it gives me the feels. I don’t know if y’all are aware, but today is going to be my thousandth show. And that’s one thousand days I’ve been on the air back-to-back – every single night. If you’re currently saying that this man has absolutely no life – I can assure you that your judgement is perfectly astute.

“Tonight’s show is going to be a bit about my life – which is something of a change from the way I usually do things around here. I can almost hear a lot of you switching your radios off – and I assure the rest of you, you’ve missed out. I haven’t exactly asked the boss if I can talk about myself for two hours straight – but he’s probably asleep somewhere right now, so I think I can slide everything I do tonight by him. Don’t forget, it’s 1078 for all your texts. Let’s see how many people complain about the sad state of affairs today. Here’s Gen Jen.”

He closed his eyes, and let the completely nonsensical lyrics fill his ears, and his mind. Not so much fill as bang incessantly on.

Not so much nonsensical as completely unnecessary.

He had been doing this for far too long. Not just being on the air – all of this. Falsely praising stuff he didn’t like. It becomes a habit when it’s reinforced – when your parents don’t tolerate an awful lot of whining. And then you can’t speak up with friends, for fear of losing them too.

Was that how anxiety worked? It’s what kids were always talking about – yet he had never heard anyone from the previous generation talking about it. Well, with the exception of a select few, who had studied it and its effects. Surely, our generation couldn’t have invented a disease on our own, could we? We weren’t smart enough to invent anything substantial.

But, we were good at lying about things for the sake of acceptance. Exhibit A? Social media.

“That was, By the Crib Last Night. Gen Jen has proven herself to be more intelligent with her lyrics than most people might have expected when she first burst onto the scene. This was part of her first album – and she’s only been going up ever since. She has now become one of the most ‘followed’ celebrities online, and if that doesn’t tell you plenty about her, I don’t know what will.

“I was able to get this job because some of my friends told me I had the sort of voice that could ‘do well’ on the air. To be perfectly honest, I had my doubts; but I decided to go through with it anyway. No harm in trying, right? Well – not sure if that’s completely true; but every now and again, a leap out of your comfort zone is necessary. This friend of mine, who’s way too shy for me to say her real name, rubbed it so much in my face when I got hired. 107.8 has been my home ever since.

“But it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Not least for the people I’ve been working for. They have the best people working on rush hour radio – and for good reason. And they told me my shows were a bit too melancholic to be on during the already-frustrating commutes of the day. However, this was more of a symbiotic arrangement than they realized. I happily took a night slot, which then started later and later.

“I’ve often been told that my music is in frank conflict with what I’m usually talking about. They’ve said I sound somewhat down, but my music is so upbeat. And they wonder whether this little ‘mix n match’ is on purpose, or just something that happens subconsciously. To be quite honest, I’m not entirely sure! It’s a big brain question, so not for me. Here’s Beyond Comprehension, how apt! Nora Harry.”

The lady in question had been her close companion ever since high school. She had gone through her own stuff, but was infinitely better at managing herself than he was. Thereafter, she took up the responsibility of ‘regulating’ him. She had no formal training of this, but she upheld the duty with the commitment – and the ferocity – of a best friend whose very pride was on the line.

And the well-being of someone dear to her. She gave it her absolute best, and he owed most of the success in his life to her.

On a cold, moon-less night, said girl had asked him if he would marry her. Just like that – out of the blue – while they ate somewhere unimpressive, with all the wonder added just by both of them...being.

Every ounce of him had wanted to say yes. He had wanted to ask her forever – but obviously, that required overcoming deficiencies he had, and some he thought he had. These were two arduous feats, and he did not put effort into either one of them.

They were married three months later. She was a successful doctor – in that way that all doctors find success. They never actually realize they’ve made it, and they’re constantly envied by people in a way that they can neither understand nor condone at all. She said as all doctors know that it wasn’t worth it.

“That was Nora Harry. She has my heart, as she does most of yours – I'm sure. We have a text from someone who has only signed off as AK. They say, ‘Will miss you when you’re gone. Hope you’re not making this decision out of either impulsiveness – or out of necessity. Love.’ Thank you so much, AK. I’ll let you know my reasons when I know what they are!

“I do wish some of these thoughts made a bit more sense. Have you guys heard that theory about how our subconscious makes most of our decisions – and then our ‘conscious’ brain has to just explain it. It’s a pretty crazy hypothesis – one I would hastily have shrugged aside some time ago. Now though, I’m not sure. All conviction and all emotion is now something of a confounder for me now. Here’s Jocelyn Michaels – this is her newest single, Don’t Do It Like That Again. I hazard no guesses about the meaning.”

His mother had died when he was quite young. He had absolutely no memories of her – no fleeting images, or flashes, or dreams. He wondered why his mind had chosen to repress all of it. By all accounts, she was a gentle woman, never wronging anybody. Just. And then God thought she was the perfect candidate to have that disease of one cell turning into a billion for no apparent reason or function.

An escape to his fantasies was then his favourite hobby. He suspected his dad did the same, but obviously adults are never as forthcoming about this ‘guilty pleasure’ as they could – or ought to – be.

He talked to that imaginary friend most kids had. But for him, the friend was not always the best company. How strange was it that a figment of his own imagination had eventually conspired to be so obnoxious to him?

Out of this world, really.

“Welcome back. We’re about half-way through the show – and it’s absolutely flown by today. I’m not going to bore you much longer. The music today has been rather interesting too – I didn’t pick out most of it, of course. It was handed to me, with the power of making a few changes. That’s all I get.

“Zafar writes in, ‘What is your next adventure going to be?’ Thank you for your text, Zafar! I’m not entirely sure I have another adventure up my sleeve. I’m quite tired of everything I’ve done, and I would like to just...take a break from all it. Sometimes, I suppose going into a little rest with no plans of the future is also something of a good idea. That’s what the lady whose name I can’t mention used to say.

“I’m not really feeling my decision to keep droning on and on about myself. I think my intentions are slipping a little bit. Here’s Toby T.”

Until high school, he had found it quite difficult to make the kinds of friends who were as supportive – and then, on some nights, as destructive – as the one he had conjured up for himself. However, he found the odd person (odd, in more ways than one) who was willing to reciprocate the kind of crazy ideas he had about the world.

Simultaneously, he began to develop a flavour for music. It was something of an escape, and also made him dream. He had heard about sensual tunes giving people fantasies, but his fantasies were different altogether. They were more to do with the right video, or imagery, or different sounds in subtle places.

And when the woman of his dreams had come up to him, she had fitted that empty slot labelled MUSE in his mind. He had known people – even among his friends, and among musicians and writers – who had gone their entire lives as the giving end of a one-way love. And each time, they had developed the impetus to produce whatever they did because of that muse.

The idea sounded so entirely absurd to him, because the whole point of a muse was for it to be somebody who was directly obtainable. Having a dream that comes true on some nights, whether in reality or just in your imagination, did not sound like the right idea for him.

But then again, maybe that was because that part of his life had been fulfilled before he was able to yearn for it to be filled. It wasn’t something he had spared much thought for. He had always wondered about how different people faced hardship at different times of their lives – related to such a wide variety of aspects.

He thought everyone faced exactly the same amount of ‘doom n gloom’ – like a divine mathematical formula that nobody could know. It would factor in all those little things (people, hobbies, interests, talents etc.) that one held most dear – and then it would strike some of them. And the variables added up to exactly the same for every single human being on the planet.

Some nights, he felt like the religious and the ‘scientific rationalists’ would all be united in their disagreement with such preposterous ideas of design attributed to all the randomness that people saw around them – and the loss they felt.

“Have you heard about all that’s been going on in popular culture this week? There’s a popular actress who had a crazy stalker. Not really surprised, because social media really has opened the door to all that. Again, I would say that this is a door some celebrities deliberately choose to keep open. Perhaps, that is the trade-off of fame. A following is something of a pre-requisite. Where would you begin to disrupt this cycle of hero-worship to famous celebrity? Nowhere, to be honest. You wouldn’t know what to do. Here’s the second song I’ve added to today’s playlist personally – it's a weird take on the bit of techno music that’s got so many people dancing at times like these on nights like these.”

Last month, the woman who had made him feel whole for so long was walking along an almost-deserted road. Honestly, anybody who just read that one sentence knew it was a harbinger for an ominous outcome.

They would be right. In a country where drinking alcohol was pretty much completely forbidden, a man under the influence had not stopped at a zebra crossing on a Sunday. He didn’t stop – of course – even after the fact. Why would he?

The call had come through at 2:04 P.M.

He had always imagined that movies tend to exaggerate the tinnitus-like sound effects which are often played over such tragic scenes. That whirring that is supposed to convey some sense of numbing – or detachment – seemed rather over-simplified to him.

But that afternoon, he felt exactly like that.

“Your-wife-has-been-in-an-accident-and-she-presented-to-us-in-shock-we-tried-to-do-everything-we-could-but-she-had-lost-so-much-blood-and-we-were-unable-to-(a loud sound – as if a microphone was being tested – interrupted the rest of the polite, slightly panicky guy’s rather haphazard news delivery service).”

And that was why he had decided that – to mark the ultimately-insignificant milestone of having a thousand episodes completed – he would be killing himself.

He had waited it out; he hadn’t felt denial, then had felt quite a lot of (justifiable) rage; and the muddled cluster of emotions which followed had overtaken him – and he no longer had the will to fight them.

He had the will to fight things – and she had been killed via DUI. He had the will to face every single sinister thing that befell him – and she had been killed via DUI. He had glue that was holding him together after all the blows he had taken; literally from his dad, and metaphorically by fate – and she had been killed via DUI.

His equation had been fucked up in one day – all the variables that were just in check for him – they had all been taken out altogether; or multiplied many-fold. He didn’t know how to say it – but he was done thinking these same thoughts every night. And – in the words of everyone who had never considered it – he was going to take the ‘cowardly way out’.

Maybe this way, he wouldn’t carry his hurt on to other people. His therapist always said ‘hurt people hurt people’. He hadn’t gone back to her since the day of the DUI – and he had no intention of going and having his mind changed.

He hadn’t told his boss what happened that Sunday – but he had found out. Condolences poured in – one after the other – as if the whole world could suddenly fathom what it was he was going through. He accepted them all, and still came in to work that night. He suspected his boss hadn’t stopped him because he – like everyone else – considered that the show was therapeutic to the bereaved party.

What a terrible word that was – therapeutic.

Clutching the photo of the love of his life, he got up from his big, comfortable, leather chair. He turned the gas attached to the heater on – so stupid that something so dangerous was still attached. It was probably because the building was an old one, and his boss was too miserly to care about safety hazards.

“That was James Bridge – with The Final Cure. Again, I have a few theories about what he’s really singing about – but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone else. Zain has texted in, asking if non-stop music will replace my show when I’m gone. I’m not entirely sure, mate. It might, because I don’t think too many people want to be working at this hour.

“Coming up to the last few minutes of the show, guys. Probably going to have time for one – no, two more songs. Just wanted to say that some of the best memories of the past two-and-a-few years have been associated with my time on the air. You know, a lot of people say that talking your heart out is therapeutic; I have to say, I agree. It has served me so well, and I’m ready for whatever the next adventure may bring me. Here’s Celia D; Unable.”

Everything else that needed to be disposed off had been taken care of. He had left a note in his house, half outside underneath the main door. He knew his domestic would find it – and that would do enough to announce to a world that hadn’t noticed him much (not his face, anyway) that he wasn’t going to bother a soul from now.

The only thing he needed with him was in his hoodie – a photo of the two of them together. Her belly seemed to be bulging slightly.

Not bad for twenty weeks.

He was not going to leave it behind. And he didn’t want to burn it or bury him away from himself. He, and it, was going to burn in the same inferno. He was quite done with trusting people with things. He had trusted the so-called Divine Being with something – and look where that got him.

“Welcome back, I hope you’ve enjoyed tonight’s show. Just going to sign off with some more texts I’ve received. Azhar says good luck for the future, thank you! Maryum is asking me if I’m shifting to another station. No Maryum, I am not. I don’t think I’ll be on any frequencies anymore. Adil and Haleema have both also wished me the best of luck, much love to both of you.

“I have had an amazing time being a part of this family, guys. I hope I see you again – in another time, in another place. Leaving you with Fond Farewell – this time it isn’t a co-incidence! Au revoir, goodbye, God be with all of you!”

Daniyal looked at the packet of aspirin tablets – which had gone from holding six, to none – and smiled dreamily.

Things suddenly seemed so much simpler.

A man who plans to live on forever, does so by constantly making hundreds of decisions – because he thinks he’ll only get one shot at all of them. A man who is about to die knows he’ll only have one shot – and therein lies tremendous clarity.

He had pulled up his sleeves, and felt the icy cold metal of a blade between the fingers of his naturally-dominant left hand. He had heard there was quite some technique to doing this right, but he was sure that any failed attempts from ill-willed, young idiots had inspired all such superstition. After all -

A tap. There was a tapping sound on the door. Was somebody knocking? It was nine minutes past four in the morning, for fuck’s sake! They had hired a new security guard, because the previous one kept falling asleep during the night shift. That was incredibly incompetent of him, because his shift began at midnight. It seemed the new hire was not doing things too much better.

Daniyal got up from his seat and walked over to the door. Instead of opening it immediately, he put his ear next to it. All was silent. The radio station was on the second floor of a building dedicated to various TV and radio channels.

There it was again. Another knock.

“Who is it?” He said, his voice calm – like that of a man who had precious little left to lose. “Whoever you are, go away! There’s nothing here for you to steal.”

“Um, Daniyal?” It was a young man, and his voice lacked much conviction. If he was a burglar, he had not done it much.

“What do you want, kid?”

“Can I come in?”

“No. Security concerns. Look at the fucking time, kid! Go home. Your mom’s probably worried sick. Don’t make me call security.”

“I just want to talk.”

Daniyal considered his options. Perhaps this kid would have a conversation with him that he’d later realize had happened just a few minutes before Daniyal’s death. That’d be traumatizing.

But then, he was being so annoying.

Sighing, he opened the door, carefully unlocking all three locks. They made loud creaking noises in that way old locks do – but they were quite easy to break, in the way newer versions are.

‘The kid’ sounded younger than he was. Early twenties. That hipster look that was – for some odd reason – the way these new young adults chose to ‘be themselves’. Daniyal was sure he’d find an e-cigarette if he frisked this boy; but since the kid wore such tight pants, frisking was probably not a stunning idea. He wore big glasses with no rims, again a la hipster.

He stepped inside the building looking like he’d just achieved some sort of great accolade. He had no idea.

Bushra – of course – had nothing to do with any of this.

She was driving along Srinagar Highway at that exact moment, not entirely hating the sort of vibe Daniyal was giving off that night. She had been a regular listener, but was still a little surprised at how full of life he sounded today.

The RJ had signed off, citing Fond Farewell as his last song of the night (bit melodramatic, to be honest). But then, he had forgotten to play it. And he had forgotten to turn his microphone off.

She considered texting into the radio station, but she was sure lots of other people had already done it. Daniyal was probably running the show alone at this time. And he wouldn’t be checking whatever contraption they had hooked up to keep track of all the SMS.

So, there was some rumbling and some fumbling. The sounds were quite a bit annoying, not to mention loud. She had almost switched to some other radio station (back-to-back music could be nice at this hour) when she heard Daniyal’s voice:

“Who is it?” He had said. He had asked multiple times, going further and further away from the mic. Some more inaudible dialogue ensued, and he then opened what sounded like an ancient door. Was he secretly recording these shows out of a mansion, or something?

There were two sets of footsteps now. Strange time to have company, Bushra thought. But hey, you can’t judge these showbiz types. Just think of the actress who had just done so much for the sake of attention.

Daniyal and his ‘friend’ had sat down close to the mic now. Bushra could clearly make out what they were talking about, and she unashamedly turned the volume up.

“I’ve had a flu for so long now, I think I’ve forgotten how to smell altogether,” said a childish voice.

“That’s touching, kid. But what exactly are you doing here?”

“I thought you sounded different today, Daniyal. I’ve been listening to you for years, pretty much since you started out. And I could tell you were more than a little distressed. So, I figured you could use some company.”

There was a sigh.

“You can talk to me. I look young, but I’m not.”

Daniyal chuckled. “I’m fine, kid. But I appreciate it.” The harshness in the radio jockey’s voice had somewhat softened up. Bushra wondered if this was some publicity stunt, or a genuine encounter. If it was faked, why do it at 4 in the morning?

“Go home, kid. You want an autograph or something?”

“Could we just sit here and smoke, just talk about nothing? Then I’ll go, I promise. I know you’re probably debating whether or not I’m a crazy, creepy stalker – but I assure you, none of that.”

“Fine,” Daniyal said. “One smoke. Five minutes. You got a light?”

“Sure.”

Bushra heard the click of a lighter, then Daniyal’s voice – loud, clear and as panicky:

“Wait, WAIT!”

Then nothing.

Only radio static.

trauma

Sachal Aqeel

Read next: How using Mindfulness Meditation has put my incessive racing thoughts to rest permanently!

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