So lost am I with where to begin that perhaps the best place to start is with this moment; me staring blankly into the screen of my desktop trying to pull together in my head all the missing parts of myself. The effect is inconclusive. Almost hypnotic. But it brings no clarity to my thoughts, only a sense of resentment at myself for scuffing my shoes as I beat the top of my feet against the floor to release all the nervous energy that rises out of my frustration.

It is a familiar ritual. This is not the first time I have found myself struggling to respond to a giant swell of hatred that strikes against the very truth of who I am. With it, a dull sort of pain thuds at the back of my head. I feel insufficient and small and inarticulate. And undone.

At times like these, I am also struck by an unnerving absence of trauma equal to the many visceral agonies that have defined the lives of so many others around me. I have not lost a child or a parent in a sectarian killing. I did not grow up being called an infidel at school. I have not had the door to my home graffitied with abuse. I have not been incarcerated for ordinary acts of everyday life. There is though a part of their experience I have shared in, that of being an Ahmadi in Pakistan, a country where we are permitted to live in, but never allowed to belong to.

Do you know what that feels like? To live in a home that is not a home, in an empty space that stretches out from the distant echoes of the past to the infertile darkness of the future. As much as one may try to overcome it, you can never get used to being cast as an outsider in a place that is supposed to be yours. There is no way to prepare for the shrinking of your reality to the point where the only things that remain part of your world are the ones that are impossible to maintain. Instead you disappear. Not completely. Traces of you are seen in the bodies of strangers. You are the hollow pause of a conversation. When you do assume the fullness of your form, it is worn by others, and then it is denied.

How am I supposed to account for all of this? I have tried and written and written and written in search for a deeper realisation or a sense of understanding of what it means for people to live with the wounds of hatred. Yet the only thing that has ever held true is that there is no nuance to the foundational reality of their existence or the texture of their suffering; no way of being seen as anything other than a transgression; just different ways of not belonging.

As I continue to drum my fingers against the keyboard, there is something missing. A central idea, or an insight, or any real point that I want to get across. For years I have sought rapprochement with the irreconcilable. Something between malice and acceptance, between the cold and the warmth, between the living and the dead. I have never found an answer. Actually no. That’s not quite true. There was much I did discover. Just nothing that lay beyond the wreckage of betrayal and heartbreak.

This is what I do know.

In the conception of what it means to be a Pakistani, the place of Ahmadis is conditional and contingent. We are marked out as different and expected to live with what that entails. Our core identity isn’t based on what we are, but what we are not. ‘Non’ is the chosen prefix to our entire existence. To be anything other than an Ahmadi is to be human and universal. We know this because we are not part of this equation. Hatred of us lies at the central formation of Pakistan. It is the moral principle by which people recognise themselves and operate together.

There is nothing that lies outside of this, but that was never what I needed to understand. The things I have always struggled to see the most are the self-evident truths that have stood as clear as day before me. Their edges are sharper than they have ever been because they no longer give way to the blur of a question mark; to things uncertain and mysterious and full of alternative potentials.

It suddenly crosses my mind that maybe even this is not important. This time the hostility that has brought me back here could just be about me. Sometimes you write just to fill a void, to allow yourself a moment of personal intimacy. It is a sort of company. A companion to bear the weight of your living. I cannot resolve the idea that the country to which I belong wants nothing to do with me or that it is well past the point from which it can be rescued from its bigotry. I am mostly speaking to myself now. There are always other ways of making sense of the world. Of being free, a little bit freer anyway. You don’t have to speak for everyone all of the time. But you do have to speak, even if what you say struggles to reach out to a deeper layer of meaning. Because of the absence of your identity. Because the privilege of silence is another thing they have taken away.