Just another day. I was headed in to work, and due to my impeccable timing, missed the bus. No problem– cabs exist for a reason.
Shortly after calling a driver pulls up to me, smiling.
“Oh, I am very sorry, do you want me to open the trunk for your bag?”
“No, no! I’ve got it, I’m ok.”
He was so cheerful. He had a great big smile on his face, and asked where I was headed. I told him my theater, and he became excited and animated. “Are you a musician!?” No, no. I am not. I told him about my job, and Kamran whipped out his phone.
“I was in a band! Would you like to see?”
The rest that followed simply blew me away.
Kamran came to the United States permanently in 1996, he said. Most of his musical success came in the early to mid 80s.
“It doesn’t look or sound as good as I’d like. It is fifth generation video you’re watching. There! That’s me, on the keyboards!”
We talked shop for a while. He told me of the songs they would play, and how he set up a camera system to show video and the crowd at their shows, “which in Pakistan, nobody really had done that before. We played a kind of music and put on shows that were special. We were number one in my country, can you believe that?”
It’s when I dug a bit deeper that the conversation steered to a darker tone.
“So what made you stop playing?”
“Ah. Well, I was kidnapped…”
He didn’t say anything else about that for a while. We continued along the road, exchanging videos of music and discussing his adoration for playing. Kamran explained how after a while, his band broke up, so he started a solo career.
“I couldn’t sing! I didn’t care. They loved me, on TV. So I wrote a song, made this music, shot a video… all in one day. They put it on the TV. They did love me very much, there.” He dug around in his center console and pulled out a tape.
“This was us! I like to show this to people and play it for them. The memories make me so happy. It’s sad but happy.”
After a while we came up on my work, but I couldn’t leave it at that. He seemed to dance around the subject of why he came to the US, but I could tell he wanted to approach it. “So… what’s your story then? Why are you here?”
“I came here at first to learn English in 1991. That’s why I come, I wanted to know! I liked it here, too.”
I started unloading my bag, but I had to hear more. I told him I was planning on writing this out, telling his story, even if I only had minimal details. “I’d really love to hear more about what happened to you, if that’s ok.”
“Sure! But it will make you cry.”
“I was so big in Pakistan. I was a model, too! Here!” He shows me TV ads with him selling products, posing for the camera, taking a well timed sip of coffee for the advertisement. It is all very 80s kitsch, and it is awesome for that.
“I had money. So, of course, I was kidnapped. They only wanted money from us. The bad thing, I was dating a woman who had a father involved in the US military or… I think security company from US? And her father sent men to intimidate and hurt the ones that captured me. My father, he told them what a horrible idea. Now I could be killed. He sent me away to the states, afraid for my life. That was in 1996. I lived here, I got my degree, everything was fine. I have degree in business and management, I knew what I was doing. But then…”
He got a bit quieter. My time was running short to make it into work on time. We had long since turned off the meter in the cab, and I hadn’t even paid yet… but I couldn’t leave.
“Then 9/11 happened. I was married by then, but my wife, she didn’t want me anymore. So she reported me as a terrorist. I was taken away by the FBI. She took it all… my house, my money, my life. She left our son in foster care, she never wanted him. After a while they realized I wasn’t a bad man and they let me go, but it was too late. She got everything and now I had a record as being arrested for terrorism. I was never convicted, but it didn’t matter. I can’t get a job except this. I even asked the FBI, please… this is my life, just remove this from my record, it’s ruining everything. But no. even though I am innocent it is still there, and always will be.”
He pulled out his phone and showed me the background image of a smiling, handsome young man.
“My son! This is my baby. It took me two years to find him again in the foster system. Two years to get him back. I told them, this is my son, get your own. This is my baby. They fought me so hard, but he is my boy. I couldn’t lose my baby.”
“I lost everything, but it is good. God does this… how is it? He gives you the world, but then he tests you. He takes it all away from you as a test. And it was good… before I was just too greedy. So much money, money money money. Now, after I had nothing, I can smile. Little things, you know? I am happy, God has been so good to me. I am alive! You just… just stay happy, and realize what you do have.”
I couldn’t stay any longer and I told him as much. I hated to leave, but I had work to do. He gave me his card with his number, and I asked him to turn and smile for the camera for me so that I wouldn’t forget his face or his story.
“Oh, don’t worry. You will never forget.”