Zainab Hikmet

A letter of longing

I’ve been meaning to write to you for a long time. It has been a month since you came to visit me. I write this letter to you, like many others, even though I will not send it yet. I will keep them in a time-capsule, hoping that with enough time I might be able to compose a more complete picture. I can’t imagine how words can capture the moving complexities, how the small space of a page can hold all the things I want to share with you. I strain my words as if they will somehow make the distance and time between us feel less immense and melancholic.

The sun is just rising over here, I am next to the window that is shimmering in the gentle warmth of first light. The breath of my sleep and dreams is beading on the glass and collecting enough gravity to streak down. I catch the drops with my fingertips and draw wet pictures that glisten with the blue of the morning sky. I write all the things I cannot explain to you right now. I write to you in the language of my childhood, the language of my deepest heart. My hand can move in its own time, treating the words with care, forming each line and curve with feelings I cannot always spell out.

I tell you how much I love you, as if the words can heal all the heartbreak you had to endure during those first tender years. I know they will disappear in the warmth of day, but they are here, my invisible messages to you. Maybe they will reappear while I am sleeping, while the sun rises on your side of the world. Maybe the sun will bring you this love and warmth as a special secret.

I miss you. I think of our time together this brief holiday. You have developed a keen interest in science. You were fascinated with the photographic process, so we experimented with different projects to investigate all the interesting ways you could capture light on paper. We built a pinhole camera, but it was challenging to sit still for long enough to get a image with sharp focus. I thought that the blurry abstract pictures were perhaps more accurate in the way they captured the restless emotions that would never fit into a pleasant and posed snapshot. Our holiday expeditions had more than enough of those ideal family portraits smiling for the camera.

We also learned about cyanotype printing. We were lucky to have a few sunny days to make these prints. Blue skies, blue prints. Cyan-blue always reminds me of those times we sat together in the fragile spring warmth. We placed blossoms on the paper, and we made shadows with our hands together, sometimes changing the shadow forms during the exposure like some invented sign language to create the ghostly silhouettes. I like to imagine that those milky hand-like shapes were expressing all the things we did not have the words for at the time.

Remember we made secret messages with milk on paper? You were amazed when we warmed it in the oven and the map appeared on the colouring paper. I remember how strangely liberating it was to write things that I couldn’t actually see. Maybe I can include a message like this for you in our time capsule. I can explain to you all the complicated adult things, all the reasons I couldn’t stay, why I kept my distance. I remember hearing that you were getting bullied at school because of me. I am sorry, the world is cruel and people don’t understand. After that I decided to hide myself. Keeping my connection with you has always been more important to me.

I always wonder how things could have been different. But it’s hard to picture this easy and happy portrait. Just as I don’t always have the words to make it alright. All I can do is to give it up to the larger movements of the sun, the seasons, and holidays we may spend together as we change and grow together. I hope I may develop the intuition to move gracefully within light and shadow, to learn when and how I can expose myself.


The sun has just gone down over here, I am writing in the artificial light of the bed lamp. The sun will be rising soon where you are. I behold myself in the dark of the window and I wonder how your adult face has taken shape. I wonder if I would recognise my own features in yours.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to give you the complete picture, with all the details in sharp focus. But I hope that despite all the unspoken things, despite unresolved pain and unbreachable distance, we may still fill the immense blue space between us with expressions of deepest love.

- Lou Fourie, 2018

Written in response to ‘And they all say your name’ (2018) By Talia Smith and Zainab Hikmet, shown at BLINDSIDE ARI, 3- 20 Oct