writer & editor

Thin Air

According to reported figures (February 2019), at least 180,000 people in the UK are reported missing every year: one every 90 seconds. One in 200 children, one in 500 adults. The majority are girls and women. As many as 7 in 10 children are not reported missing. (missingpeople.org.uk).

Thin Air

by Farah Ahamed

Where are all the women? Where are the girls?

You ask, we ask.

You tell us; go look for them, find them, bring them back.

We do as we’re told: probe, investigate, enquire, collect data, conduct interviews, tweet, write poems, draw, paint, tell stories, make documentaries.

Still no girls.

You threaten to send troops, declare war.

Still no women.

You offer to sign agreements, and make promises of a peaceful negotiation. You say you are feminist, humanist and mention other kinds of ‘ists’.

But still no sign of those women. And still no sign of those girls.

But there are more missing. More and more of them. By the second. Every ninety seconds.

You host an international conference and raise the stakes of the debate, even mention it in parliament, in international arenas. You talk about colour. And politics. And race. And religion. And gender. And violence. And rape. And caste. And terrorism. And every other ‘ism’.

But still no women.

Still no girls.

In fact, while you’ve been discussing them even more are missing.

And more.

But now you’re talking about them less and less; it’s old news and you can’t keep up with the figures. You tell us, they’ve disappeared into Thin Air.

Thin Air.

We ask: How can they have disappeared just like that into Thin Air?

You say, Thin Air. That’s what it is

So we reflect.

We ask; what is Thin Air? Where is Thin Air?

We ask the world’s best scientists, tell us about Thin Air.

Where is it? And what is it? What is its particular quality which takes our girls and women and makes them invisible?

The scientists say, research takes time, we need to investigate, collect data, triangulate; why are you so sure Thin Air exists?

We don’t see this thing called Thin Air.

But we know it is swallowing our girls and women.

We can hear them breathe, when we breathe, hear them sigh, when we sleep, hear them cry when we laugh.

We know they are there, alive. Because if they weren’t, we’d all be dead.

We know Thin Air is there because we breathe it, even though it has swallowed up our girls and women.

And sometimes, at a particular time of day, we catch a whiff of their fragrance, hear their bangles tinkle, and see them as if they were dancing, just beyond, their hair blowing in the wind.

But it’s just a trick of the mind.

There’s no sign of them.

Where are they?

Where is she? That woman? That girl? What’s her name?

Listen; can’t you almost hear her breathing?