Osama Shehzad | Longreads | August 2020 | 3,543 words (14 minutes)
“Passport please,” asks the security officer, an Indian-British woman, at London’s Heathrow airport.
I hand her my green Pakistani passport, and she thumbs through it to get to the page with my visa. I am travelling to America where I’ve lived since 2009 on either student or work visas.
As she examines my passport, she frowns and then lifts her head to look at me.
I reply with a nod and a small wry smile, as I always do when people ask to confirm my name.
She leans over and asks in a hushed voice, “Do you get shit for your name in America?”
I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, where Osama was — and still remains — a popular name.
My grandfather, a poet, named me Osama because he wanted a name without a harsh stop at its end, a name that would flow smoothly off the tongue to my last name, Shehzad.
My elementary school Koran teacher, Qari Sahab, tells me Osama is an ancient Arabic name that translates to “lion.” It is popular throughout the Muslim world because Prophet Muhammad chose that name for his adopted grandson.
“What is your name beta?” asks the uncle, an old friend of my father who is over at our place with his wife for tea. The uncle emigrated to the U.S. in the ‘80s and has rarely visited Karachi since. This is my first time meeting him.
“Osama,” I reply.
“Oye, you are hiding here in Karachi and Bush is looking for you everywhere,” replies the uncle and everyone in the drawing room gives out a courteous chuckle for his attempt to lighten the mood.
“Good luck getting a visa to America,” his wife adds.
“You should change your name,” the uncle instructs me.
“Chai piyo aur niklo,” I feel like telling him, but instead reply with a polite “Okay.”