By Maj Agha Amir Ahsan, Sigs (2nd SSC)
I do not remember my brother being there, who is five years younger, so I must have been about five years old. We lived in a long military barrack like building; there were about 10 apartments, mostly occupied by army officers. Ours was the first one, and their apartment was near the end, they were different people, the father was a civilian and worked for the military accounts, they were more affluent than the others. The country had recently gained independence, and the times were difficult, salaries of government officials were hardly enough for day-to-day expenses, but they even had a car, though it always needed a push to start, but it was the only car in the whole building.
There was a girl’s high school in the neighborhood, which did not have a science teacher, girl’s education was not very common and female science graduates were extremely rare, Amma was a science graduate and a trained teacher as well. Principal of the school once came to our house and very earnestly requested Amma to join them for the sake of the future of a few girls, who were fortunate enough to be able to study science subjects up to high school level. Initially Amma was reluctant because I was very small, and Amma never wanted to do a job at my cost, but it was a very noble cause, and the extra money she would have made was also very much-needed in those trying days. Eventually Amma joined the school, and so started my afternoon escapades, when I used to be home alone with a maid. My elder sisters also studied in the same school, and we all used to go to the school in the morning where I would sit in the play group. While Amma and my sisters had to stay a little longer, I would return home a few hours earlier with our maid.
The military accounts person was a very junior person, and his salary would have been lesser than all the others in the building, but he lived more lavishly than all of them. He was also much older than the others; he had two grown up daughters, who were also much elder to the other children in the building. Nobody liked them, nobody talked to them, and somehow they were looked down upon. I was quite fascinated with his younger daughter, who would always give me a peck on the cheek while passing. They were both very fashionably dressed, and always had a make up. They would continuously talk to each other and were always giggling. As nobody talked to them, they also always ignored everybody else, everybody except me, while the elder one just smiled, the younger one whenever saw me would always shape her lips in the form of a kiss, and if I was alone she would actually kiss me, I would blush and her giggle would turn into laughter. There were other children in the building, some even smaller than me, but she would only give this treatment to me, all others, young or old were simply invisible to both of them.
One day when our maid had gone to the corner shop to get her cigarettes, I found my fathers hammer lying in the yard and while playing with it I whacked my finger. The pain was terrible, and it started bleeding, I knew there was nobody around so there was no point in crying, tears welled up in my eyes but I did not make a noise, just squeezed my finger as Amma would have done to stop the bleeding, but every time I peeked it was still bleeding, and the throbbing pain increased by every passing second. I didn’t see her coming until she was right over my head, “What happened”, she asked and that was enough for me to start whimpering, she picked me up and her sister forced my other hand away to have a look at the injury, ‘oh that is a big cut, you need a dressing’, I was now sobbing and the welled up tears had now started rolling down my cheeks. “Where is your mom?” she asked, but I could only sob in reply. There apartment was immaculate. The most impressive item was the big metallic cabinet in the corner, full of all the goodies, which I later came to know was called a fridge. She washed my dirty hands in the bathroom and then opened the cabinet of plenty to take out some ice, which she applied to my finger to stop the bleeding, by now I had forgotten the wound and was intently surveying the bright inside of the fridge which was not closed in the rush of things. I was now like Alice in wonderland, everything fascinated me, the first aid box and its contents were so neatly laid out that many times later on I would fake an injury just to get my finger wrapped in the snow-white cotton. After the dressing was done, and she had given me a face wash, I was offered a chocolate from a beautiful tray which made me take a long time in deciding which one was best, on her insistence I took the second best as well.
I don’t know how, but our maid found me too soon and took me back to our house, I was not happy at all to see her. “Why did you go to that house, they are not nice people at all, wait for your mom, I am going to tell her, you are sure going to get a spanking for that”. I was in a trance, not even listening to her.
True to her word, the maid was giving a full report to Amma, when I woke up in the evening. “But madam, they are very corrupt people, they live beyond their means”, she was vehement, Amma did not like it, “how do you know? Don’t believe in all such rubbish, and never talk about such things with the children, and first of all how did he get in there, why did you let him out of sight”. I got off my bed and walked straight into Amma with my finger upheld like a cricket umpire, I was sobbing again, the pain had subsided, but there was a point in crying, tears also started rolling much faster now that I had a sympathetic audience. The maid had not noticed the neat dressing, but Amma saw it right away, “what happened?” she asked me, but was looking into the maid’s eyes, who was bewildered and had no answer. Amma was really very furious that day and our maid really had it.
Next day in the gallery while Amma was carrying me home, they were both coming out of their home, she made her usual kissing gesture at me, Amma thanked her for taking care of my injury, “Oh that was nothing, even my life is available on demand for this handsome young man”, as usual I blushed when she kissed me right there in my Amma’s arms.
Much to my maid’s chagrin and Amma’s admonishing, now it became a routine for me to wander into their house. All I had to do was to innocently ask her, “Have you finished all your chocolates”, she would laugh heartily and take me inside, there was no dearth of chocolates in that fridge, but sometimes she would even cook something for me. They had a stove on the ground with two low stools on each side, she would make me sit in one and then feed me small bits of some snack while sitting on the other. Her dresses were mostly sleeveless and had a very low neckline, I was quite fascinated and every time we sat on those stools I would start peering into her blouse. Her elder sister whenever saw me staring like that, would angrily say something in Pashto and even slap her on the head, but she would just laugh and in mock anger tell me, “you are a very naughty boy”.
When my younger brother was born, I started visiting her more often because everybody was busy with the infant and I had a sort of liberty. One day she asked me, “is your brother prettier than you”, I rushed back home, actually put my hand on my brothers and compared the complexion and immediately rushed back to tell her, “Though he has a fair complexion, but his face is all puffed up, I am certainly more beautiful”. Her sister used to remain a little aloof and very sober, but on such jokes they would both laugh their heads off. I enjoyed such moments, and can even visualize them now in my imagination after half a century.
They had a very beautiful Persian cat, which was actually their dead mother’s pet, one day he also died; they buried him in the yard and were sitting very melancholy, “why did you put the cat under ground” I asked her, “because he had gone to the other world”, “why did he go to the other world”, “because my mother lives in the other world, and it was actually her cat, she loved her cat so much that, he has now gone to join her”. That made me think for a while before I asked, “does your mother love you”. We were all sitting on the carpeted floor, on my remark they both started rolling on the floor with laughter, “the brat wants you dead”, shouted her sister in between her loud laughter, I didn’t understand the joke, but was very amused seeing the two girls with eyes brimmed with tears and laughing uncontrollably on the floor.
We moved from that house but I remembered her, some years later I went to the old neighborhood, the building was now taken over by the school and all houses were now in the use of school teachers, I saw my own home, and then went over to see her home, everything had changed, the people, the surroundings, even the building looked different. For some reason, I was teary eyed on my way back.
About a decade later, I was just passing through the city; I needed a gift for somebody and walked into a small gift shop. While looking around, I felt as if somebody was staring at me. I looked towards her, and there she was behind the counter, it didn’t take me two seconds to recognize her, she was perhaps trying to recognize me, but on my attention started looking the other way.
I walked up to her, “have you finished all your chocolates?” I asked. She almost ran around the counter and hugged me tightly kissing me on both cheeks, she was laughing hysterically, tears running down her cheeks, everybody in the shop was now staring at us, at first I felt a little awkward, but then I was overwhelmed I also hugged her back and we both started weeping profusely.
I thought her to be very tall, but she had a very slight figure she was hardly reaching my shoulder, she had gone very thin but she was still beautiful as ever with the same sparkle in her eyes, though she was dressed very modestly and looked very different with her dopata covering her head.
After we had composed ourselves, and the other people had stopped staring at us, she asked me, “Are you taking me out for dinner?” I just smiled back and we walked to a restaurant. We were both very curious about each other, but she made me first narrate everything about me. I told her that I was now in the army posted in another city, just passing through, and was trying for a posting because Amma was all alone and needed me.
She and her sister were both married to two brothers and migrated to England, she had developed some tuberculosis complication because of which she could not have any children, her husband could not reconcile with the idea and divorced. Her sister was still happily married and lived in England. She had moved back and was now living with some relatives, as her father had also died. I promised to keep in touch, but could not for next three months.
Three months later I was posted back, and at the earliest opportunity went to her shop, she was not there, the old man on the counter told me she had died three months ago, perhaps a few days after our last dinner. He told me that she had been very sick in England and doctors had lost all hope, when she moved back from England six months ago, she had literally come home to die.
More Articles by Maj Agha
Rawalpindi, a City of Dreams and Demons (Part I)
Rawalpindi, a City of Dreams and Demons (Part II)
Rawalpindi, a City of Dreams and Demons (Part III)
Rawalpindi, a City of Dreams and Demons (Part IV)
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