All the wrong subtractions
Khawaja Ali Zubair
Stories end where love begins. This story starts right where love ends. My wisdom, I have gained at the expense of my own tears. I did internalize that men shouldn't cry, but who talked about lovers? No one.
Bitter laughs and deep musing that I have succumbed to, for the true heart never forgets soon; never forgets the partings never unlooked for. He left too but he got his point across: if she left me, than I was merely the ladder, and not the summit.
Maybe tomorrow's gale will blow in new burrows; maybe it will heal the hurt, hurt realities. But today, I remain indebted to yesterday's silence: at the mercy of the one who has gone, or perhaps of nothing; at the shore of the ocean but surely not in the healing water.
- New Beginnings
The flight from Jamaica landed in Karachi at six am, 2nd Jan 2005. Four sprinters heaved out with silver medals shining from their necks; the Jamaicans students had outclassed them, not for the last time. Not victors, but nonetheless proud. It mattered little that they had given all they had: what mattered more that back here, awaited them an erratic Dean, their Dean, at Tirah University, Karachi, Pakistan.
Grapevine said the Dean was drinking droughts of rapture. Well so were we, so was I. It had been a week and devoid of the face that mattered, the world had dried up. Maybe she would come to the airport, or maybe her light would shine brighter at the campus. Just a few more hours, I said to myself.
The waiting lounge instead, was replete with another existence, my parents. I embraced them, and the medal glinted proud. They were happy, very happy. They found their victories in my defeats knowing that I would rather die than give up on the track.
"Come son, home longs for you." said my father, his proud eyes glued to my medal.
"Mr. Husseni, we need to report to the university first. The Dean longs him more." said Tahir, smiling. Tahir was our relay captain. A senior sprinter himself, it was he that that put trust in a freshman like me. Everyone was against my inclusion: it mattered little to him. No one in Karachi had ever survived the Jamaican 4 x 400 m with a sliver medal, we did it.
"Well child, rob Nadir for now. Allow me to present my compliments to you all at lunch today." said my gentlemanly father, and with this invitation, he headed off arm in arm with my mother: in the distance I made out Ghulam Nabi, our chauffeur, igniting the Mercedes engine.
Half an hour later, we were on board Tirah University's van as we headed off to campus. We knew we would walk tall today amid cheers and congratulations, both fake and heartfelt. January 2nd 2005, I would never forget this day.
The van driver directly led us to the Dean's office where the respective college deans had assembled. Handshakes, more medals, chocolates and news of a deferred ovation met us. By the looks of the grandeur and rapturous ambience, few would have believed that we had not won gold. Moreover, Tahir was generous enough to mention that I was a potential captain in his reckoning. I was not wholly in the room to acknowledge his praise as my soul wandered outside, seeking its better part, Linah Rafiki.
It was not long before I was unleashed on the campus ground and I ran. I ran not for the finish line but to find my own starting. People eyed me as I sprinted, some pointing fingers, others laughing. I thought that it was their way of acknowledging the silver that hit the air: I was wrong.
Even the sprinter ran out of breath in his search and he rested: one hand on the ground, eyes on the gravel mixed grass. As I gasped for breath, a hand rested on my back and I looked up. It was the thick haired university Lounger. His name was perfect, in accordance with his routine, in touch with his backyard (Tirah), in pattern with his amazing ability to mind everyone's life, but his own. (I guess all universities have one of these).
He looked stoned. Slowly he rambled "You should head off the admin block, you know. A sprinter on the ground never appeases the eye, you know. And you will, quite find what you looking for."
Slowly getting up, I stammered, "Thank you Loung." I walked towards the admin block, my mind racing. Sixty meters down the lane, the same rambling voice caught up from behind. It spoke prose "You must think of me at my best." I did not bother turning back, my heart focused on my trajectory. It won't be long, let the stoned man be, I whispered to myself.
Five minutes everything explained itself: Loung's sudden appearance, people's mockery (not laughter), hushed pointed fingers. I was the event today, the show. Yes, I went to the admin block; people crossed my path again and again. I was mistaken to believe that my medal spoke loud that day. It didn't, a broken heart did.
At the admin, more people milled about than usual. Finally, amidst the buzz followed her hallowed glimpse. I moved forward, the multitudes parted and silence grew loud. That was her silent knell, Linah looked up and our eyes met. Fifteen feet away, I looked at her, she looked at me and the world looked at us hungrily, waiting for some drama. Then she looked sideways at a freshman I knew nothing about. My eyes travelled down to their clasped hands, the medal looked at the world. Eyes grew wide as the silent climax realized, people waiting for the punches to fall.
Nothing happened. I was my Father's gentleman that day. I took one good look at her, in attempt to implant guilt at her seeming defection or perhaps to drink in what had taken place. It all ended there; I turned my back, started walking, and couldn't help thinking how beautiful she looked, even today. How those eyes shined even in that dark moment, how that expressionless face said it all, how those hands stood, in company of another. Boos erupted and the crowd launched its invidious banter, the Dean's Pride grounded to dust with their remarks. Surprisingly, my footsteps were light that day. It all mattered too much and I became something a man shouldn't be, weak.
Light started fragmenting and slowly conscious reality started fading too. Hell in itself broke loose, mind you a very cold one. My knees wavered and I started to crumble, slowly sliding into the oblivion of love. In truth, broken hearts make little sense, except perhaps to tarnish the love of lovers, the leaves of shelter gardens, the grass of abandoned shades and perhaps, the music of blues guitarists.
I wanted to rest against a wall but too many eyes followed me, hoping to descry wet eyes, a fumbling gait. That couldn't be allowed to happen. They say that the longest mile you tread begins at the dawn of tragedy. For me this convention didn't hold. I was too lost in my thoughts and to this date I have little idea how I made it to Ghulam Nabi at the parking lot. I have little idea what happened at dinner. I have little idea of the praises that were heaped on me. I do not even know whether my team came to lunch or not. It was a haze, one gigantic smoke screen, mind you clouding the life of a man who fell in true love.
The question that brimmed on the edges of my mind was that who was this dark haired, dark eyed, stocky freshman? I had never seen him before.
That was well, the end of 2nd January 2005, a day that became a bone of contention amongst contradictory emotions and betraying expectations.
2- A Present Retrospect
I am Nadir Husseni, the second child of Mrs. Aimen Husseni and Mr. Zahid Husseni, a well known local millionaire. Wealth never meant much to me, I had simply too much of it floating around. Simple pacifist I would describe myself, very egotistical but not presumptuous, never contemptuous. I began sprinting from a very young age, my long legs conducive to a victor's reality. Sprinters and Coaches across the city knew my name and acknowledged my perseverance. The track remained pretty much the only place where I was not judged by the car I drove, the name I carried, but by my peak velocity at the 70th meter stretch.
As of Linah, I first met her in Grade College. It was a slow attachment and that why it turned out to be so poisonous, so hard to let go of. Never said anything. Didn't know whether to believe in relationships or not, didn't know whether there was an end or not, and didn't know what money could buy. Wish I did.
Well, we made it to Tirah together (August 2004) and the world seemed pretty clear. A month into Tirah, I asked my heart out, not wanting to breathe in a world that she wasn't part of, not wanting to acknowledge a reality that didn't acknowledge her, not wanting to see a rainbow that didn't end on her footsteps.
September 2004, her voice carved the symphony my ears wanted to hear.
From that day onwards, I saw only one face at the end of every finish line pushing me forward, encouraging me to leap all bounds to realize it, not for the last time. Linah, the girl who possessed that wondrous smile, precious beyond the worth of emeralds and sapphire, a face in my world, so rare. It became mine and I drunk in its love, only to woken from its stupor a bit too late, woken by the slap of reality. It did echo, echoed a bit hard and I realized that I didn't lose anything because, I actually never came to genuinely own it.
She loved not Nadir Husseni, but his two fragments of wealth. I would still not like to unobjectively vilify her; she was there many a time in these five months or so. Narcisstic though she was, Narcisstic though she is.
The morning of third January began in my room. Morning grew, my eyes opened and the first thing that I saw was the medal on my neck. It smirked back to greet me the day, not forgetting to remind the owner that he was second best, the chief honor lost to the victor, (in light of my lachrymose reality) to some conqueror, some immoral sociopath.
I opened my cell phone, messages flooded, some congratulating, some expressing sorrow at my loss, some talking of the ovation next week, others saying that my cowardice had failed them. Lounger also dropped a text
-Yo laddie yo. I was paid to do my part. He, Minavan Malik, synchronized it all, the crowd, the humiliation and your debasement. Why I tell you this is because, no one paid me to shut up. That shrew ain't worth it anyways. Grip Doug-
Again and again I roved through that text. Minavan Malik, the new man on the block, sadistic in his endeavors. Question was what was I to do? Fight? Throw some more money on the block? Retreat? It made no sense. Now that I thought about it, in the last ten years I had never so much as got into a fight, never so much as punched someone square on the face. Nonchalance was further ruled out by a broken heart. Some thing had to be done, but what?
I hit the breakfast table and greeted my parents. My elder sister Marium joined us too and they all cast queer looks at me. I do not remember what happened yesterday but this I can say, it, by all means, defied rational explanations. They didn't, however, verbalize their thoughts. Family always knows, always.
I headed off to college quite reluctantly, the man inside didn't, however, want to run away. Glances met me, looks turned away, looks turned towards, the Lounger even winked and then I found a refuge, or infact it found me. Tahir came up.
He spoke first-"Easy would do it. This new guy is not so kind, quite well resourced and gore loving. Tarnished pride would bring you conflict and it would be at some, if not great, expense. These people," he said gesturing at the crowds, "they got a new scapegoat and that's you. Retaliate if you want, but not at their incitation."
"Yes against the Malik."
"So how did it all happen?"
"We left in early December for Jamaica and that's when the predator struck. It would hurt you to hear but he quite had it, all. Sources close to her say that it was your million dollar background that served as her springboard to Tirah's elite. There he stood ready to embrace what you called the better part of your existence."
A bit perturbed, I fumed, "Too well resourced aren't you? Ever the wound scraper?"
Tahir stopped short and gripped my shoulder hard, "Never the wound scraper. Just looking out for a freshman who might just throw it all to gain nothing. I got your back. You want to fight, go. I have your back. I just point to the futility to your seemingly potential endeavors."
"In a strange manner, you are right. Nothings on the cards right now but you will know in due time."
"Catch you on the ovation. You still are the champ. You still are." With that exclamation, he headed off, to the admin block.
"Wait. What happened at lunch yesterday?" I inquired in a morose manner.
He stopped and looked back. "The team knew better than to indulge with a lost individual. News spreads fast here."
A small appraisal notified that Tirah changed in itself. People treated me as a walking-talking war field, ready to erupt anytime. Others who I called friends weren't so keen to associate with a coward, pacifist being a term unheard of. Linah and Minavan crossed my paths too often, wittingly or unwittingly, I do not know. She always avoided my eyes while he was quite keen at glaring back, daring me to make a move. I never avoided his eyes, but met it with my will, never wavering as I looked into his. It all quite stood for nothing for at the end of the day, she remained his.
I skipped the ovation ceremony. It seemed to matter zilch. I think I planned to win her back but I didn't know for sure. Neither did I know how. Tahir was furious when I bailed and said that I was conceding like a loser. The Lounger kept sending strange messages. I said nothing.
Two weeks down the road, after not having participated in a single training session, the coach and my captain dismissed me from the team. Guess what? I couldn't care less. I no longer had any motivation to run towards the finish line. It left with her, my emerald.
As for Tahir, we never talked again.
3- The Sinkings & Risings of a loser
Well, I had sunk but only with my heart and not my grades. I found the best way out, or maybe the worst: Transfer. Transfer out of this dratted place. Yes, I know that's retreatism but I became no more than a retreatist. A loser, a fool.
Whatever remaining resolve I had was quite forsaken to kingdom come. Father pulled a few strings and by June of 2005, my transfer stood complete. I was now shifted to Packard University. An ungraceful exit but necessary. I for one saw no point continuing along on this path; the heart could do with new beginnings.
The Lounger said he would miss me, I didn't believe him. As for Linah and Minavan, I never found out what sentiments they harbored. Infact I never gave much time for anyone to harbor anything; my withdrawal was swift and silent.
As for family, yes they questioned my decisions. There were many ways I could have steered out of this but I choose the truth. Mind you, not the complete one. When the damage is done, damage control by no means entails lies and spurious realities. I told them I fell, first in love, than partially out of it, than besides it and now it was time to break the ditch and explore horizons new. My capricious father liked how I put this, resplendent he called it and he acquiesced. Mother and Marium Husseni cared less of how broken I was or who broke me down: they couldn't embrace the idea of their sprinter retiring; champion they called me and champion I had to remain or the family honor would stand tarnished in my defection. Family honor was it, the intangible existence that now replaced the face that for long, stood at the end of the finish line.
July 2005 began with my part redemption; the sprinter came back and often was he seen covering 10 km stretches of the Arabian Sea coast that marked the southern boundary of the metropolis.
Strangely, my hiatus improved me and my best 100m time clocked down to 10.78 seconds, an improvement of .28seconds. Perhaps family honor served as a greater impetus than some girl I threw my heart on. The past six months became less and less vivid and its memory faded a little. The heart, however, remained sorry for its plight. Time surrogated as a nurse but a rather slow one, healing whimsically, with my self nailed at its mercy.
During those stretches, even I gave up the idea of pacifism. There is a victor and there is a two pence worth loser, who may not pick up his arms and term his defeat as his victory, but the end reality remains the same. It was too late to muse now and that I knew only too well.
August 2005 began and so did Packard. It was a university whose academic culture emulated or far outrivaled that of Tirah's. It was a good place in itself, perfect respite to put myself together.
I must say I did quite well; my economics bachelors ambled along well too. Two weeks down the road, to the pride of the Husseni woman in my life, I had made it to the 4 x 100m relay, 4 x 200m relay in addition to being the top five sprinters in the university. Packard had taken a good start, well, counting social life out.
All the group amalgamation that had to take place had taken place in the first year. Fraternities were closed to new members and many a people were skeptical of the means by which I had enrolled in as a second year, that being not so common a phenomenon. I couldn't care less; they did not want me, I did not want them so what was the problem? I must add it could have been "better", if only I had agreed to being chauffeured by Ghulam Nabi in the delicacies that my Father had adorned our garage with. No, that wasn't happening. Friends of splendor, remain, only in splendor.
Instead, I brought this ragged down Ford truck to commute to the university. At that point in my life, Ghulam Nabi thought I had cracked badly. I laughed like anything, when he expressed such thoughts. To me, not being understood itself had its ecstatic pleasure. Candid truth was that I was trying to be simple for a change; I was done being a "millionaire springboard".
In this my new found simplicity, I realized that a man maybe lonesome, but he is never deserted by his thoughts, they are his, loyal his, loyal to death. People leave, people go, few remain worth running after, and few have the charm that can carve a space for itself inside you. I met such a man but let his memory rest for now.
4- Marriage of Marium
In her two final years of her Masters degree, the elder Husseni had fallen in love with her compeer, Yasir. Two years were enough for them to realize that they wanted to tie the knot. No one had a problem with this arrangement. In fact, Father and Mother were quite appeased; they did not have to wait on prospective suitors with tables laden with heavenly food, as such was the Pakistani custom.
I had met Yasir a couple of times and a respectful gentleman he was, or so what seemed. I gave my approval at the Husseni house; it did not have much weight though. Father believed in equality amongst his children and bowed to the wishes of my sister as soon as she voiced out her plans. We were in for a marriage, on verge of a gloomy parting but one, marked with Husseni family's brilliance.
Yasir's family decided to pay us a visit in October and we opened our doors to them. Marium made it a point to make sure the garage was washed, everyone window cleaned, every painting adjusted, every carpet scoured, and the best bakery in town was booked with a ten grand order. Well, one can call that love.
On 5th of October 2005, the Hussenis stood outside waiting to welcome Yasir's family. I adorned myself in the whitest Shalwar Kameez I could find, checking the clock again and again, a mere slave of anxiety, attired in simplicity.
Then Marium screamed, "We forgot the drinks! We forgot the drinks! Nadir, go get them."
"Tell Ghulam Nabi." I replied not believing this.
"Last time I asked him for cola and he brought me lemonade. He's old. Have some mercy on him younger Husseni."
Defeated, I gave in. "Quantity?"
"Fifteen bottles would do. And you might as well go on the Porsche. If late, I want you to make one good entrance, for me." She said smirking at the Ford truck. I sulked back at her but agreed. It was her day and I couldn't say no. When I hit the road on my Father's Porsche with only on thought on mind: the damage it could do at Packard, life could be set straight.
I fought my thoughts hard. I couldn't make this mistake again. Last time was costly enough. I was tired of "buying" things. Nonetheless in this moment, it felt great driving the Porsche again; it was quite a beast. People turned back and forth to look at the convertible and my spirits rose. All this attention; the car was a moving publicity stunt.
Fifteen bottles were bought in no time and I went to the Husseni home and then I realized why Marium wanted me to take the Porsche. The 652bhp engine's hum in itself signaled my entry in to the Husseni house and two men came out in the front to welcome me. One was my dear Father and another was a gentleman who I assumed to be Yasir's father. I stirred a bit as they came near for the stranger bore a striking resemblance to someone I knew; someone I never wanted to know.
"Rahat Malik." he spoke and handed out his hand to me in his ex cathedra manner. Clad in sartorial excellence, his dark eyes beheld me and I knew them. I had seen them before and now I was dreading to enter my own house. This wasn't happening. No, this wasn't all coming back to me. This suited gentleman clasped his arm around my shoulder and we crossed the lawns and inched near the silver door. I couldn't wait to enter and I couldn't wait to run away. The inevitable stood, in all its tangibility right across the hall.
Yes Minavan Malik stood there and for the first time he didn't raise his eyes to meet mine. My feet stood still and I looked, rooted, transfixed, skeptical of what I already knew, unbelieving of what I saw. Anger rose, so did incredulity, so did nothingness and all I had forgotten, surfaced back to hit me, all the more stronger, all the more bitterly.
It took me a while to realize that the every one was looking at me, trying to figure out the reality behind this intense concentration, at only a constant fraction of my ambience. I gained composure but not soon enough to stop my Father from asking, "You know Yasir's brother?"
"Yes, Tirah." I replied, taking my time.
Father was quick to gauge my pale tone and probed no more. He moved forward with Mr. Rahat and offered him a seat. I sat down next to my mother and gawked at the rest. Yes I acted like a child.
Right next to Minavan stood Yasir, who by no accident was smiling at my sister, conversing silently with his eyes. Adjacent to Yasir sat a lady in her mid fifties with her black hair curving gracefully down her neck. Looking at me she smiled and gave a small nod. I replied in kind and finally turned to the extreme right of the hall where in isolation stood their third son.
Amid all the chatter, amid all the cordiality we exchanged, I suddenly caught a strange glint of purple in his eyes. His thick black hair fell in the same graceful manner and curved down to his shoulder. He was a fine specie of a man; quite worthy to look at. Not for the last time, I wished I could interchange features with him, for I knew that Linah would never have left me, had I just been him. Soon, he grew conscious of my gaze and his fair face turned towards me. We both looked on at each other until he withdrew, and later I realized that it was an exhibition of his respectful conduct. I for one needed tremendous edification that day.
I turned my face back, to look at Minavan who like before was quite keen on avoiding my gaze; he seemed uncomfortable too, like a sailor in unchartered territory, not knowing what was in store. Had he not tugged at my soul, I might even have pitied him.
Now, however, he stood beyond it. I knew what was on his mind, why his dark eyes had narrowed and why his grim face was so unusually gaunt: his actions now stood to deprive Yasir of his true love, just as he had deprived me of Linah. He was right to assume that I would be vindictive but wrong in that my desire for revenge would exceed the respect and love I harbored for my Marium. No, I wouldn't interject though this marriage stood, now, in my jurisprudence. If only my parents got to hear of the details of my humiliation at Tirah, of the names behind it, of the drastic changes that had been inculcated in me, they would have highly disapprobated of this marriage, of this bond with the Maliks.
I drank true poison that day at the gain of my Marium's dream and at the expense of prospective vengeance, on account of my sadistic about to be , far flung relative, Minavan Malik. An hour later, we bid the satisfied Maliks goodbye and moved back in our abode. Everyone seemed to be happy with the arrangement, and to some extent, even I was. By no means could I judge Yasir in light of his brother and Marium deserved all she could ask for. We all piled in our final agreements and then Marium no stood, no longer ours.
5- Wedding, Violins and a Stranger
It must have come as a surprise to Minavan, when my parents, oblivious to reality, agreed to pay the Maliks a visit. I won't call it a hasty decision but twenty eight days was all both the families had, to send off their firstborns in unprecedented pomp and splendor, and yet not forget to outclass each others preparations.
Thus began the endless visits around Karachi, nailing down the best tailors, bakers, wedding planners and gift shops. As a society, we have always been foolish to expend prodigiously on wedding justifying it in the name of honor. No wise man would uphold this tradition but neither would he dare to differ and ward off the society, just by himself. Society mutters loud when its expectations are not met and these sordid expectations tend to be higher when the marriage in case, is a bond between two wealthy families.
We bowed to these aforementioned expectations too, and fell down to the extent of not even keeping a budget. A small fraction of Father's hard earned wealth was so slowly transmuted to windfall gains on account of wedding card printers, traditional goldsmiths and not to forget, beauticians. Business contacts flew in form around the globe, but not with matters of financial concerns. Their luggage was instead, replete with Armani suits and Prada footwear, a large portion of which was to be generously dolled out to the Malik kinship as "Gifts".
Ghulam Nabi dropped sliver plated wedding invites at the residences of Karachi's elite and top political brass. In short, this was supposed to be the wedding of weddings, delivered with such brilliance so as to make people reminisce of its grandeur for years to come.
The bride to be herself forgot to be the encouraging sister she was, who had helped to bring out again, the sprinter in me. Half her day was spent bickering with planners, and bribing venal beauticians, while the other half was pleasantly allotted for coordinating her team servants and minions, led by yours truly.
Candidly speaking, Packard itself was reduced to the backfront and I had no time to even replenish my supply of intake supplements. Seldom was I seen at the university but it wasn't my fault, and for a change, failure in love wasn't a cause. This isn't to say that Linah had left my thoughts for good, but to point out to the last fourteen days of October when Hussenis from all around the Pakistan and the globe, checked in, to be looked after.
Though our abode was nothing short of a mansion, it was a painstaking task settling people, some of whom I had never seen before, into rooms with compatible others. With nothing short of pride and anger, I must add that Nadir Husseni became their answer to everything.
I became a mere servant, appeaser of whims, satisfier of fancies and my parents quite enjoyed my swift degeneration from a prince to a pawn. It annoyed me how these relatives would bluntly ask for luxuries that they would have thought thrice about consuming, had the still been living under their own roof. Our house could be likened to a free stint at a five star, where no hefty bills are dolled out for the dainties served. Father, played the generous host, and lovingly overlooked the exploitation undertaken by Marium's entourage. Well that's what Mother playfully referred to them, (behind closed doors ofcourse).
Scattered amongst memories of Marium's entourage, Marium's ordinances, and my servile existence, there still stood bitter realities of Tirah. I often thought how delightful life could be if the girl with braided black hair was still standing by my side, her thick eyelashes momentarily bowing as she smiled at me. How her fair looks would have done justice to Marium's entourage, but no. These remained musings, worthless musings.
Just five days left to the wedding, I walked on the lush green lawns in Packard, musing along parallel lines when my thoughts were interrupted by a text on my cell phone.
It was the Lounger and as before, the implicit tidings he brought, shook me.
- Nadir Doug. Long yo, have you hid from me. But no, time draws us closer :) -
It said it all. It said all that never got time to think of. It said what I should have thought of. Wedding day wouldn't be complete without Minavan's antics, not complete without Linah's presence, and certainly not complete with all the people like Loung who I had gladly left behind. I presume that, my sadist of a relative had plans of his own, knowing well that the marriage was on the cards and no one could change the cards now, if anyone at all in the first place, desired to.
I kept staring at my phone, than at the students that crowded the lawns, the corridors, the walkways. No one. Nah, there was pretty much no one to invite and my old acquaintances were surely, in for a field day.
Maybe it was then and there that wisdom touched me: it was time not to care what every third hilly billy had to say. Moving on required that and paradoxically I had already done so, without realizing this realization which could have long before, given me my own victory in my times of my great defeat.
If I stood with a few people to call mine, it still mattered little to me and I knew it. If it mattered more to the world, than let it, let them. As I moved to World History class, slow acknowledgment came upon me that now I was more than avidly looking forward to the wedding, quite ready to play a kindly host to Minavan's associates, those who kindness had escaped my self. No, that's by no means signifies my greatness. I would term it as a defensive measure to smite down the forthcoming dose of contempt with a force stronger, ill meant and faked kindness.
Four days later on 8th of November 2005, he played his entry well. The Husseni house glimmered, lighted to perfection with flood lights covering the lawn. Two, hundred foot green oriental Chaddars fell from the sky at the each end of the gate, which were further reinforced by horsemen on either fronts. When the Maliks entered with their Baraat (wedding procession), the flood lights were closed and fireworks ignited the sky into different hues of a rainbow. Amid the noise, the horsemen charged forward to welcome them. The wedding planners had done a good job and the people stood awed, even those who had a vivid idea of the forthcoming deliverance.
When the Baraat finally killed their engines and slowly walked towards our residence, Marium's eclectic entourage rushed forward to shower the Baaratis with buckets of imported Thai roses, as a token of our love. My Father and I stood at the gateway to welcome the on comers; first came Minavan and his eight close friends who looked at me with all the contempt they could muster, making an open point to ignore my outstretched hand. However, as they passed, one of them broke ranks and grasped my hand. As I looked closely, I realized that I knew him, or I thought I did. It was not the Lounger, it was Tahir. Having made his point, he moved forward without a word.
I smiled for I knew that my erratic behavior had hurt him; that was the only reason he was here. I would never go so far as to call myself a forgiving person but I didn't hold anything against him that night (for associating with my adversaries). It seemed a bit amusing too, his hypocrisy that is. Only a few months ago he was quite ready to take on Minavan, his fists at the mercy of my planned endeavors.
Second followed Yasir and Mr. Rahat Malik, flanked by our horsemen on each side. Both were clad in splendid suiting and their entrance could be termed nothing short of stately; arms clasped, they seemed happily determined, to take the Husseni jewel with them. After them followed Mrs. Malik and her handsome son who led the about three hundred other Maliks behind them.
Once Marium's entourage had the groom seated at the stage and all the Maliks were escorted in by our horsemen, the green Chaddars suddenly exploded into flame, and a loud trumpet issued from the house. The veiled bride entered the lawns and all eyes turned towards her, watching her delicate footsteps trace the ground. I, still standing at the entrance, however, stood distracted.
I have no memory of my sister's graceful steps for my eyes stood locked at entrance. Two people had walked in at that very moment, and all I could hear was nothing. It was Loung preceded by Linah. She passed by me, well knowing that I stood there, well knowing that I sought to meet her eyes. Her coldness, her ignorance, couldn't sting me for once; I was sure that Minavan too, was playing wedding planner that night.
Loung on the other hand embraced me like a long lost friend. I didn't return his embrace, for after all, then, there stood no place for his neutrality. In short, his passport could have only one stamp, either Soviet or American. Nonetheless, I did not forsake my duties of a kindly host and did ask the horsemen escort him to my old acquaintances.
Seeing this, he said "Yo laddie Doug. You run away. You still running away. I not wrong." His broken English led me to presume that he was stoned that night too.
Replying in broken colloquial, I jested, "You follow me not. You lost me then."
His arms dropped a little as he leaned closed to whisper," He watches you. I watch yous too. I friend your always."
Robbed of my high spirits, I inquired, "How can you be sure of that?"
Now tugging at the horse, he whispered," Loung knows, Loung always knows." Saying that he headed off towards the lawns in his sloppy manner while the horsemen at his side cast back apprehensive looks at me.
The wedding went quite as I expected. Loung weirdness quite appealed to Marium's whimsy entourage. Mr and Mrs. Rahat were pleased with the brilliance with which the night had taken off. The politicians had also slowly piled and canvassed support for their respective parties. Much to the excitement of those invited, two opposing politicians almost had a brawl at the far right of the lawn. The elite also climbed on board in their debaucheristic attire which clearly outstood, blatantly pitted against the Muslim customs. Father and Mother stood aloof, enjoying the magnanimity of the affair they had concocted.
Linah and Minavan crossed my paths several more times that night but I no longer raised my eyes to meet her. Little did I know then that someone from afar was more than observant of all that was taking place. It was this stranger, who altered the scope of my foreseeable reality, one which had solid aims but no existential means of deliverance.
At midnight the Yasir's car finally lined up at the entrance, parked dead centre on the ashes of the green oriental Chaddars. Father and Mother held Marium's hands and led them slowly across the lawns. We didn't cry. Well at least not then. It was not long before the Marium and Yasir were seated in the car, and right before the doors closed, Mr. Rahat moved forward and tossed in a key.
Very surprised, my Father inquired, "You will not accompany them?"
Mr. Rahat smiled, "To their new house? No."
"New house?" my mother echoed. None of us had any prior idea that Marium wasn't moving in the Malik residency, as was the custom.
Still smiling, he wrapped his arms around Mrs. Malik and replied, "We both wanted to gift them a dream. The house is its mere realization. Mind you, even Yasir had no idea up till this very moment as to what the key was for. Our chauffeur will enlighten them of the merits of that key. And on this note let us part. I will expect you all, tomorrow at the Country Club." With that the couple walked away and soon darkness encapsulated their frames.
The wedding car too, was now out of sight and I already missed my sister. Along with this new nothingness, grew exponentially, great respect for Mr. Rahat and his wife. Their act of generosity drastically altered my indifferent opinions.
Soon the guests also started taking leave: I did not see Minavan, Linah or any of their friends leaving. The third brother, however, came up to me right before he left. "Dadhey." He spoke as he offered his right hand out to me.
"Nadir. I am afraid we have not properly, met before." I replied, shaking his hand. As I did, my hand brushed against something soft but as I looked down at it, I saw nothing. It was too dark.
"Time wasn't gracious enough. But let me welcome you tomorrow to the best of my abilities. As Marium's brother, I hold you in high esteem and respect."
I wish I could have said the same then; he was not just Yasir's brother, he was Minavan's too. Though I did concede, "I have held the sincerest pleasure in meeting you." I meant it too. He respectfully bowed his eyes to take leave and its purple glint emanated as he opened them again. He was nothing like Minavan and nothing like Yasir either.
He was different, quite refined and while I was conversed with him, I realized that more people than usual were looking at me. I knew it wasn't because I was Nadir Husseni. It was because I stood next to him. As he walked away, those eyes followed his elegant form to the entrance. There was this air of magnetism around him; beings stood attracted to him and he knew it very well. That was Dadhey.
On the 9th of November 2005, for one last time Marium came to our house to dress up for the Valima (groom's dinner). By nine pm, we were all ready to go with our procession, to be received by the Maliks at the Country Club bordering the natural lagoon. It was one uphill task loading on Marium's entourage on our cars while making sure that all the Hussenis were packed with compatible others. Ghulam Nabi, having memorized the address from the Valima invite, headed the procession in our Mercedes, with my parents and sister safely laden in his car.
To my great surprise, in light of the fancies of our whimsical entourage, we arrived at the club on time. The Maliks stood on the grass threshold ready to welcome us. Much to my displeasure, there stood even more people from Tirah than last night which included my whole ex-relay team. I did not know exactly what point Minavan wanted to jut across but after seeing the team, I certainly wouldn't have been surprised if he had got the Dean there too.
Linah stood there, looking even more beautiful than usual but I couldn't spare more than a glance. That being only because I did not want too. Again, my bowed head didn't go unnoticed.
Dadhey stood again in an extreme corner, not for the last time, being admired by people from both sides of the engagement. He was indifferent to all this attention, and looked beyond everything, his nonchalance only adding to his exalted persona. His purple eyes met mine and he nodded his acknowledgement; following this exchange, quite a few eyes now locked on me.
Violins started sounding off from the right side of the lagoon as Yasir held my sister's hand and led her upfront to the stage: the world followed the couple. I did not and neither did he.
The crowds parted and the symphonies began. As before, he walked upto me and held out his hand "Once again sir, it is a pleasure meeting you."
"Sir? If I am not wrong, your age far exceeds mine. This title by all means, stands unwarranted." I replied shaking his hand. My hand brushed against something on his finger and this time, celerity on my behalf, allowed me to glimpse a white ribbon lace tied to his forefinger.
"Respect is mine to give out to whom I wish. Would you mind a walk?"
I couldn't say no. I had just reached the venue but his charisma negated sensible conduct on my account. We walked towards the lagoon, questions racing our across our minds and these questions, once verbalized altered our mistaken presumptions.
He spoke first, "You knew my brother?"
Which brother was he talking about, I asked myself. I choose to be careful. "Yes since the last two years. I have met often Yasir, here and now again."
Hearing this he smiled and spoke placidly, "I speak of my younger bother, Minavan."
Being addressed so, I looked hard at him. For all the grace he seemingly possessed, it mattered little then, for his question seemed absurd, to say the least. Then, it would have been foolishness at its best, to put trust in him. Being Minavan's brother, he should at least have known, reality in its partial form. However, fragile and external as our bond was, I had no choice but to reply," Yes I did. We studied at Tirah."
"But you left?" The pitch of violins rose in the distance.
"Extenuating circumstances I would say."
"None that you can voice out?" The pitch began falling.
At that my voice rose," And what business of yours rests in decisions that I made in my past?"
He purples eyes rose to meet mine but he spoke as placidly as before. " I see things. Some that make no sense."
"Yes things. For one, it surprises me as to why you lower you gaze when it comes to Linah Rafiki, upon whom rest my brother's affections. What do I miss?"
"You miss my modesty" I retorted, fighting back contempt as the violins started screeching again.
At this he smiled again," And your modesty is limited to only a single lady in this city?"
"Respect and limited?" I stared back at him. How dare he tear my wounds, I thought. "Do you not regard the fragility of the bond that subsumes us all? Did he put you up to this? Just like all the others he has had standing day and yesterday, to remind me all of what I left. I held you in higher esteem than the puddle of low morality, you now swim in."
His gaze met mine again and his smile disappeared. My words were as rash as rash as the violins, still screeching in the distance and I slowly became aware of the transgression I had undertaken. He however still echoed in his soft manner, "If not knowing is a crime, than indeed I have wronged you. And for that, I offer you the humblest of my apologies. The past, I am not cognizant of, and perhaps I will remain so."
"So has your brother kept you in the dark?"I asked, having found my chance to question. My tone was now lowered to levels of decency.
"He indeed has."
"And what would explain his silence?"
"Distance on our account. " When he spoke this, his eyes shined. They remained no longer calm; roughness seized them and I grasped that Minavan Malik had overstepped in his own home too. That piece of vermin.
Throwing the ball back in my own court, I resumed, "I loved that girl. He took her away and with her a good many things a person needs to walk with his head high. I left. I quit; and that will quite explain…….my modesty. "
Again, Dadhey raised his eyes to meet mine and this time he did not withdraw. He seemed to filter the reality I shoved at him and it did pass as convincing to him. Then, of all the things he could have asked, of all the condolences he could have offered, of all the bitterness he could have washed off with his charm, he went for a completely inane question,' Do you by any well gotten chance, have the Valima invite on you right now?"
A bit shocked for words, I could barely utter," No."
"Well meet me tomorrow at noon sharp, Café Le fazz. We have some sense to make."
That note called the conversation and we walked back to the Valima dinner together, looking everywhere but not at each other. In truth, that night, we began as in-laws and we ended as complementary accoutrements, our bond now internal.
People at the reception eyed us as we walked in again; I must add that I too, couldn't care less then. Matters much more important had left me in deep thoughts and little could I do to hide it that night. An hour into the night, I took leave from my parents and sister and asked Ghulam Nabi to drive me home. A strange feeling grew inside, or feelings I may add. It was something like digging in the wilderness but with certainty, utmost certainty that the spade would hit the treasure box, regardless of whether X marked the spot or not.
For all I stood to lose by believing in him, I still did.
6- Café Le Fazz
At noon, I entered Cafe Le fazz, a restaurant located right at the edge of the Karachi coast. It was a different place; red plates hung from the ceiling, the floor wired with lights inside which led to a small dais, a guitarist and a singer encompassing it. Amid the blues they conjured, laughter still rose higher, from the tables complementing the life that rose inside.
Shrouded in a dark corner he waited, the valima invite placed on the table. Seeing me he got up from the table and offered his hand to me. For once I could afford to pay attention to the white lace that circled his forefinger. "Dadhey Siddiqui." He pronounced.
"Siddiqui?" I uttered. I was too surprised to sit.
"Have a seat, Nadir." He said, his radiant smile reinforcing his words.
"I m a bit muddled here." I whispered, finally taking a seat.
"Siddiqui. Yes. Siddiqui." he mused, his eyes focused on nothing. Sliding the invite across, the table he requested," Read."
I looked at it. There was nothing, blatant or latent, that I saw now that I had not seen before, when I first read it. "I see no difference."
"Bottom right. The names under RSVP." He pointed.
"Your name isn't there." I mouthed, speaking more to myself than to him.
"By no accident and by no grievance. It was asked and I gave my outright approval. Reality being," he said, his purple eyes glimmering, "that Rahat Malik's blood does not flow through my veins. Reality being that this family is a reconstituted one, commencing thirteen years ago when my mother married him." Seeing the shock on my face, "Yes we hid that. Marium was quite aware, however, we all saw no point, at that point in time, in disclosing our past."
"But you do so, now?"
"Extenuating circumstances," he began, using my own words. "Minavan maybe my foster brother, but nothing binds this bond, not even words. Over the years we have been keen to disassociate ourselves, sitting far across tables, voicing conflicting thoughts, living an existence that exactly contrasts the others. Now, we merely share contempt, not conversations. You are not the first person he has showered injustice on. Too often have I heard of his fiendish endeavors, ruthless ventures but you, certainly are the first I have come across. He enjoys hurting people, and sadly knows….I presume that you have something to ask?"
"I have a scarce idea where to begin. Were you two always at daggers drawn? Has his nature always been so inherently harsh? And most importantly, why are we even here?" I fired, rapidly verbalizing all what burned my solace. He had read me well. Infact he always did; it was useless trying to hide anything from him. I began to see why Minavan despised him so much; even Dadhey's modesty couldn't shrug off this natural air of greatness that contained him.
"I have strong presumptions. It is not a concealed fact that his mother passed away while giving birth to him. I guess he never forgave himself and he did not forgive the world, either. And no, we ambled along fine when we first met. His brain turned laterally when he developed his concepts of property and lineage. Materialism gnawed hard at our weak ties and estranged us. Yasir still fared better with me. He remains a respectable individual, accommodating as well and your family should have no worries as to whom they bequeathed their treasure. Similar would I say of Mr. Rahat. His profound love for my mother, Yasmeen, made it all the easier for him to open his arms and welcome me. Unlike you, I wasn't born with a silver spoon. Didn't have mansions to get lost in, did not have more money than I could figure out what to do with. This changed when this marriage came to being but I never changed; perhaps in memory of my father."
"Forgive my probing nature, but am I to assume he…"
"Yes, he passed quite away. So now, acquaint me of your plight." he said cutting me short.
I told him of how I fell in love, how I liked a girl who would no longer look at me, (great thanks to the sadist in our lives), how broken dreams and broken realities forced me to withdraw, how it all would have been different had his foster brother not existed. I further enlightened him of how Packard had momentarily done justice to me, how normality was almost restored until they all came back again in my life.
I also noticed that he smiled when I talked about Linah, his left hand fondly embracing the lace he was never seen without. "Why do you wear that?" I probed, staring hard at it.
"We all have our memoirs do not we? Would you like coffee?" he responded signaling to the waiter.
I was clear that he preferred to hand out extracts from his memory lane. Extracts that would suffice in explaining why were we here in the first place, that would suffice in gaining my trust. Things made a bit more sense but these snapshots still, only provided distorted perceptibility.
"Yes, fine grain please." I added as the waiter came. Surveying around, I appraised that my partner still remained the object of the environment. A group of girls, three tables to the right, eyed him lasciviously. As usual he couldn't care less, and neither did he look upon them.
"Are you aware, that people around seeking your company? Why do you shun them?" I resumed, my eyes still fixed on the girls.
He followed my gaze and finally looked across the table; the girls broke into smiles. "Shun?" he asked softly." I prefer peace to politics, beautiful silence to cacophony. But don't we all? I wish not to wrong these people by giving them importance I don't intend. Learn, that after my Lord, the thing that I fear most is hypocrisy. I wish not to wrong them. I wish not.
"The wedding being no exception." I jutted in.
"No exception. None at all. If life carved me that way, I apologize to this world. Acknowledge, that it is not my pride. It is…"
"Your indifference?" I interrupted.
He broke into a smile, his magnificent features accentuated. " No, I wouldn't quite put it that way. History would appease your concerns but we cannot dwell on that, now. As to answer your earlier question, I can help you."
"Help? Pertaining to?"
"With measure and proportion, you can seek your reparation. I will help you."
"Against your bother?" I mumbled, eyeing him with great concern." What do you seek to gain?"
"I get to settle my own scores that I have accumulated. Deliverance quite depends on your decision."
"With all due respect to you, Dadhey, why would I want to be your puppet? I can seek other means of redemption, but so doesn't seem your case."
"It quite is not. Truth being that Minavan and I are forced to live under the same roof. Hostilities kept latent would do justice to the peace at Malik residency. Will you not consider?"
"Tell me first, what score do you have to settle? I will consider but only when the actual nitty gritties lie on this table."
"Fair enough. You are entitled to your fair share of history. But allow me to leave the uneven past in favor of the future; about eight months from now Mr. Malik will appropriate his property amongst his sons. After years of mediation, my mother has finally convinced him to devote an infinitesimal fraction to me. Our sadist grudges me of that: he will act out as a pressure group, quoting blood far stronger than fosterage and for that, I believe, he should recompense."
"I would bet my life that you love not wealth. Your argument openly defies my clearest opinions." I asserted, quite incredulous at hearing his words.
"Well met Nadir. I care not for wealth. I care that he has always sought to thwart all that comes my way. Does that satisfy your concerns?"
Another thing I learned about Dadhey that day at Le Fazz was that he had great mastery over his speech. In his frugal expression, he steered his way across questions without conceding what he did not want to concede. "Partly," I replied." But what potion do you brew here?
"Break his heart fair and square. No external humiliation needed. The girl pays. He pays too, connived into winds of deceit."
"That's wonderful prose. It is soothing to hear, but he won't fall for that, Minavan ain't a fool."
"Oh yes he will. Not so kind though he remains, he is not immune to fatal attraction."
"I savor your idea, but by what means will you deliver this fatal attraction? Attraction that will have to far surpass Linah's charm?" Hearing his plans, I stood quite interested, I really was. Over the past eleven months, I had been to busy running away from my defeat to even think of redemption, or any other form of damage control. Revenge hadn't escaped my mind, but neither had its desire surfaced powerfully enough to be realized. What I ignored to acknowledge was that I had not been weak, I had been consistently weak.
"There is a young lady, who has been for quite sometime, well known across circles in this city. Her occupation, put in simplest term is to steal hearts and injure them, in exchange for pecuniary emoluments. Cruel it sounds, cruel it is. Yet I deem it fit, for a cruel man." He said, finally raising his coffee mug to his lips.
I did not reply. I did not need to. It was my turn to smile as we both sat, perfect understanding embracing each other. Those who forgive are great indeed, honorable beyond quantifiable measure. Those who do not, well, end up curing their impaired consciousness. So much for forgiveness, so much for mercy, so less for sublimity.
That was that, our agreement tacit, more limited to our irises than to our words. Finance being of little concern, we both sipped our warm coffees, pondering over what sketches, we would draw with the pastels of time. Potency felt great.
Just before we set off, he inquired, "What you should know is that I will be leaving for Lahore tomorrow. I have my final term to complete at Lahore Union Engineering University, after which I will gain temporal, or perhaps permanent respite from education. Would it be too much to ask if we proceed with our project in June of 2006, when I am delivered?
"No it is not. We have all the time in the world, for no one is running away this time. I will wait on you." I replied determinedly, exonerating him, as I signaled to the waiter, for the bill.