Category Archives: Short stories

Plans in Pink


Ahmad, K.B. (2007). Plans in Pink published in Neither Night Nor Day, 13 stories by women writers from Pakistan. HarperCollins Publishers, New Delhi, India.

(I am posting this story here at the insistence of my friends who will just not stir themselves to buy the book and yet keep asking me about when it will be available online. Finally, I’ve given in.) Plans in Pink is the story that was revised and rerevised to suit the ideals of a few Pakistani editors and publishers and even then did not get published. After multiple rejections on this side of the border, I decided to leave it almost to its second draft format – stubbornness of a mother denying the flaws of a newborn child. Providing it space, I call it now and have never had reason to regret it. It was in this ‘almost 2nd draft’ form that it was discovered first by an Indian website hosting prominent writers from the subcontinent

https://kiranba.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/kiranba-gallery0001.jpg

and then later was picked up by Rakhshanda Jalil for publication in a book edited by her. I consider this story to be one of the major landmarks in my writing life as far as learning the ropes of the writing business is concerned. I hope you enjoy the delicate web as much as I enjoyed spinning it.

Do leave your comments,

Kiran Bashir Ahmad

Heaven apartments were pink in colour. Perhaps the builder had the pale tints of sunrise in mind when he built it, but no matter what rationale one chose to give it, the fact remained there that standing tall, stark and solid through three years of the glaring sun, the lashing rain, the smoking vehicles of one of Karachi’s major arteries and numerous leaking bathrooms of their own design – they were now a bright, gaudy pink in colour rather closely resembling the hues of a tomboyish girl’s kameez which had remained unwashed for over a week. The girl – she had a definite role or rather would have a definite role but for now – the colour…

On a more positive note, the colour did distinguish the long line of apartments from the other grey, brown or white structures in the vicinity, which was exactly what Samina had in mind while explaining the address somewhat hurriedly to her daughter’s tutoress. What could a workingwoman do when literally everything had to be done on a Sunday, cooking for the week, doing the previous week’s laundry and the list went on…

“Its pink!” she had been forced to scream into the receiver through the increasing noise of the static.

“What stink?” came through the rather confused voice of Valerie.

The message had finally got through after a moment of sheepish embarrassment on either ends of the line and now Valerie was putting down the receiver, chewing on her stub of pencil like a meditative calf as her eyes took in the litter of the once neat and tidy room where numerous students had diligently learnt their ‘oh so difficult English lessons’. She could almost picture Ali and Mishal, or Al and Mish as her mother had liked to call the twins, sitting together on the cushy sofa below the window and reciting Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”. It was a poem usually reserved for the 10th graders at which level it was taught in their school but Valerie chose to make an exception in this case, as the twins proved to be an exceptionally bright pair, who, at their twelve years of age understood the various nuances of rhyme as well, if not better than the dull 9th and 10th grader lot she usually tutored.

It was their mother Mrs Samina Tariq she had been talking to. A good natured, helpful and inordinately stupid woman was Valerie’s first impression of her and now as she again surveyed her flight schedule, she smiled and hummed to herself happy that her guess had been correct. Though how on earth her mother would manage to stay on in Samina’s house for a whole year was a mystery Valerie chose not to dwell on. It was causing her a headache and plus the thought – the very thought of finally being independent was overwhelming. “Yes, better not think about it.” She chose instead to think of Sam…Sam – Samina, back to Samina… Valerie could remember the look on Samina’s face when her mother had tried to call Samina ‘Sam’. She laughed to herself. Apart from that first blunder things had gone on smoothly.

Samina had been a gem. “Of course!” she had gushed, “I can understand how difficult it is for you now that you are going to Australia. Don’t you worry. She can stay with me till she sets things in order here and joins you.”

“It’ll only take around two or three weeks I’m sure,” Valerie had beamed at her.

“Oh she’s more than welcome! I will look after your mother like my own. The children can sleep with me…so much the better since Tariq isn’t here…” but that was all that Valerie had heard or had needed to hear, she was already far away, blissful in her thoughts of Australia where somewhere sunnysam, as his nickname on the net proclaimed, was waiting for her as he himself put it, “as breathlessly as if on the edge of a diving board.” Valerie could almost picture his muscular and fully toned body in the pair of swimming trunks along with a few other toiletries she had sent him a month after their online relationship had commenced, thanks to one of the more popular Christian dating websites, and a week after he had told her he was serious in his intentions and wanted to marry her. She had sent him the trunks and had in return received a box of twelve long stemmed roses; white with a blush of crimson at the edges. Mrs D’ Souza had been unexpectedly encouraging. Valerie again looked at the ticket – Valerie D’ Souza was printed neatly at the top – a one-way ticket to the land down under…and with luck she would never have to bear with her mother’s foibles again, not for a year at least till when she would have to arrange for her to come to Australia…that was her mother’s plan, but in the meantime Valerie hoped she would be able to locate a comfortable old people’s home…

I was looking into the strip of mirror embedded on my cupboard and only Valerie’s sheet of shiny black hair was visible to me, yet I knew she was thinking about the future. The future – the word came fully loaded – expectations, responsibilities and desires, but above all, uncertainty. I wondered whether I had done the right thing in allowing her to dream, then shrugged the troubling thought out of my mind. Had I ever been wrong? And Valerie after all was my daughter. She could take care of herself. I was sure of that. Hadn’t she twisted Samina round her little finger? Granted, that I had guided her but she had managed the last part quite well. I was sure that she would be able to do the same with Sam. Once she had the nationality, there would be no need of him. There was one problem though. She said she loved him. Love over what? A computer? I was sure, as I pinned up my grey hair in the pink butterfly clip I reserved for that purpose, that all the love would go right out the swimming pool once Valerie had a chance to compare a Pakistani-Australian banker’s lifestyle with that of her beloved swimmer. That the said banker, James, was also from our community made the package more attractive.

One part of my plan was complete. The house was sold, I had a place to stay and Valerie had her ticket. Now I only had to see off Valerie and then land up two weeks later in Australia myself, unknown to any but James and of course Samina. “Come to think of it, the only one, who did not know that my so-called lie to Samina was actually the truth, was Valerie!” She would thank me later. Plus I could always say that I meant it to be a surprise. Did she think I was actually going to stay on here like the rest of them – the greying old wives of greying old remnants of the 60’s? An unsightly lot I found them, ambling forward wearily like turtles, poking their sticks here and there nervously like mice scuttling the ground as they walked up the drive of the Grand Club periodically to play the same old Mah-jong or chess or bridge – oh they were all alike! Dull people with dull lives. The Lord alone knew how long I would live and as long as I did I wanted to see the world and secure my youngest daughter a good future as I had done with Melanie. Wasn’t Melanie now living securely in Canada where her husband – also one of my findings in the community – worked in the oil fields? The thought was intensely comforting; like a woolly blanket on this cold December night. She had also considered herself to be smitten by that fellow…what-was-his-name-now…It would be history repeating itself, nothing more.

 * * *

The scrawny ginger and black speckled cat arched its back and tried to dive in deeper into the rotting rubbish pile beside a wall from which the pink paint was slowly peeling away. Its tail lashed out against the brutality of this cold December day. That its nameless and homeless existence would soon be changed by the arrival of a burly middle-aged female dressed also in a similarly shaded pink dress, was a matter far beyond its comprehension – for the moment at least.

 

Peering out the window of her third floor apartment in anticipation of her guest, Samina had a much better idea, that’s what she thought in any case, of the road on which things were to proceed. She had met Valerie’s mother – Mrs D’ Souza …come to think of it, she did not even know her first name – on two occasions only and had summed her up as a sweet old thing. A bit batty surely, but no harm in her. Her arrival would create quite a stir in the neighbourhood, but for her own purposes Mrs D’ Souza was the ideal person. After all, where else could she find someone who could manage her children in these winter vacations while she went out to work? She was sure that Valerie’s mother would prove to be an excellent housekeeper as well. Her first aim surely was to make her delay her flight and if that failed then a delay could always be caused…

 

The group of rag pickers stood staring at the gate – looks of mingled shock and awe writ large on their grimy faces. They stood staring for a minute and then as if on cue started sniggering at the sight of an old woman wearing… Could it be? A dress! They moved over gingerly to the boundary wall of the rubbish dump outlining the apartment blocks for a closer look.

“She’s a Mem Sahib!” said one in an awe struck tone, slipping over the stinking mound barefooted in his hurry to see a glimpse of her legs.

“You’re an idiot!” said one of the older boys cuffing him on the head with the younger one’s rubber slipper, which had fallen at his feet. He pulled him up. “Look at her face!” he said knowingly. “She can’t be one. Get back to work now.” The younger one was silenced and an assortment of cuffs and blows was enough to persuade the rest to resume their work. It would be much later in the evening when they would all be sitting on their haunches in front of Qalandar’s restaurant waiting for someone to donate food, that he would find out from the cart pushers of the area that she indeed was a foreigner by heritage and a non Muslim too!

For the time being he stole fervent side-glances at this new finding as the group rummaged in the dump for paper, broken shards of glass and even edible titbits for a change of taste.

“Meow!” the speckled cat was sniffing expectantly at his gunny bag.

He threw a stone at it, which caught it on the leg, and it meowed loudly and piteously.

It was this movement and then the meow that followed it, which drew my attention to the park beside the gate. Before this, I had been surveying the line of apartments in front of me while the taxi driver removed my luggage.

“Yes, they are pink,” I was thinking, “and yes, there is a stink too!” The pink heaven was standing tall before me, made more colourful by the washing that billowed gently from almost all the balconies.

Heaven apartments indeed! The rotting rubbish in front of it, the ragged little boys playing cricket on the rest of the land, the rag pickers sifting through the dump and the peeling paint outlined by yellowing pipes, made it look more like something out of a ‘Reality Bites’ TV Show! I nostalgically thought of my own comfortable flat, which had been sold off by now, and of Valerie’s tears when I had stopped her from going up the lift to see it one more time. That girl did have a tendency to get emotional. Just like her father, God bless him.

“Let bygones be bygones,” I had told her as I held her back. “Look towards the future!”

I had led her to the radio cab and we said our goodbyes at the airport – Valerie’s teary and mine, calm. Couldn’t really blame her for that of course. She had no idea that she would be seeing me sooner than she expected to.

I had spent the last few days in packing my stuff and the morning in handing over the keys of the apartment to the new owners. Now I smiled at my own joke as I stood outside my temporary ‘heaven-cum-haven’. This would be the final goodbye to my numbered days in Karachi.

All this and more was in my mind as my legs carried me easily across the ground to past the little urchins staring at me quite openly to where the rag pickers stood with their sacks over their shoulder also staring unabashedly. Nothing new for me, I knew they had little chances of seeing a woman’s legs and here I was, providing them with every opportunity to do so. The uncouth little brats! I admonished the one before me for hitting the cat and picked up the limping cat using the same handkerchief, which till then I had been holding to my nose. I have always loved animals. At one time I had eight cats and two children all in one flat. Now to see one in pain and move on would have been an anomaly. I carried it away still feeling their eyes at my back.

“No use,” I told myself, “some people never learn.”

 

Samina was watching the entire scene from above with no uncertain amount of trepidation in her heart. She hadn’t bargained on a cat entering the fray! This would have to be dealt with was her foremost thought as she left the window and headed for the door.

 

Flat number 20-C was the second apartment. I gave the rest a cursory look and signalled the driver to bring my luggage. Samina met me at the foot of the stairs. I had been framing the right words for a greeting when her shriek startled me. Her eyes were resting on the cat cradled in my arms. I held out my hand in greeting and she started sneezing and gesturing at the cat, which now showed an inclination to run away. I started to explain but there was a clatter above us and Mish’s braided hair bobbed into view. A moment later she had hugged me, kissed me and taken the cat from me with many ohs and ahs of concern. I smiled at her and felt the tension disappear from the corners of my lips.

“See you and me…same, same Pinky auntie!” she said tugging at her kameez and then my dress and indicating the colour.

Samina had stopped sneezing. I don’t know how else to describe it but when I looked into her eyes, which had a relenting look now, I had the uncanny feeling that I was being judged.

 

It was on the third day of my stay with the family that Samina asked me how long I planned to stay with them. I was surprised at the question but didn’t show it.

“I told you my ticket is booked for the 21st of December. I want to be there with Valerie on Christmas,” I told her.

She looked disappointed. “I’m quite delighted to have you here you know and so are the children and you did say that Valerie is going to meet her fiancé. Don’t you think she could do with a little more time on her own?”

“Good Lord!” I thought to myself, “does she really mean to saddle me with her children and the house while she goes out to work?” This was going beyond anything! My definite refusal was taken quite calmly. A bit too calmly I felt. Samina nodded, pressed my hand gently and expressed her regret.

 My flight was on the 21st of December. A day earlier I had my luggage ready and it was night when I proceeded to check on the time of departure for my flight in order to cal the radio cab for the airport. That’s when I found that the ticket had simply disappeared. The 21st of December – the day I was supposed to leave in a radio cab, I left in an ambulance. I had just had a heart attack.

* * *

Gloria Park. The plaque still adorns the gate of a certain pink boundary wall and the children playing inside, if you bother to ask them about the unusual foreign name in a very close knit and obviously conservative Muslim mohalla, will tell you quite boastfully that it was one of their Pinky auntie’s influential friends who got the rubbish dump converted into a park for the sole purpose of allowing her young and inexperienced teenage attendant to guide her wheelchair in the open for much needed fresh air in the evenings and that Gloria was Pinky auntie’s first name which he put on the plaque as a tribute to her love for gardening. If you ask where you can meet her they will point upwards and say in heaven.

Pinky auntie must have been quite a favourite you will observe, for the children look both eager and bashful when questioned about her. Further questioning will reveal she used to sit with them at night and tell them all stories of Princes and Princesses and far away lands. The flat in which she lived was filled with uncles and aunties all the time and they would have taken her away if Mish baji, as the children call her in respect, had not become so upset at the thought of losing her friend. You will learn that she did lose her ultimately, as Pinky auntie passed away a month after her heart attack.

 

There is a ginger and black speckled cat watching you as you are listening to all this. At night when the children have ceased playing, it goes and looks for scraps under the benches lining the boundary wall. Sometimes it finds something and sometimes it doesn’t, but it simply curls up in either case near the place where the rubbish dump used to be and waits for pink lines to outline the edge of the night – a time when a girl with long plaits swinging behind her as she comes running to the edge of the park, will bring a portion of leftovers and hurriedly run away again with a swift pat to its head. Far away in another land across the oceans, another well fed and similarly speckled cat is sleeping peacefully on a rug as a brown hand strokes it gently and thinks of her mother who loved cats so much.

Parched Earth


        Suddenly, the lights went out.

        A low murmur went round the house like the buzzing of many mosquitoes. Maybe it was because there were mosquitoes outside where Adam sat, watching his niece following a white butterfly. He shook his head vigorously, waved his hands and then finally stood up.

        – Another thing, he thought grimly, to add to the list of things which don’t happen there.

        “C’mon Saba, go inside,” he said hastily, sensing another question. “It’s getting dark.”

        “Why is a butterfly called a butterfly?” she asked, edging further into the shrubbery.

        “I don’t know. Now go in.”

        “You don’t know?”

        “No,” he said sarcastically, “I haven’t done ‘butterflyology.’ ”

        She giggled and he lost his temper, “What am I? An encyclopaedia?”

        He strode off, leaving her staring at him, stopped abruptly in mid-giggle, lips slightly parted. A cool breeze met him as he turned a corner and his irritation lessened. Plucking his damp shirt away from his back, he leaned against the wall. Dry bits of plaster rained down. It was then that he felt a movement behind him. The curtains in his mother’s room were closed. Too tightly closed. The irritable feeling was back.

        Well, soon he would be free. – Free from this tomb of a house. No mosquitoes, no …

        “Adam!”

        The reverie was broken. “Coming.” He scowled. “Humph, Adam,” he muttered, copying his stepsister’s way of calling his name, stretching the first ‘a’ to breaking point, a style learnt from their mother.

         The name had troubled him for as long as he could remember. From taunts about Eve, to jibes at his mother’s broken marriages, he had faced it all. The fact that he looked more like a ‘gora’ and a scrawny one at that didn’t help either.

         –   Well, Adam Hunter, three hours till 10.00 P.M, then off you go…

        “Thanks for watching over Saba. I couldn’t find the guard,” came Sara’s voice out of the darkness. Her face appeared as she lit the candle she was holding. “Dinner’s ready,” she continued.

          “I don’t…”

          “We thought you should…”

          “You thought, I didn’t,” he said shortly, climbing stairs. “Ow! Who put this
suitcase here?”

          “We thought…”

          “Stop thinking for me, ok? Now let me…”

          “Unhh!!”

          Adam turned sharply. Masked figures stood in the shadowy doorway. One gagged Sara while another took away the candle. Several guns were pointing at Adam. He hesitated. If he could just reach his room… he knew his mobile was on his bed…

          The familiar shuffling sound entered his ears like a bullet. His mother was moving forward, oblivious to the tense surroundings. He wanted to take advantage of the distraction, but his legs wouldn’t obey. She was in the room now, holding a rosary and muttering incessantly. A man pushed her roughly into a chair.

          “Come down.” The curt order wasn’t one to be taken lightly. He obeyed. His captor held him firmly. The henna dyed beard protruding beneath his mask looked oddly unreal. “Where’s the little girl?” he asked in a low growl.

          Panic swept over Adam. They knew about Saba. But where was she? He felt Sara stiffen and said, “She’s gone out.”

          Red beard considered this. “Alright woman,” he said finally, “Where’s everything?”

          “Somewhere,” said Adam’s mother carelessly and resumed her muttering.

          “Fine,” said red beard. He prodded Adam. “Come, we’re going on a tour of this ruin.”

          The words stung Adam. – This ruin? I should like to see where he lives.

          When the men had finished searching it, Sara’s bedroom resembled a battlefield of toys and her late husband’s memorabilia. He seethed silently. – It’ll take her ages to clear up!

          A locked box was the only promising find. That too was broken then tossed away in disgust. Colourful fragments showered down. Adam looked closely, his eyes widening in disbelief. They were cards given to him by Sara, which he had torn and thrown away. His brain reeled. – All these years, and she’s never said a word!

          The men were clearly getting impatient. They prowled around Adam’s cupboards and his lifeline – the computer -, while he edged towards the bed, felt around and trembled. The mobile wasn’t there! Before he could confirm this, he was ordered downstairs. A few men were noisily having dinner at the table. – Our dinner, he thought angrily.

         Further off, his mother was sitting with her feet up, staring into space. Sara’s face was hidden in her hands. His anger changed to dread at the thought of Saba.

          “We got the money from the suitcase,” said one man.

          – The flight! He looked at his watch. It was 8.30 P.M. Instantly it was wrested away and he was being dragged along to his mother’s room. Adam felt a surge of hatred. It was the only memento of his father.

          “Missed that,” said red beard grinning.

          The men were swiftly emptying drawers and shelves. Soon, the floor was littered with yellowing papers, clothes and albums.

          “Here’s something,” said one man peering inside the cupboard. Out came a teddy bear. “The old woman still plays with toys,” he sneered.

          Adam’s throat constricted… A much younger version of himself stood before him. “I don’t play with toys,” said the vision haughtily. The facial expressions told another story… he would never accept anything from this man who had taken his father’s place… He became aware of laughter. It jarred his nerves.

          “Give it here!” he bellowed.

          “You like toys too?”

          Adam lunged, taking them by surprise. Shots rang out. Strong hands were throttling him. He could smell perfume. Perhaps a bottle had broken. His mother was pleading. There were more shots and he was falling… falling…

          He had frozen. Why couldn’t he move? A face was drifting above him. “Ammi?” he mouthed.

          “Its me, Sara. Don’t move.”

          “What happened?” he asked groggily.

          “ You’re in hospital,” she answered, massaging his temples. “The bullets hit your legs. You’re lucky that bear saved your face, or the glass…” she shivered. “The police arrested everyone including  our guard.”

          “Why?”

          “He was their informer. And guess what! Saba called the police from your mobile. She had hidden inside… imagine, the washing machine while you were outside. Ah, there’s my darling!” said Sara beaming.

          Adam found his voice again. “The… the bear?”

          His mother slowly looked up. Her thin face, so like and unlike Sara’s oval one had attained an even more pallid look in the garish tube lights of the hospital room. “I treasure it,” she said simply, “And it holds my treasures.”

          “What…”

          “I keep all the cash and jewellery inside it.”

          He had barely digested this startling information when Saba came up. “I got you a present,” she said breathlessly.

          It was the wing of an orange butterfly. Adam felt oddly touched.

          “Where did you find it?” he asked.

          “The flower beds,” she replied, evidently pleased with her discovery.

          “It’s good you found it, or it would have decomposed,” said Sara, smiling encouragingly.

          Saba stroked off the dirt, “ I think the white ones are better,” she said.

          Adam looked around. His mother had closed her eyes, but Sara was watching them curiously. He drew Saba close.

          “Saba, the colours are just there to distinguish them. Whether its white or not, its still a butterfly. One of a kind. Just like us.”

          “Like us?”

          “Yes.”

          A sob made him look up. His mother was crying, but there was a smile on her lips.

 *

           It was this smile that he was thinking about now, three months later, as he pushed back the chair on which she used to sit. He couldn’t possibly take her place! – The warped alignment of her lips must have been a result of crying and smiling at the same time, he told himself.  She understood, Sara didn’t. She knew I would go some day, even if I didn’t go just then.

           She hadn’t asked any questions six months ago when he had said he wanted to go for higher studies. – That was different, he mused, but the quiet resignation to my wish this time…? His request for a visit to Shaista khala in England was definitely unusual, though his excuse was believable; he wanted a change of scene after his long and painful recuperation from the bullet wounds in his legs. Yet, he was sure that if her death had not occurred two weeks after this conversation about his intended visit to Shaista khala, he might never have gone.

          –  Ammi was ill and Sara could not have taken care of her by herself, he thought. But the fact remained. She had not said a word. Even Sara taking the cue from her, had remained unusually silent and so she was now; silent and watchful. Strangely enough, this didn’t irritate him. If anything, it was reassuring.

           Everyone has to die one day, he thought, looking at the chair.

          His gaze shifted to the two happy faces in the photograph he was holding. “Everyone,” he murmured and then put it hastily in his pocket as he heard Sara approach.

          “Did you say something?” asked Sara placing his coffee on the table while glancing at the chair, which she had earlier pulled out for him.

          “Hmm? No, no. Nothing,” he replied. “Where’s Saba?”

          “Outside, I expect. She’s hoping it will rain again,” said Sara, moving towards the kitchen to make tea.

          Adam shifted slightly and his mug wobbled. It was filled to the brim with bubbles, which made the coffee look lighter than it really was. And now, the bubbles were breaking. Slowly at first, then more steadily. He picked up his spoon and began to systematically break them one by one, an old habit he could never get rid of.

          “Don’t play with your food!”

          Startled, he stared at the chair. A second later he realized that it was Sara admonishing Saba through the window, who was trying to juggle sweets, which kept falling in the mud. Nevertheless, he put away his spoon.

          Sara sat down on the chair at which Adam was still staring and made her tea. Once again, he was struck by the resemblance between her and their mother. He had noticed this first in the hospital and now he realized why. – It isn’t really the face, he thought, their very gestures are identical.

          “Something wrong with the coffee?” asked Sara anxiously seeing his intent look.

          “No, its excellent.”

           Sara relaxed perceptibly. They sipped in silence while Adam’s eyes took in the changes in the house décor, a sure proof of Sara’s comfortable income as a Marketing Executive. She had taken up the job soon after their mother’s death and when Adam went on his trip, she was more worried about Saba coming back
from summer school to an empty house, than their finances. Consequently, pastel shades ruled the once drab interior, while outside the attempt by August rains to destroy the newly planted borders had been successfully thwarted by the
ingenuity of the maali who had sloped the garden. And now, Adam, who sat facing the window, could see rivulets running around the tufts of grass, finally collecting in the driveway. This water was just deep enough to cause a satisfying ‘splosh’ when stones were thrown in. Saba certainly seemed satisfied.

          “It’s raining!” said Sara abruptly.

          “Drizzling,” corrected Adam.

          “You’re right,” she agreed, then after a short pause asked hesitantly, “How was your trip?”

          “Good,” he answered, not meeting her eyes. The photograph weighed terribly on his mind. “I met my… I met Michael Hunter,” he added.

          Sara’s face held an arrested expression. Her eyes willed him to go on.

          “Not for long,” he continued. “I was talking to Shaista khala when the doorbell rang and he walked in. I guess they’ve been in touch. Well, impossible not to, since they‘re in the same office, but anyway, she told him I was in town and he came over for a while.”

          “A while?” goaded Sara.

          “Hmm. There wasn’t much to talk about. He asked me what I was doing. I asked him about his job. That’s all.”

          “Did you meet your father again?”

          “No,” he said, smiling crookedly.

          “How come Shaista khala didn’t tell us before?” wondered Sara, a furrow forming between her brows.

          “Well…” began Adam awkwardly, “She told me six months ago.”

          Sara’s lips formed a long ‘Oh.’

          “That’s when you first wanted to go for higher studies!” she shot back, leaving the spoon with which she had been fidgeting.

          Adam winced. “Yes,” he mumbled. “Shaista khala didn’t want me to tell you… or Ammi, but I think Ammi understood.”

          Sara didn’t reply. She was walking to the window, presumably to watch Saba jumping in the puddles outside, her shoulders rigid.

          He left the room silently, leaving his coffee unfinished and crept upstairs. The door to Sara’s bedroom was open. He pondered if this was what he had been waiting for, then decided against it.

          His own room was pretty much as he had left it. The yellow dustbin in the corner being the only addition. – This intruder has made the room look bland, he thought.  Absently he strolled over to the window, looking down at the same view as that seen from the dining room. Saba’s shrieks of delight floated up to him quite clearly through the closed shutters on which large raindrops were hammering so hard they had formed an almost opaque sheet. Still, he believed he could almost see the bubbles forming and breaking in the murky water outside. – Just like coffee. The froth at the top and the scum below. “But that’s the real thing!” his brain snapped back.

          “That’s the real thing,” he repeated and as if in a trance, walked up to the dustbin and deposited the photograph neatly in it, before realizing what he had done.

           For a few moments he stood looking at the two faces he had thought about so much during the past few days. One, as familiar to him as his own, the other, barely so. Even at this distance he could make out the scrawl at the base of the card which framed the photograph: Michael Hunter and Paula Hunter, on their first wedding anniversary.

          – She’ll see it, he reassured himself, and she’ll understand.

          Purposefully he went out of the room and down the stairs. It had been a long time since he had been drenched in the rain.

Ahmad, K. B. (2004) I belong. A collection of short stories. The British Council. Connecting Futures.

Copyright: Kiran Bashir Ahmad. Parched Earth 2004

Collection copyright: The British Council 2004

N.B: A song that really syncs with the theme of my story is Aaliyah’s Journey to the Past http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDbvjqRuMTA&feature=related Listen carefully, and you’ll find echoes of Anastasia in Adam’s longing for the lost part of his self – his father – one of the themes of the story.