I screamed at the top of my voice and ran downstairs. I believe that I fell down the last couple of stairs, but I do not remember. I just remember seeing apa in two places at once and the fact that I kept wailing for the longest time. Apa fed me kheer and told me that new schools create tensions, but I knew that what I had seen was real. But, this was only the beginning of the khofnaak events that fell upon us because of my elder sister Rabia.
If I fast forward to the next couple of months, I can see a cloud of tension hovering on our heads; black circles appearing and the walls of our damned house losing color. Imagine that I give you an old cassette and tell you to forward it and then rewind it, and soon the voices you hear will sound weary and weak, and it was just like reheating ama’s mattar keema for the fifth time in a row – that is how all of us had become; juiceless fruits. In just a few months.
Apa just went to Convent of Jesus and Mary for two more months. It wasn’t that she was nikami, it was just that she had created trouble.
Likun, trouble tak bhi, everything was fine because the nuns there knew how to discipline girls. One time, apa had a seizure during the morning prayer when Sir Paul was reading verses from the Bible. They thought that apa needed immediate help so several girls from the choir picked her up. Just as they lifted her, she stood up, spat in their faces and ran away. One of the girls reported that apa had said, ‘The angels are dead.’
A week later, there was a bad odor in the junior section’s corridor. On inspection, pee was found in the corner of the water dispenser. Later that day, apa was sent to buy a new uniform because she reeked of dried urine. The last straw was when Bia apa broke a little girl’s arm. Sana Farooq. I still remember her name. She was in my class. She brought chicken nuggets to lunch with chat masala on them and when ami sent me to school with anda parhatta, Sana let me have her nuggets.
We did not talk much but Sana was a very bright student. She was a Hafiz-e-Quran and even the Christian teachers appreciated that. One day in the auditorium above the science building, Sana’s recital could be heard. She was practicing for the pasarela – a catwalk event held at the funfair whose opening started with words from both the Holy Books. Khair, Bia apa was in the same room and whilst snatching the mic from Sana, she twisted her arm and broke it.
The entire room heard the clunk! Apa was then suspended and eventually withdrawn.
I was at peace at school because Bia apa was no longer around. Lekin, I did feel sad because I had gotten to know that apa was mentally ill. At least, that is what the doctor said. He said that the situation was greater than he had anticipated and letting apa roam in a fortress or any other public place was not an option anymore.
When Sana came back with her hand bandaged, nuggets tou dour ki baat, she even refused to acknowledge my existence. I felt uneasy and so I tried to make small talk with her when standing in the assembly line or whilst distributing copies. She did not reply. I recall that it was my birthday when she finally looked up and said what she said.
In CJM, on birthdays, we were allowed to dress up and give sweets to our classmates. Everyone knew the birthday girl. I had wanted to wear a pink net frock like Momina from my class, but ama refused to get me one. I spent weeks persuading her and baba by drawing the frock and explaining its frills. Initially, ama promised that she’d tell the darzi to stitch something fancy in fifteen hundred rupees with a shimmery cloth that she had lying around somewhere but later on, she stated that with paisay being spent on apa’s diagnosis, we were short on finances. I wonder if we really were short of money because somehow nano always managed to get her croissant buns.
Eventually, I got the frock, but it was made out of pata nahi konsa material and it was awfully fitted – something that phupho Najma’s daughters would wear. After wearing the frock, I was told two things. Baba was home those days and he said that I looked ‘behaya’ and that I should change forun. Nano said that I was “developing”. Baba had never called apa ‘behaya’ but ami said that he called the dress that and not me and also because apa was thin and I had ama’s busty figure. Khair, I ended up wearing apa’s kurta with leggings to school.
After giving Sana six chocolates, she said that she would tell me why she couldn’t talk to me at all.
“Don’t mind okay?”
‘Of course not,’ I replied looking at Sana’s worrisome expression. She was shoving a half-eaten bar down her shirt pocket.
“Wou darasal, you know that my family is very phonchi huwi-”
‘Phonchi huwi?’ I cut in.
“Like, my parents are religious, and people come to them for assistance.”
‘Oh okay, I know now.’
I couldn’t help but notice how the chocolate was being smudged on the lining of her pocket. Awein isay itni saari day dein.
“So, when I got my arm fractured – or as you know your bhena fractured it, when I went home my papa said that I had been touched by a jinn.”
‘Are you calling my apa a jinn?’
“Nahin, your apa is obviously a human being, Sijjal. But, she has a jinn ka saya on her. The mark that was left on my arm wasn’t any ordinary mark. Papa tou sensed it at once and that I should stay away from her and anyone related to her.”
I could not believe my ears. I had wasted so many chocolates on such a badtameez girl. Theek hai, dosti nahin rakhni mujhse, it’s alright, main bhi koyi mari nahin ja rahi, I do have more friends.
I looked at her angrily and stormed out of the shed. Apa was in pain and Sana was spreading all nonsense about her. I wanted to call her ‘papa’ a jinn but I knew better than to disrespect elders. Anyway, I got over it in some weeks because during the mid-term exams when I didn’t know how to round off decimals, Sana let me cheat the answers off her sheet.
Back at home, I hardly got to talk to Bia apa. Whenever I’d come home from school, she’d be at doctor Farhan’s clinic and when she’d return, her face would be all drowsy. Ama said that it was the sedatives.
During the month of February, when load shedding was at its peak and the house help was instructed to turn off all lights during maghrib time, one of the helpers reported seeing apa doing a ‘shameful’ thing with her legs open in her room and no one in the house was allowed to talk about it. Being the curious chum chum that I was, I went to the helper and bribed her with my lunch money. She said that apa had inserted the tv-remote inside her and that she needed to be wedded off immediately as in their gaoun, the shaitan made young women do that.
I did not understand anything she had said, but I felt furious at her later on because right that night, ama and baba started to talk about apa’s rishta.
Apa was so small. I mean, women got married, apa wasn’t even close to blossoming into a woman. She wasn’t even 18. I started thinking that my parents were the evil maa baap that my Urdu textbook talked about, those who married young girls to older men for money. I ran upstairs to tell apa about the planning.
Before I walked into the room, I heard whispers. I couldn’t make out what they were because they seemed to be in another language. I opened the door and found apa looking at me cluelessly. The room was cold like the air-conditioner had been turned on for the longest time. I quietly placed myself next to apa and asked her if I could slide into the bed cover with her like old times. I was answered with a nod. After hugging her, I started to weep, and with warm tears rolling down my unwaxed upper lip, I told her about how she might be married only because she touched nano kay kamre ka tv-remote.
“Wou abhi bhi baat kar rahe hain meray bare main. Meray bare main. Abhi bhi baat. Meray bare main. Farooq. Meray – Farooq ka beta. Us say. Farooq ka beta.”
With teary eyes, I could see apa’s dry lips trembling.
“Farooq chacha’s beta?”
Apa did not answer. The windows were closed, but I felt a sudden gush of wind under the bed sheet after which apa started muttering something under her breath. Thinking that she was worried and that all our problems might be over in the morning, I switched slides and decided to sleep. I drifted off and I dreamt of a dholki. Everyone was singing and laughing, ama jee wore mascara and I was allowed to wear my pink frock. I searched the entire house for apa but she could not be found. When I finally settled down with the other women, I spotted apa hanging upside-down from the ceiling fan with her hair brushing against the decorated dholki.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Cover image via fearstrikes.com