The second-last part, Chapter 5 of MangoBaaz and Abu’s Jinns collab, is here: Rabia Apa’s Exorcism – Chapter 5: Apa’s Shaadi And Our Barbadi. You can read Chapter 1 here, Chapter 2 here, Chapter 3 here and Chapter 4 here.
I remember Dr. Farhan’s face the first time baba told him that we won’t be paying for apa’s treatment anymore. It had been a year since apa had been tested for schizophrenia. At first, there was no cause diagnosed for apa’s hallucinations. Later on, when she started talking in multiple voices and mimicking nano and people she hadn’t met, such as Azeem’s ami, Dr. Farhan said that apa had DID – dissociative identity disorder. But when apa was no one but apa, she would still do the wildest, most behaya things and Dr. Farhan showed baba the red splotches in apa’s brain on a shiny sheet and said that it was schizophrenia. During this time, I started writing about all these diseases in my essays and aadhi doctor tou main bhi ban gae thi.
It wasn’t like apa just had to take the vitamins that I took. She had so many medicines. In fact, her whole room smelled like our bachpan kay hakeem wale uncle ka office.
And then, there would be weeks apa would spend strapped on a bed in a hospital for either pagal behavior or regular therapy lessons. One time, I accompanied her to one of these sessions. Even though nano said that I could ‘catch’ whatever apa had but I scoffed and rolled my eyes at her. Nano had been against apa since the start. When I turned 13, I got to know the reason why. Apa was a test tube baby because ama hadn’t been able to conceive for six years. Because baba was away most of the time and also because nano thought that ‘machine say hone wale bache sheytaani bache hote hain’, she despised apa. She thought that apa wasn’t baba’s actual aulad.
Khair, I went to Rabia apa’s therapy session once. I was outside the room she was in and though she was alone, she was talking to someone. I had always heard her speak to herself but this time, I could hear four different voices from the room including apa’s. Someone was instructing her to stand naked in front of the doctor so that he would not inject her – if that even made sense. The moment I opened the door, I was greeted by apa’s stare and an empty room. There was silence between us for some time but then apa’s face grew radiant.
“Chalo wou chale gae, Ab bolo. I am so happy you are here, yaar Sijjal. Kuch khane ko layi ho kya. Bohut bhook lagi hai.”
I nodded and swung our old picnic basket from behind me.
“Ama nay chawal aur yellow wali daal bheji hai.”
Apa frowned. Daal was her favorite dish. She had always loved the simpler things in life. And that is how I wanted to remember her when she was away.
“Suno,” she said. “Be a darling. Neechay jao. Street cross kar k aik shop ati hai. Pani puri milti hai wahan. Ufff, kya bataoun-”
“Apa,” I cut in. “Apko tou allow hi nahin hai bahir ka khana. Ap bahir kab gaein khane?”
Her little smile widened.
“Mujhe kahein jane ki zaroorat hi nahin parhti. Mujhe ab sab pata hota hai. Aur sab meray pass aa bhi jata hai.”
I placed the basket on the sofa and sat next to her on the bed. Her eyes looked like worn-out battery toys which had been charged to work for the last time. Small rusk crumbs from the night before were still stuck to her teeth. The Smashbox gloss that she fondly wore was smudged across her lips. If I looked closely enough, she was almost non-recognizable.
I liked sitting with her and nodding to whatever she said. Nothing she said made any sense to me and over time, I had learned to agree to her imaginative stories and the made-up events that she spoke of with anticipation. Just a week back, she had quoted an incident where we as a family had gone to a funeral and I had told her about hearing the corpse’s screams. I had never attended a janaza in my life and I was sure that she hadn’t either but the way that she expressed her emotions and visually pictured places with accuracy, her false stories almost seemed true.
I started talking to apa about what was happening at school and how I was going to get Christmas holidays in December.
A nurse walked in and disrupted our conversation by telling me that it was apa’s time to rest. When I went out of the room, I saw the very same nurse walking towards our room. Same pan-shaped face with a snot nose and huge glasses. She even had the same name tag. I tou lost it. I ran back inside before the nurse could enter and I found apa in fits of laughter.
“Wou siraf tumhe tang kar rahe hain.”
I was disgusted. I didn’t know koun tang kar rahe hain and kyun, but I was angry and restless because for once in my life, I wanted apa to take me seriously. Shortly afterward, the nurse walked in and told me that I had to leave and before she could mention apa’s rest, I escorted myself out. I now believe that it was my first encounter with a jinn. I did not know it then. But even uss waqt, I had felt the shivers.
That was the only time I visited apa in the hospital and shortly afterward, when baba refused to get her treated any longer, Dr. Farhan’s visits became frequent. Nothing he stated impressed baba anymore. Ama was quiet and nano was getting old so she no longer bothered to comment. We were told that the condition might worsen if not treated but the truth was that since the check-ups had started, there had been no behtari. Nothing was the same.
Baba hardly came home and when he did, he smelled like another woman, ama started staying up, chatting with Farooq chacha and giggling. They communicated through funny videos and shaeri with Albert Einstein’s photos and occasionally Farooq chacha stated how he had married the wrong woman. Apa would always be in her room and unless she puked anywhere outside the washroom, none of the maids would go anywhere near her room. They were terrified of apa. Even the safae wali would gulp at the thought of going in apa’s room.
When apa started inserting a remote into her, it was settled that she would get married by the end of the month to our cousin, Uzair.
Uzair bhai was Farooq chacha’s son and he was the only child in his family who had stopped studying after FA. Whilst his brothers were doctors and his sisters were teachers at reputable institutes, Uzair bhai was least concerned with doing anything in his life. He made YouTube videos and reviewed Pakistani snacks, but he only had 12 subscribers, including me and my fake account. He was known as the ‘rotten egg’ in the khandaan. No one pointed fingers at chacha or chachi because their other children were well-mannered and successful.
I felt sad. I remember that I had this sinking feeling, jaise apa marrying Uzair bhai was the end of everything. The last full stop.
It was decided that apa would get the upper portion in chachi’s house and have more jewelry than any other of chachi’s bahu’s because apa was everyone’s favorite. After the date was set over a phone call, ama forbade the maids to go to chachi’s house because no one was allowed to talk about apa’s condition.
The shaadi month started off by me accompanying my parents to the National furniture shop to choose apa’s bed. I chose the best bed but when I got home I lectured baba about dowry. At the end of the speech, he said that chacha Farooq was, in fact, paying for the furniture and the house appliances. Shortly afterward, I received a call from Uzair bhai to help him meet apa at Jail road wala McDonalds.
Troubled by what he had said, I forun say told ama who furiously, told baba and eventually Uzair bhai got to know, who then blocked me on social media platforms. I didn’t mind, I had always been the shakaeti tutto cousin who no one liked to talk to. Baba said that one day when I’d be a famous poet, they’d all come running to me.
The house started to smell like mithae and roses. Whilst chacha’s house was being renovated, all the choti rasmein were being held in our living room. Every day a woman from the nearby Depilex would come and make apa’s hair and do her makeup. Even though apa was on her best behavior, ama would still mix the prescribed sedatives in her morning chai to keep her drowsy and calm throughout the festivities. Apa looked astonishingly beautiful with each passing day. On some days ama looked at her and wept. I enjoyed those days. I think that those were the best days in apa’s life. She appreciated the attention that she got, and she seemed like the happiest baby bride in the world.
Ama and chachi wanted apa to be a traditional bride. Apa, though now a person of few words, agreed to the ubtan applications, heavy bangles, and a nose piercing but did not settle for a red lehnga.
She said that red was not a nice color and that it reminded her of the blood that her vagina excreted and if she would wear red, she would indeed be bathing in napaak blood. Before apa could say more, ama chuckled and blamed her daughter’s sinister comment on a book that she claimed apa was reading so that chachi wouldn’t think apa was disturbing. But the truth was, that amidst all the glittering clothes and Dogar ki daeigein, I felt that a band-aid was being put on a wound that needed stitches.
Three days before the wedding, we went to apa’s new home. Everything looked well kept. I put all of Rabia apa’s favorite candies in the mini-fridge next to her bed. Nano had pitched in for a few chilli milli boxes because she felt that the house would be restored to its barkat-filled state when apa would leave. I had saved up to buy the Snickers and Dairy Milk bars. Apa and I knew that the shiny wrapper was the local wali Dairy Milk and the smooth wali was the Diary Milk that rich people had so I had gotten the latter.
We had gone to chacha’s to check everything and pick up apa’s purple-colored lehnga. The house was lit up and apa’s bhabhis-to-be were showing other aunties apa’s shimmering clothes. Chachi introduced me to the aunties and signaled me to go to each one and say salam. As I made my way around the room, I saw a familiar faced aunty staring at me. She was fiddling with the shaadi card and her hands kept twitching in an uncomfortable manner. I couldn’t recall where I had seen her.
It was when my arm brushed against hers, whilst passing from one aunty to another, that my body recognized the feeling. I froze.
I felt like I was standing in the middle of a road in Murree in a lawn ka suit, with piercing cold winds infusing through my clothes and stinging my skin. It felt cold. I turned around and the aunty still had her eyes fixed on me.
She was the nurse from apa’s hospital.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Cover image via shutterstock.com