Abu’s Jinns returns to narrate the tale of a dystopian future, not too far from now, where the Coronavirus, unfortunately, reigns supreme.
Momina and I decided to attend the upcoming Aurat March in the year 2022. We wanted to march for the hundreds of women who were forced to have silicon masks surgically stitched to their children’s faces at birth- which mind you, could only come off before the individuals opted for match-making. The semi-permeable masks with dissolvable implants that hung from our jaws worked just fine.
The scent of ama’s makhani daal tickled my nostrils. The buttery fragrance forced me to get up and brush away the hair clinging to my forehead sweat. It had gotten hotter. I glanced at the digital clock above my head – 2:09 pm, 19th December 2021. The days were passing by swiftly and it all seemed like a terrible daydream but mama’s daal made it all better.
The same routine followed; I wore the shoes that I had outgrown but was reluctant to change (in my defense, the store no longer made these), rolled my hair into a bun, said salam and told mama how many rotis I wanted to eat. I then left for the deserted DHA streets.
I wonder how mama managed to stay in the kitchen all the time. She said that she liked it, and also because it was the only way.
Of course, since last month’s law, only one family member could cook for the entire family, after being tested and injected with a flu vaccine. Mama made the best food, but I missed the days when she’d wake up at noon and we’d go to see the new lawn collection in summers – mama, Momina and I. And when we’d return, Ali Baksh would open the door and maasi Kalsoom’s ghee parathas would greet us all.
It almost felt like a South Asian story tale. The hustle and bustle of shops, happening Instagram pages, offices where people worked from 9 to 5, uniform-wearing little children with satin red sashes heading to school and a gang of friends waiting at the university gate – all of it was recorded on old iPhones, whose screens now only served the purpose of showing you your khajoor-like reflection.
Before baba had been taken away for life-quarantine, he had told me that it was no good to live in the past.
So I ran fast enough for the empty houses to rush past me, to run away from the memories that lived in the air. I ran as much as I could, with my right leg shaking to go back as it stopped at one of the many signs: physical activity only allowed for five minutes per person.
I stumbled back home – my safe place, to shower under PTI’s certified Pak-Pure water. Water so glistering and sparkling that it could wash away my sins. Life had become an episode of a sci-fi show – not the kind where the grocery stores had good snacks. As the clock struck four and I excused myself from the table, Momina placed the laptop in front of me.
“Apa,” she said, “Please pass your exam this time.”
The request in her voice was real. We could not afford to give one again. The last one had already been paid in late-night shifts spent in sterilizing hundreds of testing kits. My thoughts were disrupted by the blank screen being lit up and a documentary about the world’s worst pandemic playing. I mumbled the lines the narrator spoke under my breath.
“Welcome to Hafiz Test Center. The Government of Pakistan welcomes you to the virtual testing center of the future. Please speak out your name after the beep. If the computer does not recognize it, spell the letters. We wish you the best of luck to clear the chosen exam: Coronavirus 101: how the virus multiplies. Clearing this exam does not entail that you’ll be promoted to the next round. However, it will earn you credits.”
If you want to know whether I passed the test or not, I did. I finally learned enough about the manhoos respiratory tract infection, only to be promoted to learn even more about it.
Since China had emerged victorious in defeating it and saving just 24% of its population, the only extra subject I could pick to keep my sanity intact was Chinese. I was offered to learn the language of men who sold their cure for billions of dollars to the remaining thousands of people left on earth. Mind-boggling, to say the least.
Mama, Momina and I celebrated with a store-bought raindrop cake. It tasted like a flood of sugary water in the mouth, but we smiled at each other to assure each other than we knew no happiness other than this. I looked at mama as she chewed her share. Her face was drooping down like a wilted flower, and the hair she so fondly got colored every month was white and crinkly. My glance shifted to my little sister. Her braces had created holes in her decaying teeth for the only dentist in Pakistan was serving the military.
“It’ll get better,” mama whispered as I placed the dishes in the sink. Momina and I had still not told her the news; mandatory nikkah for all girls between the age of 18 and 32, with healthy matches made on the NADRA website, to be applicable within ten days.
The silver lining was a five day trip to Murree for the couple in a hazmat suit. I had not seen snow for the longest time.
Cover image via geo.tv