Sunday, July 31, 2005

5. Abandon.

“Yes, I…umm, is there a Captain Ayaz on base?” Aamir asked the man sitting by the check post at the entrance of the army encampment at the foot of the hill where the Hospital was situated.

The sergeant behind the counter looked up with a gaze that can only be termed condescending.

:”Civilian?” He sneered

“Yes… I..”

“He is not available.”

“Captain Ayaz? I really must see him… it’s… it’s important.”

“Zaroor Jinaab. You will wish to see him and he will materialize from inside my pants. Kaha na, he is not here”

“Look it’s about a crime… a death that took place… I really must speak to him he is in charge here I believe?”

“Dekho… whatever it’s about, it will have to wait. He’s been in Islamabad since the 30th, he’s being promoted to Major. If it’s about the Doctor who killed herself you need to speak with the new captain. But he isn’t here either. So just come back tomorrow. Okay?”

“He’s not here?”

“What did I say?”

“Okay when will he be back?”

“Come back tomorrow.” He turned his back to Aamir concluding the conversation.

“Thank-Thankyou.” Aamir got back in his car and drove back towards the cottage of silenced screams.

Crossing through the bazaar, shining like a beacon amongst the weary and sullied riff raff of the mountains, he saw Nida. Sitting on a charpai, drinking tea from a little flower-laden, chipped cup, dressed in clothes flaunting her uber-hip lahori sensibilities, she looked remarkable enough to draw the attention of a monk. It would be hard to miss someone with her unbridled grace and sensuality in a café full of women clad in tight jeans and halter tops. Here, sporting low cut khakis and a t-shirt two sizes too small with a shawl casually draped over one shoulder, amidst the horde of women suffocating beneath burkas or chaddars and men wearing tell-tale turbans with tattered and soiled shalwar kameez, she stood out like a ray of light slicing through a star less night.

In a society governed by misogynists and mullahs, it was hardly advisable for a teenage girl to be out by herself. Add to that the fact that her appearance was no less than a slap in the face of convention and Islamic fundamentalism that was supposedly the rule of law in these parts. And yet she sat resolute and almost aloof from the glaring stares that she received form every passer by. Left in peace, partly due to the recent influx of tourists in these parts from all over the world, partly because she looked like she belonged to one of the more powerful families of Pakistan. But mostly it was the utter sadness on her face, plastered like a warning to all who dared as much as look at her that any undue comment would invite fury of such unequivocal magnitude that it was a far better option simply to ignore her existence and stifle their lewd comments meant to shame her into recognizing her role in a man’s world.

Aamir stopped the car across the street form where she sat, looked at her and smiled at knowing that if there ever was a teen-ager who could hold an entire civilization at bay with the sheer force of her presence, it was her. So much like her sister, in appearance and demeanor and nature and temperament. In everything, except faith. The only thing she hadn’t acquired from her older sister was the love for God.

He looked her over from head to toe, almost seeing Rida in every well accentuated curve of her body, shook his head with proud disdain and a smile that spelt respect. He went and sat down on the charpai next to her, signaled the little girl watching Nida’s every move with an enchanted gaze from behind the counter and asked for another cup of tea.

“You guy’s are still here?” He asked smiling. It was always a pleasure to see her, now more than ever since every breath she drew mimicked Rida.

“No, This is a Hologram here to haunt your mind with memories of your dead wife” She said licking the froth from the tea sticking to her lips.

“I don’t need a hologram to remember her Nida, why are you guys still here?”

“Because of you” She said.

“You know that will require elaboration.”

“Abu dear is convinced that you are up to something. Seems like when he left you earlier you seemed too out of sorts to have simply been mourning.” She paused for another sip

“Besides…” Pause for another swipe of tongue across uncharacteristically unpainted lips, “There’s something fishy here. We all feel it.”

“Like what?”

“You really wanna play dumb, Bro-in-law or are you really too dumb struck to notice?”

“Notice what?”

“That there wasn’t anyone from the army there at the funeral. That it was a surprisingly low-brow affair for someone who by all means was rather special to the community. What with being the only lady doctor on hand. You save so many children, you expect their parents to care enough to offer a prayer at your grave… but it was just us and the hospital staff. Don’t you think that’s a little out of the ordinary?”

“She committed suicide, Nida. You may not believe in it but this is a very religious society, suicide is a sin. As for the army not showing up, yes it worried me… I went to see the captain…” pause to receive his own cup of simmering tea…

“But he’s not available” She finished the sentence for him.

“Don’t look at me like that, she was my sister. I went over to the base. They don’t want to talk about it Aamir… what the hell is going on? I would’ve expected condolences galore, you know. People coming to us with blood shot eyes and nazranaas for the soul of the women who served them like an angel sent from above. And all the hoopla surrounding the HCPs and no one cares to notice when one kills herself? I know I sound paranoid but you have to admit it is all confusing.” She had put the cup down and was looking straight at him. Eyes tinged red from bleeding tears all night. Lovely face drawn and strained with trepidation and sorrow. All of a sudden Aamir felt pity gnaw at his insides. He had been so consumed by his own loss that he hadn’t even stopped long enough to see that the person who needed the most support was Nida. The little girl who had lost her mentor.

He reached out and placed his arm across her shoulder, drew her closer and placed her head on his chest. And as if the gesture was what her tears had been waiting for, she began to sob silently.

They sat like that for a few minutes until the staring public began to stop and murmur and point.

“Come on, I’ll drop you off.”

“Ami, Abu… they don’t…”

“At the door, I won’t see them, they won’t see me.”

“This is so wrong, Aamir… they should love you… but they can’t. And there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“I’m working on it sweetie, I will not abandon you.”

“Like she did? I hate her. Aamir. I hate her so much…I miss her so much”

They walked to his car with tears streaming down her face. His eyes however, were empty. Just like his heart. There was no emotion left now. Just hollowness. Just a void that he knew only the answers he sought could fill.

He held her in his grasp and walked to the car. The little girl from the dhabba never took her eyes off of Nida.

They never knew that in Nida she saw the reflections of the women who had saved her life. And countless others.

When they left, she slumped down behind the counter and began to cry… waiting in anticipation for the beating that would come from her father, the owner of the dhabba. She couldn’t bring herself to ask them to pay for the tea.

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