I groaned as the blinding rays of sunlight hit my countenance as I stepped out into the street. It was a typical summer day, and as expected, the weather was scorching hot. July was always a bitter sweet month. It would rain in the morning casting the illusion of heavenly weather, but come noon, it would resemble the climate I had always imagined to be in Hell. Right now, it was like the sun would melt the earth into a brownish liquid and then boil it all over again. It was positively horrid. Yes, that is the only word I could think of to describe this hellish weather. Though the summers were unimaginably hot, the winters were equally chilly. This was the one thing I loved about my hometown. We would experience all four seasons throughout the year. Lahore was a city full of miracles throughout the year. I had always been thankful to call the city of gardens my home.
At this point in time, however, I hated it. My cousin, Bareera, and I had just stepped out of the cloth merchant’s shop and were greeted by the cruel UV rays of the sun. They were blinding, even through the enormous sunglasses I had adorned my green eyes with. Yes, you read that right, I do have green eyes, which was a rarity in Pakistan, still is. One look at a different coloured iris, and men and women would swoon over them like they were a pair of emeralds in the deepest mines of Balochistan.
Bareera and I stood outside the shop in search of the tonga man we had hired for the day. Cars weren’t a normal occurrence back in the day and most of the noble families used to hire tongas. We usually called them tonga walas, and let me tell you, having a horse carriage like that in the 1960s was a sign of unadulterated wealth. It was more of a status symbol, really.
“Why did we have to hire such an incompetent man?” Bareera exclaimed. “We specifically told him that we’d be out in an hour, but no! He probably thought we were shitting him!”
“Language, Bareera.” I said, meekly. I knew how she was when she got angry and she was a force not to be crossed, and if you did, you would be on the receiving end of her very colourful vocabulary. Much like how our tongawala was about to be.
“Oh, not you again! I’ve had enough of your goody two shoes act, drop it already and grow up! Oh, look! There he is! Bloody idiotic fool of a man!” She waved her hand high in the air to get his attention, but the poor guy was too engrossed in his plate of gol gappas that he hardly noticed her frantically flailing arm. Boy, was he in for an earful! “Hey!” she screamed, gaining the attention of people passing buy. You could practically see the aunties gossiping about how shameful her behaviour was, and I’m sure more than half of them had proclaimed her to be unfit to marry. Not that that was in our to do lists anytime soon. You see, women were always a toxic part of society, more so then than they are now. Toxic, nonetheless. And judgmental beyond your wildest dreams! Along with the pedestrians, luckily, she had caught the attention of our oblivious tonga driver as well. “Yeah, you! Get over here now!” Bareera truly was a spitfire. We both were, according to the neighbourhood aunties, which was why we got along so well, but she was more of one than I ever was, hence the wailing in bazaars.
A look of confusion marred his face as he looked over at us, with the gol gappa halted halfway to his mouth, which was followed by a look of recognition, which was succeeded by a look of what can only be described as utter and pure horror, and the gol gappa in his hand fell into the bowl of sour water that he held in his other hand. Without a minute to lose, the poor man threw his snack in the trash can nearby and ran to us with his hand on his topi preventing it from falling off. He knew what he had done, and was deathly scared of the consequences!
“Well, look who finally decided to grace us with his presence!” She said with her arms crossed over her chest. “Did you think we were joking when we said we would be out in exactly an hour?!” We were getting even more stares from random people walking down the Mall Road, but did Bareera care? No.
“Sorry, madam sahib, it won’t happen again,” he apologized as he loaded our bags on the tonga and let down the step for us to mount the carriage. “Oh, you’re sorry now, are you? Listen here, you little-”
Anticipating what she was about to say, I decided to jump in, “He said he was sorry, Bareera, let it go. And Bashir, make sure it doesn’t happen again or we would be reporting your incompetence to Baba jan and Dada jan, both!” Bareera and I loved to see how people trembled at the mere mention of their names. Dada jaan was a soldier, a general in his time which had gained him the respect of his neighbours and all who knew him, and by proxy, those people respected us. My father, Baba jaan, who was Bareera’s uncle, her father’s elder brother, was a very successful businessman. He owned a multitude of factories that made all sorts of things, from bricks and grains to clothes and shoes. Some would even call him the richest man in Pakistan, but that was very far from the truth, though it didn’t stop the judgmental aunties from exaggerating every tiny detail. The fact that he was the most desired suitor in his prime only fueled the rumors.
“I swear by my son’s life, it won’t happen again, madam jee!” He exclaimed dramatically. I heard Bareera scoff and looked over to her to see her rolling her eyes. I couldn’t help but chuckle, but controlled myself before Bashir could hear it. “Now, now, Bashir, we believe you. No need to make this about life and death.” I said.
He nodded and asked, “Where to?”
“Yes, madam jee.” Bashir had been with us for over ten years, he had seen both Bareera and I grow up, and was a part of the family, but his antics like today, sometimes made Bareera and I lose our tempers. Though I was the cool minded one out of the two of us, I threw my fair share of tantrums. I looked over to Bareera and saw her rolling her eyes again. “You know, at this rate, they’ll get stuck at the back of your head.” I couldn’t help but make the lame joke we’ve been hearing since we were children. It started as a terrifying notion which was used to scare us kids into not indulging in the awful habit, but we soon realised it was just that, a notion that had absolute no truth to it. Since then, it had become one of mine and Bareera’s lame inside jokes.
“Ha ha!” She said, sarcasm dripping from her words and playfully pushed me to the other side of the tonga. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you want to kill me!” I exclaimed dramatically.
“Ha! If you only you were capable of dying!”
“No, no!” Bashir exclaimed from up front, horrified, “Do not kill each other, begum sahibs, Agha Sahib will have my head! So will baray Agha sahib!” Agha sahib, as he said, was my father and baray, which meant elder, was our paternal grandfather, but we all called him Dada jaan. That was our breaking point and Bareera and I broke into fits of laughter at poor old Bashir’s innocence. This man was too pure for his own good.