Shahtaj House

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Chapter 2

“Bring them in!” I said loudly from the foyer. Well, I screamed, but since I am the one narrating the story, I thought it would be inelegant of me to scream. In my defense, I was only twenty years old at the time, and was barely done with university. As I was saying, I stood in the foyer of our family home and ‘screamed’ at Bashir to bring the shopping bags inside. Lazy as he was, he replied, “I need to feed Suzi, madam jee!” Suzi was his beloved mare, who also happened to be the sole source of his income. I understood his impatience to feed her, but I was eager to show my new clothes to everyone at home, and like I said, I was young and immature, which was more often than naught, accompanied by impatience.

“Why, that little-” I grumbled, but was cut off as Bareera strode into the foyer with her share of the shopping bags. “Now, now, cousin, language!” she drawled, throwing my words back at me. I rolled my eyes at her antics, only to have my own words repeated to me, “They’ll get stuck at the back of your head, you know,” she said. This girl was incorrigible and matched my every comeback with one of her own. Some would even call us soulmates if they ever saw us or heard our playful banter. The fact that we had been inseparable since we could sit up just proved that we were meant to be. We had been best friends our whole lives, being born only two weeks apart and living in the same family home our entire lives only strengthened the bond and spiritual connection we shared.

I shoved her, playfully, and she laughed and shoved me back. We barely missed amma’s vase. This vase, like everything in this house, had a story behind it. Amma had gotten it as a gift from the first prime minister of Pakistan, Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan, who had been an ardent admirer and fan of my mother’s, on her wedding day. My mother had been one of the famous singers of her time. She had been lucky to be supported by her family in her vocation because when she was in her prime, it wasn’t very honourable for a woman to indulge in theatrics or classical arts. The vase, however, had been placed on a round table in the center of the foyer of the grand house, surrounded by photo frames filled with joyous memories, ever since. She put fresh flowers in it every morning which she would cut from the vast gardens that surrounded the house itself. You’d think Baba would be jealous of another man’s gift to his wife, but he knew she only had eyes for him, and three children and thirty years later, I’d say he was past all his insecurities.

“Girls! If you break the vase...” Amma trailed off, leaving it as a lethal warning sign, stood at the entrance of the drawing room, glaring at the two of us. We ceased our movements at once, and were now stiff as sticks as we cast our eyes to the floor. Amma was like a best friend to us when she was in a good mood, but a dictator if anyone dared defy her, which was oddly endearing. Satisfied, that we had heeded her warning, she returned to the drawing room while Bareera and I lifted our gazes to each other and broke into a hysterical fit of laughter. This was a normal occurrence for us since we were always getting in trouble for one thing or the other. Dada jaan called us his little balls of fire, because we were as restless as a blazing fire and as hot headed as a burning flame.

“You might as well get your bags yourself,” Bareera said, making her way to the drawing room where everyone was seated.

“Why is that?” I asked, crossing my arms.

“Oh, come on! You know Bashir won’t bring them in. He’s dead to the world when he’s with his mule!”

“It’s a mare.” I corrected.

“Mule, horse, mare. Same thing! Now bring them in so we can show everyone what we bought!” She said, squealing with joy, and disappeared into the parlour, also known as our drawing room. I huffed an annoyed sigh as I went to the horse-less tonga to get my bags. As I was unloading the fruit of my afternoon escapades, I heard a very familiar voice behind me.

“Need help with that?”

I turned around, my hands full, and my eyes went wide with joy. “Haroon!” I exclaimed, “I can’t believe my eyes! Is that really you or is my mind deceiving me in this heat?” He chuckled, “Dramatic as ever, I see.”

“Did you expect anything less?” I smirked.

“I guess not,” he laughed. “Did you just come back from the market?”

“Yes, Bareera and I went for some last minute shopping for Waliya’s wedding next month.”

“Ah, yes. I presume everyone is home?” I nodded. “What brings you to the Shahtaj House, Haroon?” Shahtaj House was what our family home was called. It was built by my great grandfather, Dada Jaan’s father. He gifted it to my great grandmother as a token of his love on their wedding day. He named it after her. Her name was Shahtaj. Their story is an epic romance for the ages, but has a grim and heartbreaking end. They loved each other all their lives, but when she was infected by the plague, he was called to war. She died at home, while he died at war. The irony of fate was, that the date and time of his death his comrades had informed his family, was the exact date and time that my great grandmother had died. They couldn’t be together when they died, but their souls left this earth together. Being the hopeless romantic that I was, I had loved their story as a child, but soon, reality set in and I came to know that theirs was an exception. Not one in a million, but one in a billion.

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