Shahtaj House

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Chapter 4

The next morning, I was woken up with a rapping at my door. Groggily, I moved to get out of bed and opened the door only to be greeted with an extremely enthusiastic and, might I add, fully dressed, Bareera. I couldn’t help the groan that left my mouth. “You did not just groan!” she said in mock hurt. Ignoring her, I made my way back to bed covering my head with the blanket. “Oh no, you don’t!” she came and yanked the covers off my head exposing me to the cruel sunlight emanating from the window in my room.

“Leave me alone,” I groaned and turned to glare at her, but she just returned my hostile expression with one of her million dollar smiles. “What’s got you so happy?”

“Well, since you asked,” I fought the urge to roll my eyes at her, “Waliya’s fiance is coming today.”

“What? Wasn’t he expected to come next week?”

“Apparently, he has a medical event he has to go to, so auntie Salma invited him today.”

“Medical event, my ass!” I scoffed, “but that doesn’t explain why you’re so happy.” I eyed her skeptically.

“Come on, Sarah. Think about it. The dud comes to dinner, we make him feel inferior by asking him all kinds of medical stuff when we know, oh so well, that he won’t ever be able to answer them!” she chuckled. I couldn’t help the laugh that escaped me as I said, “You are pure evil!”

“Why, thank you! That’s the most amazing compliment I’ve ever received!” That was enough to turn us into laughing idiots. Our little session was interrupted by amma as she came into my room without knocking. She’d been doing that since we were kids, Ali tried forcing her out of that habit many a times, but at the end of the day, we knew she was incorrigible and we let her have her way. “Sarah! Wake u-” her eyes darted from Bareera to me and she said, “I suppose she’s already told you?”

“That Azeem the quack is coming? Yes, she has.”

“Sarah!” Amma gasped in horror, “Don’t say that! You know how Waliya hates it when you call him that.”

“But, amma,” I tried making as innocent a face as I could, “Isn’t that what he is?” Bareera, sitting next to me, was trying very very hard to control her laughter. “Sarah!” amma admonished, “please, child, refrain from calling him that today when he calls on us this afternoon, and show him some respect.”

“I thought he was coming for dinner,” Bareera spoke.

“He will be arriving late afternoon, and staying for dinner. If we’re lucky, he might even stay the night,” she finished as she got up to leave. I couldn’t stop the scoff that left me, and having no brain to mouth filter, I added, ”He would be the lucky one to have an estate like this to live in for a night!” Amma stopped midway only to turn back and grace me with one of her signature glares. They could make a person shrink ten times in size, and could bring a whole city to its knees. I, however, was immune to them, to everyone’s great vexation. “You know, Sarah,” she began, much to my displeasure, “it would do you some good to act your age and be mature for once!”

“I do act my age! Twenty years isn’t a time when I should be behaving like a ratty old hag.” I heard Bareera chuckle beside me, but otherwise she decided to stay out of the matter. A wise choice on her behalf, because when it came to disrespect, mother didn’t care if it were her own daughter she was chastising or anyone else’s. “No, my dear. Girls your age act much more responsibly than you do, much to my dismay. Besides, you should be on your best behaviour considering Haroon is here.”

“Haroon?” I was puzzled now, “what does he have anything to do with this?”

“Do you think he’ll take you as his wife if you continue this outrageous behaviour?” She questioned as a matter of factly, but the simple assortment of words made my blood boil! I would die before I let a man govern my actions, let alone a man who is merely a cousin, and no more. “That is the thing, mother! I don’t wish to be his wife! Or anyone’s for that matter!” I threw my hands in the air, being the drama queen I was.

“Don’t sprout nonsense like that ever again! I will not have you swearing off marriage in guise of this absurd notion of feminism!” With that, she yanked my door open and turned back one last time to say, ” And mind you, Sarah, I have lost one daughter to a poverty stricken quack, I won’t lose the other to feminism! Now, get dressed!” Being the prim and proper lady that she always was, no matter how angry she was, she refused to slam doors. True to her habit, I heard my door close with a soft click and Bareera and I were alone again.

Bareera stared at the door and shrugged, “Well, at least she accepted that he’s a quack.”


Breakfast in the Shahtaj House was truly a noisy affair. While Baba jaan and Dada jaan would exchange newspapers with each other every five minutes or so, Auntie Maria and amma would chat on about the latest gossip, Ali and Rehan, still in their night suits would be dozing off after every morsel from the exhaustion of staying up all night and playing video games. Bareera and I would usually be on one end of the table either chatting about a specific issue, school work or trying to make Ali and Rehan’s lives more miserable by smacking them on the head each time one or the other fell asleep. However, the main attraction at breakfast was Waliya, the eldest and the most self centered out of all the young ones in the family, who also loved to be fashionably late, as she liked to call it. Everyday, she would be fully dressed with all her make up on, sometimes even her fake eyelashes which she liked to pretend were real. She would sit at the table as though she were having the state lunch with the queen of England. Prim, proper and with perfect posture. Her spine so straight that one might wonder how she even made it out of the womb without breaking in half.

Today, however, she sat with our newest guest, Haroon. I watched as she giggled at something he said. I’m not even sure he even meant it to be funny, but there she was, laughing her head off like a lunatic. Occasionally, she would touch his arm and give it a squeeze. I suppose this is a good time as any to mention that Waliya was one of the biggest flirts you’d probably ever meet in an entire lifetime. It didn’t matter to her that she was engaged to be married, it didn’t matter that the man next to her was more focused on his breakfast than her. No, all she cared about was herself and what she called ‘harmless fun’. Ignoring her degrading antics, I turned to my eggs and focused on what Bareera was saying.

Halfway through, I heard her incessant giggling again, and something inside me just snapped. Every cell in my body protested, every neuron warned me not to go through with what I was planning, but my ears had had enough! Dropping my fork on the plate with a clank, I began, “Oh, for the love of God, Waliya!” All eyes in the room snapped to mine. Even Nasreen, who had been serving us stood rooted in her spot, eyes wide.

“Sarah,” my mother warned, but I was too far gone to listen to reason. I was blinded by my annoyance, which was one of the worst drawbacks of having a short temper. “What is your problem?” Waliya asked with disdain.

“My problem, dear sister is you!” I spat.

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